Contrary to popular belief, there are a slew of black guys between 21 and 35 who want a relationship but can’t find the right match.
Midway through Chasing Amy—the 1997 romantic comedy that made everyone think Kevin Smith was the next Woody Allen when he really just turned out to be Nicholas Sparks with Tourette’s—there’s a scene where Banky (Jason Lee) is trying to convince his best friend Holden (Ben Affleck) that the woman Holden has fallen in love with, Alyssa (played by a surprisingly fetching Joey Lauren Adams), is still a lesbian (she “became” straight after meeting Holden) and will eventually leave Holden and break his heart.
To punctuate his point, Banky draws a picture where the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, a “typical” man-hating lesbian, and a “male-affectionate” lesbian (representing Alyssa) are at opposite ends of a four-way road. In the middle of the road is a $100 bill, and he asks Holden which of the four would get the $100 bill first.
Holden: The man-hating dyke.
Banky: Good. Why?
Holden: I don’t know.
Banky: [shouting] Because the other three are figments of your f**king imagination!
I’m reminded of this scene every time I remind people that the dating game isn’t exactly smooth sailing for every 21- to 35-year-old black man. Between the statistics showing that there’s something like 179,000 black women to every eligible black male in each desirable metropolitan area, the studies proving that black women are perpetually out-everything-ing black men, and the ubiquitous stories about condom-challenged brothas like New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromardie—guys who seem to be single-handedly attempting to re-populate the island from Lost—I’m sure that if I told a random dating-aged sista that there are actually black guys out there who genuinely want to be in a relationship (with a black woman!) but have trouble finding the right match, she’d probably tell me that they were a figment of my f**king imagination too.
Her skepticism would be justified. Hyperbole aside, according to the U.S. Census, while only 24% of white women and 23% of Asian women have never been married, a staggering 45% of black women have never walked down the aisle, a fact that’s mainly due to the lack of eligible black male options.
But if so, if these somewhat star-crossed men were mere figments of my imagination, I guess that was a bunch of bespectacled ghosts I saw at a Foreign Exchange concert a few weekends ago, mouthing each of Phonte’s lyrics while scanning the crowd to find the type of muse that would make a man write “Greater Than the Sun.” That must be an apparition who sends me a text message at least once a week, asking if my girlfriend has any newly single homegirls looking to “build with a brotha.” And I definitely must’ve dreamt up the dozens of game nights, weekly wing specials, and house parties I’ve attended in the past several years, the dozens of conversations I’ve had with the dozens of single men also in attendance, guys desperately seeking “their own Michelle [Obama].”
“The cards are stacked in favor of guys, but not every guy is in a place to take advantage of the number discrepancy,” says Berook, a 24-year-old who, between singing in his church’s choir, rooting for the Redskins, and memorizing entire Kevin Hart routines, somehow finds time to work towards a Ph.D. in bio-medical engineering.
Not bad for a ghost.
Berook’s statement reflected a trend I’ve noticed among the educated men in my social and occupational circles: a trend split into racial lines. I’m sure it wouldn’t shock anyone’s system to hear that while the majority of the 25- to 40-year-old white men I know are married, the majority of the brothas in that age range are single or dating with no marriage plans in the near future. But, while the commonly believed reason for this discrepancy is that most brothas are anti-marriage and monogamy, this couldn’t be further from the case. Often, they just haven’t found a compatible match, or they’re self-aware enough to realize that they still need to work on themselves before bringing another person in their lives.
Shawn, 27, a gregarious director of marketing for burgeoning nonprofit Sponsor Change (these sure are some busy-ass ghosts), expounds:
Yeah, I want to have a wife and kids and all that. But, I need to get my shit together first. Most of the sistas I meet want to date “ready-made” brothas, and while I’m on that track, I ain’t making Audi money yet.
This feeling alludes to the common stereotype of the successful black women and her unrealistic and uncompromising standards—think any character Gabrielle Union has ever played—an idea Berook quickly shoots down:
It’s not that sistas’ standards are too high. If I had an already successful daughter, I’d want her to date an already successful man. From a personal standpoint, though, I wouldn’t even want to enter a serious relationship unless I had my shit together.
And having your shit together means what exactly?
As a man, I’d feel a certain way if I had a girlfriend but I wasn’t able to take care of her. Nothing special, but you’d like to be able to at least go the movies every weekend and buy her nice things. Yeah, I’m in school now and working towards something. but I’ve actually stopped dating a woman I was interested in because I wasn’t where I needed to be financially. It’s a pride thing.
It’s a pride thing, indeed, Berook continues, a black-pride thing:
Seems like white men don’t feel “grown” until they start families, but we [black men] don’t seem to want to start families until we feel “grown” enough.
While this train of thinking does seem like a big fat pile of excuse, the numbers back it up. A recent U.S. Census report—“Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009”—shows that Americans across all racial lines are waiting longer to marry.
The Boston Globe‘s Peter Schwarm reports:
The median age at first marriage last year was 28 years for men, and 26 for women, up slightly from 2009. The rising age reflects a long-term trend. In 1980, the median age for men was just under 25, and 22 for women.
One can easily infer that the increased financial security that usually comes with increased age is a prominent factor in these decisions. I’m sure the recession has its grubby little hands in this pot as well. The hysteria that has come with it has induced a racially transcendent reluctance to make any matrimonial plans. Can’t say “I do” with confidence if you’re scared that the Zales goons are coming next week to repossess the wedding bands. Perhaps these figments of my imagination are ahead of the relationship curve and just haven’t quite realized it yet.
It’s fitting that both Shawn and Berook work in science- and tech-heavy fields, occupational paths black males rarely choose. I guess neither of them can ever quite escape the fact that they’re not supposed to exist. They’re also both aware that their lifestyles and career paths maybe not be as sexy as others’, a fact that definitely affects their prospects, says Shawn:
Not everybody grew up in a two-parent household. In fact, most of us haven’t. Because of that, we learn how to date and how to identify “good” men and women from TV. There is an association of success with a certain type of man, a certain type of occupation, and the more low-key guys tend to get overlooked.
The danger with feeling overlooked and undervalued is its gateway to overcompensation, a path Shawn’s trying to avoid:
You don’t want to be a sucker. Yeah, you might need to do some extra to get a chick, but if your input-to-output ratio isn’t the same, you’re a sucker because you’re devaluing yourself. You’re not true to yourself. Samson (from the Bible) was a sucker. Ain’t no way no woman should have convinced him to cut his hair. He should have just continued being him, the way he always was. Maybe you won’t get every woman you’re attracted to, but at least you’ll still have your integrity.
In the last 10 or so minutes of Chasing Amy, we find out that Banky was right (Alyssa did eventually break up with Holden and break his heart) and wrong (Alyssa wasn’t a “typical” man-hating lesbian) at the same time. Like Alyssa, the eligible black male who just can’t quite find his Michelle exists, and his existence is a bit too nuanced and variable to accurately summarize on a sheet of paper.