Udonis and Faith, with their three children. Their eldest is Udonis’ from a previous relationship.
There’s been a low buzz of criticism gathering on social media about NBA star Udonis Haslem’s wedding announcement in The New York Times on Saturday. The piece, “Taking Their Very Sweet Time,” tells the story of his 14-year relationship with the mother of his two youngest sons, Faith Rein.
It’s a love story — a long and arduous one, replete with potential obstacles: abortion, death, poverty, the specter of a mother’s drug addiction, intercontinental distance, career setbacks, career triumphs, growing pains, the threat of suburban ennui, and Tupac’s “2 of Americaz Most Wanted.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone reading Udonis and Faith’s story and not rooting for their marital success. It’s also difficult to understand how anyone could read about the emotional mountain they had to scale and wonder “what took them so long” to marry.
But there have definitely been readers who’ve taken to Twitter to call their wedding announcement “messy” or to police their respectability. One tweet in particular is pretty telling: the writer questions Haslem’s decision to ask Rein’s father for her hand in marriage, given the fact that they’ve already started a family. He also questions the couple’s love, because of their decision to terminate a pregnancy when both were in college.
The tweet linked above isn’t isolated nor is the sentiment. In fact, I’m fairly certain a few readers here will share similar opinions. Working to develop Beyond Baby Mamas has taught me how linear and stringent many people’s ideas about love, morality, and healthy families are. We all come to our ideas about what constitutes true love and about when it’s appropriate to moralize about others’ relationships through distinct means.
Our upbringing colors our views. Our own relationships’ successes and failures shape our beliefs about what is and is not acceptable for other couples. Our faith may also greatly influence what we think should be seen as right and wrong or “cursed” and “blessed” in relationships and families.
But if these are the only means by which we develop opinions about people we may never meet, if we don’t consider them as individuals, if we don’t respect or empathize with their challenges and — worst of all, if we can only view their hardships and decisions as mirrors that somehow reflect poorly on us — we’ll remain locked into the kind of myopia that damages society far more than unmarried partnerships could.
There’s nothing unsettling about Udonis Haslem waiting fourteen years to marry Faith Rein. By their own accounts and by the accounts of all those interviewed for their wedding announcement, they’ve loved each other the entire time they’ve been together. But there were factors on both sides that barred them from breathlessly rushing toward an altar. On Haslem’s side, there were the effects of an impoverished upbringing. On Rein’s side, there was career advancement and a need not to entirely reliant on Haslem’s earnings or prospects. Together, they had to wait until they both felt confident that they’d have a shot at a healthy marriage.
Their experiences suggested that love alone was not quite enough.
After 14 years together, Haslem and Rein married last week in Florida, in a ceremony attended by 200 guests.
For couples in 2013, it’s difficult to know when is the exact “right” time to marry (if marriage is to be an option at all). We can rely on arbitrary rules and assumptions like, “Waiting any more than 2.5 years for a ring means he/she is wasting your time.” Or, as a post-”divorce generation” generation, we can allow what we’ve seen and heard to inform us and, in so doing, we can begin to appreciate that the time spent “dating” and “relationship-building” shouldn’t be measured in months and years alone.
We can marry because it’s what’s expected if an unplanned pregnancy occurs between two people in love or we can wait until we know for sure that we’re basing what’s supposed to be a lifelong legal commitment on more than the timing of a birth.
These choices are every couple’s to make, given the unique challenges they face.
That Haslem and Rein ended up at the altar is unsurprising to those who know them. Given what this article tells us about them, the length of time they took to get there makes a great deal of sense. Those who read their story as one marked by a “fear of commitment” are missing the fact that commitment was exactly what they’ve been learning and testing and shaping since they met in college.
For some, marrying young and fast isn’t as important as marrying compatibly and wisely. For others, young, fast, compatibly, and wisely work together. Either way, marriage is a risk. Waiting errs on the side of making that risk more calculable.
As a community practice, Beyond Baby Mamas doesn’t accuse couples or single parents of having “loose morals” and “low self-esteem” when we hear their stories. We don’t doubt that they loved their partners or hoped for the best when their relationships have ended dissolved. In fact, we don’t look for loopholes and weak points in their stories at all.
You can’t advocate and indict simultaneously. And for those who need, want, or welcome mentoring or educating, you can’t mock, scold, or shame and expect to be at all effective. Further, shaming often comes from a space bereft of investigation. When we accuse women who give birth before marriage of not valuing themselves or the institution of marriage, we ignore research that largely indicates women who give birth before marriage do tend to marry eventually. Most women in the U.S. tend to marry eventually. Why does it need to become everyone else’s business when they choose to do so?
Wish Udonis and Faith well. Or don’t. Your choice to be appalled at how they’ve chosen to build their family has no bearing on whether or not their family will thrive. But it does, however, absolutely influence the way the unmarried parents you know and love are treated and condemned in our culture. The ways we in which we publicly engage unmarried parenting and the decision of couples to marry post-children must change. Our condemning attitudes are directly tied to the legislative punishment families face for choosing not to marry or for choosing to give birth or even for choosing not to.
As long as we see every situation that’s different from what we consider to be “normal” as a sign of widespread moral blight, we’ll all suffer. We’ll suffer from the fallout of our delusion that our individuated ideas about morality shape the health of other people’s relationships and the economic or social resilience of our nation.
Let’s try, at least, to listen to and consider experiences that don’t much resemble our own and begin to accept that our own framework for building healthy families is not a practical barometer for everyone else. For instance, Haslem and Rein are now millionaires. Imagine if what has become possible for them, as a married couple and as parents, were expected and demanded of the rest of us. The scale of what’s fair and equitable is constantly sliding. We cannot remain rigid and immobile and expect to make our difficult, often unfair and often unjust society better livable.