3 Things I’ve Learned From My Long Distance Marriage

My husband and I have what some might call a non-traditional relationship…

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We were high school sweethearts who ended up going to different colleges and managed to keep the relationship together. You might be thinking what’s non-traditional about that? Well, let me tell you. After graduating from college my husband, then my bf, got a job in our home state of NJ and I went to get my masters degree in D.C. at George Washington University.   About a year and a half into my two-year program, we got married with the intent that I would move back home after graduation. I then got accepted into a Ph.D. program in Georgia. I moved to Georgia with the idea that he would get a job in Georgia and be down within a year. I knew job searching might take some time and we weren’t strangers to long distance, so what were a few more months, right?

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Well after not being able to find adequate employment in Georgia, what seems like a million arguments, many visits and 4 years, we still hadn’t moved in together. We were coming up on our 5th year of marriage and I was coming toward the end of my Ph.D. journey. We just moved in together full time for the first time after our 5-year anniversary in October after I wrapped up the research portion of my Ph.D. I tell this story to say that I could probably be considered an “expert” in long distance relationships and marriages since I did both for a cumulative total of 12 years. So when #CiteASista asked me to write a post on what I have learned through all of this, I couldn’t really say no, could I?

But first, a caveat: Neither me nor my marriage are anywhere near perfect. There’s still a lot of room left to grow as flawed human beings… 

Nevertheless, here are the top 3 things I’ve learned from my long distance marriage/relationship:

First: Communication is king, queen, prince, and princess:

Createherstock Black Love Neosha Gardner 62When you are in a long distance relationship communication is the most abundant resource at your disposal. Between Facetime, texting and phone calls you can ALMOST forget your significant other is thousands of miles away. But this goes deeper than you think. I was a person that relied heavily on facial cues and body language to gauge the tone of a conversation, but that isn’t always an option when long distance. Over time, I have been able to hear the subtlest changes in tone and have a general idea what my husband is feeling and so can he.

Second: Everything isn’t meant to be said: My husband and I would call each other at least 3x a day while long distance, in addition to texting and occasional video chats. Our arguments would get pretty vicious and when the only thing you have at your disposal is words…. let’s just say mine have surgical precision if I’m trying to hurt your feelings. But words also cut deep and when you can’t rely on physical closeness to help bridge the gap after an argument you realize that everything you say has a LONG LASTING effect. Over the years I have learned that even though I’m probably right and I could really win the argument by saying a bunch of true but not nice things, in the long run, its not worth it. Some of my friends can tell you this was a HARD learned lesson.

DSC M29Third: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Let’s be honest here, marriage is hard AF. Married people who live together get into their fair share of arguments but at least they have make-up sex to fall back on. Long distance marriage is HARD. SUPER HARD. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I really feel like through all the rough patches of our long distance marriage we really have come through better people and stronger in terms of our relationship for it. Between learning how to fight fair (most of the time), understanding that communication is gold in any relationship and enduring not seeing each other every day, I feel like I cherish being with my husband, even more, now than I would have if we would have done things more traditionally.

BONUS! Its O.K. to do your own thing: I was only asked for 3 things so I’ll be quick. Being long distance through the majority of my relationship has allowed me to continue to grow myself as a person, foster invaluable friendships and do my own thing A LOT. Now, I can do things with my spouse and enjoy it, but I cherish the time with friends because they had my back when he wasn’t around and really became a great support system. I know it is easy to get wrapped up in your romantic relationships but friendships are SO important. It is 100% ok to reserve time for your crew and have your own interests and hobbies that don’t include your spouse.

Ok, that’s my $.02 about long-distance marriages. Are you in a long distance marriage/ relationship? Thinking about starting one? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

I’m Childfree By Choice: So Please Stop Bingoing Me!

I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to write this for this platform. Everywhere I go I see post after post saying people without kids are “assholes”, “rude,” “mean,” “selfish,” and every other word in the book. This post originally appeared on my facebook, but I wanted to add it here and flesh out a few pieces for a greater audience because there just aren’t enough posts like these. I also feel like it can contribute to the conversation that is circling regarding Jeannie Mai and her husband’s impending divorce.  With this ridiculous disclaimer out the way….

 

In the childfree community, we call it bingoing/being bingoed when people with children or those who buy into norms of having children say certain things to us because we have made a decision to opt out of parenthood. The decision of whether or not I wanted to parent became particularly salient for me when my ex-fiance and I went back and forth in the months leading up to our planned wedding date.

 

Well as you can guess by this post– that wedding didn’t happen. *Ba dun tisk*

Go head, laugh. I can *now* laugh about it myself; but it took a few months to get here. Anyway, I have been very forthcoming with people about the end of my last relationship and that at the core of this change was my lack of willingness to have children, to give up my dreams and goals associated with travel, and to stifle my career by placing another person’s vision of happiness above my own. Some people call this selfish, I call it self-awareness.

