A man I know insists that he’s a good catch. Why does he think so? He’s gainfully employed, comes home to his wife every night and has never raised a hand to her. Given this, his wife has nothing to complain about, he says. But she sees things differently. She wants them to compromise when they have disagreements, spend more time away from the children and go to counseling to resolve some of their longstanding conflicts. He refuses—all because he’s a faithful BMW (black man working) who believes that a lot of black women have it worse than his wife does. Some of his wife’s friends agree. “He doesn’t drink, beat or cheat on you, so what’s the problem?” they ask.
The problem is that he doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for doing what any spouse worth his salt would do. Having a job, staying faithful to his wife and not physically abusing her hardly makes him a catch. Contrary to popular belief, not all black men are womanizing Chris Brown types nor are they all shiftless and lazy with an allergic reaction to work. At 14.1 percent in October, the black male unemployment rate is certainly high compared to the white male unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. But the black female joblessness rate of 12.4 percent for the same time period is high compared to the 6.3 white female joblessness rate. Considering that institutional barriers have historically led to high unemployment among African-Americans, it’s a blessing for both black women and men to have work in this challenging economy. And given that my acquaintance and his wife have both taken turns serving as family breadwinner, they’re lucky to have each other.
Could either have it worse? Sure. She could have cheated on him, run up their credit cards or mothered a handful of kids by different men. But since when did we start weighing ourselves against the lowest common denominator and praising ourselves for looking favorable by comparison? Spouses are supposed to be faithful. Adults are supposed to work. Civilized people don’t hit each other when conflicts arise. No one should expect a reward for this.
Unfortunately we’re moving to a society that rewards people for doing what any mature adult in their situation would. A case in point? Chicago Public Schools have decided to give parents $25 Walgreens gift cards to pick up their children’s reports card and meet with their children’s teachers. I understand that low parent turnout at school events is a real problem and that some parents, especially those whose work schedules conflict with these events, can’t show up. My husband has taught for a major urban school district for 10 years and estimates that no more than a quarter of parents have ever shown up to Back-to-School night or parent-teacher conferences. Still, I find it downright depressing that school districts are now offering parents money to invest in their child’s education. This isn’t something they should be paid to do. It’s something that caring parents do all the time for free.
That being said, if the man I know wants to consider himself a catch, it shouldn’t be for behaving the way that countless married men do day in and day out. It should be for taking the steps to make his relationship work—even if it means leaving his comfort zone and taking a seat on a therapist’s couch. Relationship expert Barbara DeAngelis says in her book Are You The One For Me? that commitment to personal growth is one of the top six traits to look for in a mate, along with integrity, emotional openness, maturity, self-esteem and a positive attitude. What does commitment to personal growth mean? “Your spouse is committed to learning everything he can about how to be a better person and a better spouse,” she says. So perhaps once my acquaintance goes to counseling, his wife will finally consider him a catch.