On Being Mary Jane and the intimacies of single black women

I love the idea of Being Mary Jane, but I’m annoyed, too.

There are about 4 million viewers of the show. BET is boasting that it’s the #1 show on Tuesday nights — surprise! — among my demographic: All the single black ladies. If you haven’t been watching because you’re not one of the 55 percent of African-American  unmarried women in America, #BeingMaryJane trends globally on Twitter during every new episode.

Like a lot of scripted (and unscripted) dramas featuring single black women, while the show’s creators point out that Mary Jane doesn’t represent all of the single women mentioned above, there’s such a dearth of single black female characters on television whose love lives are a significant part of their narratives that it’s refreshing to see a show offer that.

I really miss the other one, Olivia Pope. Pope, played by Kerry Washington, is the lead in Scandal. The ABC hit show is based on a real-life problem solver inside the Beltway. Her power and stylishness is what makes Pope iconic, but her Achilles heel is the small problem of the fact that she’s in love with the very married President of the United States and his dreamy compadre. (Please read: Is Olivia Pope the New Sally Hemings? for a little insight into why this seems a little far-fetched and hard to digest for black women.)

Anyway, ‘Scandal’ isn’t back until late February. I figured I’d check out Being Mary Jane to fill in the big gaping void.

I don’t think it’s working.

So, both characters offer uncommon and refreshingly humane portraits of unmarried black women who are generally stereotyped as martyrs or hood rats and very rarely viewed as anything in between. Good on you, television, for trying to give us life.  Enuma Okoro writes at the Atlantic, “Comparing Being Mary Jane to Scandal obscures one of the great strengths of Gabrielle Union’s new series: the relatability of its protagonist. Part of the brilliance behind Brock Akil’s work is that she uses a black lead character and a primarily black cast to appeal to women of all races.”

Does this about sum it up?

It’s a good effort. Better than good. I’m not optimistic about a wildly diverse audience for the show, though.

I watched the movie before the premiere earlier this month because I was intrigued by all the trailers showing Gabrielle Union submerging in a sea/bathtub littered with quotes on Post-Its, which I am fond of writing inspirational quotes on myself. The movie was good. For Gabrielle Union, who hasn’t had roles with the most, um…gravitas…in the past, it’s fantastic.

In the movie, we first meet Mary Jane baking at two in the morning. We rarely view black women doing domestic work for personal comfort in popular culture (looking at you, The Help), so as unlikely as it might be, it’s still nice to see. Her drunk boo, Andre (the excessively fine Omari Hardwick) arrives unexpectedly and cajoles her convincingly enough that she sweeps all her single lady things under her bed, empty wine glass and all.

She discovers Andre is married when she steps on his wedding ring accidentally. She responds by assaulting him with a steady stream of garden hose water. I don’t know if I squealed from pain watching this or glee? I couldn’t imagine this ending well in real life, I guess, so maybe it was a mixture of both.

Things with her family and at work are not any less messy. Mary Jane’s mother calls her all the time to vent, usually when MJ is at work. This is reminiscent of Whitney Houston’s character in Waiting to Exhale in almost every way, but in MJ’s case, the whole family follows suit. Her older brother seems to show up in every scene asking for money. Her little brother flips signs and sells weed for cash. Her niece is pregnant. She tries to get some retail therapy by buying incredibly expensive and fugly shoes, only to run into Andre and his wife, whom she later confronts at the pet store.

Yes, that’s what I wrote. Mary Jane goes to the pet store where Andre’s wife is buying kitty litter for her bereft friend and corners her. Since the one unmarried black woman everyone on the planet knows is Oprah, it’s not surprising that her name comes up. Andre’s wife immediately recognizes MJ from TV and tells her that she’s brought her so much comfort, especially after the talk show queen’s show went off the air. Mary Jane responds by saying, “Did you know I’m sleeping with your husband?”

Oh. Is *that* how that works?

Fast forward to MJ having an emotional night — she was baking a cake for her niece’s baby shower and had a nervous breakdown over a cute baby commercial. She has successfully delivered a story about women stealing sperm in what she calls the “rapey Africa story.” Mary Jane proceeds to steal and store the sperm of David, an ex that she has been labeled “Never Answer” in her iPhone.

