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)

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.

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.

Blogs for singles you should check out: Talk Like Sex, Beyond Baby Mamas and Single Dad Laughing

Maybe I’m old school, but I tend to write what I know. I’m not big on speculation or sensationalizing what can be a pretty straightforward life/experience, which might seem a little tame but also kind of narrow.

But I love learning and expanding my horizons. I figure y’all share an interest in the same.

But I also know that some of you have interests outside of my realm of experience as a single woman. I wanted to mention some blogs and books  that I like a lot.

Single Parents:

Beyond Baby Mamas: Founder Stacia L. Brown is an exquisite writer and generous teacher. She’s my blogging homegirl and the one who inspires me (and more than a dozen others) to keep writing fiction. She began this site to combat the negative notions associated with single moms, particularly black women who are single parents.

Single Dad Laughing: I just discovered Dan Pearce through my friend Leslie, who is a frequent commenter and as awesome as she was when we went to high school together. I almost never read much about single dads, but I love Dan’s voice and sense of humor. It’s refreshing. Check out his post on 6 reasons you should adopt a single person.

Sex positive:

Feminista Jones: I went to junior high school with Michelle, so it’s been amazing to see how she has grown, matured and conquered the world with her active Twitter feed (always entertaining!) and her appearances on YouTube. She’s also been educating us about BDSM and a dozen other things. She’s not for the pearl-clutching set, but that’s part of why I love her. Her column at Ebony.com is called Talk Like Sex – check it out.

Content single women:

Be Your Own Boyfriend: Kaneisha interviewed me for her book, BE YOUR OWN BOYFRIEND: Decide to Be Happy, Unleash your Sexy, and Change your Life which will be out soon. She’s got a Kickstarter campaign started to raise money for the book.

Happy Black Woman: I love her posts and how adventurous, courageous and inspiring she is.

If there are some sites and blogs that you like, let me know in the comments.

The Gen. Petraeus scandal and what it means for singles

I have been trying to avoid the Gen. David Petraeus situation, but this weekend, I succumbed just a little bit.

Over at Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks’ Sex and the Modern Soldier, explores whether the military has a woman problem — it appears that it does — and if the conservative culture leads to more infidelity:

Officially, military culture tends to smile upon marriage and frown upon singleness. The military provides married personnel with benefits not available to single personnel, and even today, officers often feel that remaining unmarried is regarded as professionally suspect (not just because it may raise suspicions of homosexuality — for senior male officers in particular, a wife has historically been considered a must-have accessory, needed in her hostess role as much as in her role as companion). But ironically, the military’s very “pro-marriage” culture may lead to a higher incidence of divorce and marital problems.

The idea that unmarried leaders are professionally suspect is embedded in more than just the military. Unmarried women in public life are generally regarded with suspicion (Sonia Sotomayor and Condoleezza Rice come immediately to mind) and perhaps because of the sheer number of sex abuse cases that have emerged in recent years out of the Catholic Church, so are unmarried men.

I wonder if those of us who make Gods of our leaders, especially those who serve in the military, aren’t partially to blame for a culture that supports the lavish treatment conferred on Gen. Petraeus and his peers. Former defense secretary Robert Gates is quoted saying: “There is something about a sense of entitlement and of having great power that skews people’s judgment.”

The inference is usually that concern for one’s spouse (also love, respect, honor) should factor into any judgment, but clearly that’s not always the case.  Is it that the moral bar, then, is too high for those we would consider our heroes? Men like Petraeus often pledge to serve God and country, like church leaders. Here’s what Albert Mohler says about the importance of being married for church leaders:

I would base my argument on the most normative New Testament texts that describe the pastor. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the Apostle Paul presents Timothy, and thus the church, with this instruction:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now that scandals like Petraeus’ have become unfortunately commonplace, it seems worth asking whether keeping up appearances ends up being more harmful than useful in relationships. Any why do we harp on the sexual aspect of a man’s disgrace during these affairs instead of all the other flaws?

