Gather six single heterosexual women in a room together, and it won’t be two minutes before somebody’s talking about men. In order to get the female perspective on the state of dating and relationships, that’s what EBONY did. And in Atlanta, no less, where it’s not uncommon to walk into a restaurant or bar on any evening and find an endless sea of ladies-night outings.
The reports on the state of unmarried Black women are at an all-time high, with a slew of outlets noting that 70 percent of them have never tied the knot. But it’s not just Black women, according to Ebony.com relationship expert Sil Lai Abrams, who points to an overall decline in the marriage rate and referencing the 2011 Pew Research Study that showed 51 percent of American women are unmarried.
So if you’re a single woman in a city such as Atlanta, what do you do to hook up with an eligible and available prospect? We asked this and other questions of Cecilia Bailey, 43, a financial business coach from Chicago; Tracy Nicole, 37, an author/writer and Atlanta native; Kia Smith, 30, a social media coordinator from Gadsden, Ala.; Krystal Gambrell, 27, a speech-language pathologist from Atlanta; Alisa Benjamin, 40, an interior designer from Portland, Ore.; and Erin Harper, 32, a Ph.D. candidate/writer from Atlanta. What was immediately apparent is how technology has drastically changed the way men and women meet and get to know each other:
On technology and dating:
Cecilia: Dating is a little different because of technology. You can just go at a super, superfast speed. It’s not like when you were 20 years old and you had to wait for the phone to ring and you built up to something.
Alisa: They don’t have the old-fashioned—for lack of a better term—work ethic toward dating. Because so much technology is out there, people skip vital communication steps.
Erin: I’ve met people and told them my name and what school I went to, and when I get home, I have Facebook messages from them. Technology can be good, but it can also be kind of crazy.
Tracy: I purposely don’t give my full name for that reason. I prefer someone take the time to get to know me rather than to go home and google me.
On spotting red flags:
Tracy: [Ending my last relationship], I went by that rule of thumb I learned from Oprah, which was, when people show you who they are, believe them. I think the mistake a lot of women make is trying to get men to be someone they’re not and hoping [for change]. And [men] give [us] signs.
Erin: Those red flags come early.
Tracy: Especially when you pray for God to show them to you. And you have to be ready to see them. I find that the relationship a man has with his mother, an ex or the mother of his children speaks volumes about how he interacts and deals with relationships, period.
On “diva dudes”:
Alisa: In Atlanta, there’s a whole different breed of men. It seems as if they feel entitled, so they act accordingly. But it’s not because they’re all bad. It’s because there are some women who let certain behaviors slide.
Kia: We call them “diva dudes.” On paper, they are all good: educated, handsome, employed. But they have this arrogance that they’re the prize; that they can do whatever they want and you will still be there.
On the numbers:
Erin: When you look at the top U.S. cities, the ratios are real. African-American men are really not there because of things such as mass incarceration and homicide. They have lots of choices, which I think is where the entitlement comes in a lot of times.
Cecilia: The numbers are false. When you think about the 12-to-1, 8-to-1 or whatever it is, you have to factor in the [women] men just don’t like. This guy told me, “You’ve got to take out the ones who have five kids; the ones who don’t have a car.”
Tracy: It’s quantity but not quality, which is why the numbers are not accurate.
Alisa: There are people out there who don’t have character—and I’m talking about women—who these guys are encountering, who can’t bring to the table what I can. And I can’t be skewed by what the media are saying about numbers because the right guy is out there for me. And I think a lot of women buy into that. I don’t think it’s as much of a numbers game as you think.
On the digital hookup:
Krystal: I did [online dating] for six months, and it was successful. I had to change my standard of dating. I was dating to meet somebody for the long term, which ultimately is the goal. But I had to stop putting on so much pressure. It’s OK if we date 10 times and we say, “OK. We’re not really compatible.”
Cecilia: You are dating to get to know somebody. When I was younger, you met a guy and you were just with him. You didn’t veer off to Peter, Paul and Johnny. Now it’s different, but it feels OK because there’s no commitment. I had to open myself up to online dating even though it had a bad stigma. But it was just another vehicle to meet people.
