As everyone here knows, I am a recent newlywed and a strong advocate of healthy, happy marriages and relationships. Married people generally live longer, healthier, wealthier lives than their single counterparts, and societies and communities with large married populations tend to share the same characteristics of greater relative stability and affluence. As social animals, human beings need each other, not merely to thrive, but to survive.
Therefore, I understand the perfectly natural desire to seek out companionship and love. It is sad that so many young black women are actually encouraged to view this wholly natural and healthy desire as suspect and greedy, as if wanting a loving relationship with a decent man is somehow pathological. But the inspiration for my last post about “taking stock” was conversations that I have witnessed, on and off the blogosphere, in which young women have expressed a desire for relationships that struck me as somewhat premature.
I say this because while healthy relationships are an incredibly constructive force in the lives of both individuals and communities, unhealthy relationships exert an equally destructive force in the lives of those who live them and live around them. There any number of reasons why relationships go wrong, but I have always been a strong believer that most relationships that fail do so ultimately at conception—the parties enter into them for the wrong reasons, at the wrong point in their lives, with the wrong partners, or without the emotional wherewithal to sustain coupledom over the long-term. And the main motivation for making and sticking with these wrong choices, even after we realize their wrongfulness, is loneliness and the fear of being alone.
More than once when I was single, I went on a second date or gave a guy a third chance because I was able to convince myself that I was being “open” and flexible. In reality, I just didn’t want to be alone. That is normal; but we have to recognize such longing for what it is, and ensure that it doesn’t entrap us in a situation that we will eventually grow to regret. There’s nothing wrong with being “just friends,” as long as you both know that’s what it is.
I also think it is crucial to make peace with yourself, so that the goal of marriage or a long-term relationship doesn’t become all-consuming. I think because of the diminishing role of marriage in the black community, some of us have adopted a focus on marriage which borders on the obsessive. As positive as marriage can be, I have never been a believer that marriage, in and of itself, can make an unhappy person happy. Nor do I think it wise to put so much of the responsibility for your own well-being and fulfillment in the hands of another, which is necessarily the case if you feel that you must be married to be complete. Plenty of single people lead joyful, productive lives, and plenty of married people are miserable drags on society. A bad marriage doesn’t do anyone any good, and bad marriages too often result from desperation.
None of this is said to discourage black women from seeking serious relationships and marriage with worthy men. I adamantly reject the message that discourages black women from aspiring to marriage, that encourages them to settle for “man-sharing” and “babymamahood,” or to accept decades of celibacy rather than exploring every available option for finding the partners we want and deserve. I just think that it is important to recognize that you cannot have a good relationship with a man if you are not content within yourself. Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? Do you enjoy what you spend your days doing? Do you have a plan for your life beyond finding a husband? Our marital choices are crucial, but so are the choices we make about our careers, in caring for our health, in maintaining our relationships with our families, etc. Always--always--empower yourself, by making your life as full and complete as you can. To gain a man but lose yourself is truly a hollow "victory."