Look, if she can’t bother to change the man’s name in her phone or actually meet him for dinner right after she said she would, does she really care enough about him to keep his sperm in a baking soda box in her freezer?

Proof there is a God.

At a party at her house where there are strippers (just because) when everyone is drunkenly confessing their dirt, she busts out the frozen sperm she stole instead of confessing that she’s been doing it with a married man. When she texts him later in what must have been the thirstiest string of texts in modern television, he doesn’t answer because after having an explicit conversation with his wife about why they’re divorcing — along the lines of: “No one likes to put a dick in their mouth first thing in the morning” — these two end up having make up sex.

Anyway, it’s nice that Mary Jane leans away from the Tyler Perry-model of shrill, psychotic and materialistic black women with standards that are too high and unrealistic, but she’s not that far away from that archetype. When she’s working, for instance, and tells David “Never Answer” she can’t go out, she calls him back two hours later to see if he can come over now that she’s finished working. She has a nonsensical hissy fit when she learns that he’s headed out on a date with someone else and she lies to him about Andre.

It’s the desperation that irritates me. That in every other area of a black woman character’s life she is together and in control and measured, but when it comes to intimacy, romance and love, she loses will power and totally becomes undone. [For a better and fuller explanation of popular culture narratives about single black women and how they are damaging in real life, I recommend Ralph Richard Banks' book, Is Marriage for White People? I wrote a review of it here. You can buy it here.]

At least with Pope, we see her make an effort to date a man who is available, she just backslides (like all the way back through history) regularly. With Mary Jane, we continue to see the message that black women are content to be sloppy seconds no matter how successful we are — because our loneliness is so deep and broad that it makes us morally corrupt and reckless like nothing else.

On one hand, this resonates. On the other, I don’t watch TV for a mirror or a reminder as much as for fantasy and inspiration. So to see Mary Jane as eviscerating and judgmental with everyone but herself is painful, even if it’s glossy and there’s lots of eye candy.

I might just wait for Scandal to come back on. Have you been watching Being Mary Jane? What do you think?

Is Loneliness Lethal?

Hey, if you’re not depressed enough about being single, just remember that loneliness can kill you. You’re welcome:

Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

I used to get lonely a lot, but over the years, I’ve been really amazed at the great, wide community out there that wraps me up in loving support,  even when I try to push people away (consciously or without thinking about it until after they’ve gone.)

The great thing about being single is that you get to decide how you respond to external pressure to be in a relationship, to raise a kid on your own or with a partner that nobody approves of or likes, or even just get a pet and make that the center of your world. (Shout out to Cleo, who turns 12 this year.) Anyway, I was reading this book, No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, a few months ago. Most of the writers, like Margaret Cho, are comedians.  They say a lot of what I’ve written about before when complaining about the ways that coupled people and some uncoupled ones expect that any person presenting as a woman in the world explain their childlessness. Motherhood is still considered a prerequisite for performing real womanhood and women are not treated as such without a lot of drama if they don’t express ongoing maternal yearnings, desire or commitment.

Back when I was working in an office again, a co-worker who has a grown son noticed the cover. She mentioned a couple of other stories about single women, presumably like me, who are much older. One of them had a hellion of a kid even though she didn’t actually want to have any kids because 1) it was what women did in her day and 2) She was thinking about who would take care of her when she got old. I should have left my co-worker’s office. But she was actually standing in my cubicle, I think, which is why I didn’t interrupt the flow of conversation.

As much as I love other people’s kids — and truly, I do — I think having a child with the expectation that said kid will grow up and make sure to escort you to the best assisted living facility when you can longer fend for yourself is not a good enough reason to get preggers. Also, I don’t think merging with another soul in the expectation that you can care for one another into your later years is a good idea, either. We should like each other enough to want to make sure we both survive. That isn’t a given. And it is very, very hard for me to imagine that kind of long-term tolerance. Or maybe it’s that the joy of it, the possibility of the joy of it, keeps me from being lonely.

But I mention all of this to say that loneliness is killer for me as a single woman because at the heart of any panic I ever feel about being single is the belief that I might die lonely. While I’m being maudlin, notice that I didn’t say I would die alone — we all will — or that I would die of a broken heart (that’s my early aspiring romance novelist peeking her head out to say what up.)

