I think I have commitment issues…but I am a woman? What da hell??

I think I have commitment issues. If that’s true, that is a problem. But I may have a greater one. I am a woman with commitment issues!

In case you didn’t know, only men have commitment issues. Women are just sitting around waiting for love, romance, relationships, marriage, boyfriends and husbands. They’re just dying to be all “booed up” with some dude. They’re just waiting for an opportunity to love a good, strong, honest man to take them off the market and away from the cruel cold world of singleness. The only thing keeping them away from “happily ever after” is men’s unwillingness to commit.

To hear them tell it, men don’t want to commit. Men don’t want monogamy, and the monotony that is often a part of it. Men want as many women as they think they can handle, they have no interest in maintaining faithfulness to one. Men are dogs running the street, unwilling and unable to settle down. And because men are unwilling to commit, and women are just beside themselves with excitement waiting for commitment to happen, there is always this great sense of unbalance in the universe. Because men won’t commit, thousands of lovely women will never have their “happily ever after”.

But what am I to do when I think I am on the opposite side of the fence as most of my gender?

All my life every woman I have ever known wanted to get married. That didn’t mean they didn’t want to get their educations, or pursue their careers, or accomplish other things. But marriage was always in there, always an integral part of their plan for themselves. When I was a young girl, my girlfriends would dreamily plan their weddings, taking their Barbie dolls down imaginary aisles in their rooms with their older brother’s GI Joe’s. Even if their mother’s told them “girl, men ain’t s**t”, (because some mothers did do that), the girls still held onto their dreams in a little corner of their heads. I never planned my wedding as a child like my friends, and my dolls never got married. They were single I guess, dating the Ken dolls and whatever other toy male representatives I could find amongst my toys (I didn’t have a brother.) I never imagined marriage really. When I did think about my wedding, my main concern was always how much fun the party/reception would be — what music would the deejay and bands play and what kind of delicious food and fabulous drinks would be there – you can see where my priorities were, even then.

As an adult, most women I’ve known really wanted to get married. Sometimes they were in a relationship with their boyfriend that had gone on for years and they wanted to “make it official”. Sometimes they had kids by this guy, which was all the more reason to “make it official”.  Sometimes they were under pressure from their family (“girl, you ain’t married yet??). Sometimes they wanted financial assistance (“somebody needs to come help me with these bills, plus I need more income to get this mortgage!”) But whatever they reason, they wanted marriage. It was important to them. It was a burning desire they would not turn away from. It just had to happen, it just had to be.

I am still waiting for my burning yearning to begin. Even in the cases of my children’s fathers, I never felt like the children we shared was a good reason to get married, much to the chagrin of my family, which has a long illustrious history of “shotgun” weddings – more women in my family have gotten married pregnant than not. But I didn’t do it.

I have never experienced that burning desire to get married. Even when I have been involved with men that I wanted to marry, that I thought I would marry, it never burned inside me. It was never the most important thing to me. It never kept me up nights. I never ached to be wed. I ached to be with them, yes, but not as a wife necessarily. Being with them was my primary focus, not the marriage part. Now don’t get me wrong…I did want marriage yes, and I wanted it very much, but…it just never seemed to inflame me like it inflamed other women. And in every case where I was involved with a man I thought I would marry, at some point I ended the relationship.

In some cases, I sabotaged the relationship with unrealistic demands, and when the mere mortal of a man failed to meet them, I ended the relationship. Sometimes I was unfaithful, and when I started doing that I knew I had to go, so I ended the relationship. Sometimes I knew the man would never be happy and satisfied with who I really was at the core of me, and I ended the relationship. Sometimes I felt like he just thought it was time (“well I’m getting older, I don’t wanna be the old dude at the club so…let’s do this!), and to me that was never enough reason to get married, so I didn’t do it. I have returned engagement rings, cancelled appointments to look at dresses and the whole nine. All this leads me to wonder if my fear is commitment.

