Everyone wants what grandma had but it’s simply not possible. Grandma was married for 60 years and that’s a wonderful goal to have but current conditions simply don’t support that for everyone. Historically, marriage was inextricably linked to economic necessity, especially for women. Grandma needed grandpa’s check and so practically, she couldn’t leave. Today, women can pay the rent without a man’s help and still they desire 60 years of bliss, based purely on liking someone. It’s never been done in world history and it’s not very likely to happen in the future.
In 1901, there was less than 1 divorce for every 1,000 marriages in America. Men were cheating, had other families across town and even beat their wives, but women stayed. Hell, women couldn’t even have a checking account back then, where were they going? In the 1910s, however, as men went off to war and more (white) women began working, a few decided that they’d had enough. The 1 divorce per 1,000 marriages threshold was cracked. The 1940s again brought war and more work for women, including an exodus of Black women from domestic service to outside employment. The number of divorces jumped to 3.4 out of 1,000 marriages. By the end of the 1970s, the number had climbed to 5.1.
The numbers have declined steadily since that time, reaching a 50-year low coming into the pandemic. However, marriage rates have also dropped dramatically– 85.9 people married out of 1,000 in 1970 and only 33 out of 1,000 married in 2019. A lot fewer are marrying and still, far more divorce today than did in 1900. It’s not that men became worse husbands in the 20th century but arguably, women were always somewhat miserable but slowly gained the means to live without a man. It’s certainly possible that some individuals may find a partner so naturally compatible that 60 years go by like nothing. That would be the grand exception, however, not the rule.
Women don’t need your check anymore, fellas. Even so, strong and stable Black families are necessary for the survival of Black people. Perhaps marriage shouldn’t be abandoned altogether but the foundations of the union should be reconsidered. Simply put, men are struggling with the idea that women don’t need their check anymore. Black women, particularly, have always worked so Black men are all the more challenged as Black women begin to make higher wages. If it’s not about the check anymore, many men simply don’t know what they can offer to a woman to make her want to partner and then stay after the butterflies leave. Black men are men first, after all, and men have scarcely been challenged to consider what value they bring to women beyond their wallets.
Men need to do some serious soul searching: what can they do to make women stay if they don’t have to? What can they offer a woman? What value do they bring? How can they be supportive, protective and visionary, to a woman who might actually make more than they do? This is new ground, new territory in the human experience. In the past it was simple: bring home a check, the end. Now men are challenged to think more deeply about their value proposition and it’s daunting. But women are suffering just as much.
It was always about the man’s ability to provide economically but the rules have changed. For a Black man living in New York City who is college educated (read “has student loan debt”) and makes $150,000, there’s no way he can buy a home and take a woman on exotic vacations, if she’s not working. Sorry. A great number of women are still judging men on the old paradigm and finding that very few measure up, even if they make six figures. Ladies, it’s time for you to do some soul searching also and think deeply about what value(s) you need a man to bring and judge them on that more comprehensive metric.
To be sure, Black women are seeking partnership, marriage and family– the fullness of Black love. To imply that Black women want something different or that married Black women are itching to divorce their spouses simply isn’t accurate. Indeed, the decline in marriage rates has a great deal to do with the unwillingness and unfitness of many men in today’s culture. Even so, for men who desire partnership and are best positioned to do so, there still needs to be an internal conversation on what they bring to the table, especially for women who eat well all by themselves.