Finding Mr. Right: How the Single Black Woman Narrative is Ruining My Dating Life9/16/2013
Candace Mitchell We’ll call him Bad Date and every moment up until this one Epic Fail. “Put me ...
We’ll call him Bad Date and every moment up until this one Epic Fail.
“Put me next to any man,” Bad Date was announcing to me and all within hearing range, “and I’ll come up on top. I got two degrees, one from [insert fancy school], the other from [insert another fancy school]. Nobody is on my level.”
Blank stare. Babbling monologue continues.
“And that’s the problem with black women. Y’all need to learn how to treat black men like kings.”
At this point I felt the need to intervene with some futile rant about partnership and mutual respect and why we deserve no cookie for our degrees, but Bad Date promptly interrupted. “Do you even like men?”
For granted, there was plenty about Epic Fail that was not sociology at all. [Among Bad Date's most egregious transgressions was his decision to pregame our "let's grab a drink" plans and his perhaps related need to then later grab a heft of my curls and sputter, "did you know you were going on a date before deciding to wear your hair like this?"] But as much as the disasters of our table talk was about Bad Date’s own lack of act right, there was also something familiar and generalized about his tirade. It reminded me of the time an I-Banker strolled over to me at a club and wordlessly handed me his business card as if his credentials could supplant a conversation. Or that smug, self-assured textual reminder from a man in my life that good women came in abundance (“you’d be surprised,” he goaded) but that good men were hard to find. Or even the nubian-flavored version of “nice guys finish last”, that tired trope about Thugs v. Good Black Men,exhibit A:
There are smart, kind, respectful, dynamic men that, if anybody does, deserve to be called “good men;” but distinct from them and even amongst them, there are also men who feel incredibly entitled, like being loved can be owed and deserved into being. Who feel like degrees and material accomplishments have designated them as “good” and have therefore earned them the luxury to act a complete donkey when it comes to matters of the heart with very little censure and much less censure than their lesser degreed peers: this post is about them. I blame a consortium of forces–classed, gendered, and racialized notions of who “good” and “real” black men are, and the construct of male bravado that is culturally rewarded in the dating process, for examples; but I feel great need to also point my figurative finger at the Single Black Woman (SBW) narrative, the story that tells degreed black women that they are part of a massive, hopeless swath of unchosen ones with little right to be selective and that implies to men of color who escape the grim statistics destining them to incarceration, crippling poverty, or worse that they belong to an oligarchy of the elite, unimpeachable few.
The SBW creates a power dynamic for hetorosexual black men and black women who date each other that is distinct from that in other kinds of partnerships. The SBW narrative is what distinguishes the problem of entitled black men from the equally troubling problem of entitled black women. There is likely a whole generation of young, unbooed sisters who have also convinced themselves that their long resumes of degrees, professional accomplishments and civic society connections entitle them to the love they pursue like a salaried second job–and that is lame–but the numbers game (real or fantasy) tilts the power game. And the SBW narrative not only betrays a hodgepodge of weak class politics, but also undermines black women’s courage to negotiate who they love and how they love under healthy terms; black men’s ability to define “goodness” and “success” in ways that do not reinforce false and crassly effed up comparisons against peers that may be suffering; and the collective conversation about partnership that transcends the desperation of crises.
I hate that the SBW narrative positions black female singleness as the critical, if not sole, tragedy of black male poverty and incarceration.
I hate that it decries the apparently shrunken dating pool for black, professional women without attempting to broker an honest conversation about the likelihood and implications of cross-class partnership.
I hate that it sounds like a disguised version of a story so old I have memorized it line-for-line: once upon a time, the black professional class blamed _________ on black lower-class’ failures [insert: crime, stereotypes,now its lackluster Friday nights].
I hate the ways in which it silences the stories of working and lower class blacks’ quest for romantic partnership–not to mention queer love.
But selfishly, pettily, and to the point of this post–I hate what the SBW has done to my already struggling dating life.
I am just not ready to nationalize a story that I have privately in the beauty salons, text messages, and booze brunches of my young adulthood. Dating is dang hard for everybody and perhaps especially for black women. It’s true I know a collective of fabulous, beautiful, dynamic women of color who are all chronically and involuntarily single in a way no other similarly positioned people I know are. And in part, that is due to all the policy, legal, and cultural forces that complicate life for brown and black folks, in dating but in other things too. But as much as my dating struggles are sociological phenomenon, they are also peculiarly Candace phenomenon–which cities and parties I wander through; the particular list of fantasy qualities I have been looking for in a partner; and my many deficits that make me a (hopefully lovably) work in progress.
Furthermore, while there is value in truth-telling and the naming of experiences, none of those articles, talk shows or books that were intent upon diagnosing my singleness like a tragic disease are going to find me a partner; the SBW narrative does me no favors; it does not make me feel more empowered or hopeful or good about myself and so I politely have decided that it can kick rocks, even if just to help me preserve some damn self-esteem.
While we may not be able to control who is in our dating pools, take the raggedy advice of someone who is so single she is utterly unqualified to say one word about relationships: we can for damn sure take hold of how we swim, float, and sink in those pools.Women: willfully resisting the urge to succumb to the numbers game, insisting upon our own power in who we chose and how we stay–even if it seems a luxury we cannot afford–is vital to our well-being: bad partnerships can ravage our bank accounts, our emotional and physical health, our legal status, our friendships, our sense of self and our pleasure much worse than singlehood could ever do.
There is nothing wrong with walking away from the man who meets the hypothetical checklist but doesn’t make you laugh or the picture-perfect relationship that is toxic behind doors, off the books, and out of sight–even if you are told that you are lucky to have found that someone or something good; despite what your mother, the lady at church, and your male bestie says, you are building a partnership, and that entitles you to a little reasonable selectiveness. “Good” men are not an extinct species and even allowing for constant introspection and self-improvement, we bring a unique set of virtues and qualities that make us special potential partners. Men: fly is what’s on your bookshelf; the way you love your niece; the moral code you follow; your relationship with God or Allah; your ability to talk shit and talk sweet; your favorite jeans; and the swagger of your fresh haircut. Fly is NOT calculating your value against the failures and absences of other black men. Fly is NOT the sheer ability to say you have a degree, but it may be using it, sharing its power, developing dope politics around what it can do and what it should and should not mean.
Ultimately, what I’m hoping for, insisting upon, culling into fruition–and what the SBW forbids– is a world the in which empowered, whole people come together for the business of loving and not because folks are despairing in an atrophied pool of eligible black men and not because “good black man” is a low-bar designation crowned to any man who is mildly polite with job prospects. Despite what CNN says about the .00001 odds of me finding boo-ship and what Essence Magazine may speculate are my failings, I, as should so many others looking for partnership, have faith that in the tangle of great people I meet on a daily basis, there will be a great person just for me.
Candace Mitchell is a current dual degree student at Harvard Kennedy School and NYU Law. She intends on becoming a public defender once she graduates this spring, but is a sister-warrior/writer/activist always. Check out more of her writing on her blog, sisteroftheyam.com.