Is Marriage for White People?

marriage crisis book

Is Marriage for White People? How the African-American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, by Ralph Richard Banks. Originally published in 2011. 304 pages.

When I first heard of this book, I decided that the title was so preposterous there was no way I could take it seriously, and dismissed it as something I would “never” read. This, even though I was well aware that marriage rates bottomed out in the black community, including the black middle class, decades ago. I was also well aware of the standard lines which are floated when the issue comes up.

As is usually the case however, I was perusing our local library’s shelves, the book grabbed my attention, and I picked it up. Turns out that the book’s title was actually derived from an interesting set of circumstances and revealed a perspective that I was interested in reading more about, so I continued to read the book through to its conclusion.

What started out as a potential scholarly book turned about one-fourth of the way through into a book dominated by the thoughts and testimonies of single, successful black women who for various reasons either 1) had never married or had children or 2) had disastrous marriages to black men whom they had compromised on key values and standards for the sake of being married.

While Banks did a fairly decent job at the beginning of his book of providing statistics, it wasn’t long before this tome morphed into a 300 page round of, “Where have all the good black men gone?” There was far too much ink given to the voices and opinions of black women and not enough to black men. What he did have to say about black men didn’t make them look very good, either.

The fact that the highest earning black men are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to never marry tripped a series of thoughts in me that strikes at the heart of the black relationship dilemma. The reality is, according to Banks, that the one who has the most options outside the relationship has the most power in it. In other words, successful black men wield a lot of relationship market power. Of course, the Christian ideal leaves no room for “options outside the relationship” once commitment has been made, but this is not a Christian book.

It’s enough to make you cringe because it touches on the “soft harems” which are ubiquitous among single, successful black men and many not-so-successful black men. Banks even starts off one of his chapters with this well worn joke:

5 Rules for a Happy Life

  1. You should find a woman that helps you with the cleaning and the chores,
  2. You should find a woman that is a good cook,
  3. You should find a woman that you can trust and share your feelings with,
  4. You should find a woman that enjoys making love to you,
  5. Last and the most important thing is that these 4 women should never meet.

 

There is presently a fast-growing polygyny movement in the lower socioeconomic black community, which claims to be based on Biblical principles. In reality, it seeks to legitimize the sexual patholoogy that has torpedoed the black family over the past 60 years. Someone once suggested we look into this minister as he appeals to young black men who might be good prospects for our daughters. We’ll pass, thank you.

However, the fact that I have run across this “Pastor’s” name so often in recent years underscores how fast the movement is spreading. The men I have seen engaged in the lifestyle are largely ill-equipped to do it in any way similar to the Biblical patriarchs of old. Namely, they are broke and have their women working jobs. I don’t see how this serves black family formation. More than anything, it hastens its obliteration which is already well underway.

One of the things Banks gets right however, is that the black American community is just the beginning as lower marriage rates, higher illegitimacy, and increasing numbers of men and women of all races, whether by circumstance or choice, are eschewing marriage and procreation altogether. The rot is spreading, perhaps more slowly than in spread in the black community, but the numbers don’t lie, and Banks does an excellent job of parsing the numbers before he starts to run afield, getting distracted by the woeful tales of black women.

His  insistence that the key for successful black women is “marrying out” in order to stem the high tide of never married black women is not without merit, but it ignores the realities that come with being a high achieving woman of any race. Many look up from their years focused on accomplishment to realize she may have missed her opportunity to marry. He rightly notes, though briefly, that large numbers of black women due to the fluidity of range of attraction in the black community, hinder their ability to widen their marriage prospects by being overweight and not fully cognizant of its impact.

Despite its informative offerings, I found Banks’ book in no way encouraging to the single black women he sympathizes with so greatly, nor does it offer any incentive to the significant minority of black men who find marriage unappealing in a market where they hold all of the cards. On the contrary, it mildly chastises them for not giving their sistahs their due and doing right by them, which is not an incentive to marry.

As this relates to the Christian community, I have wondered if even those young people who love the Lord and do everything right won’t still find themselves increasingly in the situation that Jeremiah, Daniel, and the other members of the remnant who were; not spared from the fallout when the judgement for disobedience was meted out.

Grade: C. It started with a lot of potential but too quickly fell into the common trope of female sympathy without a corresponding counter-balance to get to the heart of why many marriageable black men find no appeal in the prospect of marrying black women before they hit middle age.

