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The Boyfriend Break

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The familiar imperiled single black woman topic started gaining traction all over again in various media outlets in recent weeks, provoked by the publicity blitz for Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks' Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone. In the book, Banks notes that the achievement gap among African Americans has fueled the marriage decline, forcing black women to select from a pool of potential partners who are undereducated, underemployed, and unmarriable. Among the rarefied ranks of affluent and eligible black men, many have little inclination toward monogamy. Banks suggests that black middle and upper middle class women who find themselves single should abandon their "loyalty" to black men and seek out interracial companionship to amplify their chances of finding a suitable mate.

According to most of the reviews I've read, Marriage is readable and well-researched. I believe that Banks does not lack sincerity. However, I still approach this advice with incredulity for a few reasons. First, there appears to be far too little attention paid to the unmarriability of some black men. Further, if a man is affluent yet opposed to monogamy (likely engaging in multiple concurrent partnerships -- a proven health risk) is he really "eligible"? Black men are truly being let off the hook in this dialogue; these absurd conditions are just accepted as black women's given circumstances.

But another of the many problems I've always had with the treatment of the topic of love relationships among blacks is the incessant emphasis on the "shortage" of "good" black men (the Village Voice called it a "mancession"). This has just not been the full truth of my experience. From the beginning of my life, I have been lovingly surrounded by a father, two brothers, many uncles and male cousins with boundless intellect, compassion so real I could see it, and, believe it or not, some modicum of professional success.

As an adult, I have had a few serious boyfriends -- all strivers and professionals in their respective fields. In between those times, guys I've dated have been similarly impressive and leaders in business or philanthropic and artistic professions.

The dissonance between the media's focus and my own experience can be disorienting. I don't want what I have heard repeated like a mantra to become elevated above my own reality; this could be dangerous, particularly in times when I need most to believe in what my eyes see and what my heart feels. Right now is one of those times.

I have spent an awful lot of my adulthood being someone's girlfriend, and lots of color has certainly been added to my life by the men whom I've been blessed to meet. (I picked up Portishead and Paul Beatty from the college boyfriend, Almódovar from the Jersey one, boundless kindness and a lot of roti from the Trinidadian one).

But in the present moment, I do not want to be a girlfriend, making being a wife in the near future a bit problematic, too. I want a boyfriend break.

While I wholeheartedly appreciate the beauty of men in general and the awesomeness of black men in particular, I have sometimes probably valued that awesomeness above my own.

When one recent relationship ended, I stayed on the dating treadmill long after I probably should have hopped off, going ahead full speed into another situation, ever the enthusiastic dating trouper that I believe society conditions us to be. And I kept going when even the knowing in my body said a very resounding "no." Of course, it ended badly (alright, it ended crazily), and a short time away from everyone became essential for my health.

I wish that the conversations about black women and love were more nuanced and made room for topics other than who is or isn't marrying whom. How about we talk more about self-love, for example? Love is infinite and complex, and romantic love is but one manifestation of it.

Certainly, marriage is important. It builds communities and sustains our civilization. What is tragic, though, is that being inundated with sexist and heterosexist prescriptions for the "pathology" of our singlehood could make a woman feel as though she is living subversively if she, like me, wants to remove herself from the dating pool for a bit. Or if she doesn't ever wish to marry, or participates in same gender loving relationships.

Like every other person on the planet, a black woman needs the creative space to do what is right for her. You have just got to take the time to deal with your stuff: learn you, eat well, exercise, and pursue goals and other forms of love with vigor. If you don't, you could end up marrying a man with whom you are clearly incompatible, producing a television special on it, and divorcing him all in 90 days or less.

You have to choose yourself. I get that now. Even if there is a marriage crisis, a "mancession," and your egg supply is steadily depleting, sometimes that must happen without another person around.

In other words, being single doesn't always need to be fixed. Sometimes, it is the fix.