This week, I'm headed to a forum and a face-off to discuss the problem with black women.
Problem is that there is no problem.
See, the problem with hard-working, hilarious, sometimes haughty, successful, sexy, and yes, single, young black women is that they don't have a problem at all. Because problems get answered. They go away. They need solving.
I mean, I'm single. (Obviously.) So are many (but not all) of my friends. We're all single ladies in our mid- to late-20s, all of us consummate career women and all currently without a husband. And when we get together for our Friday night huddles, there's one persistent thought bubble floating above us: We are happy.
But this isn't a triumphant against-all-odds tale of love found at the top of the ladder. It won't be a column of gender-bending advice on how to act like a man but think like a lady, or a breaking news report on the latest doomsday data that says every black women with a career will end up with only a corps de cats to keep them warm.
"I'm tired of the world trying to fix us," says Jamilah Lemieux. Jamilah is something of a Twitter-celebrity, with nearly 4,000 followers logging into her hourly musings on everything from Kwanzaa to her love of the '90s as an era. "You want to fix full-grown women who have passion, careers and ideals?"
A few months ago Jamilah met me at her favorite margarita slingers in Northwest Washington. She was in town to visit her alma mater, Howard University, and speak to teen-aged girls about love, relationships and smart choices. Lemieux is strikingly tall with HD-quality skin and antennas for eyelashes. Her curls, the color of black ink, are a lovely counter to the notion that hair is something to be tamed. At 25, Jamilah might know more about what she wants than some women twice her age. She explodes confidence.
"I wouldn't want to be living for someone else right now because I have so much living to do for myself," Jamilah explained. She told me she'd like to get married between the ages of 30 to 35, but isn't sitting back and just waiting for it to happen.
In what she calls a concerted attempt to tap into the woman a man would want to bring home, Jamilah lost nearly 60 pounds in the last two years. She works out regularly. She smells nice. "I'm going to be the best me," she explained. She hasn't found anyone that she's really into as of late. And she's OK with that.
So what would Hill Harper, Steve Harvey and Jimi Izrael, authors of The Conversation, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, and The Denzel Principle respectively, have to say about Jamilah? All three men have made it their business to solve the problem of the single black woman in some way or another. Let's talk about it, one says. Lower your standards, says another. And don't forget to guard your cookies, warns the third.
There's that word again. Settling. The word of the decade when it comes to the continued effort to suss out the reason why Alpha women refuse to couple up with a perfectly decent Beta man. It's what my best friend calls the he-has-his-shit-together-so-marry-him! philosophy that so many black women refuse to take on. As one of my married friends puts it, "That's how you end up miserable,"
I think what's newly troubling for black women—what can drive many of them from zero to cynic before you can say spinster—isn't the fact that marriage might not happen for them, but the fact that marriage is seen as the only road to happiness. That being man-less is tantamount to being manic-depressive. A good guy friend of mine recently compared the unattached women to the unemployed: "They all want a job," he explained, with a sly but totally serious smile.
This drives me nuts. I decided to poll other similarly unencumbered, young, professional black women to see if they felt the same. So I hosted a pow-wow. And guess what? They do feel the same.
"We make people feel deficient for not finding this thing that isn't guaranteed to anyone," said 28-year-old speechwriter Jessica Danielle. Then there's Jeri Fuller, 29, a lawyer who lives in Northern Virginia and whose parents have been married for nearly three decades. As Fuller sees it, "Women are asking the wrong questions. I'm not so much interested in, 'Can I get married' as much as, 'Why should I get married?' "
Jeri says she doesn't really want to be shacked up with someone forever and ever and ever and ever, comparing the situation to her temporary obsession with Tuna Helper as an undergrad, when she had it for dinner every night for a month. Until she couldn't stand Tuna Helper.
I heard the same thought again and again at my pow-wow. None of the women I talked to felt like they don't need to smile more, stop mean mugging, lower their standards, court AARP members, date white men or doubt themselves. They are women who would describe their lives as more happy then hopeless. Never mind the bright spotlight shining on us, popular culture's most marketable it girl, the poor single black woman. Every day, it's beaten over our heads about our allegedly dwindling prospects. But we're hardly ruined by that.
Most of the women at our little gathering believed that it will happen. The "it" here being the ever illusive title of Mrs., the one degree a woman can't earn in four years. Accepting yourself seemed to be the only advice on the table that night. Maybe you're corny, an asshole, too bossy, a little loud and perhaps bitchy. But to these women those traits are don't get in the way of the fact that they're kind, compassionate, able to cook and possibly ready for love.
"I'm ready for the narrative to move away from giving black women advice on finding a black man," says Danielle. "You can work on yourself, and love is still not guaranteed for you. Just be."
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root. Her book, Bitch Is The New Black, will be released this summer. Follow her on Twitter.