At Feminism and Religion, Martha Mount Shoop’s “The David Syndrome?” reflects on what scandals like the Petraeus affair mean for women:

I’ve wondered off and on whether working closely with men who have power in institutions built on male models of power is ever safe for competent and capable women.  The competitive ethos that patriarchy encourages seems to make everyone the object of conquest.  And when a woman is the object of conquest, sexual conquest may often still be the most direct path to victory.

For unmarried people, then, just being in close proximity to power or even trying to acquire some of their own, also means setting themselves up for a higher probability of being ensnared in messy relationships — as if we didn’t have enough to worry about.

Contemplating hook-up culture and female empowerment

If women are so powerful now, why is there so much angst about their power?

This is the first thing I thought about when I read the article adapted from Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men, which I thought I wanted to read at one point. In the Atlantic’s September issue, she writes about the rise of successful women and ways in which women now have the agency – financial and otherwise – to plan for temporary intimacy in lieu of waiting around for love. The article is called “Boys on the Side” and here are some passages that jumped out at me:

Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-­school party—are for the first time in history more success­ful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.

It’s important to note a couple of things here. Rosin is specifically writing about the white middle class and upper middle class experience.

This is one of the things that riles me about writing and popular culture about single women, generally – in order for a case to be made for a strong story pitch, these stories are only considered universal (like the HBO show Girls, which is referenced in the story later) if they center around the white middle-class and upper middle-class experience. The reason that’s important is that it leaves out huge swaths of women of color who, culturally and sometimes out of necessity and cultural allegiance, make totally different decisions. I don’t know any women of color who could be described as cannily manipulating hook-up culture on college campuses to make space for their success. I don’t know any working class or poor women of any race or cultural background who would do that, either. There is, too, the underlying idea that hook-up culture is a white thing, not unlike marriage, ironically.

This article made me think a SPIN article published in 1998 while I was a sophomore at Vassar. The story, “Sex Ed,” featured at least one black male classmate I was friends with at the time, but it was essentially a story about the fact that for men on campus, “hooking up was as easy as ordering a pizza.” The reason hooking up was so easy, as explained by SPIN, was the fact that women outnumbered men on campus (the ratio was reportedly 60:40) and a large percentage of the men and women on campus were gay, which meant that heterosexual women had to be more aggressive if they wanted to hook up with men on campus.

I bring that story up because it points to an old idea: that for women to participate in the full secular college experience and have a little fun, they have always had to do more work than men. I was the exact opposite of the college girls that are characterized as dismissing overly serious suitors to make space for my success, so maybe I have a hard time understanding the sentiment. This strikes me as a dangerous corollary to the Having it All debate – where the narratives of women who suddenly act like men have traditionally acted are a new sociological puzzle.

Cultural, racial and class differences are key here, too, to say nothing of people who fall into non-gender conforming categories; the narrative that has been bought and sold to black women in particular is that we cannot afford to let go even of casual relationships with our black male peers if we seek marriage because they are so rarefied in academic and corporate spaces that if we act like some of the women Rosin highlights in Boys on the Side, we will be Forever Alone.

Here, Rosin goes into more detail about a 2004 study on sexual abuse on college campuses:

Women in the dorm complained to the researchers about the double standard, about being called sluts, about not being treated with respect. But what emerged from four years of research was the sense that hooking up was part of a larger romantic strategy, part of what Armstrong came to think of as a “sexual career.” For an upwardly mobile, ambitious young woman, hookups were a way to dip into relationships without disrupting her self-development or schoolwork. Hookups functioned as a “delay tactic,” Armstrong writes, because the immediate priority, for the privileged women at least, was setting themselves up for a career. “If I want to maintain the lifestyle that I’ve grown up with,” one woman told Armstrong, “I have to work. I just don’t see myself being someone who marries young and lives off of some boy’s money.” Or from another woman: “I want to get secure in a city and in a job … I’m not in any hurry at all. As long as I’m married by 30, I’m good.”

