Many of us have seen the countless articles on statistics regarding black women and marriage. I don’t need numbers to highlight my daily experiences. I’m a 34-year-old black woman. I am single and so are many of my friends. We are a part of the percentage of educated black single women. We are also successful, God-fearing and incredibly lonely.
I’ve been going to church my entire life. My childhood summers in Louisiana conjure memories of reading the Bible with my grandmother before bed right after we watched another hilarious episode of “Mama’s Family.” My faith was ingrained in me from the womb. Church was not an optional activity. It was a weekly, bi-weekly and sometimes triweekly requirement. There was no trick or treating, only bobbing for apples dressed as Mary for the church’s Hallelujah night festivities in which all the children came decked out in their mom’s old sheets and towels.These traditions shaped who I am and also what I believed and very much assumed about marriage. At the center of those beliefs was that God would send me a husband, preferably in my mid to late twenties. If I prayed, believed and made my request known, I would be married at the time I desired to do so.
It was around 25 that I realized there was a strong possibility that things didn’t quite work out as I assumed they would. Right before my 30th birthday, I entered a state of panic. I was in a dead end relationship with someone I knew I didn’t really want to be with but stayed with out of a fear of being alone.
I finally realized that being single was far better than being coupled miserably so I broke that off and surfed on a wave that would shape, wear down and build up my sense of what it meant to be a single black woman past the age of 30.
During college and into early adulthood, I continued going to church because, well it was tradition and I had to be able to tell my parents that I went to church on Sunday. I enjoyed the services, the emotions the worship songs stirred in my soul and the way the preacher told me how trouble wouldn’t last always. But when I wasn’t moved by the emotional landscape, when the music stopped and the shouting quieted, I observed the overwhelming number of single women at church. They came Sunday after Sunday giving what little they had, some with kids in tow, to lay their burdens down at the altar.
Many tired of being strong and doing things all on their own wondering when God would send their Boaz; they left service after service convinced that things would be different soon, but they often came back the very next week with the same burdens.
I felt like something was missing,, namely that the message the church was sending to single women was doing them a disservice. I had candid conversations with other single women in church to get a consensus of how they felt. What I found was that many women had difficulty reconciling their faith with their unfulfilled desire for companionship. Many bobbed and weaved through seasonal transitions of celibate devotion to God and busy work serving on any number of church ministries to times of total perceived debauchery and distance from church activities.
This pattern developed from a desire to please God and maintain the traditions of their faith but confusion as to how to maintain their sense of sexuality and quench their overwhelming feelings of loneliness.
Relating to these women and facing my own relationship obstacles, I became bitterly cynical. I proudly rebutted any encouragement any well-intentioned church-goer tried to give me about being single. I argued them down about the realities single women faced that they could never relate to. I was often confronted with a number of unhelpful churchy redundancies that offered no real solutions or even genuine encouragement.
- “it will happen when you least expect it, just wait on God”
- “God rewards faithfulness, just keep pressing, keep being faithful and busy with the His work and you’ll see how he will bless you”
- “God is preparing you for your husband”
Now I’m not saying that there isn’t any truth in the above phrases. We don’t know the future nor do we know the will of God. The reality is that some will get married and some won’t. I honestly believe it’s something we, particularly women, have little control over. It is frustrating when people blurt out these cliché sayings without any regard to where your heart is or even your faith at the moment.
These conversations began to push me further away from church and subsequently from God. I had a very difficult time understanding why the God I served left me alone despite my faithfulness, tears and prayers. As I looked around the church and saw the number of beautiful, seemingly faithful, hardworking God-fearing women, I wondered why God had left them single too. Were my prayers not working? Am I not believing hard enough? Fasting long enough? Worshiping loud enough? What about women who are significantly older that have yet to marry but yet have desire accompanied with faith that it will happen?
The black church is filled with women, alone and restlessly praying to God to quench the pain of loneliness and feelings of inadequacy that undesired singleness often brings.
The reality is, many women will marry and many more will not but it won’t be because you didn’t join the choir ministry. It won’t happen because you decided to be celibate for 90 days or until marriage. Marriage, particularly in the black community has become a victim to modern societal norms and until the church can take a truthful approach to dealing with our issues of brokenness, sexism, misogyny and traditions that remain out of touch with reality, we’ll continue to see churches filled with outwardly strong single women confused about their husbandless homes.