Why Relationship Status Shouldn't Define Black Women
I wrote a letter to myself, during my senior year of high school, that still makes me smile. In it I expressed my joy of finally being done with a chapter of my life that wasn’t easy. I also talked about my dreams of traveling the world, writing books, and not being tied down by a man. In my 18-year-old mind, being married meant a lack of freedom and having to relinquish the person I aspired to be. Even seeing healthy images of marriage, I honestly didn’t buy into two people becoming one.
If you were to guess why so many Black women are not married, what would you say? If you pointed to rates of incarceration and mortality for Black men, or if you said that Black women earn more college degrees than Black men, you would be mentioning the kinds of factors that most often get discussed by social researchers and opinion writers. And those factors are not irrelevant, but they leave out something important — Black women’s agency in their single status. Black women are not just pushed by external forces; sometimes they choose to be single. Even if they want to marry eventually, these women often lead a purposeful single life in which they pursue goals that are important to them.
Eventually, I did get married. I was 26-years-old, graduated college, working a job I liked, writing a book, and being all that I could be in the Army reserves. I was established. I had a life which my mother told me was the most important thing I could have. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to be a wife. Naturally, I patterned myself after my mother – dutiful, busy, and took care of everyone else but not leaving much space for herself. She cooked, cleaned, took care of her children, and made my dad’s life easier.
I firmly believe, when a divorce happens, both people have to take responsibility. The percentage of wrongdoing may weigh heavily on one in particular, but both have played a role in the breakdown. And after eight years of being a wife, we went our separate ways. I found myself not really knowing who I was anymore. I actually didn’t know what to do with myself. I had bought into the happily ever after, but somehow forgot about me. This led to a whole other level of healing.
When you’re single, people question when you’re getting married. As if you can’t possibly be a whole woman without doing so, and being alone is a mark of doom. And then when you get married, the pressure is on to have children. Because surely something must be wrong with you if you don’t (or can’t).
Choosing to be single is exactly that – a choice. Having a relationship with someone without being married is also a choice. Whether or not you have children is indeed a choice. Society doesn’t like for us to have choices. And particularly as it relates to Black women, well, we know how that goes.
Black women are policed about most things - our bodies, our hair, our wardrobe, our language, our relationship status, how many children we have or don’t have, who we decide to be with and for how long, and our freedom is always at peak scrutiny. Truth is, regardless what do, there will be those ready to tell us that God is not pleased, or that we’re doomed to a life of lonely misery.
What if we just let each other live? If we didn’t worry about standing in the gap, when no one told you to do so – not even God. If we extend grace, instead of grime. If we let Black women have agency over their lives, regardless what it looks like, while holding space for support. And just maybe we’d have enough to worry about in our own lives.
If I could speak to my 18-year-old self, I’d tell her that life isn’t always this or that – it can be complicated without explanation. You’re going to make mistakes but you really will recover, and you’ll be stronger. You’re going to make decisions that everyone is not going to understand. They will question you, lecture you, and even condemn you. Just know, you are enough whether you’re married or single. Your relationship status doesn’t define who you, or give anyone permission to invade upon you. Just remember that no one can live your life. It’s all you, baby girl. All of it, no matter what it looks like. So, live.