When Malcolm and I first told friends and family about our open relationship, we were met with verbal lashings and gross generalizations, including that this was “not something Black people did.” Much later, I realized they viewed our arrangement as a personal attack on an institution they wanted to believe in. In some ways, this attack was the rebellion I had been seeking.
My entire girlhood had been consumed by fantasies that were force-fed to me. Love and relationships were presented as binary, and in this binary, the woman must get married or be lonely (or, in classic novels, die). The path to freedom and happiness was narrower still for Black women. Even in our extremely loving relationship, I had felt confined.
I knew my mother would be devastated by the breakup. A divorcée of 20-plus years, she often warned against “ending up like me,” a woman untethered to a man.
I waited nearly six months to tell her. When I did, she said, “What if he finds someone else?”
“He could’ve found someone else when we were together,” I said, puzzled.
But relationships do give the illusion that we exist in a bubble with another person, insulated from the rest of the world — that’s part of what makes them feel so intimate. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that none of us are insulated from each other, even in isolation, and that, at any moment, our bubble could burst. I no longer see this rupture as a bad thing.
After I sent Malcolm my breakup email, he and I spoke on the phone.
“I have to be honest,” he said, “I was a little sad when I read it.”