Why You’re Not Married, But Why That Doesn’t Matter

by Danielle C. Belton

WLGThis year is the 41st year of my parents’ marriage. They met in the easiest, yet random, way possible – my mom showed up at my dad’s apartment one day thanks to a mutual acquaintance.

If someone asked him what the key was to a long marriage he would likely say you should marry someone you not just love, but like. Outside of that, he doesn’t have much advice since he had no clue the strange, pretty lady at his door would be the mother of his children. Let alone that it would last.

He tells me these things knowing that they won’t solve my or anyone else’s anxiety about getting married, which is why I wrote the chapter “The Problem With Marriage” for Gil L. Robertson’s new book of essays on black love, “Where Did Our Love Go.”

In the chapter I write how many of our expectations of a 40-year marriage don’t match the reality.

Namely, some of us aren’t cut out for going the distance.

From “The Problem With Marriage”:

If you are honest, truly honest with yourself, you already know if you’re suited for marriage. And you probably figured out a long time ago you’d be bad at the forever-and-ever-amen brand of it. Yet that is the brand your success and failure is judged by, so you have internalized all the angst and frustration that goes with trying to cram square pegs into round holes. You have accepted failure in marriage because you are not the marrying kind. But you are still expected to marry (and eventually fail) over and over, growing to loathe and disdain yourself and pity your way of life.

But I would argue that you are not alone. There is a plurality of people who suck at this version of marriage and always have, but before there was no way out of marriage that wasn’t grueling, deadly or complicated as, historically, marriages were like iron-clad contracts sent down by God and the Catholic Church and your parents and the legal system to make you miserable.

The problem is both an old one and new.

First, we wait later to get married, which means we grow into ourselves and find ourselves on our own, not part of a couple because we married at 16 like my grandmother. Because of this we get set in our ways. We get our bathrooms looking just the way we like. We get used to sleeping alone. We get used to managing our own money and careers without input from anyone else. But marriage is built on constant negotiation and compromise for the betterment of the couple. It’s hard to go from doing what you want when you want to having to have your own version of the Camp David Accords just to find out where you’ll live.

Second, even if we make it through those Camp David Accords, there’s the reality that you may have a partner who can’t go the distance. Perhaps they’re not capable of fidelity and you don’t want an open marriage. Perhaps they lose their job and their mind right along with it and are no longer the same person you married.

Which brings us to our third issue – people change.

You may find that how you are at 25 is not how you are at 35 and is definitely not who you are at 45 and is unrecognizable at 55. Or, even if you don’t change much, your spouse could change. But the greatest threat is that the type of person who was ideal to date and marry in our 20s or 30s might not be the person we need when we’re in our 40s or 50s.

This is how you can be a 40-year couple like former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, and go “deuces.” It’s not that you don’t “love” each other, but you might not “like” each other. And as my father said, liking someone is important. After the newness is gone, all that is left is the two of you and whatever your damage is. If you like the looks and the sex, but not the conversation you might have a problem on your hands when menopause hits.

So what’s the solution?

Not worrying about this and living your life.

I know some of you badly want to get married and many of you actually will. But many of you will also get divorced. And some of you will live with someone. And others will have kids, but not be married to the father. And you will feel guilty because you failed at finding “forever” with a “soul-mate.” But that is the wrong way of thinking.

Love can be for a reason and a season.

Serial monogamy – aka “The George Clooney”  – has its merits. You can have the perfect (or imperfect) love for you at 25, but then later find the person you want to grow old with when you’re 47. You can marry or not, but create loving, honest and meaningful relationships. And the key is that honesty. If you aren’t cut out for forever and ever marriage, don’t do it. Don’t pretend like you can do it. And don’t feel guilty for not being able to do it. It simply isn’t for everyone.

Because of my parents’ marriage, I desire what they have. I want a love that lasts forever. But in waiting for that love, I’m often lonely. Only time will tell if I’m better served by dating and waiting versus going through a series of love affairs and relationships and letting things go as they may. But if the serial monogamists and those not capable of faithfulness or those who want open marriages can be true to what they want, we can stop hurting each other – at least in that way. We can look our partners in the eye and know what we’re getting into, for better or worse, and plan accordingly.