I think it is noble and nice that folks say their kids are the best thing to happen to them, and yet I see so many parents on my social media timelines and elsewhere who are utterly miserable. People who mention their lack of sleep, continued inability to save for a rainy day, find themselves consistently canceling plans because of a sick baby or unexpectedly busy co-parent,  etc.  and it’s touted as a badge of honor. I don’t purport to understand it and I have decided it’s not for me to do so. But gosh golly people. Canceling on the same friend every month? It sucks. Walking around a shell of who you are? It’s hard to watch. Asking me for money? Well, that’s actually no longer an option for anyone because I cannot help you.

What I do know is that I did not grow up with the life I felt I deserved. My parents did everything they could and I am grateful for every sacrifice they’ve made to get me here. It is not lost on me that my parents contributed greatly to the woman I am today. My parents worked to their bones to provide for my sister and I. I have watched as they gave everything they had and poured into us with a selflessness that I honestly think should be illegal. I am hyper-aware of the fact that my parents, who are low income by every measure I’ve come to learn as a social class researcher, have worked 40+ hours per week for the entirety of my life and they do not have enough to retire on. They have not because they sacrificed for us. And in many ways I’ve already made the decision to make sure they do not have to suffer for it.

Make no mistake I am grateful. In fact, I want the best for everyone in my life, and if that means having 2972972982 kids and struggling or having no kids at all great. But I must admit openly and honestly that it is utterly exhausting being bingoed. I am tired and I am frustrated with everyone else’s preoccupation with what I do with my vagina, my wallet, and my willingness to sacrifice. People treat me as if my decision not to have kids is somehow an affront to them. As if I have somehow invalidated their choices by choosing to make my own. And the worst part of it all is how many people ignore just how many Black women, women who could be me, my sister, my cousins, etc. have died during childbirth and die at a higher rate than everyone else in this first world country we call home.  I am exhausted by hearing–

“it’s different when you have yours”

“you don’t want to give your parents grandkids”

“You didn’t really love [ex-fiance] if you wouldn’t have his kids” (I’m no longer friends with this person.)

“Children are a blessing”

“What will be your legacy”

“You’re not a real woman until you have kids”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

I must admit I’ve been particularly sensitive this month. I was supposed to get married *and* I somehow forgot to remove the calendar invites going haywire to remind me about my “honeymoon.” I still love my ex-fiance and do not pretend as if this isn’t the case.

AND… I still don’t want to have kids.

I think the most frustrating part of all of this is how people question me as if I have not thought and calculated every piece of this decision. Do people honestly think that I walked away from a relationship that would have guaranteed me fun and comfort without weighing how much having a child because he wanted one would hurt and harm me? Do people think I am unaware of the exorbitant costs associated with daycare and private schooling? Do people think I am unaware that amongst even my closest friends those married, in a partnership, a relationship without legal guarantees, and even those who are single that the women *almost always* do all of the parenting work? Even amongst my friends in queer relationships, the person who is most femme presenting *often* does all of the work (this is a whole different dialogue for another day, btw).

I have thought.

I have researched.

I have made budgets.

I have remade budgets.

I have mapped career timelines from front to back with and without kids.

I still have no desire to have kids.

I write all of this to say stop trying to make me make the choices you’ve made. Stop trying to make me be with someone who wants kids (or is fence sitting) when I know I’m setting myself up for divorce. Stop talking to me as if my life is not as important as yours because you’re a parent. Stop saying “at least you don’t have kids” when I mention my annoyance about unexpected expenses popping up. I still have bills to pay and a mouth to feed: Mine.

I am a whole person. A living breathing individual who wishes to be seen as more than an incubator for a human fetus. Who wishes to have her accomplishments judged by their merit, not by the man or kids I am or am not attached to.

And stop trying to force me to qualify “I’m not interested in having kids” by following up quickly about how much I like them. Everything I do is for the good of other people. Nearly every desire I have is for the betterment of society. Every decision I make is so that I can get to a point of being more charitable and giving than I am today– things that are for the good of a future I don’t have children coming into.

And if you can’t do any of that, just please for the sake of my heart, feelings, and emotions stop bingoing me.

P.S. My ex is a great guy. Have at him. 😉 

On Agency, #Jayz444, #443chat, & a Woman’s Burden

I’m a Jay-Z fan. I will argue anyone nine ways til’ Sunday about why the Black Album is one of the greatest albums ever made—not greatest rap, not greatest hip hop, but actual factual greatest albums ever. Before 4:44 dropped, I found myself debating the same concepts across differing communities… For some reason, marriage and loyalty were topics of discussion in two different GroupMe spaces within the same 24-hour time span: One a community for Black singles and another a community for people interested in sex positivity and minimizing sex shaming.

