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A Belle in Brooklyn

The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life
By Demetria L. Lucas

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INTRODUCTION

While I was writing this book in 2010, there was an onslaught of articles (Washington Post, Economist, New York Times), prime-time TV segments (Nightline—twice), books, and countless blogs examining “Why Black Women Are Soooo Single.” It seemed that whenever a media source needed some sort of Nielsen ratings bonanza or to send their website’s comments section into a frenzy, they’d trot out a horrific tale of no love and lots of loss. The plot was always the same: a single Black woman from a densely populated city clinging to a flavored martini, a Louis Vuitton Speedy, and/or a perfectly coiffed girlfriend wondering where all the good men had gone. (Go-to answers: dead, gay, unemployed, on the down low, in jail, or with a White woman.)

As I watched, read, and listened to the same story over and over, I wondered why “the problem” of singleness was being presented as a Black issue or even a female one. There are 96 million people in the United States who have no spouse, according to a 2010 study from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means 43 percent of all Americans over the age of eighteen are single. So where are the news stories about White women and Latinas and Asian ladies who are desperately single and searching? The closest I saw was “The New Math on Campus” in the New York Times, a story where White women at the University of North Carolina talked about their dating dilemmas and all the quotes sounded as if they’d been lifted from an early Terry McMillan novel.

What about the single men? Black ones and the ones of all other colors, too? If women are not getting married and we’re supposed to be marrying them, shouldn’t they get an equal number of stories? I’ve never understood how we’re having an ongoing national discussion about the difficulty facing heterosexuals who want relationships and almost the entire conversation is about or aimed at women.

While Nightline had single Black women talking about crying into their pillows and throwing Black men-at-large under the proverbial bus, I couldn’t help but recall that the most prominent tale of Dating While White, Sex and the City, featured women well past thirty shown practically high off new experiences, the carefree unaccountability of considering anyone else’s feelings, and the thrill of picking through men like trying to find organic produce at Whole Foods. For White women, singlehood looked exhilarating and adventurous, not desperate, the way it is too often shown for us as a tedious but important exercise to make sure we don’t end up alone. (See Pam from Martin, Regine from Living Single, or any character from a Terry McMillan novel for reference.)

As I tuned into Sex and the City each week or popped in the DVDs during the off seasons, I became increasingly frustrated. I knew plenty of Black women who were single and satisfied or single and searching but more optimistic than desperate. We lived full and adventurous lives, finding ourselves regularly sitting across from (and flirting with) attractive suitors with good conversation and pretty white teeth. It was a rare occasion that any of us sat home unwillingly for lack of a quality male option to happily plunk down his debit card after dinner and a drink. We still got giddy over meeting up with a new guy and exchanging witty banter at chic venues. And we knew there were a lot of cheerful single women like us who enjoyed dating, whose sole focus in life wasn’t how to get a man to put a ring on it.

I began blogging in 2007 because Happy Black Girl stories weren’t being told. I was sick of depictions of my Black and single life that made it look so burdened and heavy. I wanted everyone to know about regular Black girls and women with semidramatic adventures that were pretty painless and very amusing but resulted in extraordinary growth. I wanted everyone to know about the quality men in the world, the ones I met every day, that I know exist, but are rarely shown in the media. I’d been waiting for someone to tell that tale again since it had been years since Tracy Chambers (Mahogany), Nola Darling (She’s Gotta Have It), and Nina Mosley (Love Jones) had a say. Then I realized that as a writer, I could just pick up my laptop and start typing.

At the time, I was in my third year as a book editor, working with bestselling romance authors and in my sixth year as a professional journalist, covering entertainment and lifestyles. My musings began on MySpace, quickly gained a following, and moved to a wider audience at HoneyMag.com, where my blog about my “hilarious dating misadventures as a Southern woman living too far above the Mason Dixon” became the most popular feature on the site.

As the audience grew, so did the number of letters in my in-box. Women from eighteen to sixty began thanking me for offering an alternative portrayal of Black life and for writing what they felt but couldn’t find the words to say. That’s when I knew I was on to something that was bigger than me and my girls.

Four months after my blog launched on Honey, I accepted a position as the relationships editor at Essence magazine, a job that utilizes my desire to debunk the negative depictions of single Black women, tackle our dating dilemmas, and help us live our best lives possible, whether our goal is to have fun or to have a relationship. I’ve also popped up in newspaper articles (I was dubbed “The Black Carrie Bradshaw” in a Washington Post feature article, which I have mixed feelings about) and on TV shows, both as a dating expert who teaches Sandy Denton aka “Pepa” from Salt-N-Pepa how to meet men on Let’s Talk About Pep, and selecting a sexy man to be featured in Essence on Being Terry Kennedy.

Over the last four years, I’ve also completed thousands of interviews with men and women to gather information so we can close “the dating divide,” hosted roundtable discussions where the sexes are provided a forum to hash out their issues face-to-face, searched for and offered up single men to the Essence audience, interviewed hundreds of experts about what we can all do better, became a life and relationships coach, answered thousands of dating and relationship questions on Formspring, and penned a monthly column for Essence that tackles current dating issues. Slowly but surely, I’m convinced, a dent can be made in the way we are portrayed, and the way we see ourselves. Together, we can close the gap between how women and men relate to one another.

In your hands, you hold my best attempt to make a difference. I’ve shared my life—mistakes and all—as well as the insights I’ve gained. My story isn’t perfect, it’s not always pretty, but it’s honest, with ups and downs and many more highs than lows. Some details have been changed to protect the innocent (or guilty, depending on how you look at it), mostly names and physical descriptions but some places, too. I hope you can learn as much by reading about my trials and triumphs as I did by living and growing through them.

© 2011 Demetria L. Lucas

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