Loneliness, after all, is the want of intimacy. Single is not synonymous with loneliness, we know. The faces of the lonely look a little like…well, my people, except loneliness research puts me on the winning side of things, I suppose:

Who are the lonely? They’re the outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different. Surveys confirm that people who feel discriminated against are more likely to feel lonely than those who don’t, even when they don’t fall into the categories above. Women are lonelier than men (though unmarried men are lonelier than unmarried women). African Americans are lonelier than whites (though single African American women are less lonely than Hispanic and white women). The less educated are lonelier than the better educated. The unemployed and the retired are lonelier than the employed.

Being connected is work. It is as much work, if not more, than being in a relationship. It feels like asserting yourself on the world in order to create a legacy that is not about being sad because you’re not 1/2 of a couple but instead about transforming your relationship to the world (or worlds) that you operate in. It makes me sleepy and sometimes cranky and moody, but the flip side is a reward. It takes loneliness away.

I was all about showing up for my boxing instructor, for instance, one Saturday, but I was tired and felt like flaking almost from the minute we stepped inside a glass-blowing studio (yes!) where she was giving free instruction. A little girl changed my whole attitude, though. She was just full of energy, her parents beaming, her brother off hanging out with the dog and eating something cold that I craved. She picked me as her partner to practice throwing punches, and I was so proud, even though she almost punched me in the face. For weeks afterward, I would run into her mother, and she would tell me about how this little girl who doesn’t know me, loved boxing with me. Weeks turned into months. Now me and her mom are good buddies.

It was great to be able to show up for her daughter without expectation and to make a connection that took me out of thinking about the future, or worrying about who will care for me when I’m old, if I get to be an old lady. Part of making sure I stay around long enough for that to even be a problem comes down to connecting in the moment, as much as I can, as much intimacy as I can stand. The question of how much intimacy one can stand (or, actually, I can stand) is probably a longer discussion.

Singles in the News: What if you die alone? What is singlism? Single black men want commitment more than black women?

I was surprised by this one: So Single Black Men Want Commitment. Really?

We recently found that single black men were much more likely to say they were looking for a long-term relationship (43 percent) compared to single black women (25 percent).

Those numbers come from our ‘ views of their lives and communities (the poll was conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health). Our findings about the dating lives of single folks — that is, respondents 18-49, widowed, divorced, or never married — have sparked the most conversation so far.

And the gender skew has elicited straight-out side-eyes.

Right. Fans of this blog know that I have written a lot about the odd politics of interracial dating for black women and the overabundance of stories about how women’s achievement (black women’s achievement, in particular) is keeping the number of women who are single high. “Maybe the truth really is that lots of black men really do want to get boo’ed up while lots of black women are ambivalent,” my friend Gene wrote.

Well, maybe. I’m dating again. We’ll see how it goes. I have a good feeling about it! So, something more positive than ambivalent, for me, at least.

That reminds me of this article I read and am still processing, “Life Without Sex“:

Are you single, married, engaged, “it’s complicated”? Are you straight, gay, a lesbian? All of these categories suggest sexual activity, which somehow reassures us. You are doing something.

But I don’t think that’s our true life and rhythm. We are not machines. Nothing is so tidy about our sex lives. We are very alone in how we dream. We are not making love as easily as we boast we are. And when we are making love, it is not always enjoyable.

Here are some other articles I liked about the single life (and a couple about introverts because…those are my people):

Who benefits from modern-day monogamy?

Ridding the stigma of being single

Living Single, Dying Alone: Our (Un)Social Network at theHotness

10 Myths About Introverts 

How to Live with Introverts (A Helpful Chart)

On Single Parents and Respect

The season of parental celebrations is coming.

After a crazy March, I glanced up from my car to see that Mother’s Day was coming.

I wrote last year about my first season without parents and what it felt like to be without my Mom and my Dad for the first time. My loved ones told me that anniversaries would be hard and oddly enough, that helped. The twinge I get now isn’t really about what I’m missing — it was before, when they were alive. Now I feel something more like…love. Respect. Honor.

I stay out of discussions about single mothers and parents. I actively chose not to be a single teenage parent, which I write about in Get Out of My Crotch. This is not because I felt ashamed, per se, of growing up the way I did and mistaking sex for love or a way to feel worthy, but because I watched how hard my mother’s life was as a single parent, and I knew that I wasn’t up for the task.

