A lot of fuss is made about black women and why we collectively (per society and possibly the Washington Post) can’t find a man. It’s a heavily skewed statistic/topic/news story that usually enrages (or terrifies) more than it informs.
But it’s always implied that somehow – for some reason – black women aren’t marriageable, ignoring the other side that black men aren’t exactly rolling in brides either. (The most quoted stat – that’s not a made up one is that 42 percent of black women between ages 25 and 34 are single, but black men in the same age range are single as well at 43 percent).
It seems nobody these days is getting married (until much later when they’re financially more stable). Yet all the impetus is put on women because … ahem … there’s no “Groom” magazine. Only Bride.
But how much is the desire for marriage in women, particularly black women, about what is expected of us – by our families and society – versus what we actually want and have?
According to these days, most black men (and women) aren’t getting married until they’re at least 30, on average. I have a friend who is black and a man and is very unmarried, never married in fact. Statistically, he is part of that group of black men who, at a rate of approximately 20 percent, have never married and are in their 40s.
So I – after nailing him down from a bit of incessant squirming – got him to speak frankly about why, at 40, he was still indifferent over when there would ever be a “Mrs. Indifferent.”
For him, it all boiled down to “marriage sounds nice, but it’s not necessary.”
“You can live a happy life without being married,” he said. “Do you need to go to the prom in order to have a successful high school career? Does that invalidate your time in high school? I’m pretty sure you don’t have to be married in order to live a full life. If you can (live a full life and get married), that’s great. If not, you’ll be all right. I don’t see why you have to do it.”
“I found out there are people who are married and are no longer married, but it didn’t make their life any different, better or worse necessarily. It’s not the end all be all of your life. You can still do plenty of things if you’re married or not. I’m not down on marriage. I’m not pro-marriage. If I did it, I feel like I would be doing it for my wife rather than having a desire for some priest and piece of paper saying ‘we’re married.’”
My friend, who is the child of divorce (for those playing at home), said there was nothing specifically that made him feel this way. He’d always been one to question the status quo, authority, and why we do the things we do. He acknowledges that his life would more than likely be different if he settled down, but he also demonstrates that in pretty stoic and methodical answers like, “there would be more decision to make based on the group on what’s best for the group organism. Kind of like the Borg,” referencing the assimilation obsessed alien race from Star Trek Next Generation.
My friend said he once got close to possibly proposing to an ex-girlfriend more than eight years ago, but ultimately it didn’t work out because “we wanted different things.” Namely, at the time he was financially in a more precarious place and she couldn’t handle that. She told him he needed to “make more money.”
He admits that money was a defining factor in that relationship, but that he doesn’t think that whether or not he’s financially stable has much to do with whether or not he’s married. It’s more about how he hasn’t found anyone since that he’d consider getting married to. Mostly because he believes marriage is intrinsically tied to romantic love – not the old bonds of yore when marriage was primarily about property, community ties, and having children.
“The concept of love is a recent invention. Before that it was all about community and property the cohabitation of families and the building of them. Why should I have to conform if I haven’t found that person that I love?” he said.
My friend argued that women may be more motivated for marriage simply because it’s what is expected of them by society – that women are conditioned for it from an early age.
Plus, that whole baby-making window every woman faces.
“They have biological imperatives. They’re told almost from birth through toys that they buy. They’re almost conditioned that that’s the ‘be all, end all’ through everything,” he said.
When confronted with the notion though that some issues the African-American community struggles with could be solved through stronger marriages leading to stronger families he was somewhat indifferent and skeptical about the push in looking for causation between the decline in marriage rate and things like out-of-wedlock births and crime. He wondered how people could discount factors like poverty, the larger impact of desegregation and re-segregation in our society, the prison industrial complex, shifts from a manufacturing based economy to a service and white collar-based one, systematic racism, the influence of various government programs (or lack thereof), and societal shifts that took marriage from being the expected, family building norm, to something purely based on romantic love and attraction.
But really though, I said to him, “You’re 40, and you’re not married. It’s as simple as I just haven’t met the right woman? That’s it?”
“I treat it like sex,” he said of marriage. “I don’t necessarily want to have sex with just anybody.”
No point in just doing it for the sake of doing it, he supposes. One must seriously have a reason. For him, it’s love. Myself, I’m also unmarried, and I’d have to say – if I honestly asked myself why I’m not – it has a lot to do with me, my own struggles/fears about relationships, and my overall commitment to my life-long dream of being a writer that took priority over a lot of other things, including settling down and looking for a mate.
If you’re part of that over 30 statistic ambivalent about making that walk down the aisle, what’s made you look into the marital abyss and blink?