The women still had to deal with the old-fashioned burden of protecting their personal reputations, but in the long view, what they really wanted to protect was their future professional reputations. “Rather than struggling to get into relationships,” Armstrong reported, women “had to work to avoid them.” (One woman lied to an interested guy, portraying herself as “extremely conservative” to avoid dating him.) Many did not want a relationship to steal time away from their friendships or studying.

In that research, by the way, two-thirds of the subjects of sociologists’ research came from “more privileged” backgrounds. This idea of cultivating a “sexual career” is one that would offer a variety of side-eye glances from women of color, full stop. I understand the need to frame a story around existing data, but this is one example of just one side of the story.

The absence of women of color and people who are not so privileged from stories like this speaks loudly. It infers that the overarching narrative of white female sexual agency is the dominant story for all women everywhere, which is less true now than it ever has been, considering the growing diversity of our country. The absence of our narrative from discussions about women’s sexual liberation, too, shows that feminists still haven’t found a way to bridge the racial and class gaps that inform our discourse on everything from politics and business to love and relationships.

Let’s wait awhile: Should you wait 182 days to have sex?

Amanda Hess on a new study by the Journal of Marriage and Family:

The study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family (but not available online), found that women who dated their partner for at least 182 days (!) before having sex with him reported higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, intimacy, emotional support, and sexual satisfaction in the resulting relationship. The results have inspired a new wave of sex delaying advice: The Daily Mail warned women against “leaping into bed at the first opportunity” (or, presumably, the 100th). The researchers claim that their results supported couples “taking it slow.” (Really slow. For those not good at math: 182 days = six months.)

What the Daily Mail doesn’t say is that half-year stretches of celibacy may make a woman more satisfied in a long-term relationship, but they don’t necessarily make her a more satisfied person. This study only surveyed couples who live together or are married, so ignored couples who live apart, women who “leap into bed” without an expectation of commitment, and those who break up when their relationships no longer support their personal needs.

Since most studies frame discussions of sex in heterosexist terms of when (not if) singles will get married, this article and discussion made me think of the ideas of the relationship market as described by UT sociologist Mark Regnerus who has recently made headlines for other reasons. The conservative sociologist basically suggests that if people want to get married and stay married, they will get married young (starting at 18 and into one’s twenties) or stay abstinent.

But anecdotal and real life data show that most people do neither. What is the point of waiting 182 days, exactly, if you don’t plan on waiting until marriage?

Studies like the one Hess writes about and writers like Regnerus essentially blame the disintegrating fabric of relationships on easy women who won’t keep their legs closed; Regnerus goes in to explicit detail about this in his book, Premarital Sex in America. I wrote about Regnerus and his book while I was a religion reporter at the Austin American-Statesman. I also profiled him.

Regnerus notes that women who “give it up” too easily sexually end up driving down the value of intimacy and sex in what he calls the relationship market for women who are willing to wait. What his research has in common with the study Hess writes about is that men are rarely held accountable for the ways their desires shape women’s agency when it comes to love and sex in the heterosexual landscape of courtship. Boys are just being boys, I suppose.

The Romantic’s Disclaimer: A book excerpt

I love romance and thinking about love. It’s an affliction that was only worsened by a childhood reading list of titles by authors like Sidney Sheldon, bell hooks, Cornel West and a lot of Harlequin Romances, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel.

I’m writing more about this in another book, but it’s important context: my mother, a single parent with undiagnosed bipolar and borderline personality disorders, left me alone as a child and teenager for long stretches of time while she was working or going to school.

In those long, often boring, stretches of time, I became a writer, a dreamer and a hopeful romantic. I also learned how to live by watching television, movies and reading a lot. My life experience and the people I was blessed to meet along the way helped dispel or reinforce relationship notions in one way or another.

