THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
It's a cultural phenomenon for radio hosts to dissect and movies to document, but for Artisha Lawson the statistics are dreary and the message is staggering: black women are the least likely group of people to get married.
"It's scary, because I want to share my life with someone," said Ms. Lawson, of Toledo. "I'm looking for a life partner. A friend, someone to grow old with."
For many women like Ms. Lawson -- black, educated, and successful-- the dream of marriage might remain just that: a dream.
In a culture where the black male middle-class population is steadily shrinking, for African-American middle-class women, finding a mate -- a black mate in particular, who can match their education level and professional status -- is difficult.
"According to my 10-year plan, I should be married with two kids," said Ms. Lawson, 29. "I want someone that I can relate to, but I haven't even met the kind of man I can hold a decent conversation with."
Census data indicate that African-American women born after 1950 are the least likely group to get married, and black couples have the highest divorce rate in the country. Recent studies identify black women as the most uncoupled group of people in the country, with more than two out of three women in that demographic who are unwed.
In Toledo, the topic of black marriage quickly turns into a battle of the sexes, with black women arguing they want husbands, but can "function without a man." Black men agree with the women, but say it's women's "independent thinking" that's keeping the two groups from merging.
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Both groups say that despite the statistics, they value marriage as much as other demographics, but the barriers to marriage for black people are alarming and complex.
"We have a lot of stuff we're competing with; for example, the prison industrial complex. It dismantles black families," said Sherita Evans, 29, of Toledo. More than one in 10 black men in their 20s or early 30s are incarcerated, according to recent data, and some experts estimate that as many as one in four black men will spend some time behind bars.
"As black women it's the No. 1 thing we're competing against," she said.
The higher number of black women in college compared to black men also contributes to the decline of black marriage, experts say. Black women graduate from college at a rate nearly twice that of their male counterparts. As a result, the black middle class is disproportionately female. For eligible black men, that statistic can look like a dating smorgasbord with limitless choices, but that isn't always the case.
Keith Jordan admits that he played the field in his younger days, but now, at 38, he's ready to settle down.
"I matured late. I had vices that hindered me from being a good mate," said Mr. Jordan, development director at JLJ Vision Outreach in Toledo. "I didn't love me. Now that I've found me and I love me, I can't find a mate."
Within the last two generations, marriage rates for blacks have dropped significantly. In 1963, 70 percent of black families were headed by married couples, compared to 44 percent in 2010. Many believe that the increase in households headed by single women affects the number of black marriages.
"When you think of strength in the black community, your mind goes back to some matriarch," Ms. Evans said. "We've had to hold the black family together, and because of that, we unknowingly martyr ourselves. Those 'I'm so strong,' and 'I don't need a man,' comments -- we're martyring ourselves."
And it's that sort of thinking that is part of what's keeping black women single, Mr. Jordan said.
The family togetherness and happiness that come with marriage were broken by independent thinking, he said. "Women have grown accustomed to taking care of themselves. They don't have to have a man. 'Independently, I can succeed,' that's their thinking," he said.
With more black children growing up in single-parent households than two-parent homes and few positive examples of black marriage in Hollywood, for young blacks President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have set the standard for what black love should be like, some say.
Brandon Tucker grew up with several examples of successful black marriages. His grandparents married more than 50 years ago as teenagers. Mr. Tucker, 28, of Toledo, said relationships have shifted from loving to transactional.
"In the old times, people married for love. Now, it's 'Does your bank account match my bank account and if it doesn't, then I'll file for divorce,'" said Mr. Tucker, executive pastor of Greater New Psalmist Church in Toledo and workforce development manager at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor. "We go into things thinking if it doesn't work we can get out of it. Degrees and money don't make a person. Passion does."
Michael Hayes, 34, a creative consultant at a Toledo-area marketing firm, said black women focus too much on accomplishments and not enough on feelings.
"A union that spells out how easily they can acquire things as a couple, or advance in their respective careers as a couple, that seems to be black women's focus," Mr. Hayes said. "For men, we want to be appreciated for who we are, and not just judged on what we have to offer. I think black women are so busy evaluating love that they aren't valuing falling in love."
A self-described independent woman, Ms. Lawson has earned two bachelors degrees and is working on a masters. She works for an international nonprofit agency, owns her own home, and has a financial portfolio to go with her status. She said she's had to play down her accomplishments for the sake of attracting men.
"I don't tell men that I own my home because it's intimidating for them," Ms. Lawson said. "I'm extremely proud, but I'm not allowed to celebrate because it looks like I don't need a man. I can function without a [husband], but that doesn't mean I don't want one."
In addition to the numbers not adding up, black men marry outside of their race more than twice as often as black women. While one in 10 black women marry interracially, one in five black men marry nonblack spouses.
For years Ms. Evans, who has two bachelors degrees and has held positions at prominent nonprofit agencies, dodged the idea of marriage, instead spending time learning what makes her happy. Now that she's open to marriage, ideally, she'd like to marry within her race.
"We birth black men, so, we have a certain loyalty to them," Ms. Evans said.
But for many women, single doesn't mean unhappy. More and more women are finding that the fairy tale ending -- a husband, children, and the white picket fence -- isn't the only recipe for happiness.
"A lot of people assume black women want to get married," Ms. Evans said. "Yes we should be paired and partnered, but that could mean going through life with a best friend. Black women are so accustomed to the situation that we've formed alternative relationships."
Krystal Mumford grew up surrounded by marriage, but is perfectly fine with her single status. At 27, Ms. Mumford says she'd like to get hitched, but isn't stressing over it.
"It does cross my mind, but I can't let it consume me. Why get so emotionally strained over something that's out of your control?," said Ms. Mumford, an auditing and accounting executive in Toledo. "If it's meant to be, it'll happen, but I'll be fine if it doesn't."
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: email@example.com or 419-724-6133.