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The day a judge made my divorce final, I showed up to the courthouse in a bright yellow dress, face full of Mented cosmetics, locs freshly twisted, smelling like grapefruit Jo Malone, because this was, next to the birth of my babies, supposed to be the happiest day of my life—a new beginning that I’d dreamed about for nearly a decade. I wanted to look and smell like I expected to feel: beautiful. Happy.
Still, after the ink was on the divorce papers and my ex and I gave each other a final hug goodbye, I went back to my car and cried. I didn’t expect the reaction, but the pain of finality and the fear of the unknown were a gut-punch I hadn’t anticipated. Despite that I’d keyed up a “Liberation” playlist on Spotify to celebrate the occasion, it would take some time working through fear, stress, trauma and loneliness before I could dance to my own freedom song.
I kissed quite a few frogs in those first years as a newly-single woman; I hadn’t dated since 1995 (!), and the way these menfolk conducted themselves was… something… which is to say that they were practicing the same fuckshit, with the same “take, take, take, but don’t ever give” mentality I remember dealing with back in my ‘20s. They wanted sex without intimacy, time without investment, emotional labor without reciprocity, a label without companionship. We were meeting differently—via dating apps and social media and such–but not much else had changed from the way men were engaging us womenfolk in the ‘90s.
What did transform was my way of thinking about relationships—that which I have with friends, lovers. Me. I’d been raised in a time where women were expected to prioritize marriage and our children, which meant I specialized in pushing my wants so deep in the ocean of human need that I’d convinced myself I’d grown gills—that I could breathe underwater, But really, I’d been drowning slowly, over and over again. Being single, taking stock of what is important to me and what is not, what pleases me and what does not, what I will tolerate and what I won’t, put a much-needed raft under the new life I was building for myself as a single woman, good and grown.
The more I focused on what my heart needs, rather than what others think it needs, the closer I came to understanding this one true thing: I am capable of immense love, but I have zero desire to be married again.
Marriage, to me, you see, is a commitment to an institution—one set up within a system that has clear and distinct roles for women—roles I have zero desire to fulfill ever again. I don’t want to be my significant other’s maid/chef/housekeeper/babysitter/organizer, trapped behind the prison bars that eventually surround relationships sanctioned by the government, and sealed with a ring and the “I do.” Heaven forbid some Negro take a page from rapper Finesse2Tymes and get to complaining that I don’t hop directly out of bed in the morning to serve him—make breakfast, have sex, clean up after him—it would be the last thing he’d ever utter to my ass, I promise you that.
I don’t want to have to run every decision I make about my home, my kids, my life and how I choose to live it by someone else, worrying about his feelings and buy-in before I make my judgment calls. And I haven’t a second’s-worth of time to sit around waiting for a man to prioritize and do right by me at all times, not just when it’s convenient or for some selfish gain. I’ve come to value my freedom and independence—treasure starfishing across my queen-size mattress and strutting around my house in my comfy robe and being good with prioritizing myself—comfortable doing things my way, with my heart fully intact.
And I’m not alone in this thinking. In their new book, “Opting Out: Women Messing with Marriage Around the World,” a series of researchers studying marriage trends throughout the planet found that women are more likely than ever to opt into being single, depending on their network of kin and friends for the support, love and connection they need to thrive. The research identified infidelity, increasing career opportunities, independence and security with parents and siblings as reasons why more women are skirting getting hitched.
“Marriage has mostly not been a great situation for women historically and across the world, and they’re trying to find alternative solutions. As new opportunities open up for women to be full people without it, they’re opting for that,” said “Opt Out” author Dinah Hannaford, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, in a UH interview.
Erykah Badu made headlines recently when she confirmed the sentiment for herself, telling The Breakfast Club that she enjoys being independent and taking care of herself and her family too much to yield the responsibility. “I noticed I didn’t have relationship skills when…the rules of those engaging skills is the man is the giver and the woman is the receiver,” she explained. “My body is not built that way. I like to polyurethane and climb trees and have cars and work and I’m ambitious for my family. I am the breadwinner of my entire clan, my family.” She added: “[Marriage] doesn’t fit everybody. It doesn’t fit me.”
Since my divorce, I’ve had three different partners who, despite my upfront and honest declaration that I’m dating for love and companionship, not marriage, willingly chose to form a relationship with me, only to break if off when I turned down their marriage salvos. I lost each of them when, in my Nene Leakes voice, I reiterated, “I said what I said.”
Saying yes would have been me entering a marriage out of fear and obligation; how would that marriage stand? How would I not slowly drown? Why must the only natural conclusion to a mutually respectful and loving relationship be a trip to the altar?
I love love. I love it for all those who want it. I want it for myself. Just in a way that honors not only the love my man and I would have together, but the immense love I have for Denene.
Millions of women around the world are feeling the same way. That’s real.
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