Do You Have a Boyfriend?


I am 10 the first time I remember being asked this question, Do you have a boyfriend? We are sitting at a church table for religious education on a Saturday morning. It is our first session and we are getting to know each other. The teacher tells us to write a secret about ourselves on a slip of paper and fold it up. I cannot remember what mine said, perhaps that I played the violin, or some such. She collects the slips and opens one at random: I HAVE A BOYFRIEND, she reads, and asks us to guess who wrote it. 

There are only two girls in the class: me and Kisha. Everyone turns to me. Do you have a boyfriend? they ask. I say no; they are surprised. I should have one, I am told, because I am pretty. I look at Kisha, who giggles into her palm. She has not come clean yet, and I realize they do not believe me. She has a nice smile, round cheeks that squeeze her eyes shut when she laughs. I wonder whether I am prettier than her. Is that why they all guessed it was me? No matter how much I deny it, my cheeks flushing red, the others do not stop peppering me with questions. Finally Kisha confesses. She asks me why I don't have a boyfriend, says I'm supposed to. 

It is the first time I remember feeling there must be something wrong with me because I do not have a boyfriend. 

More than 20 years later, I still do not have one. At times it is a badge I wear--single black female, like a rallying cry. I have a Bachelor's and (almost) Master's degrees, attended an Ivy League(ish) school and am well on my way to a brilliant career. For women like me, I am told, eligible men are an endangered species. 

Yes, in fact, I have been single for the majority of the past two decades. I am not emasculating or threatening, at least, I don't think I am. I just have never been in a stable, long-term committed relationship. There have been deaths and grief--frequently enough over the past ten years, beginning with my mother--that have greatly affected the way I relate to other people. I am always looking for the exit, for what's wrong with me or the other person. In all cases, I have found something that has made me leave. Then there is the knee jerk reaction, before birthdays and holidays, to get out of something I am in so I do not have to feel disappointment at what someone fails to do or say. 

I think it is hard, having grown accustomed to not having one, to have a boyfriend now. To meet someone you like, to get to know them, and keep trying even when they get on your nerves. What if they hurt you? Leave you? Die? With planes disappearing mid-air and buildings blowing up in Harlem, I have started avoiding construction sites. I will not date a policeman, fireman, or soldier. I will not date someone who climbs rocks or mountains or shoots guns, real or fake.

To make it harder, at my age, most people assume I should have a husband already. How does that work? I wonder. I have not had a boyfriend in years. When I have had one, I have picked the wrong guy, stayed for the wrong reasons, left for the right ones. I consider myself lucky that I knew enough not to marry any of the men I dated. I could have been an adequate wife to any one of them, just as I could have been an adequate doctor. 

But I am looking for something more.

I neither know what that thing is, nor do I understand what I mean by that. All I know is I keep meeting better versions of myself as I age. More confident, more self-aware and loving. I feel more beautiful, especially given that I never remember feeling that way as a kid. I am kinder and more patient, less selfish than I used to be. 

I am thankful to the handful of men who tried to be my boyfriends, to the ones who flat out rejected me, and those who were merely passing the time until someone better came along. I appreciate how much they taught me about how important it is to like myself, to not run around mad looking for someone else to complete me. 

All of that said, I am genuinely scared sometimes that I will never meet someone. Not because I have any trouble meeting people, or carrying on a conversation, or being asked out, but mostly because I am no longer merely happy to be chosen, as I was when I was younger. I should be with someone equally special who also treats me well. Sometimes I worry that I will never meet this person or, if I do, that they won't pick me to walk with them through this crazy world. 

I would probably be a good girlfriend now. And maybe, one day, even a good wife and mother. At least I no longer think there is something wrong with me because I'm none of these things. And I think that is a start.


(Disclaimer: I realize that this is a blog, but it is really a message to myself. I needed to send it into the universe, so thanks for reading.)

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  1. Thank you for sharing. It speaks to where I am in the process of being content with me and patient when it comes to meeting my partner.


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