But my earliest ideas about love and romance came from a mixture of popular culture references like The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker, the love poems of Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez and June Jordan and so many television shows and movies from the 80s and 90s that I couldn’t even start to list them all. (Scenes from The Women of Brewster Place still pop up in my dreams, for instance.)

Having all the time in the world to jump from one seedy or sappy narrative to another was the best structure I had to craft a robust inner life. The soundtrack of my youth is all Jodeci, New Edition, Boyz II Men, Bell Biv Devoe, Johnny Gill, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige and Bobby Brown: baby-making music.

Yes, and I loved them anyway

The images from those books – A painting of the blond Fabio caressing a damsel in his arms; descriptions of the dark-haired and ruthless Lucky Santangelo getting her revenge as a scorned lover in Los Angeles; the bucolic love stories of Danielle Steel involving horses and green fields – worked in tandem with music lyrics to feed the epic story that the love of a man was just over the adulthood horizon. To love and be loved was the central goal of womanhood, so if I was really going to grow up and be a woman, I needed to know these plots and their narrative arcs.

One of the consequences of my mother’s mental illnesses, though, was that I had a misshapen sense of what it meant to be intimate with another person. The side effects of bipolar disorder include euphoria, manic depression and violence.  Almost right up until my mother died in January 2012, she was always in love with somebody or something. She was never without a suitor.

Mom loved love. “I think he’s in love with me (smiles but serious)”: this was her constant refrain. I only know of one black man she courted seriously – my father – but the rest of her lovers were like representatives of the United Nations: white, Mexican, Pakistani, Russian.

Mom was loud, bipolar and a beautiful disaster, as Kelly Clarkson sang. I was her polar opposite: quiet, observant and reserved. While she spun through the world, giggling at one intimate encounter or another, I became a student of people and relationships.

For women, mothers are the templates for womanhood and what we believe about being a woman in the world. As a result, I believed that love and sex were interchangeable. Sex in exchange for affection looked a lot like the dramatic, florid romances I read.

Unfortunately, it would take many years to learn the difference between sex and love.

Single Lady Quotes: Ann Friedman

The OKCupid Pie

Ann Friedman says what we are all thinking. As usual. (Source: The Hairpin)

If you haven’t heard of Ann Friedman, Happy Friday! As you can see from the lovely pie chart above, she’s witty and like me, she pretends not to know what OKCupid is when her married friends ask.

Also, she’s hilarious. Did I say that already? Here’s her fantastic blog, and a post on International Slutty Women’s Day: A Story in GIFs, which I adore. Continue reading

Teenage boys are waiting longer to have sex because they’re more romantic

Speaking of unexpected things that made me happy this weekend:

Why are boys behaving more “like girls” in terms of when they lose their virginity? In contrast to longstanding cultural tropes, there is reason to believe that teenage boys are becoming more careful and more romantic about their first sexual experiences.

That’s how sociologist Amy Schalet begins her sweet editorial about the new cultural tropes being rewritten by teen boys.  I learned about it over at Sociological Images. More from Schalet:

Today, though more than half of unmarried 18- and 19-year-olds have had sexual intercourse, fewer than 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls have, down from 50 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls in 1988. And there are virtually no gender differences in the timing of sexual initiation.

What happened in those two decades?

Fear seems to have played a role. In interviewing 10th graders for my book on teenage sexuality in the United States and the Netherlands, I found that American boys often said sex could end their life as they knew it. After a condom broke, one worried: “I could be screwed for the rest of my life.” Another boy said he did not want to have sex yet for fear of becoming a father before his time.

The rest of the editorial just made me beam with pride. I think each generation assumes that the one after it is going to hell in a handbasket. But to see that American boys, like Dutch boys, were not only afraid of the consequences of having sex before they might be ready but that they also were using really strong romantic language to discuss love was so refreshing. Maybe the kids are really alright.

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