For many couples, flirting, touching, caressing and kissing are central ingredients to build a dynamic relationship. But when it comes to couples of a certain age, public displays of affection can be deemed unbecoming (even taboo) by society. For renowned poet, writer, artist and actress Michèle Voltaire Marcelin—whose fans include Maya Angelou and Edwidge Dandicat—and her human rights activist husband Jocelyn McCalla, being over 50 hasn’t put a halt to their desire for intimacy.
“It may be rather uncomfortable to see at our age, but we are extremely affectionate,” Michèle says about expressing their love through non-verbal communication. “Physical displays of affection are important, and I don’t mean in a lustful way. We hold hands constantly, we walk closely, and it’s painful when we are at a dinner party and they sit us apart. I think there is trouble in a relationship when there is no touching.” Jocelyn agrees: “It’s a reaffirmation of what I feel for her, and it affirms to me that she welcomes the touch.”
The Haitian pair unapologetically captures their tender moments in photographs taken on their many travels from Istanbul, Italy to Haiti. “Some may ask how we can be so silly at our age,” Michèle says. “They say we should be settled and serious. But I say, serious and settled is what I witnessed growing up, and that was not what I wanted.”
Michèle was in her early teens in Port-au-Prince when she realized what she did not want in a relationship. A young Michèle longed for a mutual exchange of affection, tenderness and respect. In short, she was already in search of her soulmate, and what she observed from her parents and the adults in her life, she says, “was what people called dutiful, responsible relationships but not elated, happy unions.”
“To me, what was most important was to have someone you can give all your love to and be equals with emotionally,” adds Jocelyn, who was raised in a household full of women after his father passed away before his birth. “With respect to living in Haiti, Michèle and I did not fit those norms. We were both rebels in search of more.” Their quest for love spanned over decades of unsuccessful marriages and relationships until, at 53 years of age, they started dating in New York.
Michèle and Jocelyn both found their way to the States as teens. Jocelyn left Haiti at 13 during the Duvalier regime—along with his brother and sister—to reunite with his mother, who had already immigrated three years earlier to Kew Gardens, Queens. At 16, a self-described loner and misfit who lost herself in books, Michèle felt suffocated by the island’s social expectations and fled to Chile in hopes of discovering herself. (Her brother was studying, and later teaching, political science in Santiago.) Before she finally settled in Brooklyn, Michèle lived through Chile’s 1973 coup d’état.
Michèle’s family, considered Salvador Allende sympathizers, were rounded up and taken to the sport stadium that was converted into a torture and killing camp. “Perhaps had they not found photographs of Che Guevara and Allende in our house, and my brother was not a political science teacher with lots of books on politics in the house, we might not have been taken,” Michèle explains. “But it does not take much more than that to become a suspect.” She was released after three days, and would finally move to New York City at 19 to live with her aunt and cousins.
In New York, she would go on to study acting and write her first book, La Desenchantée. She taught herself how to paint following a trip to Mexico. “Painting just developed organically,” she recalls. Her captivating artwork has been exhibited at the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States in D.C., the Cork Gallery at Lincoln Center and at the National Museum in Haiti.
For Jocelyn, a trip back to Haiti at 21 would ignite the flames of activism in him. “I was deeply shocked by the inequality that existed between the well-off and the poor in the country. It got me very upset,” he Jocelyn. As a result, Jocelyn led a of number community groups such as the Association of Haitian Workers and the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, and was able to achieve some meaningful success that granted legal residency to 40,000 Haitian refugees—thus giving birth to several Haitian communities in the U.S.
Although Michèle and Jocelyn ran in the same Haitian circle in New York for 20 years, the two only started building a friendship and dating five years ago. “She likes to say when she would see me she’d run away,” jokes Jocelyn. “He just seemed to be so serious and looked way too intense,” shares Michèle. “I would pass by him at events, and he was always in a deep conversation with someone about politics. I never heard the man talk about anything else.”
