For Many Women, Romance Is Far From Budding

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spring usually brings certain warmth to relationships, right along with the thawing of winter. But so far, there has been only unseasonable chilliness, as if the weather were being pumped from the cold heart of a pimp.

Oops, that was last week's love word, courtesy of a movie song about a pimp that wooed its way to an Oscar. This week, the p-word is polygamy . And yet, as snuggly as the concept may seem, there is something less than heartwarming about HBO's much talked about new series, "Big Love," which features a husband who you just know will soon be "exhausted" from having three wives.

I have a friend, Audrey Chapman, a relationship therapist based in Alexandria, who conducts "Love Lab" workshops for the brokenhearted, among others. She's booked through August. Long before pimps and polygamy reentered the popular lexicon, she told me, women -- especially black women -- had their hands full with plain old cheaters and deceivers, including "brothers on the down low," black men who have sex with other men and then have sex with their unsuspecting wives and girlfriends, sometimes infecting them with sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

"There are a lot of angry women out here -- and, of course, this latest celebration of pimps and fascination with polygamy has not helped," said Chapman, who also serves as a counselor for students at Howard University and has a radio show on relationships that airs from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on WHUR (96.3 FM). "Many black women have spent so much time getting educated, doing volunteer work, attending church -- all of the things that are supposed to make you a good person. Now they are ready for a man. But where is he?"

A lot of black women can answer that in a heartbeat: prison, married, gay or dead.

Back in 1982, Chapman wrote a controversial book, "Mansharing: Dilemma or Choice?", which was widely interpreted as advocating polygamy to address the shortage of eligible black men. In fact, the book was written to help women who thought they were in exclusive relationships cope with the pain of discovering that they had been betrayed.

"It's hard out here dealing with a man," she said. "But women have to take some responsibility, too. Do your homework. Find out if the man even has the ability to be loyal. Don't fall for any old line. And remember that a kiss is not a contract. Or else you end up angry and with a real nasty attitude. Then, even if you happen to meet a nice guy, he's not going to be bothered with you, because nobody wants to be around a nasty woman."

Chapman's latest book, "Getting Good Loving: Seven Ways to Find Love and Make It Last," is aimed at helping women shake off that anger and find what she calls "a more inviting style" of interacting with men.

Of course, that still leaves the crux of the problem: a shortage of marriageable men. Recently released studies of poorly educated black men only confirm the obvious: Their plight has gone from bad to worse, to hell in a handbasket.

By the time black men with only a high school education reach their mid-thirties, 30 percent have served time in prison, according to a study by Bruce Western, a sociologist at Princeton. Among high school dropouts, 60 percent have been to prison.

Little wonder, then, that black women who wait until their thirties before seeking a marriage partner find such slim pickings. "There was a time when Aunt Emma or Grandma would hook you up with the church brother they'd been keeping an eye on for you," Chapman said. "These days, Grandma is so young she's out there checking him out for herself."

Would polygamy be worth a try?

"From what black women tell me, no, not unless you want to see a violent uprising with massive tire slashing, window breakings and widespread arsons," she said.

Chapman suggests that a more viable alternative might be for black women to get over a longstanding taboo against marrying white men. Or, black men could do more to make themselves worthy. And those who are already married could work harder to stay that way.

Spring may have sprung, but baby, it's cold outside.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company