 

 

 

 

Modern Romance: Introduction-Chapter 2

modern romance

This is a multi-part book review as I read Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and go through some of the obstacles he discusses as he juxtaposes courtship and marriage in the current era with the way it was done in times past.

The introductory post is here.

The introduction starts out with Ansari offering some background on how he came to be so highly interested in this subject. Namely, he met a woman at a party, they hit it off almost instantly (he even kissed her that night) and exchanged numbers. The next day he texted the woman and…nothing. With each passing hour his anxiety heightened and confidence withered.

And he realized how absurd his predicament was, and how different it must have been for the generations of young love seekers who went before him with far fewer choices and less technological interference. After using the incident as fodder for a stand up act, it resonated with his audience so much that it inspired him to go on a quest: How did people in previous eras connect and find lifelong love? How does this current complicated mess we have now compare to their experiences?

Because he was interested in a serious answer to his questions, one of his first acts was finding an sociological expert to help him figure out how to collect, sort and analyze relevant data. They started out by going to a retirement community armed with a box of donuts for a few weeks to sit and interview the people who lived there about how they found their husbands or wives. What he found was “remarkable”:

14 of the 36 singles I spoke with had ended up marrying someone who lived within walking distance of their childhood home. People were marrying neighbors who lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, and even in the same building. It seemed a bit bizarre.

To be sure that what he had discovered there wasn’t just a quirk, he checked the data of a sociologist from 1932 who looked through 5,000 consecutive marriage licenses on file for people who lived in Philadelphia:

Whoa: One-third of the couples who got married lived within a five-block radius of each other before they got married. One out of six had lived within the same block. Most amazingly, one of every eight married couples had lived in the same building before they got married.

Ansari thought it was just a city deal, but the trend in the 1930’s/40’s held everywhere he looked. He then explored the connection between adulthood at 18, and what is known today as “emerging adulthood”. That alone, even without the technological edge thrown in, changed the nature of how post modern people meet, fall in love, and marry.

Next Ansari spends some time discussing the differences of approach to marriage in our current era (the search for a soul mate rather than a companion), as I noted in the post prior to this one.  Things get even more interesting as the author explores the vast difference in the way people even go out on a first date to begin with.

The second chapter is titled The Initial Ask and is divided up into sections with such headings as:

  • The rise of the text message
  • Calling versus texting, in which women expressed a clear preference for being called rather than texted.
  • The Modern Bozo, where women shared with him some of the worst texts they have received from men
  • Phone world
  • The Science of Waiting, which was an excellent exposition on how technology has changed the way we wait for a response from others when we send them a message.

The section on waiting was interesting to me because Ansari is correct that in previous eras, waiting for a response didn’t produce anxiety because we all knew we had to wait for a response. Depending on the situation, it could take a few days to get a call back. Nowadays, the lack of a response within a few minutes can be a source of great anxiety.

Worse than that, were the people who shared with him that they deliberately waited longer times between responses for the specific purpose of demonstrating higher values, turning the whole thing into one big, angst ridden game.

Ansari hits some insightful notes on the inherent problems with the proliferation of choice in every area of life. However, for me the most disheartening part of his exploration in the first two chapters was the near universal agreement of the women of older generations on a specific train of thought.

They almost all said that although they loved their husbands and were grateful for their families, they felt compelled to encourage their daughters and granddaughters to explore life more and take advantage of all the choices available to women today. Do the things they wish they could have done but were not able to. This from women who had married at roughly the same age I had, between the ages of 20-22 (Nope, 18 year-old marriage was not the norm even back then). It made my heart sink, which doesn’t happen very often.

After sharing that bit of information with our daughters, whom I have encouraged that there is very little you can do your own that you can’t do with a husband (except fornicate), our oldest girl offered a tidbit:

These women have no idea how complicated all these choices have made life for the current generation. They think they missed out on something but most of them couldn’t tell you what. All they know is that the media and dominant culture told them they missed out, and so they believe they missed out even though they have no idea what they missed and wouldn’t have ever missed if no one had told them they missed it.

I think that’s how she put it.

I hope to tackle chapters 3-5 some time next week.

A fascinating read on the state of postmodern relationships.

I am currently reading comedian Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. At 1/3 of the way through the first chapter (which follows a hilarious and spot on introductory section), I am taking so many notes that I don’t know if I could possibly do this book justice in one review. So I’m documenting the book here a couple of chapters at a time.