There was also the fear, of course, of being a statistic. This is both the artist in me, the creative, who wants to be fully seen and acknowledged as unique and the black woman intellectual in me, who understands that what and who I am on the outside is always judged first as the total of what I am on the inside — even if it is incomplete or flat-out wrong.

But underneath the fear of being a statistic, which I am as a single, professional woman anyway, is the desire to belong to a community. To be single, parent or no, is often to be cast aside and cast away, the stubborn avatar of independence, failure to launch by failure to merge, somehow. And for women, this failure is always depicted as our own problem, our defect.

My Mom, some time in the 1970s. Working it.

My Mom, some time in the 1970s. Working it.

If you’re a single mother, especially if you’re not white, this shaming can be relentless and unceasing. Even though it makes perfect economic sense that fewer women are getting married because there are diminishing returns for many of us on that front.

My friend, the lovely writer and Beyond Baby Mamas founder Stacia L. Brown, wrote recently at The Atlantic about how unwed mothers feel about being unwed, noting that when statistics come out about single mothers, people tend to talk around them instead of to them about their feelings.

As the child of a single mother, I remember this acutely. No one ever asked my mother about her feelings. If they had, they’d have found nuances that didn’t match their disrespectful portraits: she had internalized enough heart breaks that she hid her deepest self, even from me. She was a registered Republican in New York State (!) during the Reagan era, even while we were in the cross hairs of Reagan’s draconian policies related to the poor.

What I wish I had known then, when I was internalizing messages that I was a part of a larger social problem because I had a single mother who worked and went to school all the time, trying to be better, was that pretty much everyone grows up in one form of dysfunction or another. Steven Spielberg spoke powerfully about this on 60 Minutes, memoirist Mary Karr writes extensively about this in The Liar’s Club, which I just finished, and the list goes on. Pathology is not just a single black woman’s thing.

Except, when people start talking about women who are mothers who aren’t married, they are inferring that these are unfit women. They don’t respect them. They suggest that it is somehow, defying reason, the easiest thing in the world to raise a child alone, when in fact, it appears to be the hardest job on the planet.

Consternation over our parenting of our children, it has to be said, is a coded way (in the same way that arguments about single black women is) of saying that without “proper course-correcting” we don’t have the instincts God gave us to be good women, caregivers or anything else without the help of the state, the government, smart people and, basically, men. Jim Rigby, an eloquent pastor,  writing about the death of Chinua Achebe, notes that we are all victims of the narrative of the American Empire:

It is not our fault that we were born in a vast and brutal military empire, but it is our responsibility to do what we can to lessen the violence of empire against our sisters and brothers of the earth. It begins when we can recognize their humanity. We may not have the answer on how to undo the violence of empire but, at the very least, we can get our minds and hearts free.

We are all always just doing the best that we can. My deep affection and longing for my mother, in spite of our history together, is entrenched in honor. I honor her for what she had to give, even when it wasn’t exactly all that I needed, or even close.

It’s very rare that someone is just mailing it in when it comes to their children, in particular, I’ve noticed. Even my own mother, who was divorced by the time she had me, had a lot of flaws, but all things considered, I turned out pretty great, albeit with a few bruises and existential identity issues.

How is it possible that the world keeps spinning and children somehow magically grow up to unwed mothers without being maladjusted soul-sucking malcontents?

Well, single parents are incredibly resourceful human beings — the children they love and adore require that. What my mother, the most resourceful person I ever met in the pre-Internet era and since, didn’t know how to give me she found someone who could. The village raised me, even in places completely unfriendly, if not downright hostile, to kids, like New York City. This was a coalition of friends, relatives and mentors. A multiracial cast of people who provided much more to me than my biological father would ever be able to offer me.

Beyond that, what I find fascinating about discussions about single mothers, particularly those who aren’t necessarily highly educated or high earners, is that few writers and reporters interrogate their own assumptions about “the right way” to raise children, whether they have them or not. In Daring Greatly, another book I just finished, by Brene Brown, she writes that one of the most harmful things parents can do is judge other parents for how they raise their children.

