It's no surprise to single sisters that men are dragging their feet down the aisle. The National Marriage Project at New Jersey's Rutgers University recently came out with a list of the top-ten reasons. But does the study of 25-to-33-year-old men truly reflect what's going on with our bachelor brothers? We asked three Black men who are relationship experts how the following factors affect marriage in our community, and what sisters can do.
Reason #1: Men can get sex without marriage more easily than before. "Absolutely true,"says William July, author of the new book The Hidden Lover: What Women Need to Know That Men Can't Tell Them (Doubleday). "There was a time when women could get men to commit by holding out on sex. But today a marriageable brother can take advantage of the fact that he's a rarity and choose from among a variety of women. He may have a 'go to'girl available at a moment's notice."
Bottom line: Don't use sex in a power play. "With so much available, it can become devalued,"says July. "Women should seek out the man who views sex as a component of a multidimensional and monogamous relationship—the man who has grown beyond the games and is ready for real love."
Reason #2: Men can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting. "Men are quite frugal when it comes to commitment,"says couples therapist and minister Ronn Elmore, Ph.D. "They typically offer a woman only as much commitment as they perceive necessary to have her. A woman who fears she may scare a man off by insisting on marriage may accept cohabitation. If you'll take less for it, he'll offer less for it."
Bottom line: Don't assume that living together will get you closer to the altar. "In a relationship that's getting serious, it's always best to state clearly, without apology, that your objective is marriage,"Elmore advises. "Then, unless you're willing to wait indefinitely, ask him to be clear about what he wants. If he says that his objective is living together, when what you really want is a husband, say so and then move on."
Reason #3: They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks. "Many men can hardly afford to live by themselves and may be reluctant to get into a relationship that could eventually destroy them financially,"observes Rozario Slack, director of fathering and urban initiatives for First Things First, an organization in Chattanooga that promotes marriage and family. Many men have never seen a healthy marriage, so they may view their odds of having one as slim to none, he adds. "Others wish to avoid passing on to their children their own experience of having an absent father,"he says. "Illogically, these men avoid marrying their children's mother for fear that the union will eventually end in divorce."
Bottom line: Strive to become financially independent. "A man can relax when he knows he doesn't have to bear the full load,"Slack says. "A woman also needs to reassure her mate that he is irreplaceable and that, in her eyes, divorce is not an option."
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Reason #4: They want to wait until they are older to have children. July comments: "Ask even the most hot-to-trot bachelor if he wants to have kids and he'll say, 'Sure—one day.'Men do want to parent, they just aren't in a hurry. First of all, a man's biological clock runs a looooong time. Secondly, since men feel they must provide for their families, they'd rather wait until career and income strength increases."
Bottom line: "Waiting to be a parent isn't a bad thing," July points out. "It's better for a man to be ready, willing and able to be a father to his children than to be someone you have to chase for child support! But I believe some men are as interested in having kids early as some women are. The key issue for men is a solid economic foundation. If you can partner with a man to help him achieve that security, he may embrace parenthood."
Reason #5: They fear marriage will require too many changes and compromises. "Men instinctively gravitate toward what they believe they will succeed at and away from what they fear is a setup for them to fail,"suggests Elmore, author of How to Love a Black Man (Warner Books) and An Outrageous Commitment: The 48 Vows of an Indestructible Marriage (HarperCollins). " They often complain that the more serious the commitment level, the more demanding women become. Even when the expectations are valid, men may be wary that new ones might arise after they jump the broom. Black men, in particular, are unwilling to risk failing in front of their women, and you can't fail at what you didn't commit to."
Bottom line: "Constantly point out ways in which he already meets or exceeds some of your most significant expectations," Elmore says. "Be specific. It will assure him that you find him wonderfully competent in the job of loving you. Behavior you reward is behavior he will be inclined to repeat—often in other important areas of the relationship as well."
Reason #6: They're waiting for the perfect soul mate who hasn't yet appeared. "Those seeking a ' perfect'soul mate may have a difficult time dealing with their own imperfection,"Slack says. "They often use the excuse that it's other people who don't measure up. Waiting for Miss Perfect can also be a mask for a fear of failure, especially if a guy has been disappointed in love. Others feel they are unworthy of a lasting relationship because of unresolved issues such as drug or alcohol use, promiscuity, unemployment, illiteracy or an arrest record. So they unknowingly sabotage potentially lasting relationships by creating artificial barriers."
Bottom line: "Suggest to him that lasting love is a matter of choice," advises Slack. What's important isn't finding the perfect mate, but making a commitment to love the person you choose.
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Reason #7: Men face few social pressures to marry. "For Black women, the traditional view holds: Something must be wrong if you reach a certain age without having married," Elmore asserts. "When it comes to Black men, however, it can mean that his standards are high and no woman has yet measured up. Is it true? Is it fair? Probably not."
Bottom line: Resist any urge to bluff, manipulate or pressure a man toward marriage. "It never works to push, and you don't want a husband who had to be coaxed to commit," explains Elmore.
Reason #8: They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children. "These relationships often raise concern for a number of reasons," says Slack. "The child's father is present in many men's minds, though he may be conspicuously absent. There may be child-support issues. Contact with the father may be dangerous. The man fears being cast in a role that he did not intend to fill. The children, who have not yet healed from their old wounds, may not respect him. Family members may stigmatize him for not finding a 'better situation.'"
Bottom line: "Develop a caring relationship with the man, love him as he is, and communicate that you want him for him, not just for a role you want him to play in your child's life," Slack suggests. "Out of responsibility and love for you, his feelings may develop for your children. He may be surprised to discover he got such a good package deal."
Reason #9: They want to own a house before they get a wife. "It is really important for women to understand this," July advises. "Women often want to build things together as a couple. But for men, it's the opposite. A house is his stake in the partnership. A man without a job or an adequate income tends to feel compromised and of less value as a mate."
Bottom line: Help your man believe his achievements are significant, says July. "A man who feels honored, respected and appreciated will give you his heart, mind and body. That's the man who will buy a house with you and have kids too!"
Continue to next page for our last reason he won't commit
Reason #10: They want to enjoy single life as long as they can. "Though many Black men may lack a sufficient male support network [fathers, mentors, friends], they are likely to have numerous women in their corner [mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, sisters, girlfriends]," Elmore observes. "Thus a man can have significant female relationships, along with the nurturing and companionship they offer, while enjoying the single life for a long time."
Bottom line: "Just be his girlfriend until you become his wife," Elmore suggests. "Making yourself available to be his therapist, social secretary, supervisor, mother, errand girl, spiritual adviser and his girlfriend confuses him and can sabotage your marital aspirations." Functioning in those other roles, many of which are only appropriate for a wife, will make marrying you seem unnecessary, cautions Elmore. And what could be further from the truth!