Monday, March 27, 2006

Marriage is for White People...

Or so notes an article in yesterday's WaPo. That's not the author's position, but that of a 12-year old black boy. A particularly interesting excerpt from Ms. Jones's provocatively titled piece:
Among African Americans, the desire for marriage seems to have a different trajectory for women and men. My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field. As the woman realizes that a good marriage may not be as possible or sustainable as she would like, her focus turns to having a baby, or possibly improving her job status, perhaps by returning to school or investing more energy in her career.

As men mature, and begin to recognize the benefits of having a roost and roots (and to feel the consequences of their risky bachelor behavior), they are more willing to marry and settle down. By this time, however, many of their female peers are satisfied with the lives they have constructed and are less likely to settle for marriage to a man who doesn't bring much to the table. Indeed, he may bring too much to the table: children and their mothers from previous relationships, limited earning power, and the fallout from years of drug use, poor health care, sexual promiscuity. In other words, for the circumspect black woman, marriage may not be a business deal that offers sufficient return on investment.
Before I comment, I will be careful, as did Ms. Jones, and say, "in my observation." I will note that, all men and women are not the same, that there are guys out there who are ready and willing to make the sacrifices and compromises to commit and share their lives and there are women who have no interest in ever marrying. But, I must say, in a feeble and worried-about-censure voice, that my observations are much like the author's. After two really hard relationships and lots of effort, tears, and anger, I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I'm never getting married. I mean, I am a Black woman over 30 who just can't deal with the things I did in my 20s. To be fair, I'm set in my own ways and usually think I know right, or at least, best, so I come with my own flaws.

But most of the guys I've met are just not ready. Many of them feel they don't have to be--hell, if I put my foot down there are other women who so badly want a man, they'll ignore the infidelities, the lack of effort, the bruising to their self-esteem, just to have one. Ms. Jones comments on that, too:
Most single black women over the age of 30 whom I know would not mind getting married, but acknowledge that the kind of man and the quality of marriage they would like to have may not be likely, and they are not desperate enough to simply accept any situation just to have a man. A number of my married friends complain that taking care of their husbands feels like having an additional child to raise.
I hear that last observation a lot, in the form of "Girl, I have two kids," or "He can't do a damn thing without my helping."

Within my own circle, this discontent with marriage has produced a strange effect: my female family and friends are inordinately concerned with preserving the sanctity of my singlehood. Just Saturday, J told me, "Girl, leave those papers at the courthouse and that man at the altar." My sister and T immediately gave her high fives. They all emphasize how well I will do on my own with the PhD, how lucky I am to have waited. My ever-practical sister says that I should get a companion and nothing more. My own mother, who has been married almost 40 years, urges that I should have another child to keep the kid from being an only child, but seems to have forgotten my lack of a mate. I think I have become their hope, in a sense, for a "good" marriage. They are unwilling for me to enter or stay in a relationship in which I would have to deal with selfishness, infidelity, lack of ambition, or any other significant flaw. The irony is that many of them have dealt with these things and stayed. Or maybe it's not so ironic. They want, desperately, wholeheartedly, better for me.

Ms. Jones's article tries to end on a bright note, by pointing out that while the decline in marriage among African American women may be brought about by negative factors (e.g. a lack of willing, ready-to-work-at-it partners), it may continue because of more positive ones (our accomplishments and self-sufficiency make us unwilling to accept a less than fulfilling relationship). And I am the first to admit that marriage is not some grand cure-all that will fix everything that plagues our communities. It comes in too many forms--including abusive ones--to be the answer to everything for everyone. Additionally, not all women and men seek this arrangement.

Still, the article made me a bit sad.

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Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...