I have had good men in my life – gainfully employed, college educated, smart, good looking men who wanted to marry me, and I didn’t do it. Men with homes, men with cars, men with ambition and dreams, men with substance mentally, emotionally and spiritually, men who treated me well. As I write this I can think of four men with those qualities who I could call right now who would be more than happy to seriously date me, and if I put my mind to it I could be Mrs. Somebody in six months – maybe less, with a bad ass ring to seal the deal. But I don’t make any of those calls.  Even on the days I complain about being single, how I wish I could find love, and more importantly, acceptance in the arms of a man who would cherish and honor me, I can’t help but taste the hypocrisy in my mouth as I think about the men I keep at arms length for whatever reason.

Sometimes I think my biggest fear is being forced to be something I don’t want to be. In a lot of my past, I have dated men who really thought I was perfect, except for one or two things they wanted me to adjust. Unfortunately, the things they wanted me to “adjust” were things that were too much of a part of my essence. It always seemed like there was something wrong with me when it came to these men, and I always left rather than cut off pieces of me to fit. And right now, I can’t imagine it would be easy for a man to want me for a wife. I just don’t look like, sound like, act like, anyone’s idea of a wife I guess. When men picture their wives, a woman like me doesn’t pop into their heads. Men always seem to want their wives to have these very obvious “good girl” traits, even if they discover later it wasn’t as “good” as they thought it was going to be. My “good girl” traits aren’t obvious. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I have them, but from the outside looking in it isn’t the first thing you’ll notice about me. I don’t have a problem with that; I enjoy my many layers and facets, but many men do have a problem with it.

Sometimes I think I fear getting into something I can’t get out of easily. Marriage is hella hard to get out of, and the longer you’re in it, the harder it is to get out. I know you shouldn’t enter into something immediately looking for the exit and trying to plan your departure strategy, but this is what I do. I am a planner. So to me it makes sense that you plan how a relationship would end if it ended, because it’s better to plan that now while you like the person than later when you hate them and are gonna be all about cutting his balls off. But I know if I get married, there will be no divorce UNDER ANY CONDITIONS. We may part and go our separate ways but there will be no divorce. And I always worry that I might choose a man that I’d have to separate from, and that would hurt.

Sometimes I think my biggest fear is failure. I don’t like not succeeding at things, not being good at things. I work hard to do everything I do well, exceptionally well. And in most cases, I manage to accomplish that. Everything I have ever failed at haunts me endlessly; I revisit the grave of that failure, pondering over what I did wrong, trying to never do it again. If I failed at something as important as marriage, I don’t think I could deal with it. I think I would never forgive myself. I would blame myself, feel ashamed and hurt and sad and defeated. And knowing me, I would marry someone who was my best friend, because I genuinely believe you have to have that kind of love that exists in close friendships as part of marital love. (You know how when you get totally fed up with your best friend, they’ve made you totally sick and you’re disgusted with them, but you know good and damn well they will always be your best friend no matter what? That kind of thing is what I want in my marriage.) So if the marriage failed, I would lose my best friend too. That would tear me up more than anything. I don’t know how I would handle that.

Sometimes I tell myself I am too honest to get married. I hate to say this, but some marriages seem to involve some degree of coercion on the part of the woman. She had to threaten to break up with him, or nag him into it, or get her family to nag him into it, or get pregnant, or pretend to get pregnant, or something like that. It has always been my dream that a real man would get to know me, love me, carefully consider all his options, and decide that having me as his wife was what he wanted more than he wanted to be alone or with some other woman/women. I want him to volunteer, completely and totally, heart and soul, ten thousand percent. I don’t want it any other way. If I have to employ trickery, or use my womanly wiles, or get him drunk or drugged, I will not do it. But very few men seem sure enough in their choices to pursue them actively once they make them. Oftentimes they just don’t make them at all, and wait for some woman to drag them into it. And the women never seem to much care, as long as they have their husband.  That I cannot do.