If you want to go the distance, look for someone who honestly wants that, too, and work at it.

But if it’s not for you, that’s fine, too.

  • http://roslynhardyholcomb.com Roslyn Hardy Holcomb

    I haven’t been married for four decades, but I think the most crucial part of a successful marriage is finding someone who wants to be married to you, and to whom you want to be married. This is not easy, but more than anything, it makes a difference. No matter what (barring abuse and/or infidelity) I know he’s not going anywhere and he knows the same about me. And yes, there are days when I absolutely loathe the man, and I know he feels the same way, but there is nobody on earth I’d rather be with. With just a quirk of an eyebrow he can make me laugh until my sides ache. And watching him with our children is the greatest joy in my life. It more than compensates for those other times.

    More than anything marriage is about faith; knowing that even through the bad times things will get better. And we’ve been through some bad times; job loss, relocation, infertility and that’s the tip of a very large iceberg. I didn’t expect our marriage to survive the year we each lost a parent and a baby, but we came through the other side. Stronger and more importantly confident that we can weather the tough times. After all, if we didn’t break up after that fuckery, what could be worse? And that’s important. Tough times test a marriage, but they show you how strong it is too. I know there is no one I’d rather have at my back than my husband. Yes, he’ll drive me batshit crazy, but he’ll make me laugh and I know he’ll go down fighting to the death to save me. And that’s at the core of our marriage.

  • Keshia

    To be honest for the past year and a half I have been completely indifferent towards black men. The most ugliest thing I’ve heard about black women have come from other black men, it has come to the point where it has completely turned me off to them. So this whole “black love” topic is honestly difficult for me to believe in. Another thing not every person wants to be married, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  • LN

    I went to a really conservative Christian college, and a lot of my school mates got married in/right out of college. At the time I scoffed at it but, 11 years since freshman year and 7 years since graduation, a lot of these couples are still going very strong. I got married at 25 (engaged at 24) which is kind of young-ish — and it’s definitely not for everybody. But one of the benefits is that you learn compromise, teamwork and how to struggle together very early in your relationship, and that sets a good foundation and tone for the rest.

    My husband and I started dating when we were both broke, then both lost jobs in the recession and became even MORE broke. Got engaged and had to live in one bedroom (sleeping on a TWIN sized bed!!) in his Mom’s tiny 3 bedroom apartment while we planned our shoestring wedding/looked for jobs. It was tough, but it forged our relationship and really strengthened it. We learned that having each other was enough to get through life.

  • Beks

    Whats great about this article is that it’s the first time that anyone has ever said to a group of women that maybe you aren’t the marrying type. This is an idea that women are rarely given the space to voice aloud…our society only pushes the same old “I gotta get the ring,dress, party to prove that I have worth”. The reality is that many women aren’t the marrying type but do it anyway. I’m thinking about it differently now…I have a few friends who can’t find ANYONE that is “good enough” maybe they just don’t want to get married after all…I’m going to send them this article. It is truly a relief….maybe I don’t want to be locked into one man all my life….serial manogamy sounds interesting.

    great job.

  • Trisha

    You said it all. Once you have been blessed to find that, it is worth holding on to and fighting thru the good and the bad.

    Marriage is hard work, but it is beautiful!

  • Keshia

    You need to calm down! I said nothing about me wanting white men( which I do not) simply stating how I feel. And I’ve had no personal failings as well

  • http://EleanoreWells.com eleanore wells

    Being who you really are is more important than whether you’re married or single.

  • http://gravatar.com/deechagirl CheeChis

    I’m one of those women who’s just not the ‘marrying type’ and i’m fine with that. I was lead to believe that happiness meant getting the man, the ring, and the wedding date and all would be fine. Wrong.
    My marriage didn’t last and that’s when I had to be real with myself and admit that it’s not what I really wanted in the first place. I’m one of the very few women who do not want kids, nor do I thirst for the opportunity to get married again soon.
    I’m in a long-term relationship now that’s very satisfying and my S/O understands where I’m coming from and loves me all the same.

    My life may not work for the majority, but I love it because it’s on my own terms.

