General Snobbery
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Everybody Panic: Why Worrying About the Marriage Crisis Won't Help Black Women

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.

More after the jump.

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.

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Reader Comments (59)

Awesome... I agree with EVERY word you typed. Recently, I have gotten over the "woe is me, I am black and unlovable" crap and actually began to love my life and the me that's living it. Everything else will fall in its place in due time.

Thanks a bunch

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdana111

Thank you for writing this. I am so tired of hearing about these "scare black women" articles. Why are people so focused on marriage anyway? Just enjoy life, if the right man or woman comes along then great but if they don't, then so what? Keep on enjoying life.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersasha


June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa J

Sometimes you were just in the wrong place at wrong time. I lived in New Jersey for 33 years and most of my relationships were crappy. When I moved to Colorado, things turned around for me. Then I came to North Carolina in 11/07 due to an illness, and I've hardly been out anywhere. I instinctively know that women around here are not my type and I'm planning to move elsewhere to start over again. BTW, a lot of black women are attracted to jailbirds. When my step-sister was young, she was educated and hot and could have gotten a successful husband. Instead, she married a long-term criminal. So cliche.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdukedraven

I agree, sisters. You don't need a man. Just play every Tom, Dick and Harry and enjoy life. You go girls! Hee, hee

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdukedraven


June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterellebelle

I have written many articles on exactly this issue. The media can create hysteria where there is none. Don't believe the hype. Don't look at the negative images. There is hope. You will just not see it splashed across CNN. I am a happily married black women who knows lots of other happily married black women. I did not lower my standards. I did not accept anything I didn't want. I have always been aware of my worth and stupid media sterotypes can never convince me otherwise. Yes, there are many more educated black women than there are black men. That doesn't mean you have to settle for men who want nothing from life except a free ride. Your advice is sopt on. Be positive, be open. He may not appear in the package that you expect but you have to look at character and spirit more than clothes and wallet.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfly girl

Such a difficult subject.The majority of my black female friends are single, while the majority of my female friends of other races in the same age group are married. Nothing wrong with my black friends - actually they are quite exceptional in terms of personality and education and sometimes looks. Certainly they are no different from my friends of other races who are married. It is very hard for them not to feel panic.

I remember my own panic when I was single. I was a dating fool. I was determined to find a partner but I just kept meeting unavailable and unsuitable men. Sows ears that I kept trying to fashion into silk purses.

Then I met a really nice British guy while on a long term temp assignment at a bank on Wall Street. We became good friends and he developed a crush on me which I rejected because I was busy dating Mr. Wrong and trying to make him Mr. Right.

Then one day it dawned on me that he WAS my dream guy - he was bright, kind, emotionally available, had integrity and goals that were non-materialistic - and so I accepted his romantic interest. That was 9 years ago and was the best decision I ever made in my life. Before him I never knew it was possible to be so completely at home with another human being. He is my best friend, the love of my life and every day I thank God for him.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNona

@ fly girl

Excellent points. I think part of the reason why I'm also not really worried is what you wrote. I actually know many married black women. I realize that this is the exception and not the rule, but my reality IS filled with happily married black women and other women of color. Both my parents have been married for over 36 years. My best friend is married with two beautiful children. I'm able to meet reasonably nice guys and while I have had a mixed dating history, the fact that I feel attractive and people have been attracted to me really makes me just roll my eyes at the stats. I'm honestly not that worried about it. But then I've always been very career orientated and figured that if I worked on myself dating opportunities would open up.

June 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

Danielle, thanks for a great article. I think what a lot of women fail to do is realize that happiness starts with self and that looking for a man to create your happiness is the wrong approach. I was lucky enough to have learned that young, but sometimes media stereotypes, dire statistical trends and even comparing your situation to the people around you can get you caught up in the hype. So it's cool that you addressed the issue here (even if it is another relationship post). We dig those too. Snark on!

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKidsistah

I don't believe there is a reason to panic. I don't believe it is all the fault of black women with standards that are too high to make any man husband material. But, I do believe that the conversations I have had among African, African-American women and West-Indian have been quite similar. There is a focus on height, education and money. These are all important, but the same women then complain that they cannot find ANYONE. Now, that is untrue. I know the statistics of available black men and I still believe it to be untrue. Women have to stop complaining and really begin a journey to find the man that complements their true needs, desires and personalities. Height, education and money will, of course, also be considered in your assessment. But, these criteria are not where the conversation of a long-term relationship should either begin or end.

Also, ladies, if you have been single for a while and your friend attempts to get this message across to you, listen, or stop complaining.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJuliet Okafor

It's not marriage I worry about. It's motherhood. I'm traditional in the sense that I'm not going to have a child out of wedlock. Furthermore, I don't want to have my first child in the 'at risk,' period of being 35+. I don't want to be worried about college tuition when I should be concentrating on retirement (ie having a child 40ish).

This does cause me to have a bit of 'marriage' panic. I don't intend to lower my standards, but I can't lie in that it causes me distress to think that my dream of having a husband, 2.5 children, and a dog named FIDO, is beyond my control. the meantime I'll continue to date, 'focus on career' (because I don't have the alternative to focus on family), and 'have fun and live life.'

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterABoogie

Great article!

I am so very tired of all the articles and blog posts bemoaning the lonely Black woman. For a period I was in a "OMG nobody is ever gonna love me & imma end up an old maid!" phase when many of my friends were beginning to get married. And now? Many of those same friends have either divorced or separated and now tell me they wish they would have not jumped on the first guy who gave them a second look.

I really love & appreciate you brought up the education factor. Folks like to talk about how so many Black women are educated & their high standards, but they've forgotten the bigger piece of the puzzle. I think Black women in my generation were taught by our mamas & daddys that we should go get our education so that we could take care of ourselves. We played by the rules, and now we get told that we're too uppity or whatever. Blah at all that.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJubilance

Sometimes what seems like 'lowering your standards' to some women might be considered 'taking a realistic self-assessment' to the rest of the world. Just because you play for the Cleveland Cavaliers doesn't mean you should hold out for LeBron James' contract. And I just don't see how playing the victim role is going to help.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMwanga

"I think Black women in my generation were taught by our mamas & daddys that we should go get our education so that we could take care of ourselves. We played by the rules, and now we get told that we're too uppity or whatever. Blah at all that."


June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTami

I absolutely loved this article. I listened to the magazines and movies that advised me to lower my standards and I wasn't happy. That's definitely not the way to find a man. The line "I thought I was worth less therefore I was "worthless."', means so much to me. Women have to be more confident in themselves. Only through confidence and complete self respect will women be able to find The One.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRemaAtWork

I think like everything else associated with the Black experience, this "panic" in itself is another one in the long line of divisiveness. It's just another one f those pathologies associated with years of indoctrination in my own opinion. Let's be honest: this is not a phenomenon women of other races associate themselves with, no?

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRiPPa

I'm glad I'm a lesbian. :-)

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonie

You said it Snob.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

PREACH! Well said, I never feed into that crap. It's damaging.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn Danielle

These marriage articles never really interview real people. How many of these unmarried people want to be married? How many are gay? The desperate black women sure keep Essence and Steve Harvey in business

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpolticallyincorrect

Right on! I love this article. You're so right!

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermzroz

I think we all know that the contradicting stereotypes are just bad advice mixed with bitterness from rejected men. Since I was little, I've always heard how I was lazy, but stealing other people's jobs.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKareem

Thank you for adding some sense to this debate!!!!!!!!!!

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershermyb


i just knew this blog would have mad posts in it.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterswiv
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