It seems to me that the last thing single mothers and single fathers (the latter of which are almost entirely invisible in any debate — do they not exist?) need is hand wringing over the economic ramifications of their personal choices or the insinuation, essentially, that the rest of us have to pay for what we also insinuate are their careless mistakes. I was made intentionally, loved with a greater intensity than most kids can ever hope for and while I could have had more stability, and life would have been different with a father in the home, there’s no telling if it would have been better. Conjecture that promises a narrative that isn’t true isn’t an answer, and it doesn’t change the course of personal lives.

Singles in the News: Online dating is ruining our lives and…Are we all sluts now?

The Atlantic makes my life seem hard, but it’s all math and not personal.

“While us men have been taking a browbeating for the past several decades, things are looking up! Those of us who have “made it” have our pick of the litter.” — a commenter on the article, The Worst Cities for College-Educated Women Trying to Find a Decent Date.

Runner up for my favorite comment: “So non college educated men are indecent?”

*Paging Olivia Pope*

“Ashley Madison—the website bearing the tagline “Life is Short. Have an Affair”—has released its ranking of the top 10 US cities for cheaters. It drew its conclusions from its own subscriber base, looking at which cities had the most registered users and, based on its population, the highest per capita membership. The, er, winner? Washington, DC, is king when it comes to would-be adulterers, with some 37,943 registered users and the highest per capita stats—and 30 new subscribers per day, reports the Post.” — The Best City for Cheaters is…Washington, D.C.

There are two Texas cities on this list, but thankfully, Austin is not in the top 10.

But 93% of us would marry for love.

“What are the advantages of marriage? According to the public, it is easier for a married person than a single person to raise a family (77% say so). But in other realms of life asked about in the 2010 Pew Research survey, most people do not think either married or single people have an easier time of it. In fact, about half or more think there is no difference between being married or single in the ease of having a fulfilling sex life, being financially secure, finding happiness, getting ahead in a career or having social status.” – Love and Marriage, Pew Social & Demographic Trends 

In other words, there is no rest for the weary.

So many choices nobody dates in real life anymore.

“The positive aspects of online dating are clear: the Internet makes it easier for single people to meet other single people with whom they might be compatible, raising the bar for what they consider a good relationship. But what if online dating makes it too easy to meet someone new? What if it raises the bar for a good relationship too high? What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?” A Million First Dates: How online romance is threatening monogamy, by Dan Slater at the Atlantic

You have read some of my thoughts on my own personal disaster with online dating. I think it’s important to mention here, as I have elsewhere, that online dating for black women sucks the hardest and is the biggest waste of time. There is research to back up my personal claims: UC Berkeley found that black women had the hardest time finding a mate online, since men essentially exclude black women from their choices, regardless of their race. OKCupid changed my life with their data showing that black women are often ignored, basically, in online dating.

I mention these links, facts and statistics mostly to point out that I have never found it “too easy” to meet someone new. And I think most women would agree with me. I know a dozen black women who would also agree with me. But as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, black people who want to date online aren’t necessarily going to OKCupid anyway — it’s just us interracial inclined women, apparently.

Anyway, I think that there’s some truth in this article, and I’m curious about Dan Slater’s book. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

“Have I been using that word (slut) wrong this whole time?”

“Not that I’m a prude, I’ve got enough Cinemax-quality bedtime stories to keep me warm well into my dotage, but is there really no difference between being a self-aware woman making healthy sexual decisions on her own terms and being a big slutty slut?” – So We’re All Sluts Now? by my dear After Plumcake

I can’t even find the best smarty pants thing to say about her post, because it’s fantastic.

Singles in the News: China’s New Bachelor Class, online coparenting dating and loving Valentine’s Day when you’re single

And…Happy New Year, btw!

“These young males are known as “bare branches,” trees without leaves, involuntary bachelors demographically destined to a life without a wife or child. An estimated 40 to 50 million bare branches are scattered around the nation, and according to Quanbao Jiang and Jesús Sánchez-Barricarte, authors of the article “Bride Price in China: The Obstacle to ‘Bare Branches’ Seeking Marriage,” they tend to be concentrated in rural or poverty-stricken areas…Now, an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Chinese men — a population nearly the size of Texas — will be unable to find a mate within the next seven years.” – China’s New Bachelor Class, via The Atlantic

Online dating for single parents who want to co-parent…

“While some people have chosen to be a single parent, many more people look at scheduling and the financial pressures and the lack of an emotional partner and decide that single parenting is too daunting and wouldn’t be good for them or the child,” said Darren Spedale, 38, the founder of Family by Design, a free parenting partnership site officially introduced in early January. “If you can share the support and the ups and downs with someone, it makes it a much more interesting parenting option.” – New York Times, Seeking to Reproduce Without a Romantic Partnership

I will not do the dance that looks like someone is dancing with me. (You KNOW the one.)