  • Miss A

    @Rosalyn….you gave some really good advice and at such a crucial time for me. I am engaged to be married in June and there are times I look at my fiancee’ and wonder if I am doing the right thing and if I should go through with it. After reading your response, I realize that marriage takes work and there will be days when your mate will drive you crazy! My fiancee works my last nerve and it scares me because I’m thinking this should not be happening so early in our relationship…we should be at out “lovey dovey” stage where nothing goes wrong, we don’t argue, all over each other, etc. I know he loves me and would protect me with everything he has, but I’m just not sure what to do. Am I living in a fairy tale with my expectations of what a husband should be? I trust him and there is no abuse, so why do I feel this way? Maybe I expect too much perfection and not willing to realize he has imperfections, but he has good qualities as well. ***sigh***…anyways, great response!! : )

  • Tallulah Belle

    My parents have been married 58 years. I was married the first time for 13 years, in my 20′s and early 30′s. And now, I have married a second time, to a younger, very handsome, sexy, and intelligent man, for one year and counting — after a year or so of dating. Alas, I am truly truly happy as I make my own living, know who I am and am the joyous recipient of frequent and fulfilling sex and intense, deep affection as part of my marriage. I finally have this after a long-ish search for passionate love.

    Let me just say that whenever I can, I gather together the women of my mother’s generation,especially those approaching 80+, who have been married over 40 or 50 years. Interestingly enough, many of them, not all, but many of them are NOT (or were not) happily married. They have regrets that coincide with their life paths.

    Specifically,many women who are 75+ years old envy younger women that have the money, confidence, education, support and support systems to leave an unhappy marriage. Also, many of these women in their 80′s will also admit that there was a time in their long marriages that they “fell out of love” with their husbands and wished they could have moved on to new adventures and into new, more fulfilling lives and loves. But, all stayed put.

    Simply stated: age renders women less “marketable” in the marriage pool. Staying put seemed better than risking being single in their 40′s and 50′s. Children, social status and money were all big factors in staying married, happy or not.

    So, with this being said, it is important to not romanticize long marriages. Some are wonderful and happy. Some are mediocre and simply companionate. And, some are downright horrible. The length of time two people stay married says little about the quality of their relationship.

  • 05girl

    I know few women who admit they are NOT the marrying type. What does this type even look like? I imagine this statement means a lot of women who get married and then divorced are not the marrying type. Again, what signs would have been there on the women’s side pre-marriage?

    I think this article would be beneficial for men as well.

  • Tallulah Belle

    Yes. It is important to note that only some, a slice, a piece, a portion of marriage is hard work. Some marriages are more than hard work. Note, that there are marriages out there that are overwhemingly joyous and not such hard work. Trust.

    Not every marriage is as hard work as we women are lead to believe. Some marriages/relationships are peaceful and loving. Some are passionate and affectionate. Remember, a good marriage makes you happy MOST of the time. Set a “clock” for how you want to feel each day, stick by it. Do not believe every woman who tells you that marriage is “work.” Mostly, being married should bring you and your partner enormous joy. Period.

    Selecting a good and loving mate takes skill, time, luck and deep personal knowledge.

    Be careful. Take a deep breath. Look around you. Go slow. Be brave. Do not compromise your bottom line.

  • Stanley

    I will never ever ever never and ever get married. Marriage is simply not something for me.

  • P

    Just making a point, for the women desiring marriage, make sure the man you are seriously dating desires a wife and not the” benefits” of having a wife. I think oftentimes this is why men prematurely marries, but aren’t actually ready for a “marriage”. It can happened both ways, I mostly see the women giving 100% while the men are operating at 60% (woo – that percentage might be too high). With these odds, the marriage eventually becomes short lived instead of “forever”. I think the key is to look for someone who will work at it, want to go the distance, and truly adore one another. Of course, laugh with one another and enjoy talking to each other.

    My grandparents were married for over 50+ years. They were “bonded” together (as one). They were extremely close. As matter of fact, when one died – we instinctively knew it wasn’t going to be long for the other one to pass. I think a lot of people go into marriages with an already mindset of “I” or thinking “just in case we divorce” , a plan B is always in the back of our minds. Honestly, it is hard not to have these thoughts.
    It is an everyday process and I do think it is not for everybody which is fine. I just think people should not get married unless they are committed 100%. Well, let me say at 99% — b/c I really don’t like sharing my bathroom with my husband (shower-yes). I just want my own bathroom – lol!