Sometimes I think I am selfish. I mean, every time I have ended a relationship I have said to myself in consolation,“well, I guess I just love me more”. And as much as pop culture talks about self-love, to really make marriage work both parties have to, on many/most levels, care more about the other party than themselves. And this has to happen all the time. For marriage to work everybody has to be serving the needs of the other person and the union 24/7, and not their own needs. Ideally, if everyone is always serving everyone else and the needs of the union, everyone will get most of what they need and want.  And hardest of all, you still have to do this even when the other person isn’t. But in the relationships I ended, at some point I decided he was not serving my interests; he was only serving his own. And I decided I didn’t wish to serve his interests anymore. That kind of selfishness has no place in a marriage, so I guess it’s good that I ended those relationships.

Sometimes I think I just haven’t met Mr. Right.  I do so want to find someone and create a place and space for us where we can be our most genuine authentic selves, and improve on ourselves individually and as a couple. I sometimes worry that my man will hate me once he finds out about the real me. I don’t want a man to fall in love with “my representative” when we are dating, only to discover me and she have NOTHING in common. I want him to love me, all of me, me as I am today and me as I will come to be as I improve and grown in the sunshine of his care. And often I tell myself I haven’t found that evolved man who can appreciate my domestic side and my workaholic side and my imagination and my creativity and my sexuality and my tendency to be overly analytical and critical and nitpicky and sometimes self-deprecating  and all the other vastly contradictory things I am.

But mostly I think I’m just afraid of commitment.

My parents were reasonably happily married for over 40 years, so I had a good example of a solid marriage before me. Many of my family members are married, and have been for many years also – ten or twenty plus years in some cases. I am the oddball in that I have been single so long, just raising my kids on my own, and pursing my own interests without even a regular guy in place to bring to family functions. They kind of see me as this slightly off-center, artsy type that they don’t quite get, but they love me because I am family. They have stopped trying to fix me up, because it never works.

So I write this now, as a single woman who may be afraid of commitment. Occasionally I attempt to talk to other women about it, but they all look at me like I’m crazy. That lets me know how messed up I am, because I am supposed to want this like a man in the desert wants water, and I just don’t feel that way about it. I am not prepared to give up all of me for it. I don’t want to pick the wrong man. I don’t want to be hurt, or taken advantage of, or live a life of misery with some man because I chose out of desperation. I don’t want my sex life to dwindle away into nothingness (I hear that’s what happens in marriage, and sex is wayyy too important to me to have that happen). I say I want a man of my own, and I have options if I were to attempt to exercise them. I’m not sure if they are the options I would choose if I did the choosing, but I have them. I could at least explore them, find out what they have to offer. What is my problem?

Am I afraid of commitment?

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Because I felt like starting some s**t today, I bring you — The Black Church: Why it’s not always a good place for a single woman in her right mind

Thanks to Kenda Bell, a lovely, fabulous and talented author who I had the pleasure of meeting on Facebook and then becoming acquainted with in real life, I discovered an article from relationship advisor Deborrah Cooper. It was rather inflammatorily titled “The Black Church: How Black Churches Keep African-American Women Single and Lonely”. The link to the article is at the bottom of this blog entry.

As a Black woman with a long, somewhat acrimonious relationship with Black churches of all kinds, I was drawn to the title, and began to read. That is how this blog entry was born. I would welcome anyone sharing their experiences with church regarding their marital status. I am especially interested in single women. I want to know if what happened to me ever happened to you.

And now…to the article and my two cents.

Ms. Cooper puts it like this: “…Going to church makes you malleable and predictable, and narrows your thinking and thus limits your options. Going to church for single Black women is a waste of time…” Harsh words, right? But as I cite some of her points, I’ll tell you about my experiences with them.

Ms. Cooper says “many single women are in church for women’s group, Bible study twice per week, some special committee meetings, singles ministry, fellowshipping through the community, and attending service all day on Sunday. When exactly is it that this single Black woman would have time for a man in her life?”