“What happens this time of year is just a manifestation of all the couple-focused things that happen year-round. Single women are left out of the narrative of romantic love, discarded like half-eaten chocolate. But we don’t have to leave ourselves out of the story, and we don’t have to internalize any of the bull that suggests that we are less than worthy just because we’re not in relationships – either because it’s not time yet, or we’re not ready, or the ones we hope to find and love one day are not yet ready for us. It is always possible to write another story, another romantic narrative, one about loving yourself deeply and truly and in a way that only you can.” – My guest post at the Indie Chicks, Learning to Love Valentine’s Day When You’re Single.

(The party is Valentine’s Day night — see you after the weekend! https://www.facebook.com/events/475502379153522/)

Singles in the News: Baby Mamas, Bachelors in politics and Single woman writers

Finally. Publishing in January 2013.

On Sale until Feb. 14.

Bella DePaulo, Queen of Singles, called my book, “A story of single life you haven’t heard before.” And Ezra, one of my most thoughtful commenters, posted a review on Goodreads saying that my stories of single life were “a better, maturer different.” I hope that you’ll get a copy for half off between now and Valentine’s Day. You can buy the book here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/270861 and to get $2.50 off, use the coupon code GM36A.

Did I mention there’s a party? There’s a Singles Party to celebrate the publication of the book. Feb. 14th. You can pay what you like at the door, but if you can pay in advance on Eventbrite: I’ll send you a copy of the book: http://singlespartyaustin2013.eventbrite.com/

So, now that I’ve said that, I’ve noticed as Bella DePaulo has noted (can you tell I’m a fan?) there’s been more positive coverage of singles in recent years. “Increasingly,” she wrote in a Psychology Today post, “Singles are getting some love and some respect!” It’s true. It also means I can’t always keep up with all the love singles get in individual posts. But I love digests, so I thought I’d start one.

OK, this isn’t exactly a love note to singles, but: “A gay president in a committed relationship will still be more comfortable for many people than someone who stays single.” That was the kicker quote in a story at The Root about bachelors (Cory Booker, haaay!)  who might be running for president in 2016.

From the “Amen, sister” files: “If you are a single woman writer, you live a unique, complicated reality. You may desire companionship, but you also desire to write. These are sometimes conflicting needs.” – Deonna Kelli on the challenges of being a single woman writer at Love InshAllah.

I go back and forth on whether or not we should write what we know. I know secondhand some of the challenges related to being a single parent, because I was raised by one. But I wrote about the All My Babies’ Mamas drama for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Basically: Most media we see portrays black mothers as single stereotypical ones, even when they’re not. Which is just weird. It was a joy to talk to other smart black women for the piece, including one of my favorites, Stacia L. Brown at Beyond Baby Mamas.

The Root: Dating While Celibate

…many folks will make you think you’re crazy for not having sex. Put this in perspective: There are a lot of women who are having sex — wild, swing-from-the-chandelier, they-only-do-that-in-pornos kind of sex — and they are just as single as you are. Sex doesn’t guarantee you any sort of relationship, much less a marriage. – Demetria Lucas, Dating While Celibate: Men Who Respect Your Choice Exist

As much as I dislike using statistics to generalize, I think it’s worth looking at data when it comes to sex and singles. We can talk about all the black woman dating numbers later, but for now, let’s look at the statistic that 95 percent of Americans have sex before marriage. Eighty-five percent actually approve of sex before marriage. The biggest factor in delaying sex until marriage is religiosity, even though abstinence-only programs and their ilk tend to backfire.

So, most people are doing it, religious or not.

I think it’s healthy to get to know someone before having sex, regardless of whether you want to get married or not, but I don’t judge people who decide that they want to have sex just for the sake of doing the damn thing. Because marriage is not for everyone. And not everyone can legally get married.