Politics may have been Jocelyn’s world, but it was Michèle’s blog that would draw them together. “I checked out her blog to find a poem, not written by Michèle. My friend suggested I read about child slavery in Haiti. It struck me then that she may need a little assistance with the format of her blog,” Jocelyn points out. “So we started talking about it, and she welcomed my suggestions and comments.”
“My husband would not make a very good diplomat because he speaks his mind,” Michèle says. “That’s one of the things I love and relish about him.” Tips on web formatting turned into endless conversations over dinner getting to know one another (“She is a great cook,” declares Jocelyn). “He was far from the one-dimensional person I perceived him to be. We talked about everything… and yes, including politics.”
“We share similar views and concerns about Haiti,” Jocelyn says. “I’m lucky to be able to communicate with her in ways that are non-confrontational and loving. I thought Michèle was a fascinating woman in every sense of the word.”
“It’s nice to have someone next to you whose water flows as gently as mine. Our interactions are not of the heightened dramatic kind,” adds Michèle.
On their first date, he invited her to an avant-garde French play that spoke to the couple’s circumstances. Well, at least for Michèle. As for Jocelyn, he wanted to walk out of the theater due the deafening noise. “There was this giant fan that made a tremendous amount of noise,” he remembers.
“It was a conceptual piece about letting go of baggage,” Michèle says. “I thought he was sending me this emotionally rich message. The premise was very interesting considering we came to this new relationship with baggage from past relationships,” she says, who at 20 married her late jazz pianist husband. (He was killed in 1990 following a performance.) She was left a widow and single mother to their only son.
Jocelyn, previously married twice, had three children of his own.
“It’s important to fight your own battles and wrestle your own shadows first. You are not gonna make someone suffer and change because of the baggage you bring from past relationships,” Michèle says.
The couple dated for a year before he proposed that the two of them move in together in 2009. “I knew a good thing when I saw one,” reveals Jocelyn. “I wasn’t anxious about taking this next step. I knew there would be adjustments as there are in any relationship.” Changing their dynamic took some getting used to for Michèle, who admits to having been nervous about sharing her space. “I relished his presence in my heart, but had not lived with anyone in so long. I enjoy his company so much that within our love there is so much space; I do not feel confined. The space didn’t get smaller when he came in it, it just became larger.”
Michèle’s art also expanded when she fell for Jocelyn. She’d already published a book, but turned her attention to poetry when they got together. “I think I started writing poetry more seriously when I fell in love with him. I always cite Plato: ‘at the touch of love, every man becomes a poet.’ That certainly was the truth in my case.”
In Michèle’s critically acclaimed first book of poetry, 2009’s Lost and Found, love was the running thread. She touched on Haiti, but mostly on her muse, Jocelyn. “I love her writing,” he says. “I never had anyone write poems for me, let alone a whole book. One of our earliest conversations was about being able to be open and share our fears and happiness. This was extremely important to us to be able to survive and establish a meaningful relationship.”
“It’s easy to celebrate the happy moments with people, but it’s during those moments of fear and doubt that you choose specific people to share those with,” says Michèle. “If you can’t trust the person in your life with these moments, then there is something missing. For me, this is the amazing thing about us. I get to open up and say, ‘this is who I am’ and the person says, ‘yeah, me too.’ ”
They never considered marriage until it became a practical matter. “It was all about health insurance and deductions,” Jocelyn admits. “Marriage is something you comply with in respect to society, but it really does not dictate what your relationship is going to be. We had a loving relationship before we obtained the legal papers.”
They got married in a Queens courthouse in 2010.
“We are constantly evolving, and I’m looking forward to knowing her even more,” Jocelyn continues. “I’m much more in love with her today than five years ago.” Michèle says, “Young friends write to me and say, ‘If this is what marriage looks like after 50, then I want to be married.’ I wish I had that notion that his kind of happiness was possible later in life when I was younger.”
Jocelyn and Michèle are proof that being madly in love doesn’t come with an expiration date. In fact, a relationship can only benefit from experience and maturity when both individuals are more aware of their wants and needs. Michèle confidently adds, “It’s never too late to find love. Only when you’ve caught your last breath. We are living the best years of our lives, and there are more blessings to come.”`
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.