The reality of love life and marriages for black men is very different from what is usually shown on television – I have spent years talking to them.

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Finding and keeping a good black man in a relationship has become a cottage industry. From celebrities and reality TV stars to social media influencers, for better or worse, there is no shortage of relationship advice for people looking to understand black men.

And while much of this content is meant to be for entertainment purposes only, some is touted and received as legitimate and data-driven.

This is a problem because too many people cannot distinguish what they are seeing on screen from reality. Media portrayals are often hyperbolic and sensationalist to gain public attention. Equally disturbing is that the majority of academic research in this area also perpetuates many of the same negative patterns that are common in popular culture.

As a graduate student and college professor, I have spent nearly two decades reviewing these studies of black men and families. The general consensus on their part falls into one of two categories: first, that many black men are not viable spouses because their financial difficulties will not allow them to support a wife and children. .

Other studies find that many poor black men reject monogamous romantic relationships in favor of hypersexual masculinity to overcompensate their inability to fulfill the traditional breadwinner role. These men, the studies conclude, treat women as conquests rather than partners.

In historical and more recent research, studies of black men have disproportionately examined the lives of low-income men and the difficulties they face in maintaining stable relationships in the face of economic disadvantage.

I have found that the almost exclusive focus on low-income black men in family-related research skews the perceptions of these men. It also limits the public’s knowledge of them and the meaning they attach to their romantic relationships. And this perception can be used to perpetuate negative stereotypes that present them as dangerous and predatory.

In the author’s interviews, many men give credit to their partners for making them better husbands, fathers and men.
Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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In response to this limited perspective, I have spent the past four years conducting a study of a more diverse group of black men to learn more about their views on marriage.

Men’s stories reveal important discoveries that are generally not explored in research on black men. They spoke of their desire for intimacy and companionship in their relationships.

My findings, many of which run counter to the popular image our society has of black men, have just been published in a book called “Black Love Matters: Authentic Men’s Voices on Marriage and Romantic Relationships.”

My study followed 33 black men from Louisville, Kentucky, chronicling their personal circumstances, as well as their attitudes, experiences and behaviors within their marriages and romantic relationships. Study data was collected from over 150 hours of interviews with the men.

The men I interviewed were between 18 and 72 years old. They represented a variety of relationship statuses, with men reporting being single, in a relationship, married, divorced, and remarried. Men were also diverse in their level of education. Some had graduate degrees and professional degrees, while others had high school degrees and GEDs. Men also varied in their economic status, with annual incomes ranging from US $ 0 to US $ 175,000.

By sharing their experiences, the men provided an in-depth look at their love life. Their discussions focused on many important factors that have shaped their past and current relationships.

They reflected on how they met their partners and what characteristics set them apart from previous partners. The men described their ideal partner and shared what marriage means to them.

Discussing what attracted him to his wife, one man said, “She wasn’t phony. She was comfortable being herself, she wasn’t trying to impress anyone. So it made me learn to be comfortable being myself.

“The most important decision”

In interviews, many men give credit to their partners for making them better husbands, fathers and men. According to one participant: “I always tell her that I couldn’t have become who I am without her. To meet the right person, to be with the right person is probably the most important decision I have made in my life.

Men even recognize how their relationships serve to combat the negative perception that often surrounds black men.

“The media present us as fickle and violent, who should not be trusted. I think when you see a man with a woman treating her well, a man with his kids treating them the way they should be treated, it dispels a lot of what people see in the media. Just seeing positive men doing what men should be doing is a good thing, ”said one man.

Most often, men would talk about the unique characteristics that set their partner apart from others they had dated.

Explaining what attracted him to his wife, one man said: “I think about how she was able to explain to me who she was and how she shared some of my values ​​when it comes to children and relationships. . It’s just how she behaves. Her presence made me want to be with her and I have never had another woman who made me feel that way.

However, many of these men said they were struggling with past traumas that called their relationships into question. One detective alluded to the psychological stress he faced as a black man having to watch his community in a time of mistrust and turmoil, only to return home and be emotionally available to his wife.

In one of his interviews, he said, “I try not to let stress bother me, but it’s always one of those things. It’s just. Sometimes I’m really withdrawn because I’m thinking about things at work or still working. When that happens, I have to put myself in check.

Another man struggled with the realization that many of his former girlfriends bore a striking resemblance to a babysitter who abused him as a child.

A crowd of black students who graduated from Howard University in 2016.
The almost total attention given to low-income black men by academia and popular culture creates an unrealistic image of them. Here, at the start of Howard University in 2016, students heard from then-President Barack Obama.
AP Photo / José Luis Magana

Haunted by failures

When discussing their fears and insecurities, many men recognize that they are wary of their emotions as a result of some of their early experiences.

Even when they were able to move past the first negative experiences, many men said they felt haunted by the failed relationships of their friends and family.

In these cases, the men feared that their relationships would not last. As one participant put it, “I don’t know if a lot of people of color saw the wedding modeled very well.

Yet time and again in the interviews, men spoke about how they would strive to maintain relationships in the face of a myriad of internal and external challenges, including racism and negative early relationship experiences.

Given the lack of research on black men presenting first-hand accounts of them, “Black Love Matters” represents a departure from previous work which appears to be concerned with involving black men in discussions of what afflicts their families and communities.

By raising men’s voices, “Black Love Matters” distracts from talking about black men and instead talks to them about how they love and want to be loved.

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