The Truth About Black Love

Ignore the statistics. Be more like Helen and Walter.

Walter and Helen Chiles on their 50th wedding anniversary.

“Love,” she said, as she handed me a towel, “changes.” It feels a certain way when it’s new. And takes on a different feel when a ring is introduced. A whole ‘nother feel when kids come into the picture—and when they leave, too. And certainly as you grow older. “Just remember that,” she said. “Love changes.”

All these years later, as they readied themselves for the big Golden Chiles shindig, my in-laws gave me a few more pearls of wisdom on how to stay together:

Give each other space. You just don’t have to be all up under each other all the time. The smothering isn’t cute—everybody needs to breathe. Let them.

Be a loser. Winning every argument isn’t everything. Sometimes you have to take the “L” in the fight to score the “W” for your marriage. So what, you don’t agree with everything each other says or does. Get over yourself.

Let your spouse be. Walter is quiet and tends to be a bit of a loner. Helen is the exact opposite—always up in the mix, armed with an opinion, and never, ever afraid to express it. Neither ever tries to convince the other that being this way is wrong. It’s simply who they are, and they accept this—no questions asked. It’s what’s best.

My husband, Nick, and I are working on incorporating these jewels into our marriage. And we thank God every day that we have Helen and Walter’s example, as well as that of my parents, who were married for almost 40 years when my mom died, to shine a light on how to make marriages work. Indeed, both couples are a sorely needed example of committed black love—the kind that slams against the statistics that proclaim black folks are more likely than not to be single and never married or divorced and never to be in wedded bliss again.

The statistics obscure another reality. Nick and I have been married for 11 years, and there are many more couples just like us—happy, in love, dedicated and committed—than the headlines lead all of us to believe. My list of married friends runs deep: My in-laws Angelou and James, and my friends Mike and Tina, Mona and Keith, Wendy and Reggie, Jenny and Anthony, Jackie and Harold, Marcia and Jomo, Kathy and Bruce, Michelle and Horace, George and Alicia, Stephen and Chanel, Renee and Anthony, Shawn and Desere, James and Bethsheba—each one of these beautiful couples buck the notion that committed black love doesn’t exist.

The best each of us can do is prove the statistics wrong by keeping our eyes on Helen and Walter’s example—by following their lead and staying together. For ourselves. For our children. For our community. For love.

Nick and I have 11 years under our belt.

Thirty-nine more to go.