The following is an excerpt from a new book titled, “Where Did Our Love Go: Love & Relationships in the African American Community,” is the third anthology from award-winning lifestyle journalist/bestselling author, Gil Robertson IV. The book focuses on the indelible quest for LOVE and how more people can find sustainable, healthy partnership in their lives. As with his earlier collections, “Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community,” and “Family Affair: What it Means to be African American Today, the new book offers a smorgasbord of opinions, perspectives and life lessons told from the perspective of prominent African-Americans who are single, married and divorced. Ultimately, the book’s goal is to provide readers with insights that they can relate to and find motivational and uplifting. The book is available wherever books are sold. For more information visit www.wheredidrlovego.com
by Rhonda Freeman-Baraka
There is nothing quite like the wide-eyed wonderment of a child who believes in something with all her heart. That moment when what she imagines suddenly seems real can be nothing short of magical. I’ve had such moments in my life—many of them well beyond my childhood years. We all have. When I first learned that there was a jolly fat man who delivered presents to all the children of the world once a year—free of charge— I was convinced that this was the best thing ever. Think about it: All I had to do was be reasonably good for a mere 364 days and on day 365, an old bearded man in a red suit would sweep down from the North Pole with a team of reindeer, shimmy down my chimney, and leave me every single toy my heart desired. He knew my name and my address, and he even knew if I had been bad or good. But here’s the kicker: He did this for every single child in the entire world all in one night. What did my eight-year-old mind think of that? I thought it was amazing, of course. It wasn’t until I had a few more Christmases under my belt and caught my grandparents hiding gifts a couple of times that I final- ly grasped what I should have realized all along: that whole Santa thing—so not real. In fact, I concluded, it was impossible! Still, when I grew up, got married and had children of my own, I told them all about ol’ St. Nick and, like me, they bought it hook, line, and sinker.
Believing in Santa was fun while it lasted but learning that he wasn’t real—not so much. The same goes for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. And yes, the same holds true for the perfect marriage.
Every young girl imagines herself floating down the aisle, gazing lovingly into the eyes of the perfect man. She dreams of having the perfect house, the perfect life, and the perfect marriage. But the minute she learns that her husband hates doing yard work, and he loathes shopping, and he despises her mother, it’s like find- ing Mom and Dad hiding Christmas presents and devouring San- ta’s milk and cookies all over again. The myth is shattered and life as we know it is over.
Unfortunately, adults don’t handle this epiphany as well as chil- dren. Kids move on and find other things to believe in. They don’t try to make the Tooth Fairy real even though they know she’s not. Adults, however, are a different breed. Once we find out that mar- riage is not the picture of perfection we hoped it would be, one of two things will happen: we try to mold our mates into who we would have them be; or we get on the next thing smokin’ to divorce court, toss out the marriage like an old shoe, and start over again. If we’re lucky, though, we’ll discover what we should have known all along: There is no such thing as a perfect marriage.
Now, this might sound strange coming from someone who has been married for 25 years—to the same man, mind you—but it shouldn’t.
My husband and I have been through many, many ups and downs. I’ve learned things about him that, had I seen them earlier, would have sent me running for the hills. He might say the same thing about me. Actually, I’m sure he’d say the same thing about me. Once the newness of a relationship wears off and you no longer have to pretend to be Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, you gradually fall back into being who you really are—and so does your mate.
Unfortunately, many marriages don’t survive this period because, in many instances, people don’t fall in love with real people. They fall in love with an ideal. They fall in love with the idea of marriage. They fall in love with the vision of who they think their spouse can and should be. They fall in love with a fantasy that dissipates quicker than you can say “ho, ho, ho.” And no matter how many times they are disillusioned, they hold fast to the notion that perfection awaits them. In fact, they firmly believe themselves to be the perfect mates and they are convinced that they should settle for nothing less than perfection. They’re wrong on all counts.
Being successful in marriage requires many things, including love, respect, selflessness, and honesty. One of the most essential, but often overlooked, ingredients is maturity. If you want to have a long-lasting relationship, you must simply grow up and realize that the notion of the perfect marriage is right up there with unicorns, Bigfoot, and yes, Santa Claus.