Of course, this assumes that the remaining 250 pages will keep me as interested, amused, and in agreement as the first 28, and that is probably quite the stretch. I hope not however, because despite the clearly secular bend of the book, the first little bit is overflowing with truth. For example, this quote from Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, which is now another book added to my increasingly long “must read” list (I sure hope it isn’t a divorce apologist tome):

So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

Like I said, interesting book, so stay tuned for periodic updates as I blog my way through it.

 

The Secret Lives of Wives

secret lives of wives

The Secret Lives of Wives, by Iris Krasnow. Originally published in 2011. 288 pages.

Out of the box, let me make clear that this is a secular book, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide anything worth thinking about. From first the time I saw it on Amazon, to the time it was pushed back to the forefront of my thinking as I passed it in the library, the cover art made me curious.

Why do we need the mental imagery of Eve holding forbidden fruit to hear how women mange to stay married?

The publishers did an excellent job of selling the notion that the book would be filled with titillation. The only reason I read it at all was because I’d done some recon and knew that it was in fact, not filled with salaciousness. What it does contain however, is not the secret to staying married as much as it does a fairly straightforward template of different types of wives and different types of marriage which are often based in reality. There was very little however, that anyone who desires a healthy, Christian marriage could take to heart over the long haul.

There was the usual trope about keeping your interests alive, not abandoning your career, etc. These ideas aren’t particularly new or groundbreaking but were held up as such. What man wants a woman who turns into a boring Stepford automaton upon marriage? I’d wager very few but feminists still feel compelled to warn us, “If you’re married, make sure he knows you’re not going to ‘lose yourself'”. This author was no different.

One of the things Krasnow asserted would require “unflinching bravery” (p.35) , giving her pause whenever she was unhappy in her marriage was the prospect of finding someone new. She said she “can’t imagine unveiling a soft belly that had housed 4 pregnancies to a new partner who had nothing to do with destroying her once flat abs.” Unflinching bravery? Does she have any idea how many chicks do this supposedly hard and brave thing every single day? I was amused.

Many of the wives represented, Krasnow included, were quite elitist in outlook and lifestyle. For example, how many couples can actually afford to spend entire summers apart to take a breather from each other? We certainly couldn’t if we were so inclined so it’s a good thing we’re not so inclined nor need long breaks apart in order to stand one another.

I was pretty surprised that at least one of the women admitted outright that she wasn’t in love with her husband when she married him. That she was looking for someone who would be a good father, more mature, etc. However, because her goals were clear going in, it was easier to remain married. The self-awareness there was noteworthy and kept her expectations realistic, somewhat rare for the average bride..

The chapter on women who had affairs- representative of the cover art?- was less than shocking. There are always that subset of women who tell themselves they *need* a thing to be able to stand married life, whether shopping sprees, daily bottles of wine, or another man.

In chapter 6 (Why Love Lasts) were the women who have stayed madly in love with their men pretty much from the beginning. The undercurrents were familiar. They married very young to men who were either very handsome, jocks or possessed some quality and confidence that made the woman feel fortunate that he chose her. Those wives were the most inclined to endure and forgive a lot in order to keep their marriages together.

The underlying premise of grudgingly enduring marriage popped up often enough that I was dismayed by it. Right after the infidelity chapter (7) was the suggestions to keep male friends around while remaining chaste, to help you continue feeling attractive. (chapter 8).

There were very few marital memes that went unaddressed, proving the universality of the human experience. Despite my overall disagreements, the book does a good job of exposing the logic of women and the way we relate to our husbands depending on how we see ourselves in relations to them or our needs at any given time. It was a psychological exploration to someone like me, who has always had a high interest in marital dynamics and the way men and women relate.

The premium placed on staying married is admirable, but the focus on pragmatism at the expense of the transcendent was disappointing.

Grade: C+

Content advisory: This book touches on delicate themes, but never in a way that is crude or offensive. Still not recommended for anyone who is not married, though.

 

Wife Dressing

Wife-Dressing-by-Anne-Fogarty

Wife Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well Dressed Wife, with Provocative Notes for the Patient Husband Who Pays the Bills, by Anne Fogarty. Originally published in 1959, then re-released in 2008.

I know this wasn’t on the short list of books I referred to as my summer reading list. I think I’ll refrain from posting what’s in the queue because it changes on a dime with one trip to the library or bookstore. This book, Wife Dressing, is one that I stumbled upon in my local library which instantly captured and sustained my attention from beginning to end.

