In this article, Tonya and Aaron give us a glimpse into their marriage and the way they manage to nagivate the culture clash, the ups and downs, and their approach to living a love filled marriage.
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We met through mutual acquaintances and friends. After our first few dates with several long and transparent talks, we sensed our chemistry was special. We believe this sense of chemistry happens in all meaningful and enduring relationships - regardless of ethnic or cultural backgrounds. We also believe there is ultimately one human family. We felt our love so strongly, after 1 year and 3 months we eloped in Maui.
The joys and the blessings of us include dating at least weekly and sometimes more. Our dates can range from being out nicely dressed, to playing 9 holes of golf, to time at home cooking for each other and streaming video.
- We awaken with "Good morning, I love you." and we rest with "I love you, Goodnight.” On our common days off we can spend from sunrise to sunset together and wonder where the time went.
Awaken with "Good morning, I love you." and we rest with "I love you, Goodnight.”
- We are each other's best friend in the truest sense of the word. Our relationship is very dynamic and emotionally rich. We are able to handle some of the most serious matters in life like the death of a parent, family illness, parenting and problems facing our close friends. Likewise, we can be like two grade school kids laughing, singing out loud with the top down and dancing alone with each other because of the trust and safety we have built together. She is my wife and still my girlfriend. He is my husband and still my boyfriend.
- We were not new to relationships or marriage before we met. We had emotional scars and triggers to prove it. We were hurt by others and we hurt others before. Those long, transparent conversations while we were dating clearly put the challenges we might face on the table.
- We both have professional ambitions, and we believe in and support each other in those pursuits. We started a women's networking and empowerment company, Hugs for Women. We complement each other's strengths, and supplement each other's weaknesses. We accept each other right where we are in different aspects of our lives with encouragement to become better in the future. We have similar tastes in music, furniture and more. With maturity we understand the differences between dependence, independence and interdependence.
Occasionally, we receive a public glance of disapproval or ignorance. Rarely does anyone say anything audible to us when we are together, but possibly under their breath. It still agitates Aaron that he can walk into some retail stores by himself dressed reasonably well at times and be followed and observed by staff or “theft deterrence” shoppers to check out with little to no greeting or eye contact by cashiers. We can later go into these same places or chains together against his preference but out of convenience and the staff is helpful, smiling and welcoming. They seem to be encouraged or trained to cheer us, but not him.
Likewise, Tonya does not go unscathed in her perceptions from women of both cultures. Tonya has truly sister-like relationships with women from several ethnicities. However, there are Caucasian and African-American acquaintances she knows would never date outside of their race. Though she arguably has many more African-American sisters than any other type of sister since college, she has occasionally received the “taking away good black men” comment. Caucasian female co-workers have also said offensive things before they knew about us.
We have to choose carefully when to take these incidents in stride and let people learn for themselves, or when it is our day to speak up and help share a lesson with someone.
We learned and are still learning to let time do what time does – to not rush or force results. This is especially true of our blended family. Aaron brings three daughters to our marriage. They grew to love Tonya individually at their own paces. Aaron’s extended family has roots in Mississippi, but they just loved Tonya from day one. Tonya comes from a smaller town with almost no diversity. Some of her family members were slower than others to come around at first when we came into town. Today our extended family’s connections on both sides are growing.
...our extended family’s connections on both sides are growing.
Understand that you may never be completely accepted by all in our society. Your goal is not acceptance, it is love. Dr. King essentially told us “A lie cannot live forever.” So, eventually old falsehoods will fade.
Until your last names become identical expect people to ask, “Are you really married?” for forms, applications, etc. Try not to be too offended, and resolve the name issue sooner than later after tying the knot.
Emphasize and celebrate the positives about each other’s customs and cultures. Adhere to them as authentically and historically as possible. Where that cannot be done, be respectful, graceful and sensitive in making adaptations to accommodate your spouse’s inclusion without removing the essentials. We celebrate Kwanzaa and even attend a larger community event during the last seven days of the year. This cultural celebration was very new to Tonya, and can be observed understandably in a way that is un-inclusive. The more she learned about it and how we celebrated Kwanzaa before her, she once said, “If this were for my culture, I would be all over it.” We enjoy it as a family now. It gives each of us creativity exercises, historical research opportunities and more. Don’t be afraid to start new traditions and new customs.
Adopt a sense of humor about some of the cosmetic or style differences between your cultures. When/if you have children together, expose them to both cultures equally whenever possible; and let them choose their own styles later.
Be comfortable discarding decidedly negative aspects from your backgrounds; whether they are false stereotypes perpetuated by relatives, misinformation in the standard American history, or attitudes of people in our society who simply refuse to see beyond the surface or the past because it is more comfortable for them.
Don’t be afraid to start new traditions and new customs.
Ultimately, Love is our religion. Tonya and I are deep carers at heart. Every successful relationship works from the inside outward; not in the other direction. Letting your love radiate from the center is key. The fact that the person you love has a different shade of skin should not change this approach. We have the ability to see things from each other's camera lenses with empathy even when it is difficult. We have learned how to consistently speak and demonstrate the languages of love for each other. We are each other's person, and we hope the readers of this article find the same or more levels of happiness.