Written by Montez Louria
Art by jasmine browley
I sat down at the computer to write an angry piece about the state of the world. But I get tired of writing about Black death. I get tired of writing about Black grief. And I grow tired of writing about century-long social injustice that finds ways to reinvent itself. It feels like we never stop mourning. We can never stop being angry or sad. For once, I wanted to focus my attention on something that I have yet to write about and in some ways, I have been terrified to even put into words—love.
Black love. Black Joy. Black happiness is one of the greatest forms of resistance. The smiles. The hugs, and of course, the boisterous laughs. My resiliency is not in my strength, per se, but intertwined within the Facebook video calls, long distanced, long-lasting phone calls, and countless funny videos shared on Instagram to preserve the joy inside—the true life force. It lies in “their loss” sincerity after PhD rejections and sour dates. It is intertwined in the hearts and memories of the people along the way in my life.
Growing up in a cis-heteronormative society and household, the idea of love is associated with romantic relationships that would involve myself and a man. This was the concept. That was it. I had no idea that friends could love you. My family is extremely “tight knit” and skeptical of “outsiders.” I didn’t see the people I lived with have many friends, especially those they would consider a best friend. However, I am not a hopeless romantic and I am still working on what it means to “love”. But what I do know is that it doesn’t have to be romantic, and those relationships seem to be the most impactful for me. Platonic love has literally changed my life. I feel like I have been saved by the friends I have made in my life, including the ones I have lost. Here is an ode, or love letter to all the femmes who taught me something about love. Through them, I am still learning to love myself.
When I was a little kid, it was cute to give out Valentine’s cards to all your classmates and get all the candy. You would give your closest friend something extra cool because they were the “it” crew in your head. I always cherished that experience because it was about people sharing camaraderie and everyone felt good, until adults started imposing their ideas about who liked who in the room on children.
“Is that your boyfriend?” my teacher giggled. I was mortified, more like petrified. I stood grasping my bag of Reese’s shaped hearts. My eyes grew wide. If we could go back in time, at that exact moment and pause, you would see the exact moment a trickle of sweat formed on my forehead. Boys at that age for me were extremely taboo. Yet as I aged, I was expected to have crushes from afar, but not exactly date them because according to my parents- dating leads to babies. Yes, I know, that escalated very quickly, and that is exactly why I was so taken aback at the idea of having a “boyfriend.” My teacher looked at me. I looked at her, fist, jaw, and lips clenched so tightly carbon monoxide wouldn’t pass through. She squinted her eyes. I swallowed. I swear it took me at least 70 seconds to say “no,” and scurry away. I have always been a tad awkward. The exchange lingered in my mind, and for some reason, I felt really weird.
As I grew, I realized that relationships between femme presenting people and masculine presenting people became extremely complicated by several external forces and by the time I was in high school, people were no longer giving out Valentines day cards to their “crew”. High school was the time for boyfriends, girlfriends, crying in the hallway, and wearing the cool sports attire of your person. I was no longer the kid with the clenched fist of candy. I was the boyband loving, secretly depressed, retro film nerd. The question would arise again, except it was more like, “do you have a boyfriend?” This time, my parents were bulging their eyes and clenching fists. Eventually, I ended up dating someone and misusing the word love because as far as I knew it was as simple as Merriam-Webster described. My parents would tell me they loved me but my other immediate family weren’t into “saying that,” as they said. My mother’s sisters have a range of personalities from lighthearted to downright mean. We were not saying, “I love you,” or hugging on a daily basis. So that was it… until it wasn’t.
I realized this more complicated when one of my friends said, “I love you.” She had said it before but at those times, she was laughing hysterically at some nonsense I was saying, so I didn’t believe it. She looked me in my eyes seriously and said it in a platonic yet non-humorous way. I was startled. I was stunned. There was a pregnant pause and she gave a half smile. It was time for class, so we went to class. Later, she poked at my then-hard shell.
“So is love not a thing you do?”
“Huh?” I said.
She laughed. I couldn’t tell if she was serious.
I had a moment of internal panic. I had a tough exterior to keep up, “… no. I don’t really say that. My family, we don’t really do that. We aren’t really huggers either.”
She nodded her head. My friends were huggers. My boyfriend, at the time, was a hugger. Everyone seemed so much more emotional than I was and I started realizing that being stoic wasn’t normal. After shifting friendship, graduating, breaking up, and starting therapy, my journey into emotions started. More significantly, my journey into happiness and love started.
It became apparent that I needed to define love, so I started where everyone does, the dictionary. Let’s begin with Oxford. Love is defined as “A feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in his or her presence (distinguished from sexual love at sense 4a); great liking, strong emotional attachment; (similarly) a feeling or disposition of benevolent attachment experienced towards a group or category of people, and (by extension) towards one’s country or another impersonal object of affection. With of, for, to, towards.” That seemed very mechanical. Then there is Merriam Webster. The definition according to Merriam is shorter but relates to kinship, strong affection, physical attraction or desire, and tenderness felt by “lovers.” All those are just words that come together to create something superficial. It’s easy on paper. It’s easy to misuse.
When a friend told me she loved me, it was like the moment Buzz Lightyear was reset in Toy Story. I short circuited and started thinking about the oddities of emotions in my life from that moment. Maybe I should personally thank her for starting this line of questioning and developing more ideas as I go along. We aren’t close friends anymore because unfortunately people grow apart. However, I had a friend who I had known since middle school and at some point we became as thick as thieves, like peanut butter and jelly. Through my time with her, over a decade of friendship, I gained these experiences that showed me how people could care about you. I saw an affectionate family firsthand and the shell, the stoic facade starting melting more and more which is why our friend “break-up” ravaged me from the inside out. It hurt worse than calling it quits with any partner I had. I found myself reminiscing over the late nights hanging out in her car, getting our college acceptances, and growing into young adulthood (the thing that tore us apart).
But the best thing about adulthood is that it lasts a while, you learn a lot along the way, and you meet new people. The people are fond of the person you are becoming—no matter how depressed, how quirky, or how many times you have to miss an outing. They show you love in the smallest yet most effective ways. From silly things like sending memes or letting you ramble about superheroes they care nothing about being there when you are having a depressive episode and you are rotting away in an Old Navy onesie. They hype you up. They tell you why you’re amazing. They want to be around you. They understand you and all your quirks. When you talk to them you always have something to say and when you don’t, the silence is never uncomfortable. They sometimes have to tell you the hard truths. I gained these experiences throughout my life from amazing women who have made me feel loved and encourage me to see the love within myself. Currently, I have two people that I talk with almost everyday. They let me know that despite what is happening in the world, these small slices of life and laughter are worth existing. I don’t need Valentine’s day cards or chocolate hearts to know that I am loved. One may ask why this is so important to me.
Because so much of my life was centered on fearing people who weren’t family and securing a partner when I was old enough, the idea of “love” was attached to rigid stipulations while also not always being demonstrated in ways that matched the word.
I know my parents love me but they’re parents. Here, I find myself thinking about these relationships that I have fostered and that are fostering me to become a more loving and better person. Through my friends, I found a love that I didn’t need or could have and it’s platonic.