First up, this is not (I repeat NOT) a book for crunchy girls. If that’s you, save yourself the trouble of reading any further and catch me next week when I review something deep like C.S.Lewis. This book was written almost entirely with the city or suburban wife in mind. Factor in that it was written in the 1950’s and there is all kinds of stuff that would make even the most well dressed 21st century wife cringe. Or at least drop her jaw in disbelief.

There were parts of this book that I genuinely enjoyed, and plan to put into practice. Some of it left me incredulous that I hadn’t thought about these things. We’ll get to that in a minute, but it’s worth noting that Ann Fogarty was a successful fashion designer and New York socialite. In other word, a rich chick whose life was in many ways foreign to most of us. Some of her advice just isn’t transferable. At least not to me.

However, it was entertaining and a lot of it is transferable. It is transferable because when I get dressed, I am “wife dressing” in the truest sense of the phrase. My husband has strong opinions about my appearance, his likes and dislikes, and has no trouble offering an immediate thumbs down (or thumbs up!) to what I drape myself with day to day. That brings me to the first chuckle worthy quote I ran across in Wife Dressing:

The most dangerous threat to successful wife dressing is triumphant cry, “I’m married! The battle is won!”

To paraphrase John Paul Jones: “You have not yet begun to fight.”

The wedding is only the beginning. When your husband’s eyes light up as he comes in at night, you’re in sad shape if it’s only because he smells dinner cooking (p.10)

I agree. You crunchy gals with crunchy husbands have it good, so don’t take it for granted. In another bit of “dated” advice, Fogarty reminds her readers:

Remember that it’s your husband for whom you are dressing. Keep him in mind when you shop. No matter how much your best friends like something,if your husband is critical you’ll find yourself giving it up, even if you’re sure you know more than he does about women’s clothes.

Clearly, Fogarty  couldn’t begin to imagine the mind of the 21 century wife. With that admonition, she begins to explores a range of topics related to wife dressing, including color, cut , fit, and dressing appropriately for the occasion.In addition to dressing appropriately for the occasion is the importance of eschewing displays of extravagance among those for whom they will be viewed as arrogant or offensive. For example, the wives of your husband’s subordinates.

Some of her best advice is in the realm of expressing individuality, and being prepared for those days when you have to cover lots of terrain at once. Because our Sundays often include church, followed by family visits, a possible cultural outing (or outdoor event) I especially liked her tips for taking one ensemble and transforming it easily with the simple addition of a well stocked tote in your car. It’s a tip I definitely plan to start using; immediately.

Navigating the unknown for a specific event was another area which offered good tips to remember:

The English language doesn’t seem to cover this situation, so calling your hostess is no good. Save the call. She’ll only say something vague that won’t tell you a thing. “Informal” to some people means corduroys and leotards; to others, “no decorations” will be worn. Conservatism with dash is the best combination for an evening’s journey into the “unknown”.

Unknown, such as the phrase “cute but classy” that our girls and I recently needed to translate, can be a tricky thing to figure out. Conservatism with dash sounds about right

There was a note that I almost decided to leave out because quite frankly I haven’t the slightest idea how to seamlessly include it. However, I want to do it because I find the transition in our particular era to fascinating and worth discussion. That, and it gives me a chance to plug a friend’s work.

Fogarty believed women should always wear girdles under a dress. Despite her middle aged, 18-inch waist, she wore one and strongly admonished her readers not to go dress shopping without wearing foundations similar to those they would be wearing underneath the dress.:

Figure control at all times improves posture and stops you from spreading. The idea of not wearing a girdle under a full skirt is wrong. As for slim, tight skirts, I think there should be a federal law against wearing them girdleless. My mother put me into a girdle when I was 13; I have worn one ever since.

Given the return of corsetry and the marked (well known and proven) results that they offer a woman in terms of posture and keeping a waistline, I wonder if girdles weren’t a very large part of the reason why we didn’t see as much middle aged spread in years gone by despite the fact that women didn’t regularly run or do squats.

Fogarty wrote that during an extended time without wearing her girdle her waist went from 18 inches to 19 and 1/2 (no weight gain, just spread), which immediately and forever seared into her the importance of figure control.

Now girdles ain’t really my thing because I need to breathe, but corsets have always fascinated me a little bit. Hearthie makes beautiful corsets. But like I said, I need to breathe so I wear one of these under most of my dresses and fitted t-shirts. After nearly a year, I can honestly say my waist has shrunk and my posture is absolutely wonderful. My back is stronger too.

