On Sunday afternoon, I was at an annual event in Brooklyn, N.Y., which was attended by thousands of people, mostly young black professionals looking for a good time.
In the crowd, I spotted a woman who left no doubt about why she’d shown up that day—not for the music or to hang with her girls or stunt for the Gram. She was looking for a man. How did I know?
She was wearing a sign on her back that read, “I just came here to find a husband.”
I was intrigued. I’ve spent more than a decade writing about dating and relationships, and I’d never seen anything like this. I just had to know what she was thinking and whether this unusual approach was effective.
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But I had to wait. As I was making my way over to ask her, a guy knelt on one knee before her, offering her a mock marriage proposal. “Hmm. Maybe this lady is on to something,” I thought.
“This lady” is Ayana Evans, a Brooklyn-based performance artist “in her 30s” who’s best-known for “Operation Catsuit,” in which she traverses New York City in a neon-green catsuit to make a statement about the male (and female) gaze.
You might also find her jumping in heels, for hours at a time, to highlight the demands of being a woman, or you could spot her literally carrying a woman on her back, a testament to the strength and expectations of black women’s friendships.
But the sign on her back Sunday? Was she performing or was she for real? And again, does this approach work? The Root caught up with Evans the next day to find out.
The Root: How did you come up with this idea?
Ayana Evans: As an artist, when I have a block and I can’t think of anything to make art about, it usually means I’m not being honest about something. There have been a lot of points where I have been desperate about finding a husband, feeling anxious, wondering, “When is it going to happen? Where am I going to meet him?” I’m not proud of that, but that’s definitely how I felt. I haven’t been in a relationship in six years. I realized worrying about getting married was something I edit out a lot in work. So I was like, “All right, let’s make a piece about how I feel.”
TR: When you wear the sign, are you hoping that men will approach you, or is this an artistic expression?
AE: It’s both. I go to a lot of places hoping to meet someone, but not with a lot of faith that it’s going to happen. This is me just putting it all out there about what I want, whereas before I would spend a lot of time and put a lot of effort into pretending like finding a life partner was not on my mind. I didn’t want anyone to see me as thirsty or desperate. Now I rather just deal with it head on and let it all hang out.
If someone comes up to me that I think is cute, is a great candidate, and I’m like, “Wow, you’re intelligent, you make me laugh,” am I going to go for it? Yes!
TR: What are the most common reactions when people spot you wearing the sign?
AE: From women? High-fives. Some guys will come up to me and say, “That’s not going to work! You can’t meet someone that way!” And there are others who are silly with it, like, “I’m here!” They’ll make a joke. A lot of people want to take pictures with the sign.
TR: Have you met anyone without relationship potential thus far?
AE: I haven’t met any new guys I’m interested in yet. But there is a residual effect. You don’t meet anyone new, but maybe someone who likes you hadn’t said anything before, now he has a reason to call and be like, “So I saw a picture. … Maybe we should have lunch?”
TR: I saw an Instagram post of you wearing the sign, and you responded to a friend, “I’m done worrying about this!” What is “this”? Do you no longer worry about being in a relationship? Has the sign changed your perspective on finding a husband?
AE: I worry about meeting a husband and having a family. But when you put a sign on and you let it be known what you want, you don’t worry about it the same way. I realize that part of the worry is also trying to cover up the worry.
I can’t even describe how freeing it was to [wear the sign the first time] and go to a gala. I was thinking, “I am not going to hold my stomach in and sit here and grin real hard and act like I am not scanning the room.” I felt free to look around and look every man in his face that I felt like looking at because I had a sign on my back. You know what I’m doing. I’m not pretending anymore.
TR: Do you have any other events that you’re planning to wear the sign to?
AE: I’ve been thinking about wearing it to church. I don’t know that I have the nerve to do it, but I do think it would be an honest move. I can’t count the times that people have told me that you should meet someone at church.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.