We Can’t Imagine What It Will Be Like To Grow Old Together: Learning To Trust Our Black Lesbian Love

Love as a young Black lesbian has not been patient. Nor kind.

I spend much of our time together waiting on bated breath, believing that soon she’ll morph into a monster. I wait for her to stop loving me — to pick me to pieces, to take all that she’s gained and leave. The fear of being broken again keeps me distant, on my toes until I feel the bones starting to shatter.

Do you remember your first example of true love? Or at least, the love you wanted for yourself? Did it look like you? Did it sound like you? Was it gentle? Did it last long? Did it work through rough patches like it was detangling knots or rubbing out stains? I remember being at a barbecue in my godmother’s backyard. Her house was always packed, and she always had more than enough food. She was making gumbo on the grill (I couldn’t tell you why she did it that way) and talking to a young lesbian couple who was standing in the corner holding each other. They came to everything and were very rarely far away from each other. I can’t remember what they looked like. Those memories are no longer than a minute or so; not long enough to know if they were happy or in the middle of a growth that they weren’t ready for. But they are long enough to know that that was a possibility; that love could look like that too.

Love as a young Black lesbian has not been patient, nor kind. It is laced with sleepless nights and barrels of tears. Waiting became a familiar pastime. Waiting for change, for growth, for promises to be fulfilled. Waiting to be wanted in much of the same way dandelions yearn to be seen as sunflowers.

Counselors, psychiatrists, and therapists will tell you that you figure out what relationships look like by watching family members — more often than not, by watching your parents. Whether the relationship itself is functioning and healthy or dysfunctional and unhealthy, those will be the examples that you’ll use as you enter relationships when you’re older. I used to wonder why so many of the studs I dated struggled with their femininity and were often misogynistic. But, considering their only examples of relationships were dysfunctional heterosexual relationships, I realized that were simply reenacting what they saw. Many lesbians I know will admit that many of their earlier relationships consisted of them applying what they saw in heterosexual relationships to their lesbian ones. Although we would have liked to have a better fit, we accept that we will be trying to shove round blocks into triangular holes until we figure out that we are not the only lesbians in the world. 

She looks at me like I am the combination of all of Earth’s natural wonders. She sees the love child of sunsets, waterfalls, and rainbows in my eyes. She spends copious amounts of time tracing my outline with her fingers — committing it to memory, forever in awe of every new pockmark and scar she encounters. She drops kisses on them like dew; keeping them refreshed, feeling renewed, feeling healed.

Not much exists that shows us the way that love is performed. I search regularly for examples of Black lesbians exhibiting love that builds up the soul instead of sending it through the shredder. I spent years swapping popular heterosexual storylines with lesbian ones in my mind, hoping it would fill that void of representation — or, at least, tell me what I was supposed to be looking for and running away from. It took too long for me to realize that it would never be enough, that I — like many other young Black lesbians — would be making it up as we go along. 

She actively encourages all of the parts of myself that I’ve spent most of my life hiding, convincing me daily that my emotions are safe with her. She is the first partner that I talk to effortlessly about my sadness, fear, and my anxiousness around stability. She meets all of it with kindness and support. She extends to me what I’ve always given out. Most of the time, I still don’t know what to do with it.

When our love begins, we can’t imagine what it will be like to grow old together. How many of us have seen a Black lesbian marriage last into old age? I’ve seen pictures of young Black lesbian couples in the ’50s and ’60s, but there are no photos to show that those couples ever aged together. Do we ever make it to gray hair together? When we don’t know where to turn, who will share their lesson-filled stories with us? Where are our elders to show us the way?

She writes me love letters while I sleep. Every dream that escaped the force field of my lips, she is ready, armed with a plan of execution. She is both cheerleader and security guard, ready to drag someone over to support my ventures. She has so much faith in me that it overflows. She’s never too far from my side, always ready to shove me back onto my feet each time that I fall. The future that she puts into the universe for us involves an indoor jungle that she’s created just for me to regain my peace in — to feel safe when I am lost, to feel grounded. It also includes more children than we can count, more love than we know what to do with.

There are many days where I feel myself waiting, afraid that all of this will be a dream and I will wake up having never known her. Instead, I will be piecing together lesbian love stories with storylines pulled from popular media, praying that it will be enough to prove to me that I deserve more than the bare minimum. When she read the draft of this piece, she promised me that there was no way she could leave, that she was better than a dream because this was our reality. But while she sleeps, I touch her face and wait to see if it disappears under my fingertips. 


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