Loving ‘Love Is__’ but Not Loving Struggle Love
From “Moesha” to “Black Lightning,” Salim and Mara Brock Akil can do no wrong in my eyes. So, when I first heard about “Love Is__,” I knew I’d be tuning in. Plus, it combines two of my favorite things in the world: 1) Black love and 2) the 1990s.
The drama series follows the love story of Nuri and Yasir, which is loosely based on the Akils real-life relationship. Nuri is a 20-something, Halle Berry haircut-sporting sitcom television writer in Hollywood. She just purchased her first home. When we first meet her, Nuri is dating a few men at the same time, something I find to be quite refreshing for a show set in 1997. Yasir is a 30-something, unemployed aspiring director living with his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Ruby. Yasir doesn’t appear to be looking for a job that can hold him over financially until he becomes the next John Singleton.
Nuri and Yasir first meet at a coffee shop and the connection is instant. And then, they don’t meet again until a year later at a furniture shop. Fate, right? The whirlwind romance begins. Between Nuri’s team, workaholism and desire to be with a man who “matches her efforts,” and Yasir’s financial situation, indebtedness to Ruby and absence from his young son’s life, the two are in for a rollercoaster ride.
While I’m rooting for the two main character’s relationship and the overall success of the show, I’m weary of the struggle love trope being perpetuated. Too many Black women are holding down and mothering men through economic and professional hardship at great financial and emotional sacrifice to themselves.
The last man I truly cared about reminded me a lot of Yasir–smooth, affectionate, intelligent and attentive. I never had to guess where I stood with him. He was also broke, in between housing and had children like Yasir. Yes, he was a hard worker and knew what he wanted to do with his life, but I felt the burden of his situation almost immediately.
We weren’t going out on dates. When we did go out, I was driving and paying. Because he didn’t live alone, we spent more time at my place using up my utilities and going through my food more quickly. My pockets!
It wasn’t just the increased, one-sided spending that bothered me. I found myself literally pouring into him—sharing the template for my budgeting spreadsheet and giving him tips on how to better brand himself. I was really trying to be Suze Orman and a TED Talk speaker in these streets.
It took a couple of months of dating him before I had my “Come to Jesus” moment and broke things off. I’ve never felt so terrible in my life. I liked him and, and he treated me wonderfully. I asked myself, “What if I don’t find someone who makes me feel the way he does ever again?” But I knew had I continued dating him and things progressed, I would be put at a disadvantage for an indefinite amount of time. Frankly, there was no guarantee that in his late 30s, he would ever be able to overcome his obstacles catch up to the life I had become accustomed to. If we moved in together (read: If he moved in with me), more than half of the expenses would be mine to bear. Less of my discretionary income would be allocated towards things I enjoy like concerts, international travel and bottomless brunch, things he probably wouldn’t be able to accompany me at-will. I wouldn’t have been able to save as much money to fulfill the short-term goals I had of purchasing a home and starting my own business.
It’s expected that “Love Is__” will closely mirror the Akil’s relationship. With much financial support and professional guidance from Nuri, Yasir will eventually get on his feet and make his mark in Hollywood. They will become a “power couple.” They will become #goals.
The depiction of coming out of the trenches with a romantic partner is hopeful, but trust and believe that Nuri and Yasir, and Mara and Salim are the exception, not the rule. There are real implications for educated and professional Black women who date and marry “down.”
Disclaimer: Education isn’t the only path to or indicator of wealth (Have you seen the starting pay for some of these technical and vocational fields?)However, there’s an undeniable link between education and earnings. When both Black and white (plot twist!) women marry someone less educated, they stand to lose up to $25,000 per year in household income. But guess what? Only 49% of Black women marry well-educated men compared to 84% of white women. I hear the racial wealth gap widening as I type. You better believe that marriage plays a role in one’s economic mobility and ability to pass wealth to future generations.
Hell, there’s been murmurs from social scientists urging more Black women to participate in “assortative mating,” partnering with someone who shares a similar income or educational background, even if that means marrying “out.” This phenomenon has been explored in books like Is Marriage for White People? and Interracial Relationships between Black Women and White Men.
A lot of educated and professional Black women choose or feel pressured to stay low and build with men they love, hoping there’s a return on the energy and resources they put in. I wholeheartedly understand their choice to do so. There’s simply not enough educated Black men to go around.
Because I’ve decided to wait for a mate who is self-sufficient and able to keep up with my life, I could potentially be waiting forever. I’m OK with that. Ask me again when it’s a rainy Saturday night and there isn’t anything to watch on TV.
“Love Is__” airs Tuesday nights on OWN.