When I would join churches, it always shocked me how the ministries would try to recruit the new members without knowing much about their skills, abilities or talents. They clearly wanted to capitalize on the “new Christian” enthusiasm and energy that people who join churches feel initially. I always felt like that wasn’t wise, that it might be wiser for a new Christian to get at least a little more solid footing in their “Christian walk” as it is often called before they go ministering. Most times I limited myself to Sunday praise and worship services, Sunday School and occasional Bible study. But often the new Christians would greedily and excitedly sign up for everything they could; the new female members in particular seemed to want to engulf themselves with things “not of the world”. They had a vision of themselves in their mind’s eye as this devoutly virtuous God fearing, God serving woman, and that evidently required being at church every day of the week. It is almost as if these women don’t trust themselves to behave in a Christian manner outside of church with the unwashed, unsaved folk. (And don’t you dare remind them of the company Jesus kept on a regular basis, prostitutes and the like.) I often wondered what these women’s men did while these women were in church all the time. Over the years I’ve had platonic male friends with highly devout good Christian wives or girlfriends, and I could always count being able to hang out with these guys on Wednesday or Thursdays nights – the nights most often devoted to Bible study at Black churches. We could grab a bite to eat, catch a movie, watch a game, or get a drink. And it never occurred to these women that it might not kill them to skip one of these church events to tend to their men, especially if they were wives – doing that is just as much service to the Lord as anything they were doing in church. I would think a responsible pastor would send some of these women home sometimes, since they are so fond of encouraging women to be submissive to their men. But that rarely happens.

Ms. Cooper also says, “…In most Black churches marriage is held up as the ideal state of existence; women that remain single are deemed to have some major flaw in attitude or ability. Thus, no single woman in the church wants to remain single because women are expected to marry and to bear children. For sistahs in the church, the pressure from family and fellow church members to marry can be so intense it may motivate her to make a fear-based decision to marry someone totally inappropriate.”

For that statement I have three words — “Single Women’s Ministry”.

At some point I always visit the Single Women’s Ministry in churches. In some churches it is just the Singles Ministry with the men and women together, but more often than not there is a single women’s ministry and a single men’s ministry, but even in the most populated churches the men’s version is always smaller than the women’s, which is why in many churches it doesn’t exist for both genders.

I initially thought the single women’s ministry was meant to help single women learn to function healthily and happily as singles, and in keeping with God’s instructions for unmarried people. I didn’t join this ministry to be “hooked up”. I wanted to find peace within myself and with God as a single woman. I never felt ashamed of being single at all, it never occurred to me to feel shame. But it always seemed the Single Women’s Ministry was all about creating and feeding into shame about being single, about not being “found” by the man who is supposed to “findeth a wife”, to “findeth a good thing”. It makes these single women so unsure about existing by themselves that they would do damn near anything to get married. And decisions made in desperation are always horrible ones.

I also was looking for some women to talk to in this ministry. I thought the Single Women’s Ministry might help me develop some friendships with women. Women I could maybe hang out with, have a glass of wine with, commiserate with, and yeah, perhaps even come across some men to have interesting, intelligent conversation with. I wasn’t necessarily looking to be married at that moment, but I did want to socialize with men. But women in the Singles Ministry have no interest in socializing just for the sake of social interaction, pleasant discourse, etc. They’re all about finding husbands, AND NOTHING ELSE. To them the time you waste socializing could be better spent planning the wedding. Every exchange with men must be clearly and definitively designed to get them one step to the altar. It is a 24/7 quest for these women, the search for that God fearing, God loving spouse. Their dissatisfaction with their single states is unbelievable, and it troubled me to think that people so clearly unhappy with themselves were actively trying to focus on bringing someone else into their lives to make it right. These women treated singleness like a disease they needed to find a cure for. Being unmarried was an affliction, and a husband was the remedy. No one wanted to be single. To be single was to be the Devil’s handmaiden, an agent for the forces of darkness and evil. And because I was not desperately seeking to heal myself from the sickness of singlehood, I was delusional and sinful almost beyond repair. The women didn’t understand my desire to grow, flourish and blossom as a sole entity at least a little bit before I introduced another party into it . I never ever once said I didn’t hope to be married one day, but that wasn’t my primary objective at that time, and it certainly wasn’t something I was attempting to address through attending church. Evidently, this meant I was a whore. A slut. This also meant I was after all the married women’s husbands – which I guess I could have easily been since I wasn’t always up in church and had more time to spend with their husbands than they did. But I honestly wasn’t. And the pressure to marry was everywhere! I was constantly being “introduced” to men whom were possible candidates for me because they were male and single and…well, that was pretty much all they offered. Evidently that was all that was required. I guess it should have been enough for a single woman like me. It bothered me that the church didn’t feel I was not enough, just me, that God didn’t want me or care about me if I was single, and I inevitably always left these groups.

