Black man sitting in chair posing for cell phone selfie

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As a pre-teen, I vividly remember my 25-year-old cousin getting ready to marry his college sweetheart. Let me keep it 100: I really idolized this dude. He was an investment banker and his lady was bad as hell—did I mention she was a recent med school graduate? To top it all off, they looked like they belonged on the cover of Ebony’s “10 Hottest Couples.” There was just one issue: They argued like they were auditioning for the latest reality show. Even as a kid, I knew that for all that looked good, something wasn’t quite right. And I was stuck with them. For the duration of their wedding planning, I spent my Saturday mornings being dragged all over New York City as they, under the supervision of the elder squad, picked out everything from floral arrangements to linen. One of those Saturdays, after a day spent venue shopping, things took an awkward turn—they were arguing over whether they should waltz to “Spend My Life With You,” the classic love song by Eric Benet and Tamia. I’d learned to tune out their bickering at this point, but as I ate my Mighty Kids Meal and watched the drama deteriorate from Oprah to full-on Jerry Springer status (that was the ish back in the day), I knew, even as a young head, that those two wouldn’t be spending much of a life together.

Things quickly got embarrassing. She cried. He gave up. Then “old school” (think: my mom and her auntie gang) stepped in and patched things up. Their goal? Getting to the wedding. Done with my meal, I made an honest assessment: “This isn’t going to last,” I said. My loving, marriage-minded mom gave me a stare so cold, my nutsack recoiled. “Stay in a child’s place,” she said. Two years later, I watched the couple split, forced to start over. I didn’t say, “I told you so,” but I sure as hell was thinking it!

That crazy Jerry Springer fight was 14 years ago, but the day still holds the title for having the biggest influence on my views around marriage. It’s kept my heart on the ropes and my feet away from the altar.

That crazy Jerry Springer fight was 14 years ago, but the day still holds the title for having the biggest influence on my views around marriage. It’s kept my heart on the ropes and my feet away from the altar. My questions are real: How do you know? What’s the difference between a stressful period and something not being right? And why do elders tell you to put your feelings aside for the sake of, well, “the look?” Is marrying because you’ve reached a certain age really the best way to “man up?” I don’t know. And despite all the sh*t I saw go down with my cousin, I’ve still been moments away from doing the same thing. The pressure is real.

I’ve had my fair share of exposure to failed relationships. I come from a large family where the majority of the elders are divorcees. And I have enough insight to know that fear of failure could be a reason for my aversion to tying the knot, but I believe caution is necessary!

I can commit. But I will cop to having some f*ckboy moments. I was in a seven-year relationship, taking steps towards marriage when I subconsciously self-sabotaged the only way I knew how: infidelity. I knew the relationship was not the right time, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I kept telling myself that I would propose once I had the money. I looked up after a year-end bonus and realized I had saved the amount necessary for her ring. I immediately started picturing life attached to the hip of this woman from now until eternity. Then I saw my cousin and his now ex-wife in my head. I was losing myself all because I felt like I had to take this leap to make everyone else happy. If you ask my ex-girlfriend, she will tell you a few nice things and close out with how selfish I became. Honestly, I would have to agree with her. I still love her, but I planned on spending the rest of my life with her simply because I was told by peers and older family members that it was the right thing to do. When I took a step back, I asked, who am I playing? Myself or her? The answer: Both of us.

My parents married after being together for nine months and were 38 and 39 when they had me, so a chunk of the pressure comes from their clock for being active grandparents. Over the last three years, I’ve heard many adults say, “When I was your age, I was already married with a child.” The first thing I do after hearing that is look down at their ring finger. They are rarely wearing a band and I am typically clenching my teeth as I refrain from asking the snarky follow up question: “I’m sorry, but where’s your ring?” The goal isn’t to put others down for their mistakes, but to voice something a lot of my peers are feeling but are too scared to say: I’m not ready.

I can commit. But I will cop to having some f*ckboy moments.

After reflection and therapy (Black men, find you someone to talk sh*t out with), I realized that I still wanted to “do me.” Here’s the thing. A lot of our elders, men especially, went through that phase while married. I don’t want to be a selfish husband or dad. I had to learn to be okay with that. That means saying the thing that sounds jacked up, but is true. “I don’t want to be your man,” or “I am dating other people,” or “I’m not introducing you to my family.” Why? I’m not in that space. No games, just facts.

I used the money I saved for my ex’s wedding ring and invested in property. I’ve taken the opportunity to travel, take risks, and enjoy luxuries my parents were never able to take advantage of. Now, there is nothing wrong with building with a spouse, but I refuse to be bullied into being with someone. I had a young queen ask me recently, “When are you going to be ready to commit to me?” I replied: “I don’t want to set false expectations.” I’m not about to sit around lying to women about what I see for our future. That’s how you get your car keyed and tires slashed. All dramatics aside, I don’t want to be the guy that breaks another heart because of cowardly behavior. I have realized it is okay to admit that I don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I want to be married. I don’t know if I want to grow old with someone. I don’t know if I want the life I have been expected to have all these years. However, I do know that I want to be happy. What does that mean? I don’t know yet. Ask me once I’ve sat in this space for a bit.

I used the money I saved for my ex’s wedding ring and invested in property.

Wedding season is about to be in full swing. Marriage is dope, love is beautiful, and I’m expecting to see a gray hair any day now. At 27, there is one lesson that I’ve learned: Successful commitments require authentic origins. You can’t be in love for someone else. Marriage isn’t about the day of your wedding, it’s about every day. The love that is required to sustain that must form on its own. Hopefully, my young cousins can look at me one day and say that my actions taught them the importance of building something that lasts. For now, I’m focused on loving myself the way Mo’Nique loves us: messily and honestly.

Brandon Samuel is a business executive by day and writer-in-training by night.