Decolonial love, liberated love, is true love.
“Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of Black people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions about our existence, i.e., that gender should be a determinant of power relationships.” – The Cohambee River Collective
I have ended or paused two relationships recently–both men–one platonic, the other semi-romantic with potential. Potential meaning there were aspirations of seriousness. I loved them both dearly, and the loss of two close relationships one after another had the potential to be devastating. If this were me a year ago, it would have been. Both relationships were two of my most intimate friendships; the latter having become so in a shorter yet intense period of time before its core collapsed like a textbook supernova, the former with the steadiness of a mid-mass star before it finally burned out.
Whenever I describe my friendships as “intimate,” people seem nonplussed. That I would describe two friendships, however intense, as break-ups is confusing to them–because socially the term “break up” places the relationship into a romantic context for most people. We are conditioned to relationship hierarchies, with familial and romantic relationships having the strongest hold on us. Socially friendships are important but a lot of us tend to not take the end of platonic friendships so seriously. The idea is that one can always make new friends but family and “The One,” whoever your One is at the time, are irreplaceable, or less replaceable than others. We, as a culture, place the bulk of importance on our monogamous romantic relationships as far as chosen relationships are concerned.
Monogamous relationships, particularly for heterosexual men, are expected to carry the weight of most of our emotional needs. They are supposed to be our main pillar of support, especially within the context of Romance. As a womanist, I find monogamy to be highly oppressive. Not only because it is skewed in men’s favor because we live in a patriarchal society, but because it locks us into certain roles and expects us to prioritize a singular connection over many connections.
As a Black woman I am often asked, both directly and indirectly, to privilege the needs of Black men and my child over mine. The fact that Black women have begun to center ourselves and our mental and emotional well-being is revolutionary. But is it helping to shift the balance of emotional and domestic labor in monogamous relationships? I am not entirely sure.
Polyamory is the new trend these days, but I’m not sure it’s bringing us any nearer to equality or decolonial love than monogamy+self care. In fact, I think it has more than enough potential to be equally as oppressive and poisonous, despite all of its rave reviews–and take note, I am not against polyamory. I simply do not believe that poly is a cure-all for the problems of Romantic-Love-in-a-Patriarchal-World. Not only that but most poly communities and books are very white. (Which leads lots of people to believe that BIPOC “don’t do poly” but that’s to be addressed another time.)
Many people, specifically heterosexual men, tend to jump into polyamory or test alternative relationship structures without examining and deconstructing the unhealthy attitudes they have learned, not just from monogamy itself, but from:
- Romantic Love, which is idealistic, possessive, and glorifies obsessive love–i.e. Infatuation;
- Sexism and misogyny/-noir, which promote subjective/stereotypical gender roles and behavior for both men and women (expectations vary by race, class and ethnicity);
- Toxic masculinity, which leads many men to suppress their emotions, or to express them in any unhealthy, sometimes abusive/violent manner.
Many men I have encountered while poly have continued the toxic masculine patterns of behavior that they learned growing up. They continued to display poor communication skills, they continued to gaslight me when I expressed strong emotions or discontent, or they vanished entirely without a trace the moment my feelings got too intense. Suddenly what attracted them to me–my honesty and vulnerability and sensitivity–was exactly what repelled them. This happens not only in my romantic connections but with my friendships as well.
My ex-bff and I never had a blowout. He just stopped communication. But for a long time we had struggled because of our ideological differences. I have always been more radical, more left, and more of a risk-taker. I have always striven for growth and my ego rarely prevents me from seeing sense in evidence. My bff is a lot more conservative than I and even considered voting for Trump at one point. He is an intelligent man but our friendship sometimes felt like a power struggle and I think he sometimes disliked the fact that I challenged his beliefs.
I have always considered my platonic relationships to be just as, if not more, important as my romantic relationships. The reason I decided on polyamory was because I found it to be liberatory in a lot of ways. I find it strange that romantic has become synonymous with intimate, or that certain behaviors or gestures that would normally be platonic, are limited to a single relationship or misinterpreted as expressing sexual desire.
The man that I cut out recently told me that if we lived together he would never want any of our other partners to ever come to our home because he didn’t want to be “made a fool of.” But this same man told me that he agreed with my idea of polyamory–that all our relationships should be approached with equal care–and that he doesn’t believe in “ownership of bodies.” But he clearly hadn’t explored what that really meant. When it came down to it, he struggled to balance his relationships with women, including me, because he continued the [monogamous] habit of elevating one connection over all others.
In addition, he and I had many disagreements about when and where to compromise when it comes to Black allies — Black Nationalists and hoteps to be specific. I said that I refuse to partner with someone whose very ideals dehumanize me. He claimed I was being rigid, and that everyone doesn’t have to agree with me to be useful–something a politician would say.
We argued about the relevancy of the sexism and violence and misogynoir when discussing Frederick Douglas and many other Black male leaders whose violence against Black women is overlooked for the sake of “fighting the good fight.” He complained about Black women constantly bashing Black men and expressed how futile he felt his efforts were — yet he told me several times how often when men around him express misogynoir he usually sidesteps it. I patiently explained to him the privilege that he holds and the fact that while he can sidestep misogynoir, I cannot. I deal with it every day and have experienced so much violence from Black men, many of whom claimed they loved me at one point or another.
It has become harder for me to date or make male friends as I have gotten older, which is strange for me because I have always had close male friends. But I have found that the way that I love them is different from the way that they love me. Our values are different.
Yet I have messages in my inbox almost daily asking me why I hate Black men.
Clearly, the problem isn’t just the structure, it is the culture in which we are incubated and hatched. It is this oppressive-colonized idea of love and ownership, and the conflation of infatuation-obsession, sexual desire, sensuality and attachment. We need to stop placing so much undue importance on sexual romantic relationships and finding “The One.” We, mainly cishet men, also need to stop diminishing the emotional-intimate component of friendships and platonic relationships. I believe that changing the way that we approach “love” as a concept, is imperative to building lasting connections. Decolonial love, liberated love, is true love.