    And I wish we would get rid of the term “open marriage”. That is not a marriage. Marriage is a commitment. If anyone accept those terms (no judgment zone), but I don’t see a need for a marriage. Stay single or cohabitate and do what you do. I just think it gives marriage a bad name and takes away from its blessing. If done right (not to go biblical), but for me marriage is a blessed union. Blessings come with being married and it suppose to be a holy matrimony (not a just a contract). I do think this is the main shift compared to marriages in today’s society in comparison to our grandparents.

  • http://gravatar.com/deechagirl CheeChis

    i love your blog…

  • Wanda

    Excellent piece.

    After three decades plus strong, I can safely say that I feel better about my wonderful hubby being now my absolute best friend than saying that he is my “lover.”

    I don’t think that our current culture really prepares anyone for the sort of lifetime marriage commitment that I saw in my grandparents, my own parents, and now in my own life.

    Looking for a “good man” is vague at best, and has NOTHING to do with finding a husband or spouse to share life and love with.

  • Ooh La La

    @Tallulah Belle

    I think it’s so interesting that you say that because its something I’ve thought about myself. Now, I’ve never been married as I’m just not ready for that stage of my life yet. But I have been in a relationship that felt like hard work. All the while I was trying to convince myself that relatinships require that type of sacrifice. It was more difficult than it was fulfilling. I’m in a relationship now and it’s just a complete difference. It requires effort but not really ‘hard work;’ effort in the sense of getting out of bed on the morning vs. staying asleep instead of hard work in the sense of “moving mountains.” I’m much happier now needless to say with my current SO. I just think it’s interesting how we as women tend to give too much of ourselves in thinking “anything worth having is worth working hard for.” But what are we really working toward and should it really feel like a task at all?

  • Pseudonym

    I think “not the marrying type” describes those who are unwilling to make personal sacrifices for the happiness of other people- on a regular basis. There are also people who don’t like to share their living space, don’t want to be monogamous, or are loners. There are lots of reasons, however I don’t think getting a divorce means it’s b/c someone’s not the marrying type. It’s all so…complicated.

  • Truth

    @Keshia

    If the uglies things you’ve heard about black women came from black that just tells me you don’t get out much and you’re not reading blogs frequented by white men. lol I don’t think you’re prepared for what white men are saying about black women on some of these blogs.

  • Perspective

    Oh YEA! – Keep moving the fence BACK INTO OBLIVION – where we end up at

    “HEY JUST DO WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO. DON’T WORRY ABOUT STANDARDS – WHAT DOES IT MATTER? YOU DON’T HAVE A COMMUNITY ANYWAY!”

    Which is precisely part of the reason it looks the way that it does. smh.

    While the women are saying – “MARRIAGE DOESN’T DEFINE ME. I’m not fat, I’m thick! Who say’s I have to be slim, shave my legs, wear deodorant, and take care of myself – all these black men are just self hating and can’t handle a REAL BLACK WOMAN in her natural state.”

    The brothas are over in their corner saying – “MONEY DOESN’T DEFINE ME! – I’m still a man. If a woman doesn’t submit to me ON HER DIME – ahhhhh that chick is a GOLD DIGGER! She should be happy I’m spending time with her. My swag is on 100,000,000. Its not about the money! Its about your personal relationship with THE MOST HIGH!”

    (EYES ROLL)

    “Hey man – where you going?”

    “I’m packing my bags! Heading out to Western Canada”

    “Why?”

    “To get away from the event horizon when the black community implodes due to its own ignorance and sheer stupidity!”

  • Roselyn

    Hey buddy

    Do you need some prozac? Chill.
    You can’t bear the burden of the black community squarely on your shoulders. Most people are moving away from the collective to individualism thanks to capitalism, and that’s been happening ever since the 70s and 80s.

    And this is to everyone, find someone/something that makes you happy and worry about the rest. It takes most of a person’s life to get their ish together, let alone their own communities.

