There, I said it, but I probably don’t mean what you think I mean.
I never want to see another talk show cover the “single woman epidemic”… EVER!
During the “Black women ain’t got no man” public lamentation tour earlier this spring, I refrained from writing a blog on the so-called man shortage, or on my alleged inability to find a suitable mate because I’m educated and particular. Honestly, besides registering my shock at the likes of Steve Harvey and Sherri Shepherd telling me why I suck because I’m not married, I just didn’t feel that I had anything to add to the discourse. Twitter had already allowed me to register the usual “what?”, “Oh, HELL no”, “bitch, please” and “that big gummed Negro?” reactions to the 2010 single-black-woman minstrel show; all the other sister-bloggers covered quite adequately my outrage at being told there’s something wrong with me and my subsequent wonder at why there weren’t similar conversations about why White men were still single.
Today, however, I want to bring up the Single Black Female meme yet again, but I’d rather look at what we’re looking for in a marriage rather than the (erroneous) fact that we’re not getting married. A Twitter friend called my attention to a January 2010 New York Times article dispelling the myth of the educated married woman over 40. Notably, the article pointed to shifts in economic dependence as the reason for women marrying later. To put a fine point on it, we don’t need your money, so we’re not looking for your companionship, no matter what Slim Thugg or whatever his name is says about it. Which got me thinking about the real reason the successful, educated, attractive, otherwise eligible Black women I know are still single: our view of marriage has not kept pace with our image of ourselves, or with our lifestyles.
My Grandmother Wouldn’t Even Recognize Me
As a woman, I look along my maternal line for signs of successful marriage and find both my mother and grandmother. Granny was born in 1908, the daughter of a Black woman and a White man. I don’t really know if my great-grandmother was married when she bore massa’s child. I will, however, hazard a guess that she’d jumped the broom with the Black father of her other children, and imagine my Granny’s birth was. . .interesting at the very least.
Being a mulatto “love child” influenced Granny’s marital choice, and she stated outright that she married my granddaddy because he was the darkest man she could find, lest she be accused of trying to pass. I’ll assume that she at least liked him enough to bear him 14 chilluns. Then again, I don’t really know anything about my grandparents’ relationship other than the fact that by the time I came along, they were sleeping in separate bedrooms. As was the case for poor Black folks in the south at the time, my grandfather was a sharecropper and my granny picked, washed and cleaned whatever she needed to in order to keep the kids clothed, fed and under a roof. Marriage was probably as simple as this: you did it for survival.
Many times in the last few months I’ve marveled at how different my life is from the one my grandma lived. I have no husband and no children at an age when she was already well into both. I went to college, even graduate school when she may not have finished high school. I’ve traveled outside the U.S. while she inhabited the same few square miles for her entire life. Granny might be astounded that her progeny could even have a life like mine, and perhaps proud that her work with her own children lead to such interesting leaps forward. Then again, she might feel sorry for me because I don’t have my own family, even though I hardly need a baseball team’s worth of kids to work the farm these days.
In spite of the myriad differences between my life and my grandmother’s life, I still expect to meet and marry a man, have some kids, and live with him ’til death do us part like she did. And I pretty much expect him to work as hard as my granddaddy did to make a life for me and our children. Perhaps I won’t want my husband to be as strict a disciplinarian as my grandfather was, but he had 6 daughters and knew where the Klan lived, so strict is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t fault my grandparents for choosing each other and turning out the kind of children they did: poor Black folks in South Carolina did what they had to do with limited resources. On the other hand, how can I look at my grandparents’ relationship as “successful” just because it lasted until they both knocked off for the big plantation in the sky? Longevity may be a goal in marriage, but it isn’t the only barometer of success.
Good Role Models Screw You up Just as Good as Bad Ones
I’ve often that my parents gave me a great model for marriage, and that they ruined my life in the process. Well, they didn’t ruin my life exactly, but they gave me very high expectations for partnership and, thus, no man I meet is ever good enough because he’s not like my Daddy. Before you start talking Oedipus and nonsense, let me break it down for you.
My mom got married at 32, which was late for her generation and was the last of her siblings to do so. Apparently, Mommy always wanted to be a stewardess and would definitely have looked cute in the air hostess outfits. However, she fell deathly ill shortly after meeting my father, so health concerns put the kibosh on her plans to see the world from 40,000 feet. As fate would have it, she married an over-protective type of man who wouldn’t have wanted her to work anyway, so it all worked out financially. My dad was the UR-husband, Provider Extraordinaire. He always worked 2 jobs to keep both wife and daughter protected and decked out in Lord & Taylor finery. Good times and big closets were had by all.
“Traditional” marriage means something different for Blacks than Whites. Chew on that.
In the context of the Ward and June Cleavers of the world, my parents had a traditional marriage, one where the man made the money and the woman made the beds. However, my parents’ marriage was certainly an anomaly in my extended family – and among many other Black families that I know – because we had a single-earner (not single-income) household. Mommy was the only one of her sisters that didn’t work outside the home, and the only one with a single child. While my parents’ situation presented me with a stay-at-home mom role model, it still showed me that Black folks need two incomes to make it happen in the world.
Even though my mom made none of the money, she made all of the decisions about finances and everything else. For someone who calls himself “simple”, my Dad always had a lot of vision but lacked self-confidence. He needed my somewhat overbearing Mom to goad him into action with a combination of pep talks and ass-kicking. She was the proverbial woman behind the man, the not-so-silent partner. My Dad, bless his heart, still generally needs to be told what to do and when to do it because my Mom was the perfect person to tell him what to do. Which might explain the heart attack she had in her 40’s, but I digress. Before my mother died, she told me that I’d be lucky to find a man like my dad. After she died, Daddy told me that she was his soul mate and he’d never marry again. Since nobody else was in the room when each of them professed their love, I’m gonna say it was legit. Occasionally I find myself longing for a husband like my Dad, someone who’d try his hardest to take care of me under any circumstance. Then I wake up and realize that I don’t really want a man to take care of me. Furthermore, I don’t see men lined up around the block clamoring for the chance to relieve me of my financial obligations. Yet, I want a man to want to take care of me in ways that have nothing to do with money or shelter or basic necessities but I don’t really have an appropriate role model for that kind of relationship.
If you’re gonna talk about relationships, either help a sister out, or shut the f@$& up!
I’d like for the love pundits, the armchair relationship gurus and the rest of the talking heads that tell me I’m wrong for being single and picky and almost 40 to take a look at what marriage has meant in American society. Then I’d like for them to take a look at the institution in the Black community and how we’ve managed and made do with each other for 400 years. After all that inquiry, I then expect those so-called “experts” to tell me how the hell the species has managed to stay afloat. I won’t hold my breath, but I’m definitely expecting some answers.