We may commiserate with our girls and cry about it to our mamas. We may even pretend it doesn’t matter, but in our quiet moments that nagging fear tugs at us: Will we ever really find that special someone? In a word, yes. There really are brothers out there who are single, available and ready to love you. It actually is possible to find a deeply committed relationship that honors you. But despite what you may have heard, winning at love isn’t about identifying the right pool of men or knowing how to play the game. In fact, winning often requires losing—our old attitudes and preconceived notions about ourselves, men and dating.

The truth is, most women at some point in their lives will be forced to examine their own beliefs and self-defeating approaches to finding true love. But Jeree Wade, a New York counselor and life coach who helps sisters identify subconscious attitudes that may be getting in their way, says that for Black women this process can be especially complicated. She points out that our history has left us with some extra psychological baggage to unpack. For starters, the world we live in doesn’t always portray us as loving and desirable.

It doesn’t help when we buy into the often-repeated notion that good Black men are in scarce supply. Studies that suggest we’re less likely than women of other races to marry only make matters worse. “All this leaves us feeling paralyzed, convinced that we’d better take what we can get,”

Wade says. But there is another way, a shift in our consciousness that could help us see a new universe of possibilities when it comes to love. First, Wade says, we have to change our own thinking, letting go of attitudes that make us settle for less than we hope for, dream of, and so richly deserve. The good news is, opening our hearts and altering our behavior are a lot more doable than we might think. See how these sisters found their way to love.

“I stopped romanticizing the bad boy.”
Alex, Denise’s first love, had been the outlaw at their Phoenix high school. With the words doggy style cut into his hair, an appetite for roaming the streets, and a rep for doing drugs, he was in stark contrast to her quiet, straight-A self. Still, there was an attraction, and by Denise’s freshman year of college, their romance was in full swing. Denise found Alex’s air of danger “simply irresistible,” and he also had plenty of old-fashioned charm.

“He’d leave roses sitting on my car or have a bubble bath waiting for me when I got home,” Denise, now 31, recalls. “And he had no problem being affectionate with me in front of his boys.” But seven months into the relationship, that changed. Alex started to grow jealous of any attention she received from other men. He threatened to knock her teeth out, and before long he was grabbing her so hard she would bruise. “Our last fight ended with my crawling out of his home, screaming for help before I managed to get to my car,” Denise says. Frightened by the violence, she moved out of her apartment and refused all contact with Alex. But in her heart she never truly let him go.

Eight years later Denise, then 26, had become a hotshot marketing consultant in Los Angeles—with a nonexistent personal life. “I took the baggage from what had happened with Alex into my relationships,” she says, “so they never worked out.” Then Alex wrote to her, reminiscing about the good times, and she agreed to see him during a business trip to Phoenix. “I had all these unresolved feelings,” Denise admits. “He was so seductive.” She ended up rekindling her romance with Alex, who later came to live with her in L.A. But almost as soon as he moved in, Denise realized that little had changed. “He stole money from me and once got so angry he punched a hole in my wall,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t invite this back into my life, so I told him to leave.” Alex did—but not before breaking a window.

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Denise berated herself for getting swept up by the madness a second time. Then, slowly, she started to put the pieces together. She saw that Alex had always reminded her of her father, a hustler and drug dealer who had been in jail and absent most of her life. At 17, Denise had sought out her father and visited him in prison. She spent the next decade writing to him, but the close relationship she dreamed of having with him never materialized. While her father could at times be affectionate, he showed little interest in being a part of her life. “I used to wonder why I was so committed to Alex,” Denise says now. “Eventually I began to understand that he gave me what I had wanted but never got from my father, that intense kind of involvement, which I mistook for love.”

As Denise made peace with her father’s absence, it helped her to finally put Alex behind her, freeing up a place in her heart. Enter Teddy, a deliveryman working the trade show for her new greeting-card company. A 32-year-old Haitian cutie, Teddy was nothing like the men Denise had been attracted to in the past. But he was nice, so when he asked her for a date she agreed. Ten months later she’s convinced he’s her soul mate. “He calls his parents every day and would never use profanity in the presence of a woman,” Denise says. “What I have with Teddy is real. This is soul food.”

“I realized Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist.”
Most women have some idea about what they’re looking for in a man. Bernice, 29, a graduate student in economics, had a checklist: He should be at least six feet tall, athletic, come from a two-parent home, pull a six-figure income, and belong to the right social organizations. An alumna of a prestigious Black college who had grown up in Jack and Jill, Bernice went to a prominent church, was in a well-established sorority, and wanted a man who could move easily in her world.

More specifically, she wanted a man like her father, a lawyer well respected in Midwest Black social circles. But judging all men by her checklist proved problematic. She’d find men who matched only part of her list or who met all the requirements but were still disappointing—like her last boyfriend, an investment banker whose mother belonged to the same sorority as Bernice. “But he was also a jerk who didn’t know how to be faithful,” she says.

Then three years ago Bernice met Solomon, 35, at a party. He was short and stocky and, she says, “just average-looking.” He was also broke, looking for a day job while struggling to launch his own PR business. And his family life was far from Huxtable-esque: His parents were divorced, and he wasn’t close to his siblings. Yet there was a sweetness about him, and the two became friends. Hanging out soon turned into dating, though at first Bernice kept one foot out the door. “I was concerned about how my family would perceive Solomon,” she admits. “They’re used to my bringing home a different type of man.”

But Solomon’s humor and compassion showed her he was unlike any man she had ever dated. She may not be able to wear heels without towering over him, but “he’s so loving,” she says. “Anything good that happens to me he shouts to the world. And his insight on issues makes me want to learn more. At the end of the day those things matter so much more than looks or a six-figure income. I can see spending the rest of my life with this man.”

To read the entire article, “Yes, There Is a Love Out There for You,” pick up the August issue of ESSENCE.