Ms. Cooper also states “…Single Black women trying to live a sanctified lifestyle won’t be caught dead in the places where men are likely to be found. These church women refuse to go to parties, sports bars or sporting events, or clubs where there is drinking, card playing, domino throwing, shit talking and cussing – you know, the things that most men who enjoy life like to do. Instead these single Black women sit at home alone, or get together with their friends and read the Bible, then pray that God will bring them a husband…”

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I suggested to my Single Women’s Ministry colleagues that we go out to some event or activity that might allow us to have a good time, expand our social circle, let us to enjoy common interests and to meet people…yes, even men too. I never suggested we go out and get totally wasted, or that we hit the nightclubs and grind on strange men deep into the night, or that we throw ourselves at random strangers at art galleries or restaurants. But I did suggest that we collectively pursue our interests, and in the course of doing that, see who we came in contact with. But oh no. These ladies never wanted to do anything that wasn’t church affiliated or that put them on an express train to matrimony.

And now we’ll get to the part I always found most disturbing about my experiences in church – the horniness of these single women. Ms. Cooper explains it like this. “…If you are a single Black woman attending a traditional Black church, you will be surrounded by sexually frustrated single women who feel guilty and confused about their physical desires and emotional hungers….You will be told that your sexuality and sensuality must be contained or you lose value as a woman…”

If you ever want to see a group of adults subtly dry-humping each other and feeling each other up in public, drive past any large Black church when Sunday services are letting out. The madness begins while the services are going on. I tell you I would SMELL the sexual frustration in the air, it would leave me with a slightly nauseated feeling, like sitting next to a person wearing loud cheap perfume and being forced to inhale the scent. You see the women crossing, uncrossing, re-crossing, uncrossed, and re-crossing their legs, gently rubbing their upper thighs together under their skirts and dresses, a definite sign of sexual frustration. You see them, eyes glazed, lips slightly parted, admiring the deacons, the musicians, the assistant pastors, and so on. And then the sermon comes, and – a lot of church going women don’t want to admit this but I’m gonna tell it because I’ve heard it said quite a bit – well delivered sermons can often arouse and inflame a lot more than a woman’s…well…desire to serve the Lord. Especially if she’s already abstaining, or trying to . Passion is passion, and when one’s spirit is highly charged and moved, often other parts of the anatomy follow. So now you have all these worked up women, the doors of the church fly open when service is done, and the “fellowship love” commences.

Fellowship love is my personal term for the kissing, hugging, groping and grabbing that good Christian folk do to each other after church. The hugs are especially funny – some women do the “butt-out hug” where they make sure no part of their lower body comes in contact with his. Generally that means they’re trying not to let men touch them because they are so hungry for a man’s touch they fear they’ll have an orgasm on the spot. Plus it allows other men to check out their asses. (SIDEBAR – I was asked to point out that butt-out hugs also occur when men are trying to avoid contact with women’s bodies so they won’t get erections, which is particularly difficult to hide in dress slacks.) Then you get the full body hugs from women who always squeeze just a little too tight, too hard, too close or too long. You get the people who kiss the cheek while touching your face softly, rub their cheeks against your face, and generally treat you like a lover they are tenderly saying goodbye to in the morning light after a night of lovemaking. Some women grab the arms, backs, necks and shoulders of men as they hug them, squeezing and rubbing all the while. Some go around giving little massages to the male members. If you are just a casual observer, you may not see it or get it at first. But get close to it and you can’t miss it. And just so you don’t think I’m blaming the women, the men ain’t any better. I got to the point where I would never hang out outside the sanctuary after services because I didn’t want to be molested.