And somehow across groups, space, time, and now since the release of 4:44 I’m finding myself screaming the same story about the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing not coming down on the person someone cheats with as much as it does the person who’s committed. Follow me, here, please? What I’m about to say has been said before. It’s MYE (sic) opinion and mine alone (so don’t be yelling as if Cite A Sista is a monolithic subcommunity), but it follows a long history and tradition of thought logic by women before me. Black feminists have said it. My mother has said it. My friends have heard it somewhere. I’ve read it, repeated it, and here I am rehashing it again:

No one owes monogamy to a relationship but the two people in the committed monogamous relationship. Period.

Now let me be clear– I’m speaking here specifically about Black on Black relationships and cis-het companionship. Why? Because those are the relationships I know intimately and because I have no business talking about how queer folks love. That said, I’m not rationalizing cheating. This is not about “#HoesStayWinning.” And this certainly isn’t a hot take on Jay-Z and Bey or Blac Chyna and her ex, per se. But Jay does provide an interesting example of why I say and feel no one outside of your commitment owes you–

“Yeah, I’ll f*ck up a good thing if you let me / Let me alone, Becky / A man that don’t take care his family can’t be rich / I’ll watch Godfather, I miss that whole sh*t” -Jay-Z, 4:44

Jay is being praised for this album. Black men everywhere are reaching out to say sorry to former lovers. People online are writing heada*s articles showing appreciation for the fact that a cis-het Black man is baring his soul nevermind the fact that queer black artists have shown how possible this is forever, admitting he’s wrong, apologizing, and committing to being a better spouse and father. And the subtext here, for me, is still: Jay-Z wants other women to let him be rather than make a conscious decision to say no.

The word for the day kids is Agency. A-G-E-N-C-Y. 

When we as Black women, and men themselves (hi, Jay), reduce Black men to beings who cannot say no–to these hypersexual individuals who need not be tempted rather than exert their right to walk away, we infantilize them and minimize their agency and decision-making ability in the process.

Jay-Z made a choice.

Men who cheat make a choice.

Deciding to step out, whether “tempted” or not is a decision.

This same reduction is done to Black women who are complicit in the affair (or in Jay-Z’s case Becky of a race unknown?) when we pretend as if people outside the structure and confines of a marriage owe monogamy, trust, and honesty to people within them. Becky doesn’t owe Bey (sorry, fight me). The other woman doesn’t owe a wife. The idea of whether it’s right or wrong to be with a person that is married or committed is a moral one and I’m not in the business of making moral judgments because I’m probably the least judgmental person half the folks in my life know… But I write all of this to say that it’s high time we start holding Black men accountable for being full-grown responsible human beings.

I’ll never forget the day one of my friends pointed out how “we love our sons and raise our daughters”. This is exactly why a man old enough to babysit Beyonce when she was a child could go on record and admit she matured faster than him.

Dear Black Women: if we love and are committed to Black men we have to hold them responsible. Let’s stop making this about being woman to woman, about she should have known better, and many other countless phrases that pop up when we learn about and discuss infidelity.

Dear Black Men: make a choice, sit with it, and be real. Your prefrontal cortex is fully developed–the idea that someone made you do it (at least in my life) ends here.


Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter using #CiteASista!

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Welcome to the Mental Health & Relationships Column!

Greetings Cite A Sista Family,

My name is Shaquinta Richardson, and I will be the mental health and relationships columnist for CiteaSista!I am a marriage and family therapist, marriage and family therapy supervisor in training, doctoral candidate, disability studies scholar and activist, and mental health and self-care advocate.

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As a systemic couple and family therapist, I practice from a contextual family therapy model which emphasizes balance, equity, care, and responsibility in relationships.  My approach focuses on the interactions between people in relationships and their perceptions of the love and care they receive, as well as ways they feel their needs have not been met.  I also consider the contextual, social, and historical aspects that impact couple and family relationships.  That’s me as a professional therapist.

As a Black woman, I am focused on the healing, uplifting, and empowerment of my sisters in every area of their lives, be it family, cou47f1641b7cf2a96d8493ac275b55be82.jpgple relationships, friendships, or career.  I believe that we have been taught to take care of everyone but ourselves. Part of our liberation is through caring for ourselves first.  As such, I will be sharing with you ways to improve your personal well-being, ways to rethink self-care and mental health, and simply sharing the journey to healing our wounds as Black women.  I hope this column will challenge you to rethink how you show up as a daughter, a mother, a sister, friend, partner, colleague, and overall individual.  My message is not meant to be all encompassing, but I hope you will be able to find something valuable for your journey.  I look forward to sharing a little piece of me in hopes that it will help you be a happier, healthier version of you!

SR