Chapters cover everything from proper travel packing, to a strong admonition against boudoir wear outside the boudoir, to distinguishing value and cheap, and resisting the urge to wear white shoes. For some reason, Mrs. Fogarty really disliked white shoes- except on brides and nurses. I kind of agree.

She writes that being a slave to fashion is a terrible idea while simultaneously warning against wearing a dress which was all the rage one season but out of vogue the next. For those of us who don’t (or are to old to) shop based on current trends, the point was moot. Her point on good taste however, is worth adding here:

The sole arbiter of what you wear is your own judgment. Price tags may limit you horizon. Labels may help you recognize designers whose styling has pleased you before. Saleswomen will advise you on what is most becoming. But the breathless words, “I’ll take this one,” are your responsibility alone.

Good taste is harder to define than it is to recognize.

Despite the fact that about 1/3 of the book is way too rich for my blood, this wife dresser found a lot of it quite useful.

Grade: B+

13 Women You Should Never Marry

13 women you should13 Women You Should Never Marry: and How Every Man Can Recognize Them,  by Mary Colbert. Published in March, 2015.

I have read a lot of books written by Christians to Christians about marriage. It’s a curiosity of mine so when I saw this one, written from a proactive rather than reactive perspective (not to mention super cheap), I snapped it up.

Mary Colbert is a mother of two sons and six grandsons, which was the driver behind her desire to write 13 Women You Should Never Marry.

The book is short, concise and direct. She outlines 13 types of women men should watch out for. I recognized myself in most of them during different periods of my life- even as a wife, although not always in as extreme a measure as outlined in this book. The author acknowledged the same of herself as well. I was left wondering to myself as the disciples did after hearing what Christ had to say on the subject: “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”

At this point I am sorely tempted to offer a marital philosophy but I won’t, and stick to giving you an idea what you’ll find in the book and my thoughts about it. First, a few examples of the women you will meet in 13 Women before I grade the book. This book, I believe, is an expansion of a column Mrs. Colbert wrote for Charisma magazine back in 2014, so a couple of the descriptions I’ll lift from there.

Blinded Brenda is chronically unable to view life through the lens of anyone’s view but her own. Every situation is judged by how it will affect her personally, whether for good or ill. Even when she has a husband and children, their needs and feelings take a back seat to her own.

Holy Holly was of particular interest to me as I know her intimately. More concerned with the appearance of righteousness than living a life of love and grace, she quotes Scripture constantly, hears God tell her what to do in every area of her life (right down to what color shoes to wear!). Sounds like a fun sister to be married to, no? You can just hear her saying, “God told me not tonight, honey. Gotta fast and pray.”

Addicted Debbie is usually looking in the rear view mirror of life. She sings the “somebody done me something wrong” song to everybody and anybody who will listen. She constantly hashes and rehashes the failures or losses of life. Many times this woman will battle addictions to numb her pain, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or food. Her pains will become your worst nightmare. Remember you are looking for a helpmate, not a mate to help.

Lazy Lucille. The only place the Lord talks about laziness is in conjunction with wickedness—“You wicked, lazy servant.” God sees laziness as wicked. You will know this woman. Her house is a filthy mess, and her car looks like a trash dump. She doesn’t take care of herself in any way. She doesn’t have a healthy love for herself and won’t be able to love you correctly until she does.

Broke-as-a-Joke Julie. This is a woman who has credit issues. She owes money to everybody, and she will have no sense of restraint when it comes to spending money. Just as it is important for a woman to know a man’s financial status, a man should know a woman’s. If she can’t budget her own money, she won’t have any trouble spending yours.

In an attempt to offer some balance the author follows up every exposition of a negative wife trait with examples of women (both in Scripture and in her real life encounters) who exhibit the opposite, more excellent character traits.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that at the end of exploring each woman, Mrs. Colbert then offers a quick little “red flag”, “yellow flag”, “green flag” checklist to help men quickly identify if the woman they are considering is in fact the woman described in the chapter. It lacked the depth she intended for it to convey in my opinion, but it might be useful to some.

This book was a quick read, and given the time most of us give to reading books these days, that’s a good thing. She makes good points and she expresses them well enough. There were certainly a few things that I felt were worth addressing with my own young adult daughters and even though it was written with men in mind, I plan to have them read it. I’m not enamored with it, but it has value.

Grade: B-