Last week, my cellphone lit up with texts from a friend who, like me, is black, Christian and single in her 30s. The first message began: “Tonight my pastor told us, ‘The Bible says he who finds a wife finds a good thing.’ He and my mentor always emphasize that single women should not look for a man, but wait to be found,” she wrote. “He says that, while waiting, we as women should instead focus on becoming and being that ‘good thing.’ ”
To that, I heaved the heaviest of sighs and rolled my eyes all the way to the top of their sockets. Not at her, but at the under-inspiring, over-articulated rhetoric that women — particularly black women — should be passive in the search for love. And even as we nullify our power, we should also work to be as close to perfect to qualify as marriage material. It’s contradictory and so very cliche.
I am one in a nation of girls raised up in the black church, polished from infancy to serve the Lord with minimal questions asked. We’re indoctrinated from the time we’re in Sunday school: Good girls wait. Good girls who wait to be asked out by boys, good girls who wait to have sex and ultimately, good girls who wait become good women who wait to be found by husbands. No one told us we might turn 30, 40, 50, 60 and still be unfound. No one warned us that we might be among the 35 percent of black women 25 or older who have never been married; not all of us want to be hitched, but an overwhelming majority do.
Because the statistical odds are not in our favor, many of us are so desperate to understand why we’re not married and what we need to do to get married that we will listen to whoever seems as though they have the answers. Most often that boils down to two categories of folks: men and ministers, because as far as we know, they have an inside connection. It’s a situation ripe for exploitation: best-selling books, sold-out conferences, some of them birthed from a genuine desire to help, some of them preying on the vulnerabilities of good, Christian women trying to figure out why, despite faith and diligent prayer, their spouse’s arrival has been indefinitely postponed.
So we ingest the sermons and directives that tie our worthiness of marriage to how closely we can emulate the woman of Proverbs 31, even though she is a prototype from long ago, when most everyone with a vagina had little say over her destiny.
Our churches are too sacred and too safe a space to push the narrative about what women need to be instead of celebrating them where they already are. This is especially important for black women, who have habitually been told, even by our own community, even by our own men, that how we look, how we act, how we sound, how we wear our hair, how our bodies are shaped, how we move is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Two years ago, I sat in my first appointment with my therapist, not admitting to her or even myself, but secretly wanting to fix the things I thought were wrong with me so I could become new, improved and worthy of marriage. There’s a mental and emotional burden that results from thinking something is wrong with you because you’ve been single for so long, a feeling of being unlovable or dysfunctional because this one desire of your heart has been left untouched by God. I had to get over that. We all do, especially trusted church leaders who propagate it. I’m single, but I’m not a victim of singleness. And even if I never get married, I know it won’t be because I was rendered powerless by an archaic doctrine.
I love the black church. I am who I am because of the black church. But we can’t continue to push a message about relationships that is so dramatically different for women than it is for men. Many men enjoy the liberties of sex, scandal and indiscretion with little consequences. We’re obligated to crawl out from under the patriarchy that weighs on women socially even as they’re lifted spiritually. Black women are already that good thing that my friend’s pastor and so many others like him tell us we should be striving to be. And we should be clear that we have our own connection to and relationship with God to drive our own choices; to get discernment and wisdom; to be convicted about celibacy or decide to have sex, and not because someone else is telling us either is the right choice; to register for a dating site or go out on a blind date; to send a cute guy a message or ask a crush out for dinner. We get to decide with God — not be told by outside forces, no matter how well-intentioned — what waiting and taking no initiative entails.
As a woman of God, I have a responsibility to be a critical thinker and social analyst, not just an ardent Jesus lover. And I resist digesting what I’m being fed without looking at the contents first.
So when I gathered my thoughts and texted my friend back, I said: “I don’t believe that that’s what God has for women. To give us strong minds and desires and know what we want in every area of our lives, pursue our ordained purposes and divine life assignments, and engage our power except in this one area, where we play demure and sit pretty on the sidelines waiting to be picked. Girl, if you want to be married, you better put some legs on that thing.”