The last big argument I had with my wife was about the movie 27 Dresses. For those not familiar with it, it tells the story of Jane played by actress Katherine Heigel, who is always the bridesmaid and never the bride – hence her collection of 27 bridesmaid dresses.
I haven’t actually seen it, but it’s a romantic comedy so you can guess the plot. Katherine Heigel’s character, always unlucky in love, finds her potential Mr Right, and the majority of the film is taken up with the ‘will-they/wont-they’ get it together plot-line. I didn’t think my wife should be wasting her time watching such mindless drivel, and I told her so. She didn’t take kindly to my advice.
I hate romantic comedies, and for that matter Fairy Tales, for the lies that they have indoctrinated women with. The plot of all these stories is the same. A damsel is in distress, and only a ‘knight in shining armour’ can save her from her plight. Check Cinderella – Cinders lives a life of druggery and servitude in the service of her two ugly sisters, from which she can only escape when she is rescued by with Prince Charming. Or Rapunzel, trapped in a tall prison who can only be freed by the intervention of a brave Prince. Or Sleeping Beauty, cursed by the evil witch to sleep in a coma-like state, caused by a spell which can only be broken by true love’s first kiss.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Beauty and the Beast, its all basically the same story.
It is this same narrative that has driven six year’s worth of Sex And The City (albeit updated for adult tastes with more bedroom action) as heroine Carrie Bradshaw waits in anticipation for Mr Big.
And by repeating these stories to our little girls, we are teaching them that they can only find true happiness through the love of a good man. And when these girls become women, and find their Mr Right/Prince Charming, and succeed in having their longed-for fairy tale wedding, and then find that their life has not become ‘happy-ever-after’, they blame their partner for not doing his job; not fulfilling his job description!
This is part of the reason that more divorce proceedings are brought by disgruntled wives than by unhappy husbands. If a man is unhappy in his marriage, he will grin and bare it – spend more time at work, or down the pub, or on the X-Box, or have an affair! If a woman is unhappy with her marriage – she wants out. Since she’s unhappy she reasons, she must obviously be with the wrong man, and so must extricate herself from this situation for another roll of the dice to try again.
This situation is bad enough, but if you add the racial element into it, it gets even worse. For though your Black beau, may be talk, dark and handsome, charming, charismatic, good in bed, etc, etc, your lives together may not turn out to be as idyllic as you had hoped on the day he carried you over the threshold. As my uncle used to say ‘life is hard for a poor Black man’s pickney’. So ladies, if you think you’ve met your Will Smith/Barack Obama/Jay-Z, before he ‘puts a ring on it’ ask yourself these few questions.
1) Are you comfortable with being the main-breadwinner?
Even though neither of you may be planning on this situation at the outset, it may later turn out to be the case. I’m not asking you to take on ‘waste-men’ and free-loaders, but some Black men don’t seem to be able to get a break, no matter how hard they try. (Rather than watching a romantic comedy I’d direct you at this point to Will Smith’s movie ‘The Pursuit of Happyness for illustration).
Unless you’ve got friends in high-places, its hard to get a job for everyone these days, for Black men, even more so. Research by the Office of National Statistics published in 2012 found that unemployment rates for 16-24 year olds from African and African-Caribbean background are double that of white job seekers, with 56% of Black men being out of work.
Even with the right qualifications, success is still far from assured. As far back as the early 90s, studies showed that Black graduates had a harder time finding suitable employment. (I was unemployed for 9 months, even after getting a Masters’ degree).
If he is lucky enough to find employment, after some time he may find himself frustrated at his lack of advancement, his head-aching by banging it on the glass ceiling, or the petty humiliations that he must face in order to keep that job. (Another film tip – check Terrence Howard’s role in Crash).
