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.