  • Truth

    Black women didn’t start having these problems with finding a marriage partner until they started listening to and following black feminist and letting them into their homes and bedrooms. You can have it all! Sexual liberation, independence, career and wait until your 30′s to find a husband, if that’s REALLY what you want. Not all but many of these black feminist are outspoken or undercover lesbians. As far as black women, black kids, the black community and black family is concerned, it’s a failed agenda. I mean we’ve got young black girls with and w/o H.S. diplomas and GED’s who now think they can wait until their 30′s to find a husband. LMAO!!!! College educated black women in their 30′s who thought they could wait while not placing an importance on marriage in their 20′s while they had more options are also finding their options are now greatly limited and facing the real possiblity of being never married.

    One thing I’ll say about black men. They would never listen to nor follow a homosexual on issues related to manhood and family. Black women need to realize lesbians and most feminist messages and agendas whether it’s direct or subtle, conscious or subconscious devalues and minimizes the need for and importance of men, the traditional nuclear family and even the importance of being a mother. Black women and heterosexual black feminist who follow these women don’t seem to understand this. Everyone has an agenda. Black feminist and black women agendas are really different in a lot of respects. Yes black feminist are correct marriage is perfect but they never mention that neither is the alternative.

  • Truth

    Correction
    UGLY….black MEN

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Bingo!

  • Cocochanel31

    THANK YOU! I keep saying this..tired of people talking about what our grandparents did..many of our grandparents especially grandmother’s were not HAPPY but felt obligated to stay in the marriage ! Let’s make our own history and not live in the fabled glory days of yesteryear! We all have our own life/path/lessons to lead!

  • P

    Yes, I agree. We do have to make our own lives and make our own history. At the same time, I cannot deny witnessing our grandparent’s loyalty and commitment to each other was a beautiful vision to behold.

    Yep, times have changed for sure.

  • marseeuh

    I really enjoyed this piece. It is thought provoking. thankyou for writing it,

  • http://gravatar.com/langisketches Leo the Yardie Chick

    True. Just from observing the marriages within my own family, I’ve learned not to judge a marriages’ success by longevity. Long story short, what I’ve witnessed and studies has scared me and scarred me. There’s a lot more to marriage than the wedding, the rings, and the ‘I dos’, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready for that – and I’m not going to get married ‘just to check’.

  • Nakia

    I agree with you, Pseudonym, but isn’t there a “type” for everyone? Isn’t a part of the “not being the marrying type” thing about finding YOUR type of relationship? There are no hard and fast rules. If there can be a successful relationship, there can be a successful marriage. I am a bit of a social loner, i like a lot of time alone to think, meditate, write, listen to Miles, etc. I think a successful relationship for me is a similar person who knows how to allow me space, even when we’re in the same room. I think I’ve found that and believe that a fit is a fit and marriage is just the legality of the thing.

  • Nakia

    “While the women are saying – “MARRIAGE DOESN’T DEFINE ME. I’m not fat, I’m thick! Who say’s I have to be slim, shave my legs, wear deodorant, and take care of myself – all these black men are just self hating and can’t handle a REAL BLACK WOMAN in her natural state.”

    Is this what you think of Black women, at large? Whoa. You need to upgrade your circle.

  • Chic Noir

    But come on, nothing’s new there when White men say hateful things they’ve been saying evil things about us for hundreds of years. Furthermore, Black women don’t give birth to White boys.

  • Chic Noir

    Are these things from Blk men online or said in person?

  • p

    Wow.

  • http://roslynhardyholcomb.com Roslyn Hardy Holcomb

    I don’t know how long you and your fiance have been dating, but even in longterm relationships therewill be a period of adjustment. Even couples who’ve lived together experience it. I don’t know why, but marriage is different. I think it’s normal to have some doubts. this is a major, life changing decision. But it’s also important to examine the source of that doubt. Are there behaviors that you find troubling? Issues you haven’t worked out. I remember during premarital counseling our priest giving us exercises to work through. We had to write down what marriage looked like to each of us. Do you and your fiance have a similar vision? So don’t just brush your doubt aside in this joyous moment, but don’t just assume they mean he’s not right for you either.

  • Pseudonym

    I agree with you but just include the idea that there are some people for which the perfect/most fitting relationship status is no romantic relationship at all.

