Most of us are familiar with James Baldwin as a novelist, playwright, poet, and activist.
I was lucky enough in college, while working through almost a minor’s worth of African American Studies courses, to read Baldwin’s words—so many of which are still sadly, painfully, and beautifully poignant today:
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ”
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
But what I didn’t realize, at the time, was how much Baldwin had to say about love.
Early last year, while watching an episode of “Black Love“—a documentary-style series where Black couples discuss the ups and downs of love, relationships, and marriage—I came across a Baldwin quote that I had never read before.
Reading these words felt like being seen:
“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”
I thought about my own relationship: the ups and downs; the struggles that, at times, felt insurmountable; the moments when I had to take a long, hard look at myself and my choices; the days when it felt like nothing I did was right or could fix what felt wrong; the hours I spent trying to figure out how we could survive, together.
Because relationships are difficult. Relationships require constant work and negotiation and strategy. Love and desire are never enough.
But then there are the moments you witness the fruits of your labor. The moment your partner gives you exactly what you need, without you having to ask (for the 12,000th time). Or the moment you notice yourself reacting with calm strength instead of dissolving into wild emotion during a tough conversation. Or the small, quiet ways that you both show up for each other when life feels overwhelming or chaotic—the moments you realize you’re growing up, together.
This quote has stayed with me for months. It has been the pillar I return to, time and again, when I need strength. When I need a reminder that the tough stuff doesn’t mean we’re broken, it just means we’re learning.
More from Baldwin, on love, relationships, and heartbreak:
“Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality. ”
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”
“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”