Tracy: Date with no expectations. I’ve learned that you can hit it off with someone, have the same interests and want the same things, but that chemistry isn’t there. I’ve had love connections in which he ended up wanting to get with other women. That didn’t make him a bad guy; it just didn’t make him the guy for me.
On married men:
Tracy: I meet nice guys all the time. You don’t know if they’re gay or married. And I do question it. What I learned—the hard way—is if they say they’re going through a divorce, you really have to ask if they’ve filed for a divorce. I get hit on by more married men than single men. I believe they get away with it a lot because they don’t hide that they’re married.
Erin: I think a lot of women say, “He’s a good man. He might be married, but he’s coming out of this. I better hold on.”
Tracy: They say, “I’ll just settle for this.”
On how quickly sex comes into play:
Krystal: Guys think it’s OK to bring it up on the first date. It’s a turnoff. So you’re not trying to get to know me?
Tracy: A lot of times, it’s a test to see who you are.
Erin: I’ve met guys who can have whoever because of their status. Then there are certain guys who think you look good but really want to get to know you. For some, it might be game. But I have met several lately who are not just trying to get in my pants.
Tracy: I had a guy who got upset or frustrated [when I didn’t say yes to his advances]. I attributed it to what he was used to. I think it made him respect me a bit more because he wanted to stay in the relationship. If we go there, it will happen organically. There’s not a time frame. It’s not the Think Like a Man scenario.
Erin: I think women can be assertive. If you meet somebody, you’re kicking it and it happens, then it happens. I don’t judge anybody for saying you have to wait this long or put it all on the guy because sometimes it’s not the guy.
Cecilia: Sometimes women want it.
On single-parent dating:
Tracy: I don’t think there’s a formula. You have to listen to your gut, know what type of person you’re dealing with and how he’s going to interact with your children. Children are going to feed off your happiness. If you’re happy, they’re happy.
Kia: [I do] a lot of daytime dating or I date when my son is away for the weekend. Every guy I date doesn’t need to meet my son. It’s my job to make sure my son respects me and doesn’t see different men in and out of the house. With most guys, it increases their respect for me because I guess it shows that I have values and standards.
Tracy: Someone has more of an advantage when he has children, and I can really hone in on what type of father he is. Are you the father who sees his child once a month and that’s OK with you? That’s not a good sign that you want to be there for my children.
On marriage pressure:
Kia: When I graduated from college, it wasn’t, “You’re graduating. What job are you going to have?” It was, “You’re not getting married? What are you going to do?” So I found myself trying to make a relationship work that shouldn’t have ever been. And it was the worst two years of my life.
Erin: Nobody’s asking, “Have you found your purpose? Are you giving to people? Are you loving people? What service are you doing?” It’s, “When are you getting a white dress and walking down the aisle? When are you getting a house and having 2.5 kids?” [Ever since I was young,] it’s been coming from everywhere. Women have been programmed for so long that we really have to be deprogrammed.
On faith, hope and purpose:
Krystal: I do believe in marriage. Spiritually, I want God to say, “Hey, that’s your boo!” and put it together. I don’t want it to be forced or superficial.
Erin: I would love to have children. If I get married, that would be great. If it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to be like, “Oh God, there’s something wrong with me.” I think a lot of women have been programmed that if we’re not married, if we don’t have a ring, then there’s something wrong with us. In my 20s, every guy I dated always had to possibly be ‘the one.’ But I hadn’t found my purpose. So I thought that walking down the aisle, having a ring and a baby would complete me. Now that I’m focused, I can’t keep the guys away. When guys see you are a woman who is focused and driven, you don’t have to worry about the numbers.
Cecilia: I remember people telling me—guys in particular—“You’ll never find a husband in Atlanta with all the gay men and blah blah blah.” When I say I have hope, it’s because of [my previous marriage]. I have hope that if [my first husband] found me, then somebody else is going to find me. I want to be open to the same type of integrity that he had and the trust that I had in him and not be guarded because of all the stuff that we do see. I know it’s real, but that relationship was real, too.
Alisa: I heard Marie Osmond say that a woman is going to date to her level of self-esteem. It made me think about choices I’ve made in the past. Now that I have become a more whole person in the Lord, I see where I made mistakes. I see where I’m making wiser decisions. I see that I’m OK right where I am.