The real problem with all of this for me? The church does little to help single women handle their “physical desires and emotional hungers” as Ms. Cooper calls them, other than offering matrimony. I understand that sex outside of marriage is a sin in the eyes of God. But even so, God does know that human frailty is going to cause us to fall short, and He lovingly forgives us if we ask forgiveness of Him. But God’s love of us and His infinite understanding of human nature and His infinite ability to forgive all things is something these women never embrace. The church doesn’t always seem to see the value of  teaching women to leave shame behind as they learn to trust God, including shame about their sexuality. That means women need to be given the tools, space and time to figure these things out, free from the pressure to wed. But the church doesn’t give the lesson that sexuality is not the problem. Context is. As long as they don’t give that lesson women will be ashamed on some level of their sexual selves, and shame keeps women under control.  And the level of shame that these women feel about something that is a natural part of who they are is a problem. God does not frown on sexuality in and of itself, He just wants it put in its proper place. Worst of all, horniness and everything that comes with it – loneliness, sadness, etc., are rarely openly addressed in church either, and made worse by the constant marital push. And often women aren’t given any real tools to maintain abstinence if that’s what a woman strives to do. You just have to wait until you meet this man that marries you (because then you can have sex – and honestly, I think a lot of these women who end up succumbing to the pressure to marry were just tired of not getting laid!), and in the meantime you press your thighs together as tightly as possible and hold on until he shows up. And of course it is always the woman’s fault if a man “falls from grace”. It is always her wantonly displayed seductiveness that caused him to fall, so church women often must be on guard so that they don’t entice some horny old deacon.

Ms. Cooper comments rather simply and powerfully towards the end of her article, “…if you’ve been participating in your church for 10, 12, 18 years looking for love and a husband to make your life complete, and you haven’t found him yet, it’s time to try something new…” While trying something new might not mean leaving your church home, it at the very least means a serious change in attitude for these women. I think where some of these types of women make their mistake is they think of their relationships with God as a quid pro quo arrangements – quid pro quo is Latin and it means “something for something”. Some women take the idea of a spouse being a gift from God quite literally – they truly see him as a reward for a job well done in service of the Lord. Its as if they expect God to go around handing out husbands to His good and faithful single female servants. They believe that a combination of submission, service and supplication will make a groom appear. They take very literally that verse that declares God will give them the “desires of their hearts”. A husband is their personal little pot of gold at the end of their spiritual rainbow.

Once I asked a girlfriend of mine who was attending church seeking a husband about this, and she mentioned this whole “desires of your heart” thing to me. I then asked her if she would ever want anything outside of God’s will or God’s plan for her. She said “of course not”. I then asked her if God, for whatever reason, didn’t want her to have a husband at this time, or perhaps ever, would she, as a good Christian, submit to His will graciously? She was stumped. She just kept going back to the “desires of your heart” thing over and over. She ran down a laundry list of things that she did for the church, all of the choirs she sang on, all the ministries that she had served on, all the bake sales, car washes, and clothing drives she had organized. She cited her faithful attendance of praise and worship services, Sunday School, and Bible  study When she was done, she looked and me and nodded, convinced that she had proved her point. Why wouldn’t God give her the desires of her heart after so much hard work?

I didn’t bother pointing out that doing things for the church and doing things to serve God are not always one and the same because it seemed like I was already blowing her mind. I then pointed out that “His ways are not our ways, and His thought are not our thoughts…” and, in keeping with that, would she be prepared to consider the idea that God, in His infinitely mysterious wisdom, intended her to be on this road? She finally got exasperated with me, and cut me off with “I just don’t believe that’s what God intends for me.”

Well ummm…okay

I have struggled with all the things Ms. Cooper sites in her article in Black churches. It makes me feel bad because I really do want to have a church home, but it seems almost impossible. I don’t subject myself to a lot of nonsense in most aspects of my life, and church is no different   In spite of it all, including not having a church home, I still have a relationship with God – a combination of faith, works, prayer, love, humor and endless patience for this growing and learning process that is my life that puzzles me more than anything. And now that I have exposed myself and my struggles so publicly, we’ll see what you have to say!

Comments would be GREATLY appreciated…PEACE!

You can read Ms. Cooper’s article in its entirely at http://survivingdating.com/?p=1229.