I once wrote that “family” is the original “F” word, but when it comes to dating and relationships, another word that could vie for the title is “fear.”
For single African-American women, the pressure to create a pair bond and get married can be relentless. In fact, the pressure is so strong, I sometimes get the suspicious feeling that everyone else out there is more afraid of us being single and having options than we are.
What is everyone so afraid of?
I went on a date recently with a ruggedly handsome, intelligent and funny guy. It was a great night, filled with stimulating conversation, laughter and, in the end, high-quality intimacy. Is it my intention to exclusively date or eventually try to marry this guy? No. Why? Because I have the emotional muscle and maturity to understand that our backgrounds, entanglements and existing commitments preclude us from that kind of a connection.
In other words, I don’t want to marry every man that I date. I can enjoy a gentleman’s company without feeling the pressure to explain why he and I are not monogamous or why I’m not devising Operation Bridezilla in order to get hitched to him.
It is extremely difficult for most folks to accept that things outside of us cannot fill the need for soul connection. No one teaches us how to fill our own ache, so we spend a lifetime attempting to fill it with people, places and things that don’t serve us. Marriage can often be one of those things.
There are countless blog pieces, magazine articles and books out there attempting to hip you to the way to “win” at the dating and relationship “game.” Here’s the problem: People who play games, and who see connection and relationships as games, never really grow up. They rarely access anything deep.
You’re not a pawn; you’re a person. It’s not a game; it’s your life.
If people gave advice or shared their experiences in an attempt to be relevant rather than “clever,” they might actually help someone.
For example, I was given Steve Harvey’s book, “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man,” as a gift when it first hit bookstores. At the time, I was slowly but surely recovering from a divorce and a well-meaning relative thought that Harvey’s book might help me “get back out there.”
I can sum up my opinion of the book in two words: Negro, please. In it, women must fit into one of these categories: slut, sidepiece, old maid, gold digger, failure, lonely independent achiever, loser or perfect paragon of virtue. Women are not living, breathing entities with their own ideas about who they are; they are simply objects to be used or won, whose value is determined by their cunning or hapless use of their “cookie.”
The book reduces us down to what Harvey believes are our least common denominators: men’s need for money, sex and a place to be king of the castle, and women’s need to stave off the social stigma of loneliness, the overall poor opinions of others, and the struggle of raising children on their own.
It’s a book based mainly on fear. The barely-hidden cruelty of it is like watching a cat toy with a mouse. It plays upon the worst insecurities of men and women – but especially the African-American women who make up a large portion of its target audience:
“We’re (men) pretty confident that your willingness to be in a relationship with us supersedes all the things we do that look suspicious, because we know you’ll work through the suspicion – that it’s more important to you to be with us in our imperfection than to leave us and be alone.”
And there, loud and clear, is the two-fold message that African-American men are not capable of a deep, abiding, faithful soul connection and African-American women are so afraid of being alone they’ll accept that and the destructive behavior that goes with it. It is an insulting and denigrating premise.
Sorry, Steve, but we do not exist on this earth to settle for scraps from one another. Inside of us is the ability to love and love deeply. Women should not suppress or ignore that ability simply because it is difficult for men to access or understand. Women should not fear being doomed to loneliness if they insist on living in their highest nature.
It could be argued that Harvey’s book is shallow, misguided and totally missing the point – which would make “Act Like A Lady” akin to so much of the conversation on dating and relationships among African Americans. The assumption that marriage is the highest goal and ideal state of being for an African-American woman – or any woman – is all wrong. To paraphrase Eleanore Wells of TheSpinsterliciousLife.com, marriage is not a better life—it's just a different one.
Marriage, in its traditional sense, is crucially dependent upon a commitment to teamwork and the sacrifice of one's identity as an individual. If you’re a woman and your nature is a lone wolf, or if you simply have personal development goals and dreams you want to pursue, marriage is often not the arena where you are going to get the support you need.
Many women are driven individuals with their own visions for their future, but females are RELENTLESSLY pressured in our society to create these publicly-held trusts called marriages. You're no longer Barbara or Roxanne; you're the CFO, the chauffeur, the cook and all these other titles that serve other people. Your marriage doesn't even belong to you. Everyone - your parents, the government, the church - has a stake in it.
If you went into marriage not really knowing who you are, or what you really want, or having a sense of your own value, worth and "good enough-ness," marriage only serves to dilute you even further. I believe in my heart of hearts that many women, though certainly not all, lose themselves when they marry and have children. The expectations and fantasies that women and men both have about what marriage will offer or solve are rudely dispelled by reality.
It's like deeply desiring a grilled salmon filet, but realizing that you're in McDonald’s.
Here’s what I’ve noticed: African-American women do not give themselves permission to love, to be passionate, to enjoy life, to laugh, to take risks, to live by their own rules, to confront lies, to tell their story, to stand up, to be themselves, to be loud, to be quiet, to connect, to touch, to feel, to be their most powerful, compelling, beautiful and awesome selves. It’s time for that to change. It’s time they gave themselves permission TO LIVE.
Ultimately, we’re making a decision to see ourselves in terms of weakness or in terms of strength: “I’m desperate and I need somebody.” versus “I’m awesome and I want somebody.”
The desire to connect is a basic human instinct. It’s not needy or weak. And it’s definitely not a game. It’s what makes us human. However, we must begin to connect with ourselves first. If you’re going to read something, choose information that helps you get at who you really are. Resist antiquated, outmoded and outright bad advice that’s being fed to you. It’s a new world, and African-American women have the opportunity to redefine their futures and the very essence of what it means to be in a satisfying and fulfilling relationship – especially the one with themselves.
For all of us, men and women, but especially women, knowing yourself, loving yourself, understanding your personality challenges and putting your own wellness first are critical to being a good mate. I did not have the opportunity to achieve any of that until I was mature, divorced and living single. I am happier now than I have ever been, not because I hate marriage, but because for the first time in my life I truly, fully and deeply love and understand myself.
Will I ever marry again? Perhaps. But I am ecstatically enjoying the single life - even with its challenges and shortcomings. I was never lonelier than when I was married. And if that's the case for so many people - and trust me, it is - what's the point?
We need to be less concerned with “games” and more concerned with building people's worth and value of themselves. I challenge folks to move past the distraction of arguing about how African-American women are shortchanging themselves by not getting married and move toward building healthy African-American men, women and children who love themselves first as individuals.
Marriage, when it's good, is a beautiful thing. And I know of some really good marriages. But when it's all said and done, I'd rather be single and live my truth than be married and live someone else's lie.
Nicole P. Moliere is a writer, artist and speaker. She is the creator of SexyBrainiac.com , a dating and relationship blog that attempts to slice through the Gordian knot at the intersection of intimacy, sensuality, vulnerability and connection. Got a question for her? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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