Now does that mean that you should settle for anything and any- one? Not at all. Abuse, whether it is physical or emotional; infidelity; incompatibility—these are all good reasons to end a marriage. Some- times people simply don’t fit. But the mature husband or wife knows the difference between a normal human being with a few annoying idiosyncrasies and a violent, demented philanderer who doesn’t value you as a person or as a mate.
This also doesn’t mean that you should stop working on your marriage. It’s like the saying goes: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” Strive for perfection, if you must, but don’t be discouraged and throw in the towel if you don’t achieve it. Better yet, don’t be disappointed when “perfection” looks like something other than what you imagined it to be. Perfection may not be tall, dark, and handsome. It might be short, chubby, and reliable.
That said, maybe the perfect marriage does exist. Maybe it’s the marriage that has survived all the disappointment, disillusionment, expectations, pitfalls, trials, and turmoil that are inherent in every union. Maybe it’s the marriage that acknowledges its imperfections but remains intact anyway. Maybe it’s the marriage that does not rely on hype and fanfare for sustenance; the one that has matured to the point where both participants realize that imperfection is real, human, and normal. Maybe it’s the marriage that has learned to be perfectly imperfect. But you’ll never know if you don’t stick around long enough to find out.
In the aftermath of believing in Santa, I was disappointed. I felt betrayed by my grandparents, by Santa, and by the entire population of the North Pole. You can’t trust anybody these days, I thought. That lasted all of a day, and I was on to other things. I stopped believing in Santa Claus, but I didn’t stop believing in what Santa represents.
He sets a standard for human kindness and he symbolizes everything that is good in the world. He reminds us that it is better to give than to receive. He teaches us that the fact that he isn’t real doesn’t mean we can’t imagine he is. It doesn’t mean we can’t wish for everyone in the world to be more like him.
I guess the idea of the perfect marriage does that for us too. It gives us hope and a goal. It also makes us work harder, because as long as you believe, anything is possible. Right? True, but let’s just remember to keep our expectations within reason and acknowledge the line between fantasy and reality.
After 25 years of marriage, I’ve discerned that there is a differ- ence between trying to mold someone into the perfect mate and inspiring someone to be the best they can be. My husband and I still push one another to be healthier, stronger, and more creative, and we do that because it makes us better for ourselves—not just for each other. And even now, we still have the capacity to change. We still want to dig a little deeper, reach a little higher for ourselves —and for each other. We know when to push, how to push, and when to back off. We know one another’s weaknesses and flaws. They’re like those dingy old sweatpants that your husband refuses to throw out or that ugly vase that sits prominently on the mantel. They’re a part of who we are as individuals and as a couple, and at some point, we have to accept that they just might be here to stay.
Still, I must admit that every now and then, I’m like that eight- year-old girl who wants to pretend that I didn’t spy my grandmother hiding my Christmas presents, who swears up and down that I heard Santa’s “ho, ho ho!” echoing from the rooftop and the cheerful jin- gling of sleigh bells in the distance. It’s times like this that I’ll ask my husband to do something that I haven’t been able to get him to do in 25 years. I’ll wait, gazing at him with wide-eyed wonderment, to see if this time, just maybe, he’ll actually say yes.
Rhonda Freeman-Baraka is a screenwriter/producer based in Mar- ietta, Georgia. Her most recent film, Trinity Goodheart, premiered on the gmc network in August 2011 and was the network’s highest-rated show in history. A noted journalist and media consultant, she made her entry into film in 2008, with the faith-based drama Pastor Brown. Through her company, ToKo Productions, Freeman-Baraka is currently developing the romantic comedy Looking For Jimmy Lee with real- life husband-and-wife team Boris Kodjoe (Undercovers, Resident Evil, Surrogates) and Nicole Ari Parker (The Deep End, Soul Food, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins). Freeman-Baraka has also been commissioned to write a new gmc original movie slated for production this summer. Freeman-Baraka and her husband, Tony, are the parents of two children: Toni, 16, and Koran, 14.