On Monday evening, news broke that Rohan Marley, best known either as Bob’s son or as Lauryn Hill’s longtime beau and the father of her five children, was getting married… and not to Ms. Hill. According to Brazilian newspaper Terra, he’ll be tying the knot in Ethiopia with Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana, 29, a twice-married mother of two.
As the story has spread, I’ve noticed 30-year-old Black women reacting with e-shock and cyber-gasps. Some version of “How could he?!” is the common refrain. For many Black women, the anguish is less about an ongoing kinship with or goodwill for Lauryn; that’s largely been severed by her erratic behavior and disrespect for fans via delayed concerts. Instead, it’s about one of their biggest relationship fears come true: their guy leaving and hastily marrying someone else. Oh, the horror! That it’s happened to a woman we feel like we “know” — a woman who birthed five children and, many believe, gave up her career for a man “who wasn’t even her husband!” — just makes it all the worse.
I knew for sure there was trouble in Marley-Hill-ville last summer, when Lauryn announced she was pregnant with her sixth child and Marley took to Twitter to deny he was the father (later he seemed to reverse his stance). To this day, I don’t know who the father of Lauryn’s latest kid is, not that it’s any of my business. I assumed then that their nearly 15-year relationship, the one Marley had described to People in 2008 as being “spiritually together” despite Lauryn living with her mother — not him — was over.
Still, to hear that Rohan’s put a ring on another woman comes as a shock. It’s illogical. I don’t know these people, don’t know the ins and outs of their relationship, don’t know whether they parted ways recently or long ago. But I do know that I feel bad for Lauryn. Even if she’s moved on, even if she’s chilling alone and raising her kids happily, it’s got to stick in the so-called craw when a man, even one of Rohan’s seeming caliber, doesn’t marry you after five kids and many years together, and instead proposes to someone he’s known just a year.
This is not my life. I have no reason to care. But I do.
In 1998, I “stanned” for Lauryn Hill the way the Beehive goes irrational for Beyoncé now. Lauryn’s persona circa the Miseducation album was everything I wanted to be — talented, confident, self-assured, gracious and graceful, articulate, spiritually anchored. I knew “old” women like that, but she was the first one I’d seen on the national stage who was young and seemingly wise beyond her years.
I followed Lauryn’s every move — or at least those you could track in the non-blogging, pre-4G era — and that included being an avid spectator of her romance with Rohan. Twelve years ago, I was ridding myself of “hair weaves like Europeans,” and popping off “fake nails by Koreans”; I was singing along to Lauryn’s solo debut about “the joy of my world” being in Zion, as if Lauryn’s oldest child with Rohan was sharing my barely legal womb; and I was yearning for a type of love where “nothing even matters” except, well, love.
The Miseducation album changed my life, and apparently Lauryn’s too. She hastily transformed from media darling to borderline recluse. The rumors leaked about why, and — in the same way Bobby has been scapegoated for Whitney’s demise — Ro was blamed for What’s Wrong With Lauryn. The rumor mill said he was still married and having kids with his first wife, his college sweetheart. What, “they” wondered, other than a no-good man would drive such a talented woman so crazy that she would show up on MTV to tape the Unplugged album with a rag on her head, plucking at a guitar and cryptically begging God to “please come free my mind”? From what?, everyone wondered. Or better, From who?
Even though many of us questioned the health of their relationship when they were together, this news of Rohan’s new engagement, after the long, dramatic saga with Lauryn, still raises eyebrows. But why is that? Maybe they broke up just a year ago, or maybe it was four years ago — it really depends on which elusive statement Rohan gave regarding paternity you believe — but the fact remains: They broke up. Despite any illogical hurt we might feel on Lauryn’s behalf, we have to acknowledge that he’s free to move on at any point he feels fit. So I wish Rohan and Isabeli the best of luck. With at least seven step kids and three failed marriages between them, they’ll need it.
Demetria L. Lucas is a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life in stores now. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk