To Have and to Hold, but With Higher Standards

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By Donna Britt
Friday, June 9, 2006

On Saturday, Laurel resident Audene Harvey did something reckless and hopelessly retro.

She got married.

Harvey's strapless gown featured crystal beading. Her braided coif was upswept. Although she calmly stated her vows, her tears flowed during the reception's congratulatory toasts. All of this sounds unremarkable -- especially in June, the most popular month for marriage-minded Americans.

But Harvey, 30, is black. Getting hitched is something she wasn't supposed to do.

Or so suggested "Marriage Is for White People," a heartbreaking article by author Joy Jones, a never-married black woman, which appeared in The Post's Outlook section in March when I was on hiatus from writing.

The commentary, which has haunted me ever since, provoked amens and "Are you kidding?" from readers -- including the never-married black female friend with whom I happened to have brunch the day it ran.

"I know the problems black women face in finding someone -- but the writer seems to have given up," said Monica Parham, 38, an Alexandria corporate lawyer who still dreams of marriage. "Why give up? It's like giving up on . . . family relationships, your job, anything that's an uphill climb.

"Once you start down that road, you start giving up on more and more things. And not really living your life."

For Harvey, living her life meant having a June wedding and a Maldives honeymoon. But the 12-year-old boy who dismissed marriage as a whites-only transaction and inspired Jones's article sees life differently -- as do millions of black children whose parents no longer view marriage as necessary.

In 2001, the U.S. Census found, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women had never wed, compared with 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively, of whites. African American women are the least likely in U.S. society to marry, as "sex, love and childbearing have become a la carte choices," Jones wrote.

White people are marrying less, too. Mention the subject to a long-married white friend of mine and she shrugs, saying, "Marriage is for the kids. Or the health insurance."

The days when marriage seemed to be a necessary bond whose dissolution was financially and socially catastrophic are largely past. Unlike annoying siblings or parents, husbands and wives are invited into our lives. Nowadays, we can disinvite them.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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