Let's keep it real. Do I want to marry a man who pays for everything? Absolutely. And I would bet most women want the type of marriage that will allow them the option of working or staying home.
But for most black women, that's just not realistic. Chipping in or even going 50-50 on bills isn't an issue for my friends or myself. But financially supporting a man? That would be a problem. In fact, in many cases when women support men, it can cause a gender-role imbalance that is likely keeping many black couples from getting or staying married.
I began to think about this after reading the article "8 Reasons to Date a White Man." Among the reasons listed by author, LaShaun Williams, is that white men are not looking for someone to take care of them. "Thanks to the absence of family, fathers and marriage in the black community, a great number of our men have backward expectations when it comes to romantic relationships," she wrote. "A higher percentage of white men come from stronger family structures and more traditional gender roles, where the men seek to care for the women."
Williams further clarified this point in a follow-up blog post: "How many stay-at-home Black mothers do you know? White women work when they want to with the option of staying home. Now think about how many White wives are at home? Their men take pride in being breadwinners. You're telling me you'd rather work a nine to five while Ray Ray play video games in your home? Men are supposed to be providers, period."
For the record, not all black men are looking for someone to take care of them. And Williams is not referring to special circumstances, when a hardworking man loses his job. With the state of the economy and the hurdles that many black men face in the job market, it is understandable that more women are the breadwinners in their households. But in those situations, a woman's respect for a man can stay intact because she knows what he is capable of and knows that he is hungry for the opportunity to find success and care for his brood.
The men Williams is referring to are those dudes who have no desire to work hard. Blue-collar, white-collar, college-educated or not — these men are lazy. Or how about the man who is so focused on becoming an entrepreneur, actor or artist that if he is not successful after a reasonable amount of time, he has no desire to create or implement a backup plan for his financial contribution to his spouse or family? This man takes pride in being taken care of.
But when a man relinquishes his role as breadwinner, he also risks shifting other traditional roles in the household. "Alpha Women, Beta Men" is how an article in New York magazine described it: "For women, the shift in economic power gives them new choices, not least among them the ability to reappraise their partner. And husbands, for their part, may find to their chagrin that being financially dependent isn't exactly a turn-on. According to psychologists (and divorce lawyers) who see couples struggling with such changes, many relationships follow the same pattern. First, the wife starts to lose respect for her husband, then he begins to feel emasculated, and then sex dwindles to a full stop."
Eventually, men may feel the downside of being supported. Often, black female breadwinners are blamed for not "knowing our role." Black men feeling this way should consider something my pastor, the Rev. A.R. Bernard of Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Christian Cultural Center, said in church recently. Bernard, who has counseled married couples for more than 30 years, touched on the importance of the man managing the household, especially financially.
He said that when a man can't take care of his family, a woman will step up, particularly black women, who have seen many of their mothers and grandmothers do the same. Bernard went on to say that when a woman has to step up in that way, it becomes difficult for her to be submissive and to make taking care of her man, in a traditional sense, a primary priority.
But that may be natural. That same ambition and desire for power that drives men to be successful also exists in women who are successful. Many successful men bring those same characteristics home and apply it to managing their families. Successful women will do the same, but they face the challenge of their men feeling emasculated.
A recent study from the University of Missouri revealed that female breadwinners face a number of challenges, including control and independence issues, as well as guilt and resentment. This is why dating is a trial run for myself and many women who don't want to be the primary breadwinner. We want to weed out the men who resent picking up the check, especially the ones who suggest that you "pay for dinner this time."
That actually happened to me on a date. I didn't pay, but I noticed in that instance and others how much of a problem he had with the financial responsibility of courting a woman. I decided to have a conversation with him about his future plans and learned that he was looking to get married, but to a woman who would financially support him while he went back to school to get his doctorate. In fact, he said to me that he had no desire to be rich and wanted to live a simple life. He was not the man for me.
Couples need to have the financial conversation early on. It's important to put all that excitement and romance to the side and have a matter-of-fact conversation about each other's financial goals five, 10 and 20 years down the line. Many of us fall in love before we really get to know if we are truly compatible with our significant other.
Ladies, find out if that man even wants to be the breadwinner. And if not, make sure you are OK with that. And men, if you want the woman to bring home most of that bacon, make sure you understand what you may be giving up in return.
Jacque Reid is a seasoned broadcast journalist and a contributing editor for The Root. Listen to her biweekly on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and visit her on the Web at jacquereid.com.
Correction: The original version of this piece misstated Pastor A.R. Bernard's position. It has been corrected in this version.