2) Are you both prepared for him to take the role of the house-husband if that makes better financial sense? It hit the news last month that there has been an increase in men staying at home while wifey goes out to bring home the bacon. For the reasons outlined above, this is an even more likely scenario for Black couples. Anyone with kids knows that childcare costs nowadays are prohibitive. If you earn more than him, it may make more sense for him to stay at home and look after the kids, and for you to return to work, rather than vice versa, than for you both to work and pay through the nose for childcare.
3) Can you be patient with him if he struggles with the role of a father? You may be less than happy with your partner’s contribution in the parent stakes, but if he’s anything like me, and many Black men like me, he’s learning on the job. If he had no father figure in his own life, his only knowledge of what fathers do is from seeing Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show or Phillip Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
And those programmes never showed the dads changing nappies, or making bottles, or walking their kids to school in the morning. I’m not defending dead-beat dads, infact I’m the hardest on them (see my previous blog on absentee fathers). I’m just saying be patient with men who may not have even seen what a real Dad is supposed to do up close, before they became one.
4) Will you stick by him if he ends up in jail? Of course you wouldn’t think of marrying a career criminal, but due to the way the Criminal Justice system works in this country, too many Black men find themselves being pulled into the system. ANY Black man can end up in Jail, not just gangstas – just ask former Tory peer Lord Taylor).
Evidence from the Home Office’s Offending Crime and Justice survey in 2003 found that white males aged 10-25 were far more likely to have committed an offence within the last year than young males in other groups, but once young Black people committed an offence, they were more likely to come to the attention of the police. Black people of all ages are three times more likely to be arrested than white people, six times more likely to be arrested for drug offences, 11 times more likely to be imprisoned, and are up to 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts. Whereas Black young offenders accounted for 6% of total offences in 2004-05 they received 11.6% of total custodial sentences.
5) Don’t call the Police on Him. I know of one sister who called the Police on her husband because they were having a heated argument, and she wanted him out of the house. Listen ladies, unless your life is in mortal danger, don’t ever call the Police on a brother. Apart from the fact that the Police don’t need any encouragement to harass Black men, with the rate that brothers die in Police custody, that may be the last time you see him alive! You might want him out, but surely you don’t want him dead!
Finally, before you walk out that door…………..
There ARE valid reasons to end a marriage, but just because you’re not happy anymore isn’t one of them. If he’s trying, cut him some slack. As Chris Rock once said, “I’m not moving back in with my mother cos you ain’t in love!” But what if you just can’t stand him anymore? Maybe he’s making no effort to find a job, or he’s gambling away all your hard-earned money at the Bookies, or he’s cheating on you. Before you leave him, just spare a thought for the kids. You may not think that you need him in your life, but they do.
In 1996 a University of California study found that boys raised without their fathers are more than twice as likely to engage in delinquent behaviour, and that girls in the same situation are more than twice as likely to become teenage mothers. A 1998 study by researchers at Princeton University said that growing up in a single parent home roughly doubles a child’s propensity to commit crime.
Many women will complain about their partners’ lack of romance – the absence of roses and love poems and breakfast in bed. But is that really what marriage is about? What is more important in making your marriage/family life run smoothly? Is it rose petals on the pillow and candle-lit dinners, or putting the bins out and making sure the electricity bill is paid on time? Would you prefer a man who runs a bubble bath for you, or cleans out the gutters and mows the lawn? Ladies, do you want a man with bling and swagger, or a man of commitment and staying power? A player or a stayer? (And no you can’t have both).
I’m not saying that a woman can never be happy if married to a Black man. (I hope that on at least a few days of each month, my wife can say that she’s happily married). What I’m saying is that it won’t be easy. So if you think the struggle is over as soon as you successfully get him to walk you up the aisle, and you’re all set up for a happily ever after………….. think again.
As a parting thought I‘d like to share this quote that I recently saw on twitter.
“A wise woman knows the importance of speaking life into her man. If you love him: believe in him, encourage him and be his peace.”
If you’d like to read more about the issues raised in this blog post, click on the link below to check out my new book ‘The Problem With Black Men’, available now on Amazon.