But for single black women, in particular, celibacy is a double-edged sword. If we’re talking about black women who only want to date black men, that’s a really small group or marriage market. As noted in The Root comments, which I usually skip, a number of men consider women who claim celibacy or abstinence suspect and move quickly on to a willing, easier prospect. So while I’d like to believe that Demetria is on the right track – just hold out for the rare man who will respect you — I wonder about how singles who choose not to have sex deal with that dilemma.

Choosing celibacy always makes me think of that line in Love Jones where Larenz Tate tells Nia Long, “But we’ve already done it before!” I do think there’s wisdom in taking a break, but I wonder if that’s a lot of ask unless you’re a celebrity like Lenny Kravitz or Lady Gaga. But for those of you who are dating and celibate, do you agree that it’s a challenge? Is it worth it to wait?

My two cents is that I always hear from people who are celibate or claim that they were until they got married that it was a good decision. But the downside of that anecdotal data is that I don’t know that many people it actually applies to.

The Atlantic: Everlasting Love is a Myth*

OK, I’m paraphrasing just a tad.

In her new book, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson writes that love is not the tie that binds, the spark and trumpets that some romantics like me think it is. Rather it’s:

a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store.

What a relief. I have totally fallen in love with baristas and books. Actually, I fall in love with books all the time. I guess maybe she’s talking about sentient beings, though, huh? I love a lot of my close friends, and not like play cousins. So there might be something to this Love 2.0 situation.

I thought the story was going to be all gloom and doom for singles, since it essentially says that half of the people globally polled are love-starved and searching for a partner. Loneliness! Depression! Eat all the chocolate!

But that article and presumably the book actually end on a positive note, one that I try to live by. Frederickson says, “If you don’t have a Valentine, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have love. It puts love much more in our reach everyday regardless of our relationship status.” That’s more like it.

The costs of being single vs. being married

As you might know firsthand, it ain’t pretty.

Today at the Atlantic, Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell, (who run Onely, which I just found out about and I love!) break down the costs of being a single woman, compared to that of a married woman. The article says that unmarried women pay as much as a million dollars more than their married counterparts for taxes, healthcare and more.

Bella DePaulo, author of Singlism and singles expert and I agree that if someone had told me the cost of being a single woman compared to a married one was this high, I would have thought it was too much.

Which is incredible and not at all surprising, but sad. Because it’s one thing to think that singles are deformed in some way if they’re not in relationships past the age of 21, but it’s quite another to have had those opinions legislated into the tax code and Social Security laws of our nation – and a nation that supposedly loves individualism at that!

Lest one think that legalizing same sex marriage would solve the problem, Arnold and Campbell point out that it would only be a solution for a few:

U.S. Federal Code Title 5 Part III says: The President may prescribe rules which shall prohibit… discrimination because of marital status. Yet more than 1,000 laws provide overt legal or financial benefits to married couples. Marital privileging marginalizes the 50 percent of Americans who are single. The U.S. government is the main perpetrator, but private companies follow its lead. Thus marital privilege pervades nearly every facet of our lives. Insurance policies—ranging from health, to life, to home, to car—cost more, on average, for unmarried people compared to those who are married. It is not a federal crime for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their marital status. And so on.

What I love is about this is that it is objective data and reporting, not subjective storytelling about single life. Arnold and Campbell make the point that marriage is promoted as a social good, despite the fact that Dr. DePaulo and others have made the case that there is little difference qualitatively in terms of health or families that there is much difference between the lives of singles and married folks.

The other important point that they raise here, among many others is that with subjective writing – this blog, my book and other relationship/dating blogs – there is often the sense that we are just bitter. (I have heard that word leveled against me and this blog more than once, actually.) But I love how they put this:

“As two straight women with no desire to get married, we are not against marriage per se. We’re not callous and repressed man-haters. We’re not bitter about ex-boyfriends who cheated or tried to teach us the correct way to pour laundry detergent (ok, well maybe a little bitter about that last one). We’re not even necessarily uncomfortable with the institution’s arguable gender expectations and socio-political history. We just don’t much care whether we’re married, or not. But governments and corporations do.”

If you drink, you might want to get out the good liquor for this one. Not to spoil the ending, but it is a sobering and sad bit of news. It’s ironic, too, because I was just starting to think about my taxes again and the cost of being a self-employed single writer. Oh, look, it’s already wine-o’clock…

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