I haven’t dated an American in over 6 years. That says less about American men and more about my dating preferences than anything else. Now full disclosure, I only date within my race. My nationality, however, is a whole different story but this wasn’t always the case. A couple years ago after a string of failed relationships, I took some time to reevaluate my whole damn life. I knew what I wanted, or at least what I was supposed to want, and I thought I was clear with my intentions when it came to dating. Yet the vision I had for myself didn’t seem to be coming together. No matter how different the guy appeared on the surface, the results were consistently too similar for it to be a matter of happenstance. Something about my dating habits and my dating goals weren’t adding up, so I set out to remove any obvious obstacles from my mission. Of course I did all the self-reflective stuff, ate, prayed, loved. Started seeing a therapist on a weekly basis, I mean I was the quintessential Black Woman on her journey to self-rediscovery. After about year of “doing the work” as Ms. Iyanla would say, my therapist and I agreed it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get back into the dating scene. Sure, I had developed some great communication skills, learned a lot about compromise and partnership, and even more about realistic partner expectations. And in being realistic about my partner expectations, I had to acknowledge that my dating pool needed a major revamp. I had exclusively dated black men up to that point, finding commonality in the fact that we were both Black and both American-born, but my perception of marriage and relationships had undoubtedly been shaped by my West African father and my American Baby-Boomer Uncles. I was expecting the men I was dating to mimic a culture and generation that they had no real relation to. And when they couldn’t measure up to my unrealistic expectations, I blamed them for their shortcomings. As women, no one sits us down to have the conversation about why just desiring marriage isn’t enough. We have this idea that we’re born marriage ready while men must go through some reformative period in their lives where they come to the realization that marriage ain’t such a bad idea. In reality, we have just as much growing and evolving to do as our male counterparts do when it comes to relationships and long-term commitment. And a huge piece of that includes evaluating whether or not we’re guilty of self-sabotage when it comes to our dating decisions. Ultimately, I learned that I was.
One day my therapist forced me to make a list of the things I wanted in a husband. And as we reviewed my list, one thing because clear and that was that was that I had no business dating Black American men. The likelihood that we would waste each other’s time was almost built into the equation. Initially, I felt bad. Almost like I was turning my back on them if I agreed with these findings. Surely, I could mold a potential mate into the guy I wanted, right? We could get into couple’s therapy and the whole nine. If I wanted to make it work despite what the evidence stated, I could. And I wasn’t wrong, but marriage is challenging enough without marrying a project.
The first thing I indicated on my list was that I wanted to marry a man who wanted to be married. That might seem redundant but actually desiring marriage isn’t something we discuss too often. I had dated men who thought marriage wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, men who thought marriage was a take it or leave it type of ordeal, and men who felt like marriage just wasn’t for them. It’s no secret that over the years the collective opinion on marriage and it’s perceived value within the black community has shifted tremendously. Various factors played into this phenomenon which has yet to be identified in any other ethnic group. One being the crack epidemic of the 80’s that shifted many households from dual to single, another being the mass incarceration epidemic that followed shortly thereafter. Whatever we attribute this to, many Black millennial men do not consider marriage to be a personal milestone. This sounds something like “Sure I’ll get married, if I ever come across the right woman” or “Marriage ain’t for everybody” or my personal favorite, “Marriage is just a piece of paper”. If we applied the same philosophy to any of the other milestones acknowledged in our society, it would sound pretty absurd. We research program offerings, campus life, tuition costs, etc. before selecting which university to attend, why wouldn’t an equally important personal commitment require just as much evaluation? It’s one thing to believe marriage is of no value whatsoever, it’s another thing for your opinion of marriage to shift based on who you’re dating at the time. Proving to be “wifey material” to a guy who doesn’t think much of the concept of a wife to begin with is as demeaning as it sounds and yet it’s a huge part of the dating experience for many Black American women. In contrast, other non-American Black communities view marriage as a part of maturing and coming of age. Marriage is celebrated and seen as one of the most important cultural traditions, not just for little girls, but for little boys as well. Those boys grow up to desire marriage for themselves, without guilt from potential mates and without coaxing from external influences. My belief that I could convince adult men that marriage was suddenly of value was severely misguided and up until the point that I acknowledged that, I had actually convinced myself that my efforts were noble. I was dating men for their potential, not the realities of who they were and that was on me.
The second item on my list was that I wanted the option to stay home once children were brought into the equation. This for me has never been negotiable but one thing I had to accept was that for this to ever be a viable option, a certain level of income had to be maintained in the household. A level that Black American men have been all but physically barred from reaching. The average annual cost of living in Houston, TX for a family of 4 is slightly over $60,000, which is a cakewalk compared to major cities on the Eastern and Western coasts. But when we consider that the median weekly earning for Black American men with full time employment is only $723, that number might as well be one million dollars. Generally speaking, Black American men do not have the financial means necessary to support a household based on their income alone and to require that of a man whose ability to do so is limited by no fault of his own is inconsiderate and dispassionate. I too was guilty of this.
As we moved along to my third must have, spiritual openness, the role I played in my dating failures was becoming painfully clear. Christianity is a huge part of Black American culture with 8 in 10 identifying with the religion. The discussion surrounding how that came to be is a conversation for another day but what we do know is on average, Black American men identify as Christian more than their peers, attend church regularly at a rate that exceed their peers, and say that religious commonality is one of the deciding factors in choosing a mate. Which has always left women like me, who do not follow Christianity, in an awkward position. It’s not the religion itself that tends to become a problem, it’s the belief that one’s religion is incapable of making room for another’s. I was dealing not only with ignorance on the part of my spiritual beliefs, but I was also dealing with the unconscious bias that many have towards practices that derive from African culture. I continuously found myself having to defend my beliefs and humanize them at the same time. Could I eventually find a Black American man who would come around to understanding my beliefs, without a doubt. Could I eventually find a Black American man who would come around to the idea of exposing his children to the many spiritual and religious systems of the world in an effort to encourage spiritual tolerance and a person’s right to choose, statistically I’m sure that guy exists somewhere. But the reality was that I couldn’t keep trying to create him out of men with missing pieces. I could change my expectations or change my options, but if I did neither I couldn’t be mad at the outcome. I chose the latter.
And I’m glad that I did. I won’t go into detail but I will say that since excluding American men from my dating pool, my dating experiences as a Black woman have become much more enjoyable. In comparison to my friends who still date American men, dating for me has been relatively stress free and surprisingly liberating. For a long time, Black American women have had to forgo the idea of security in their relationships. Operating with a double mindedness that on one hand desires the security that men are culturally expected to provide, and on the other feels obligated to protect our men from the embarrassment of not being able to. Going out to restaurants and mindfully ordering the cheapest item on the menu, bringing a form of payment just in case a date is unwilling or unable to pay, being expected to pull additional weight in relationships while women of other ethnic groups marry to alleviate these same pressures. These safety measures are almost built into our dating habits but what’s also built in is exhaustion, contempt, frustration and a whole host of other issues that naturally derive from relationships where reciprocity is lacking. This is how two failed relationships turn into public declarations that ALL Black men are trash, which is not only untrue but speaks volumes about the declarer. We are responsible for our intentions and for our expectations, no one else. If 5 to 10 years of casual dating has resulted in nothing but heart ache, emotional baggage and unresolved trauma, then it’s your responsibility to explore what you can change to fix that aspect of your life. Dating to find a spouse should be an enjoyable experience, one you can cater to your specific needs and wants, and no one can make you feel guilty about knowing and getting what you want. Besides, who really believes you can’t help who you love?