My brother, six years my junior, and his wife are #RelationshipGoals. They are friends and lovers who I lean on for relationship advice constantly. They dated for a number of years and are coming up on three years of marriage in 2020.
The two of them have navigated college romance, three relocations, home ownership, and marriage seemingly effortlessly. With all that experience, it wasn’t their love connection, but rather my brother going plant-based that gave me the life-changing aha moment.
He avoids the term vegan because he still wears leather. When he told my sister and I that he’s giving up animal products, I had so many questions. What is the cookout going to be like? How are you going to enjoy our father’s barbecue? No cheese? And, most importantly, how is your wife coping with no animal product in the house?
The first set of questions were answers you’d expect, but the last one made me curious. Sarah, my sister-in-law, still eats meat, he said. I couldn’t understand how that was. Perhaps they eat two separate meals. Or maybe Justin eats before he comes home. How can one person be no-meat-no-dairy-no-animal, and the other be omnivorous?
Then he explained the conversation. Justin had tried going plant based for a number of weeks when he sat his wife down. “Plant-based works for me, and I’m going to continue it.” As he recounted the next line to me, I can imagine him saying it with all the love it was intended, “I don’t need your support in this.”
My mind was blown. Here’s why.
June 1, 2019, I asked Bae to be my boyfriend. What I committed to was being there for everything life throws at him: cocked and loaded, ready to do what’s necessary. I assumed this is what everybody commits to when they enter relationships. The I and you get absolved into this new thing that is us.
So when my brother presented this new concept of him making a decision that was solely for himself, I was torn. Then he told me this, “We are all fully formed human beings, and being in a relationship doesn’t change that.”
We carry expectation with us in our relationships whether we acknowledge it or not. But the undercurrent of those expectations is that Bae will join us on our personal journeys. He’ll activate, jump in, rescue us, and be a cheerleader for whatever lain-brained (or plant-based) ideas come to mind.
What my brother was saying to his wife was an affirmation that what he does for and to himself doesn’t by extension apply to his wife. There are aspects of my life that don’t wholy concern or include Bae.
We’ve all seen and practiced these personal journeys in the midst of relationship. Our career, school maybe. What was so groundbreaking about “I don’t need your support in this” is that Justin gave space for individuality in their relationship. Sentiments that I don’t hear or see much fanfare of in Black gay relationships.
For the following month, I meditated on what he said. What does it mean to have a partner (noun) with whom I don’t have to partner (verb) with on everything? It just means we’re humans–two humans, as a matter of fact.
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I wrestled with the idea of having aspects of my relaitonship that are not concerned with my partner. Things I can do, aspirations I will pursue wholely on my own. What then do I need my partner for? And the answer is, “we’ll see”.
When I started realizing that I am capable of being successful in anything I put my mind to all by myself–that Bae is a complement to what I can already do for myself–it freed me of the expectation that my partner would activate in a particular way for me.
My brother is living a plant-based lifestyle, without needing the support of his wife. She is free to eat whatever fits into her diet without judgment from my brother, nor an urge to join a vegan-lifestyle. All is well.
So when she researches vegan recipes she can prepare for the two of them, or looks for vegan restaurants they can try together, she is free to express her support for his plant-based lifestyle in a way that is authentic to her.
She is free from the expectation of living plant-based all the time. So when she does lean into his plant-based lifestyle, its because that is how she wants to activate for her partner. Her supporting him is then a choice she is willingly making, rather than a responsibility she is forced to assume.
The principle applies to more than one isolated incident. When we free our partner from the expectation of “partnership”, we free him to activate for us in a way that matters to him and truly shows us how he feels.
How many times have you looked at Bae and said, “I want to go to the movies,” as if he is supposed to want to go to the movies as well? Or worked a long day and subtly expected Bae to have cleaned the house?
Perhaps Bae may not clean the house for you after a long day’s work, but he will gladly rub your feet. If we are so connected to the expectation of the clean house, we may miss the blessing of the foot rub. On small fronts or large, minor decisions or huge life-changes, when we release ourselves and Bae from expectation, a gentleman will thrive in freedom.