This piece is part of a 28-day series celebrating modern black love among millennials. It was created by Chuck Marcus and Michelle Nance, exclusively distributed by Blavity.
Her: Ayana | 27 | Project Coordinator & Motivational Speaker
Him: Bola | 29 | Photographer
Relationship Status: Dating, 3 Years
Bola approached Ayana in the most quintessentially millennial manner known to man — by hopping in her Twitter DMs to shoot his shot. It wasn't a score from the outset, but after participating in a photography project of his, the two began to see more in one another. Now, the couple resides in Trenton, New Jersey and despite being seen as relationship goals by many on the internet, they remain humble about the reality of their decision to chose one another day after day.
Q: What does black love mean to the black community?
Ayana: Love, specifically black love, is the cornerstone of the black community. It has healing powers and is abundant in all ways, both inspiring and boundless. It gives hope to those who have lost their way and allows others to experience its fruitfulness when they are ready to receive it.
Bola: I believe black love means foundation to the black community. When I think about the negative stereotypes about absent fathers, black-on-black crime and angry black women, I think about the absence of love in the eyes of all those that believe those things to be the norm for our community. If you don't believe love exists in the black community, then you're more likely to believe in the negative depictions of blackness. I think it's our duty to tell those stories, and tell our stories, so that we continue to show what the real is.
Q: Do you think there’s sufficient/significant representation of black love in media? Are you encouraged or discouraged by those you see in real life or in media?
Ayana: Yes, I think so, especially now. From my current favorite TV couple, Randall and Beth from This Is Us, to legendary couples like Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance, we've experienced the portrayal of black love on and off camera. Even with the lack of blackness in lead roles in the past, black love, for the most part, has been represented with grace and characterized by our dynamic personalities and intricacies.
Also, on Twitter and Instagram you see couples. We’ve been meme’d a few times. I think the people took their power back. We decided to create our own representations.
Bola: I do believe there is a sufficient representation of black love in media. I’ve been exposed to it my entire life. I think now, more than ever though, we are able to tell our unfiltered stories on way more platforms, and I’m here for all of it.
Q: What’s the hardest part about being a millennial in a relationship?
Ayana: I think it’s our attention span and what we allow ourselves to be consumed by. Whether it be social media or being fully focused on our careers and creative endeavors, we run the risk of not tending to our relationships. None of those things are bad, however, in the negative, we don’t stand a chance to grow and develop what we have. It really comes down to communication and making a conscious effort to connect.
I have a few thousand followers. Men follow me and they see me, and maybe I haven't posted Bola in a while, so they jump into my DMs and I have to set those boundaries. You get blocked, I delete the comment or I respond, and it’s very straight to the point because if it’s not about work, you don’t need to message me.
I think we’re overexposed. But then you have to own your space. I am a woman; I am a mother. I own my sexuality 100 percent and in owning that, you also have to own what comes with that which is the exposed. His friends see it, our family sees it, so it’s not just between he and I. Now, it’s a “thing” for people to be spectators.
Bola: For me, the hardest part is wrapping my head around being “relationship goals” for other people, especially people that I don’t know, and people who I do know but don’t know the ins and outs of my relationship. It’s one thing to see a couple and aspire to have a bond that seems as strong, but those same people need to realize that we have to work hard at achieving that bond. It doesn’t come easy, and although I love my girl, I don’t always like her. I think we’re starting to accept that we’ll be meme’d from time to time and just chalk it up as people appreciating a black couple in love, but it’s still a bit weird.
Something I have in the back of my mind at times is that people feel like they know you even without knowing you. So, if I sort of know someone, but not really, they’ll ask, “Oh how’s your girl?” It’s like, why are you asking about my girl, I don’t know you like that?
Q: Previous generations had clear and specific gender roles. How do you two define each other’s roles in your relationship, if at all?
Ayana: We don’t have specific gender roles in our relationship, but we’re clear on who does what better. I like to cook, but I’m very big on partnership. If it were up to him, we’d eat burgers, pasta and quesadillas everyday. I don’t do that in this house. It comes down to, "You do this in a quicker amount of time, you make sure our family eats healthy." And I’m like, that’s cute, but you can go look at recipes and send them to me so that we can do this together. I’m all about asking for what I need. My grandmother is 83, has a pacemaker and has been sick, but every Sunday there is a meal made and on the table by 3:00 p.m., clockwork. I’m not that kind of person.
Also, it’s really just communicating. We have to ask for things. If I just cooked and it wasn’t a thought in your mind to clean those dishes, damn sure I’m gonna look at you and tell you, “So babe, you gonna wash these dishes?”
Bola: I don’t think we adhere to those gender roles in our relationship. I’ve lived alone and have had to wash my own clothes and do my own dishes, so I am fully capable. I think that as a couple, though, we don’t have set roles. There are simply things that I don’t want to do or I think she’s better at. I think we’ve identified those things, move accordingly day to day and try to help each other however it makes sense for us to. I’d love to cook more, but she’s better at it, so why impose on that?
Q: Do you feel pressured by your family to be with someone who looks like you?
Ayana: No, I have never felt pressured to date a black man, but it was the standard in our family. They just wanted me to choose wisely.
Bola: Not at all. Growing up, I was never discouraged by my parents to date a certain type of person. I definitely had aunts that would tell me don’t bring home anyone who wasn’t Nigerian, but I never took them seriously. I’m a bit of a rebel so even if they were serious, I would do what I felt was right for me.
Q: Are there any individual relationship struggles that you had to overcome?
Ayana: I generalized statements when we had disagreements. It was more of “y’all are all the same” instead of “you made me feel this way.” Not only did I have to communicate what I was feeling in the present tense, I had to reassess how I approached the situation by taking time to pause and reflect before speaking. I know I have the power to speak life into someone rather than tear them down, so making that conscious effort left me with more peace.
Bola: I think communication was and still is a constant struggle for me. I am a very inward person, so a lot of my feelings and opinions stay in my brain. Slowly but surely I’ve come out of my shell, but being in a relationship requires openness. Some days are better than others, but I’ve learned that if I want to have a happy, successful relationship, I cannot continue to leave my partner in the dark when it comes to my thoughts and feelings. I'm dating someone who is very opinionated — a strong black woman — who motivates and inspires me. That’s something I have to remind myself to be better at.
Q: What is it about having a black significant other that impacts you the most?
Ayana: He’s Nigerian American so I’m learning his culture and what that means for him, and things that, when I become his wife, I want to bring into our own household. I think it’s beautiful that he embraces it and that his family keeps those traditions. As a black man, he’s a force and he’s powerful.
Bola: I am in a relationship with a strong, beautiful, black woman. She is an amazing person and her ambition is through the roof. I think that inspires me every day to be my best self.