I've been reticent to write yet another relationship column, but a reader recently posed me this observation in at letter after The Root published a second article about black women and dating and the Obama marriage:
It seems as if every single time these articles come out, they report the same tired statistics (44% of black women are unmarried, there are very few "eligible" black men available to date, etc.) and give the same advice (from black men: lower your standards to get a man; from black women: date outside the race and don't wait for a black man).
Perhaps the articles (in Essence, online, everywhere I look) aren't trying to suggest that I should lower my standards to attract a man, but they usually come across that way. No other racial or ethnic group is told to be "less picky" as bluntly nor as often. So now, I'm wondering whether some people feel as if black women are supposed to settle for whoever wants us, have lower standards, etc., in part because of the "attractiveness pyramid" that places Asian women on top, white women below, Latina women below that, and black women dead last. Shelby's comment on the last discussion of the politics of interracial dating on your blog, about realizing that she was being systematically devalued each day, struck a chord with me. I've definitely heard the same from other women--the questioning your attractiveness and value, and the way that it chips away at your self-worth.
I'm also wondering about the impact of the articles on others. Will men of all shades assume that we're so desperate to find love that we'll accept anything? Will/do people in general blame us for our "failings" (i.e., the inability to get married)?
This letter resonated with me particularly because it points out the maddening factor in almost all of these articles -- that black women are the problem. Not that the issue is complex. Not that there are multiple factors at play. Not that it's simply hard for anyone of any race to find a mate, but that something is fundamentally wrong with black women for doing what most people do -- seek a quality mate.
What is ever more maddening is that for every article about lowering standards there are complaints that black women have no standards. That we lie down with anyone and want hard, thuggish men who are no good. Which one is it people? Are we uppity black American princesses who won't settle for anything less than an Ivy League baller OR are we low, screw anybody harlots who keep getting knocked up by some dude who's either been on, is headed to or is currently in prison? Because stereotypes are clashing like mad when it comes to people's opinions on this.
But I think that what bothers me the most is that these articles fuel the insane panic that many black women already have naturally over their worth and their desire to find a suitable husband. I think I've been reading about the black marriage panic for most of my young life and I never quite got it. It didn't make sense to me why I should marry a guy I have little to nothing in common in just because I needed to "drop my standards." I tried going with a fellow who picked me once who was well below my standard of who I would normally date and it lead to my nightmare, psychologically abusive starter marriage. Because I didn't listen to my first mind (the one that said this guy is not all there) AND because I'd bought into the hype (He's nice and he likes me! I shouldn't be so picky!), I ended up emotionally devastated and out of more than $10,000 when I barely made $22,000 a year.
Hooked on "Marriage Panic!" did not work for me! And, news flash, ladies. It's not going to work for you either.
"Marriage Panic" made me lower my market share value -- meaning: I thought I was worth less therefore I was "worthless." And he treated me just as cheaply as I came. Women have to have standards. We're the one's who could get pregnant. We're the ones who could end up in a position of dependence. You can't expect women to not have SOME standards.
True, some women are unreasonable or unrealistic, but so are some men. So are a lot of people who aren't black. That's a human trait, not a pathology.
The other issue that people also seem to be forgetting is that more black women are educated, professionals. More black women go to college and more black women graduate. It sounds like a lot of black women are trying to do the right thing. But instead of praising these women and building them up, all we can do is scream at them as if they are the sole reason why they're alone. That their "high standards" are the only impediment to their happiness (or their low standards, depending on which stereotype you believe).
Aren't there some larger, broader issues we're forgetting?
And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people." (Washington Post)
While it is true that 41 percent of black women aren't married, 43 percent of black men AREN'T MARRIED EITHER! And the complaint usually isn't that there aren't enough black men. The complaint is that there aren't enough black men on the same level as that tide of college educated black female professionals. Level doesn't necessarily mean money or education, but most men and women marry people who have similar backgrounds and desires to their own. So black women are the ones who are supposed to devalue themselves?
I say, IGNORE THE ARTICLES. IGNORE the marriage panic. Why? Because worrying about it is NOT HELPING. It is not getting you a husband. It is not making you feel good about yourself. This is part of the problem. I gave up worrying about the marriage panic once I realized that I was a good catch. I was a good wife to my horrible husband and I was a good girlfriend to the past guys I dated. I realized that I just needed to keep my eyes open (and my mind alert), so when the next guy comes along I will be the best person I am and not act as if it is the end of the world if I can't get a man to love me.
Yes, you should have an open mind. Yes, you should let your heart guide you, but your head better be close behind. You need to know your worth and you are worth more that whatever bullshit is being sold to you right now. Every woman has worth. Every man has worth. Being open-minded about who you date and who you love doesn't mean being empty-headed.
If you are desperate to find a mate, you just have to do it the same way it's always been done -- network your ass off. Join clubs and organizations. Go to events and things you like. Make lots of friends. Be nice to your co-workers. After all, they might know (or be related to) someone who is perfect for you. Love the person who best loves you based on solid and sound judgment. Never negotiate your heart or your bed out of fear. You have to ignore the stereotypes and negativity about your beauty or your personality. You have to make a quality assessment, a real, informative assessment of yourself, and you can't use the measuring sticks of naysayers and doubters.
Think about what you like, love and don't like about yourself. Focus on working on you. Finding your happiness. Fixing the things about yourself you think you need to improve and learn to love the things about yourself that are intrinsically loveable. Be happy. Be at peace. Don't be desperate or angry or sad. None of this will help you. Those things are symptoms of the Marriage Panic.
And you can't let it win.