Last Sunday afternoon found me on my knees, waist deep in the corner cupboard of my kitchen, looking for the damned lid for my favorite saucepan. Here it is! … no, too big … finally! … mmm, no—steamer top … aha! … God, I don’t know what this one fits. Eventually, like a real-life, natural-haired Goldilocks, I found the just-right topper, and dinner was saved. That old saying is right: There is a lid for every pot.

That adage is about love and not cooking. In fact, the idea of a woman finding a partner, who uniquely fits who she is, has been lost amid concern (-trolling) about female singleness, especially black female singleness. America’s new national pastime is schooling black women, nearly 46 percent of whom have never married*, on what we need to change to convince some guy to put a ring on it. In other words, ladies: If you can’t find the lid, the pot must need “fixing.”

Often the (heteronormative) suggestion is that black single women need to better understand the allegedly universal needs of men. To be fair, Cosmo and Glamour were telling women how to please men long before Steve Harvey, Michael Baisden, and Tyrese became authors. Blaming women for being single is a sexist problem with a deep history. And the rhetoric is — and always has been — off base:

It sells women short
Relentless criticism of single black women is predicated on the idea that a woman not chosen as a wife is somehow defective. That is not how we view single men. (And, by the way, nearly 49 percent of black men have never married.) Singleness does not equal brokenness. Not every woman wants to get married. Not every woman wants a man. And even women who want to marry someday can have full and happy lives should that dream not come true.

It sells men short
All men are not the same. All black men are not the same. Any romantic advice predicated on men being simple creatures only interested in having sex and being “the leader” in all things is offensive. The men I know are far deeper and more complicated than that.

It’s not the way to a healthy relationship
The other day, I asked my husband of nearly 12 years what he thinks is the key to a successful marriage. He said the best thing you can do to ensure a good marriage is to know yourself, what you need, and what you want; then choose a partner wisely. I agree. (And that, by the way, is one reason of many why I married my sweetie: He’s a smart guy.)

For more than a year, I have been interviewing black women for a book on love and marriage and have been lucky to hear sistahs talk about their real-life relationships and depth of connection with their partners.

Danielle, a married 30-something awaiting her first child, said of her husband, “From the moment we got together, it was perfect. We were very much in the same place. We have a lot in common — a similar mindset and way of thinking.” Recalling the word games the couple likes to play, she adds, “The nerds inside us speak to each other.”

The action plan being sold to black women is, sadly, not one likely to result in the kind of love Danielle describes, based on friendship, mutual respect, and common ground. How can a black woman find someone to love her just as she is if she is constantly encouraged to be someone else — to execute some rote and reductive performance to appeal to the opposite sex?

On a literal lid hunt, one looks for the top that suits the particular contours and properties of the bottom. No one would dream of perching a saucepan lid on a cast iron skillet and expect the fried chicken to turn out right. And you wouldn’t take a hammer to your crockpot to make some random cover fit. But society constantly bangs on black women in an effort to mold us into something allegedly more attractive to potential partners — as if our needs are secondary and as if they don’t really care about healthy partnerships, but just marriage for marriage’s sake.

Committed love isn’t about learning what “men” want and waiting to be chosen; it is about knowing what you want, choosing the right man (or the right woman), and working toward mutual happiness.

*According to the 2010 United States Census, 45.5 percent of black women, age 15 and over, have never been married; 48.9 percent of black men in the same age group have never been married.
  • jamesfrmphilly

    the black community is under the domination of the global system of white supremacy. until you understand that everything else you see will confuse you.

  • Tami (Clutch Contributor)

    Thank you for your comment. I know that statistic is strange, but it is how the Census measures marriage statistics. Not sure why, but my guess is that maybe somewhere in the US people may be able to marry at 15 with parental consent.

  • Chelley5483

    If the black community is patriarchal please write below in what ways do Black men allocate or dispense anything that black women need for their survival






    Therein lies the problem! Black matriarchy was born directly from a large number of black men being incapable or voluntarily unavailable to provide the above listed resources for their women or their offspring. Please ask yourself how white women, original founders of the feminist movement, who are still reaping benefits from the movement, were able to continue to sustain a patriarchal society. Why didn’t white men walk away from these women who demanded equal rights, equal partnership, equal leadership? Matriarchy is not even close to the reason why the black community is in the state that it’s in.

  • E.M.S.

    I think we need to focus and discuss more on good relationships, not marriage specifically. I have nothing against people who want to get married, but I tend to roll my eyes a bit when the subject comes up because I feel like talking about marriage all the time or only puts the cart before the horse.

    Personally I think the ultimate goal is a good relationship (kind of like soul mate status), not marriage. If you happened to get married as a result of that relationship, wonderful.

    As for others telling women what they need to do or how they need to be, I block it all out. Nobody else knows what I’m after except me, and the last time I took someone’s advice it ended very badly. I think women should figure it out on their own, not go flocking to magazines, blogs, or most other sources for the “secret” to happiness with a companion. The pursuit is different for each of us.

  • Treece

    This piece is nothing but the truth! Love it. This is why I don’t listen or entertain any of these books and advice columns men write about what a women should be. Like Mary J. says, “take me as I am or have nothing at all….I can only be ME”. It’s about finding that man that is complimentary to me and “fits”. I don’t and shouldn’t have to change, and neither should he. You just have to find the right lid, because we are all different people. Plain and simple. Previous commenters have said things about patriarchal societies in Black communities and how they are now non-existent….yada, yada, yada. If that works for you and YOUR woman, great! That is not a situation that fits every Black man or every Black woman. If you feel the need to be a strong and authoritive head of the household type dude, and your wife/girlfriend is okay with taking more of a submissive role, awesome. But that doesn’t work for everyone. Blanket statements are inherently faulty. That’s why Steve Harvey, Tyrese (even though I love his music), and Michael Baisden can kick rocks with broken left toe as far as I’m concerned. They aren’t get a red cent from me to go towards any of that foolishness….

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