Black woman's quandary
A story published today in the Chicago Sun Times focuses on the high percent of middle-aged black women who have never married. Here is what the story has to say.
Lisa Robinson hardly looks like the kind of woman who's hard-pressed to find a date.
And she's not. This 41-year-old former model is smart, well-traveled, and heads her own downtown corporate image firm, housed in a stylish River North loft. She dates all the time, guys of all colors and races she meets everywhere from airports to online's Match.com. But this North Carolina native has lived in the Windy City for 11 years and still feels like "an alien in a foreign land" when it comes to establishing lasting relationships.
"The biggest challenge for me is being in business and being a CEO and owner of a company," Robinson says. "That opens up an interesting conversation [with potential partners]: 'Now let me get this straight -- you model, you own this company. I don't know if I can go there.' I try not to let too much information out too quickly."
The same is true for Carol Waitse, who works in corporate communications at Boeing. "I didn't think it would be this hard," says Waitse, 37. "I thought all the things your parents told you would make you attractive, all these things that would make me a prize package are really kind of a deterrent." A divorced homeowner in the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood, Waitse doesn't tell guys the size of her house or what she drives (a Land Rover), knowing both have scared off less confident men in the past.
"It's almost like hiding who you are and the blessings you have," she says.
These days, successful, single black women like Robinson and Waitse are in a tough spot. Census figures show 42 percent have never married, compared with 25 percent of the general female population. Many say it's tougher than ever to find a mate. Some are dating and marrying blue-collar or less affluent men. Others are reluctantly looking outside the race for guys. Still others have quit the game altogether. Many wonder what this means for the next generation's black middle class if large numbers of black America's best and brightest women aren't finding husbands -- or are marrying so late that they have few children or none at all.
"That's the conundrum black women find themselves in," says Darlene Clark Hine, Ph.D., a professor of African-American Studies at Northwestern University, referring to the dilemma faced by those whose affluence further separates them from potential dates and mates. "They can then turn around and be slapped in the face with arguments [that they're] chasing away black men intimidated by their material success. Then some women feel they should try to soften their image, tone themselves down."
And that's hardly a solution for women who've become successful by being assertive and independent.
"Men are a commodity -- especially black men," says Art "Chat Daddy" Sims, who for nine years has hosted monthly "Relationship Chats" (www.artchatdaddysims. com) in Chicago for black men and women with dating questions. "Black men always think something better's going to come along." Sims says African-American women looking for black mates face competition not only from each other but from white, Asian and Hispanic females.
"We all know the history of supply and demand," he says. "If you don't have the supply, it's hard to meet the demand."
Even though single women of all ethnic groups bemoan the lack of available men, it's not just an empty lament for blacks. Whereas white, Hispanic and Asian men in their 20s significantly outnumber their women, there are just 89 black men for every 100 black women.
Not only is there a "demographic imbalance between the sexes, but there are social and lifestyle differences that have affected the ratio of marriageable African-American men," Hine says. She mentions the usual litany: high rate of involvement with the criminal justice system, violence that claims young black male lives at disproportional rates, more black male high school dropouts, fewer black men in college than their female counterparts. The result? "The men are increasingly unable to marry because they don't have the resources to sustain a relationship," she says.
Of course, black men aren't the only group afflicted by these societal woes. But black women feel these issues more acutely because of the numbers.
Waitse knows the statistics, "but there's something about me that doesn't subscribe to that. I have to take some responsibility for what I put out there and what I'm attracting into my life." She believes in varying her strategy -- blind dating, matchmaking, golfing and more.
Danielle Wright of Oak Park also keeps herself in heavy rotation -- she frequents steppers dance sets and roller rinks, and often hits local art galleries, cultural institutions and restaurants with the girls -- but doesn't find these activities translating into dates. The 54-year-old Pennsylvania native, armed with an MBA and a job in insurance underwriting, never expected to still be unmarried at this age.
"You kind of wake up and realize, 'This is not what I thought it would be.' In fairness, there have been those men who were interested in me but I wasn't interested in them. The match made in heaven just never occurred."
Truth be told, Wright feels her life is less rich because of it. "I'm managing being single because those are the cards I've been dealt, but I think I'd be much happier with someone special in my life."
Sims, whose Chat audiences range from age 18 to 62 and are about 80 percent female, says "The sad thing is so many African-American women are older and don't have anybody. Their idea of a Saturday night is hanging out with their girlfriends or staying at home relaxing. When your Monday night and your Saturday night are the same? Frightening."
Says Robinson: "Any sister who says today, 'I gotta have my black man' is going to be in a world of trouble. There's probably no nationality I have not dated."
But statistics show African-American females are the least likely group of women to marry outside their race. Because most black women dream of similarly hued Prince Charmings, they're not always open to advances from men of other backgrounds. "I have a friend who says, 'Our problem as black women is we don't get up to bat enough,' " Wright says. "But in terms of men and other ethnic groups, I don't put myself in those sorts of environments."
Says Mary Spio, editor of the Orlando, Fla.-based online singles magazine One2One Living: "I find that I'm seeing more and more [black women] who are coming in more open and giving different things a chance than before."
But get black women talking about the "white girl" thing -- or the often-discussed notion in the African-American community that once a black man gets successful, he runs off and into the arms of Caucasian women -- and tempers flare. Census figures show black men are about 2.5 times more likely than black women to have white spouses. "There's a more significant percentage of successful African-American men marrying across racial lines than are black women," Hine says, "but entirely too much is made of this and it breeds the kind of competition between women when we [black women] need to be looking for creative ways to be happy."
Though men and women of every ethnic group seem to have trouble hooking up and staying matched, black folks face special challenges. "There are so many unresolved, unanalyzed, undiscussed consequences to having generations of our ancestors enslaved," Hine says. "If you think about it, we've only been free for 140 years, but we were enslaved for almost three centuries. And one of the things we haven't dealt with is our relationships."
And for those single professional sisters who long to have kids but don't want to be unwed moms, Hine suggests adoption. She says foster parenting and serving as godparents to other folks' kids also offer single women a connection to the community's future. Otherwise, African Americans face a smaller black middle class in the next generation.
Although these women say just meeting potentially suitable guys is a challenge, not everyone's willing to cut bait yet.
That's why Kimberly Jean Brown, a 35-year-old divorced mother of two, this summer launched The Intimate Setting (www.theintimatesetting.com), a membership-driven social group that brings unmarried African Americans together at wine tastings, art appreciation nights at Bronzeville galleries, game and card parties. Brown employs "mixers," or get-to-know-you tactics, that ensure singles mingle.
"I am not of the opinion there are no quality men out there," says Brown, an attorney and Realtor who'd tried predominately white Chicago dating services but found them either unwelcoming or unable to pair her with enough black men. So she launched The Intimate Setting to offer black folks an alternative. "We're focused on finding people who are open to monogamous relationships if the right person comes along," says Brown, whose group has members from age 27 to 47. "We're not as much a dating service as a way for people to meet other single people and get to know them before going out on a date."
And that's what these women say they're looking for.
"Success is nothing without someone to share it with," says Waitse, echoing the often-repeated Billy Dee Williams line from the 1975 film "Mahogany."
"I want to come home and let my guard down. I'm tired of being 'corporate Carol' or some super-duper corporate black woman -- let someone else be strong for me. I want to be able to share my weaknesses as well as relish my strengths. I want that type of man to have my back."