We all do it. We take into account the consistent experiences we've had and we create digestible categories.
Too many failures at work will have you believing you can't cut it. Too many encounters with ignorant people will convince you that an entire culture is ignorant. And too many bad experiences with dating can create a bias against the whole concept.
The perception of relationships tends to be either romanticized or villainized - we either ache for it or reject it entirely.
It's not hard to understand why so many black women have a fear of commitment. Between men who think sex is owed to them, men who seem like a financial risk, men who can't keep it in their pants and men who don't pull their fair share of weight in relationships - the pickings feel slim. What concerns me, is that it's gotten to the point of putting each other down, by criticizing each other's personal choices. It seems like no matter what we do, there's someone nearby side-eyeing our decisions - sometimes the one giving the side eye is us.
When Tracee Ellis Ross took to the stage at Glamour's Women of the Year summit last year, and defended her right to be a woman in her 40's with no husband or children (and no plans to have them soon), she made a beautifully necessary statement and women everywhere applauded. But principally, this message was no different than Ciara's unsolicited advice to women who seek marriage, or Beyonce's choice to stan for Jay despite his long-time infidelity.
All of them are doing something women could not do a hundred years ago - whatever the hell they want.
And that should always be applauded. But too many times, it's not.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to be married.
Today, marriage represents legal partnership, two families coming together, and the beginning of something that will hopefully last a lifetime. It also represents whatever you want it to represent. When done well, it creates a foundation of balance and stability for children. If you're religious, marriage has spiritual connotations that may make you feel more connected to God. What marriage is not, is required. Telling a woman that she is volunteering to be stifled, or settling because she's marrying a man she loves, is just as bad as telling a single woman she should find a husband before they all run out.
According to Pew Research, 88% of people who get married, do so for love. The same reason we get giddy when we see photos of Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance or Will Smith and Jada Pinkett - because love feels (and looks) good.
Couples like that remind us how beautiful black unions are, the children they produce, the legacy of self-love and support it can provide. But when the harsh reality of love comes into view, our flight or fight response kicks in. We love looking at love, but not embracing the fact that lasting love comes with pain. You can't convince me that a 20-year marriage is free of infidelity, lies, emotional neglect, disappointment, and the desire to give up and walk away. Your favorite "Relationship Goals" couple was fighting in the car this morning, I promise you.
Married or single, people are people - flawed, misinformed, and trying. It may not be plastered on someone's Instagram page, but marriage is saddled with its share of downs.
But no grass on either side is greener.
When I was single, I caught shade from married women.
I was flailing, seeking something, or kidding myself if I tried to convince them that my status was by design - not by accident. It was as if the single women I encountered believed absolutely everything TV teaches us about marriage. Between Real Housewives and The Bachelor, it's portrayed as a bit of a sham that looks good in pictures. But, marriage is just like any other choice you make, you go into it with the information you have, and you hope for the best. Sometimes the information changes. But that doesn't lessen the sanctity of someone's choice.
It also doesn't define a woman. It can, but it doesn't have to. Women are running companies and countries - most of us take that same ownership and confidence into our relationships.
When I was married, I caught shade from single women.
I was settling, aligning myself with patriarchy, and letting go of my identity. Between single and married there is a spectrum of possibilities and it seems like no matter where we are on that spectrum there is a peanut gallery of naysayers ready to tear us down.
But those naysayers are us. We are doing this to each other and to ourselves.
Now, I'm somewhere in between. Not married, not single - but happily partnered with a man I love and adore.
I've had women tell me, mid-sentence, that I couldn't possibly understand their plight because I have "a man at home." As if I've never gone on a few (or a dozen) Tinder dates that ended in irritation. As if I won't one day perhaps find myself single again. Nothing is guaranteed - no marriage, no commitment, no choice is without its risk. So why are we so attached to our relationship status in the first place? Our perception of love as black women has been under attack for generations. But it seems our most current enemy is in the mirror. It's time to change the narrative about black women and love.
Repeat after me:
"I am not my relationship status. I am not single. I am not taken. I am me, simply and happily."
I think single women have a lesson to teach partnered women, and it has nothing to do with judging their choices. In a partnership, sometimes you can forget who you are. The lines start to blur a little and you may need a reminder that who you are has nothing at all to do with who you're with. Hang around a confident single woman for a day and you'll remember. She's probably not talking about why her man leaving the seat up sends her through the roof. But she will ask you about your career goals, your fitness goals, your hair goals. Things you might forget to focus on if your world has become your partner and your home life together.
Partnered women have a lot to offer single women. Sometimes it's nice to have a reminder that not every boy is a f-boy. Some men are capable of being partners, trying their best, being consistent and offering much needed support - and that having that can feel liberating in different ways. A woman in a caring, committed relationship might be the boost of faith you need. But we can only be there for each other if we leave judgment at the door.
Whatever choices we make as black women, those choices have a much better chance at success if we support each other. You don't have to celebrate another woman's marriage in order to be supportive - but you can celebrate the fact that it was a choice in the first place.