Robyn Thorpe hoped he would pursue her, but she played it cool. She waved goodbye as she stepped down the stairs of the busy cigar lounge.
She took three more steps, conscious of the sway of her skirt, deliberate in her casualness. Then the guy in the red tie and blue button-down shirt made his move.
"Are you leaving?" he asked. "Can we finish our conversation?"
She stopped her descent and smiled as she followed him to an empty table. Her plum-tinted lip gloss glistened.
This is what she had come for: the chance to meet a man, a black man, a potential husband. The moment was full of possibility and light, much like the romantic Nigerian films Robyn has come to adore -- where lovers' eyes meet in passionate glances, and romance rules over reason.
But it was also a moment that masks a maddening numbers game. She is a 31-year-old black woman seeking to marry a black man, which lands her in the heart of the most uncoupled demographic in the United States. For every 100 single black women, there are 70 single black men, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, a number that does not take into account the prison population or men living in group homes. In the Washington area, there are 83 single black men for every 100 single black women.
For eligible black men, that equation can look like a dating smorgasbord, with seemingly limitless choices, and not just among black women. According to the 2000 census, black men enter interracial marriages at a higher rate -- 9.7 percent -- than any other racial or gender group except Asian women. That's twice the rate of black women.
For Robyn and black women like her -- who see their fates intimately bound to black men -- life means strategizing and dreaming beyond the numbers in a world where it seems the ground has shifted under their feet.
Her experiences in that world are far more than some "Waiting to Exhale" story line. They are a window on black men, a foray into the never-ending dialogue about the delicate balance -- or imbalance -- between black men and women. It is one of the most volatile and enduring conversations. Just what does it mean, for example, when a half-million more black women than men are college graduates? For some black men, it can be a chance to redefine traditional roles; for others, it opens a widening intraracial battleground over class and gender.
Robyn hasn't joined the ranks of black women who are beginning to talk about exploring their options elsewhere.
"I can't just brush off brothers and say we are in a crisis," she says. "I'm still a believer."
Her faith is soldered by the black men in her life. Men like her father and grandfather, longtime husbands and providers for their children. Men like her siblings, one married and a father of two, the other dating a Bulgarian woman.