I vividly remember the day my homegirl announced that she was marrying a maintenance worker.
We were all enjoying a nice dinner, and then it was as if a hush had fallen over the crowd. She has a master’s degree and had purchased a house, while he was not bringing the same to the table. So most of our friends were not exactly thrilled about their relationship.
Her announcement reminded me of that scene in Coming to America when Randy Watson, with his band Sexual Chocolate, finishes his performance and only three people clap. People were semihappy that she was finally jumping the broom, but deep down, many felt that he wasn’t good enough for her. They felt that she was settling and dating someone who was not on her level.
This represents an all-too-familiar occurrence when it comes to black women and dating. Black women have to deal with the potential of making more than a mate, having a higher degree of education and having greater social mobility than their life partner. This makes dating a complex world to navigate.
The Pew Research Center reports that there are only 51 employed, never-married young black men between the ages of 25 and 34 for every 100 black women in the same boat. What does this shortage of available bachelors mean when it comes to relationships? The Atlantic paints a dismal picture, pointing out that black women are less likely to marry overall. A recent Brookings Institution study goes on to say that among black women who do marry, the college-educated are less likely than other groups to marry a man with a similar level of education.
How much does this really matter?
I’ve always been of the mindset that as long as you have a good man, occupation and education don’t matter as much. When it comes to a fulfilling marriage, at the end of your life, you likely won’t be concerned with how many degrees your mate earned, where he went to school and what job title he had. The most important thing will be how he loved you; everything else will be secondary. And yet when I offer this logic to my single, educated, upwardly mobile friends, they quickly counter with, “But your man has a master’s degree.” Touché. Sometimes adopting this philosophy is easier said than done.
Reflecting back on that dinner party, I think most people would eventually have overlooked the differences in my friend’s relationship. They would have noticed his kind spirit and easygoing nature. But the fact that he seemingly brought less to the table and has a criminal past made it hard for people to accept.
Outside of education and earnings, criminal history also plays a big role in the African-American male dating pool. The New York Times reports, “For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men. The remaining men—1.5 million of them—are, in a sense, missing.” And these brothers are not missing on an extended vacation in the Bahamas. They are missing in the sense that far too many black men in their prime are either incarcerated or have fallen prey to an early death.
The article goes on to mention that “almost 1 in 12 black men ages 25-54 are behind bars.” Although white women enjoy parity in numbers with their white male counterparts, a significant portion of the black male dating pool is unavailable. That makes the likelihood that you will find a man without a brush with the law even slimmer. These are all issues that successful women of color have to grapple with when it comes to dating.
Then there is the issue of money. Society signals that making more than your man is taboo. One friend of mine actually ended a long-term relationship over this. So how do black women deal if they make more than their mate?
NewsOne reports that “women between the ages of 22 and 30, without children, had bigger paychecks in 2008 than their male peers in 47 of the 50 largest U.S. cities.” These women, on average, had wages that were 8 percent higher than those of their black male counterparts, highlighting the high probability that a black woman will outearn her mate. A Harvard Business Review article found that black men earn the least in comparison with their counterparts of other ethnicities at every level of education. So there is a possibility that you will make more than your mate, and preparing for that conversation can be daunting.
The dating dynamics for black women are multidimensional and intricate. Black women must decide what they are willing to live with and what are the nonstarters. Ultimately, if your mate has solid character, plus a genuine respect and an unwavering love for you, isn’t that the stuff real love is made of? Does love have to be predicated on education, status and a perfect past?
These are the questions black women must answer in navigating love and dating. When you choose a man who has less formal education than you do, is it settling or focusing on the good in someone? When you choose to date only men who earn more than you do, is it setting a standard or missing out on the 80 percent for the 20 percent? As with my friend, it comes down to everyone’s personal preference, but what’s the right answer? In the words of my favorite childhood commercial, “The world may never know.”
D.S. Coleman is a writer who did the dating scene, had her heart broken and lived to tell the story. Through her experiences, she birthed Courtship Challenge, a blend of her faith and lessons learned in relationships. Find her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.