Ode to Black Love part 2: The High School Sweethearts



Joel and Rien Thomas had a blast at their Saturday morning photo shoot. They will soon celebrate their one-year anniversary.

Last year, on April 29, Joel and Rien Thomas stood on a gorgeous, sweltering beach in Punta Cuna, Dominican Republic to exchange vows and promise each other forever. Sitting a few rows behind them, there I was patting my face with tissue to keep my eyes from “sweating” because I was getting to witness such a beautiful union. For the Thomas’ it had been a long time coming to get to that point. The husband and wife have literally seen each other grow in all facets off life since they began dating more than 15 years ago in high school. They are soon coming up on their one-year anniversary, and they took time out of their Sunday plans to talk to me and reflect on their relationship and first year of marriage. Here’s their story.

It all started when Rien’s best friend, Tiarra, insisted on giving Joel her number. Rien was initially against the idea, but Tiarra did so anyway. “To this day, we still don’t know why she did it,” Rien says laughing.” But in hindsight, the couple is appreciative of the “hook up.” Fast forward to today, the couple is looking forward growing their family and experiencing new things together. And although they are but newly-weds, the vested couple has lots of advice to impart on dating and engaged couples who plan to approach the altar soon.



Go Your Own Speed

Many may look at the Joel and Rien’s relationship with a critical eye because it took them several years to get engaged and married. But the couple insists that getting to know each other and experiencing life independently is necessary for a young couple’s survival. Their mantra: go at your own pace and don’t worry about what others think or say.  Joel says couples, even before getting engaged or deciding to co-habitat, should definitely experience a life of independence and become complete individuals before expecting their partners to make them whole. “Over the years, our expectations of ourselves and each other have changed. We had to do a lot of growing together and separately. I have always wanted to make sure that I was a complete person before looking for someone to complete me,” Joel says. “There are things I needed to learn. For example, I wasn’t as responsible and was stubborn about if for years. And she needed to experience living on her own. I wanted to make sure that we knew who we were, first.”  Before getting engaged, the newly-weds spent several years apart while Rien was away at college. The distance was a factor they agree helped them to get to know themselves freely without the other person around. Joel also advises couples to have tough conversations before getting engaged. He says “discussing expectations” while you are dating is the best way to come to a compromise and gain a greater sense of understanding about your partner. “Don’t wait until you are engaged to find out what they expect from you, that way you don’t have this pressure of trying to actually get to know the person before the wedding. That needs to happen before a ring comes.”

“Over the years, our expectations of ourselves and each other have changed. We had to do a lot of growing together and separately. I have always wanted to make sure that I was a complete person before looking for someone to complete me,” Joel says.


A Year of Growth

Joel and Rien have had a blast this past year as husband and wife, but Rien says the title change definitely put some things in perspective for them. “I didn’t think getting married would change things because we had been together so long. But it did. For me, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to be a wife at first,” she says reflecting. The key to turning that around, she says, were two simple things: communication and compromise. Joel says Rien eventually coming to him and expressing her thoughts about her role as his wife cleared up the misconceptions that she had. “Once, we had a talk, she realized that she was doing things that she really didn’t have to do to please me,” Joel admits. “We had to find those things that were important to each other and make compromises from there.” They both agree that communicating their likes and dislikes, while maintaining a sense of respect for each other, is how to get through misunderstandings effectively. “There are a lot of things we expect or even things get on the other person’s nerves. This becomes a ticking time bomb if you don’t communicate. And when you tell them what you don’t like, make sure to also give some positive reinforcement. Your significant other likes to hear when they are doing well, too,” Rien advises.

All in all, the couple advises others to have fun and fully experience the learning curves that come  with relationships. For them, they are truly excited about their futures together and can’t wait to go on their next set of adventures. Their next stop: rain forest and volcano exploration in Costa Rica for their anniversary.


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