Beyonce is a lot like Yoda: silly seems she, but wise she is.
I’m thinking of Beyonce’s hit song “Single Ladies,” her catchy lyrics: “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it/ uh-oh-uh-oh,” and realizing the energetic singer has way more sense than I do.
If you would have caught me ten years ago, my black womanist response to Sasha Fierce would have been to criticize everything wrong with marriage: it’s both a bad idea monetarily (marriage discourages women’s financial independence) and ethically unnecessary (slaves couldn’t legally marry–did that make them immoral?). In fact, today a friend reminds me of my college plan to rid the world of patriarchy–the vedding. Back in the day, I was hellbent on designing a greeting card industry around the “vedding.” Only a select few would marry and have children; the rest of us would marry ourselves (hence, a single “v” rather than two merged together to form a “w”) and date the rest of our days, thus creating a market for exciting new restaurants and teeth whiteners that would stimulate the economy and raise the country’s standards of personal hygiene.
But now, as I dance around my house shaking my hips and waiving my hands at my live-in boyfriend, I think Beyonce may have a point.
A few months ago, one of colleagues from work had a dinner party. It was one of those things where everyone was supposed to bring his or her significant other. And so there we were, in all of our delicious Neopolitan diversity: the white couple who had driven from Pennsylvania to New York just to see everyone; the Latino couple who’d brought their puppy; the interracial couple (Filipino and white) who’d brought their baby; the white gay couple who hosted the party and who, from the affectionate stories they told about each other, would have married each other if only they could. Only my partner–the black woman’s partner–was absent because that night, the night of our five-year anniversary–we had had a fight.
“The problem,” my mother complains, “is that today’s black women aren’t making black men commit to them.”
But I don’t want to make anyone do anything. When my boyfriend says, “If you want to get married, I’ll marry you,” I grow almost violently angry. I hate the fact that people act as though marriage is some kind of prize you give to women, for making it through the Girlfriend Olympics. I don’t want someone who feels forced, tricked, or persuaded into marriage; I want someone who loves being around me so much that he can’t imagine a life without me.
And I don’t want to be a statistic either, another unmarried black women who is written about in Newsweek, the New York Times, Essence–take your pick. These statistics make me feel undesired and unwanted, which makes me feel I should marry so that I can have some kind of weird proof that I am loved, even though I’m still not sure marriage is this wonderful proposition that everyone says it is.
Because what I want more than a wedding–or a vedding–is a reassurance that ten, twenty, fifty years from now my relationship will feel the same way it does now. This relationship has taught me how to disagree without attacking, how to open myself up to someone else about all of my insecurities and self-doubts, how to listen to someone else’s dreams, hopes, fears. Even in rocky moments, like the morning after that dinner party, I feel special and cared for, and my guy and I have created this kind of nurturing love without a piece of paper. Today, with divorce rates running so high, there are no guarantees–who can say for certain that marriage would strengthen our bond? But then again, with a chaotic economy and society, a public declaration of togetherness could be a start, a way of showing the world that we’re in this together. So maybe Beyonce is right after all.