    No matter what form the relationship takes, regularly having to make compromises and sacrifices for the other person is crucial. I think that’s where a lot of people get blind-sided. It’s not on sacrifice every few years; at times it can become a weekly or even daily thing! And the idea that you might actuality dislike your spouse for a prolonged period of time- I’ve had people telling me about not liking their spouse for an entire year! (But they stuck it out and totally like the other person now.) I think a lot for expect those things to be as frequent or prolonged as they turn out to be.

  • E.M.S.

    In the piece it said, “But you are still expected to marry (and eventually fail) over and over, growing to loathe and disdain yourself and pity your way of life.” I completely disagree with that statement.

    I’ll be damned if I hate MYSELF because I fail to meet someone else’s expectations on that. I’m also perfectly comfortable telling people I don’t care for marriage and I don’t give a flying hell if they don’t like it, it’s not their life, and not their relationship.

  • I got sense!

    And after they do this article on not being the marrying type they need to do another about not all women being the mothering type. People (adults) really need to taken hard look at themselves and be realistic and honest about the things they want in life. And please stop doing stuff because “it’s what you’re supposed to do” or what “society says is appropriate”.

  • http://trueletterson.wordpress.com trueletterson

    Now that’s what I am talking about!

  • http://twitter.com/Author_JGail J. Gail (@Author_JGail)

    I strongly disagree. I believe this decline in marriage began when black men started to have problems finding work (jobs moving out of the inner city). Because of this more black women had to rely on the welfare system, which did not allow men in the homes. The combination of these two factors began to give black men the idea that they weren’t needed as a part of the normal family structure, so they left their families. Drugs lured them away even more. There are several books and documentaries that support this theory of the breakdown in the black family.

  • http://melodymoose.deviantart.com/ Catpopstar

    1. black women offering advice that you don’t like doesn’t make them lesbians. That… makes no sense. It would make more sense to imply that they were virgins that never dated anyone, but I guess lesbian is more of an insult.

    2 Why would someone tuning 30 automatically make them unworthy of marriage? Its insulting to imply that everyone else would be as shallow as you are.

    3. Way to generalize. Its worse enough that minorities are denied individuality in our general society and now you’re doing it.

    4. Why is there an agenda? Its 2013, times change. Some people just are not fit for marriage and we should stop trying to make them fell like crap because of it. And “the importance of being a mother”? Way to make infertile people fell like crap! Your post sounds like an agenda. Everyone must have this monolithic lifestyle of there is something wrong with them.

  • Your Spirit, or Your Body

    Lol truth.com

  • stef

    I would love to see a story about the impact of 21st western values have had on marriage today compared to other cultures like african ,asian and indian. we like to believe we know it all but they are sticking to traditional values that is doing a better job at building stronger families and communities. i would love to see what they do different and does it work

  • Truth In Advertising

    As an African American who primarily hangs out with Ethiopians and West Indians, I think I can tell you *exactly* what they have that enables them to form stronger relationships, families, and communities… DISCIPLINE. Americans (and African Americans especially) approach such constructs as CONSUMERS, whereas most of the groups you referred to approach them as INVESTMENTS. People who make consumption their priority in life tend to consume everything around them until there is nothing left to consume, people who make wise INVESTMENT their priority in life tend to understand the need to take care of their investments because they seek to reap the longer term payoffs that come with doing so. Relationships are investments. If people respected them as such, many of our problems would disappear. Investment requires more discipline than consumption. In our community: Discipline not high on the hits list. Of course I’m employing some level of oversimplification, but the point is valid.

  • Señorita

    Pre-marital counseling maybe?

  • PeppyChick

    Totally agree with your entire statement. I was having a conversation with my Mother about this… Marriage is truly an investment. An investment that I will work wonders years down the road. If you choose who to invest in and with wisely. Marriage increases every area of your life: spiritually, emotionally,physically and mentally. While I agree not everyone is meant for marriage. However, as Americans we treat marriage as another thing on our shopping list.

  • SoxNerd

    One major reason i’m not married is because of the shortage of black women that are suitable for marriage.

  • Pingback: The Key to a Long Marriage Is… | Black and Married With Kids.com - A Positive Image of Marriage and Family

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  • Common Sense

    I would also like to add that if you are not the marrying kind and cannot have a mature lasting relationship, PLEASE, PLEASE wear condoms or get a vasectomy!!!!

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