And while much of this content is understood to be for entertainment purposes only, some of it is presented and received as legitimate and data-driven.
This is a problem because too many people cannot distinguish what they see onscreen from reality. Media portrayals are often hyperbolic and sensationalized to attract public attention. Equally troubling is that the majority of academic research in this area also perpetuates many of the same, negative patterns that are common in popular culture.
Other studies conclude that many poor Black men reject monogamous romantic relationships in favor of a hypersexual masculinity to overcompensate for their inability to fulfill the traditional breadwinner role. These men, the studies conclude, treat women as conquests rather than partners.
I have found that the near-exclusive focus on low-income Black men in research related to the family skews perceptions of these men. It also limits the public’s knowledge of them and the meanings they attach to their romantic relationships. And this perception can be used to perpetuate negative stereotypes that frame them as dangerous and predatory.
Resetting the image
In response to that limited view, I spent the last four years conducting a study on a more diverse group of Black men to learn more about their perspectives on marriage.
The men’s stories reveal important findings that are typically not explored in research on Black men. They opened up about their desire for intimacy and companionship in their 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. The data for the study were collected from over 150 hours of interviews with the men.
The men I interviewed ranged in age from 18 to 72. They represented a variety of relationship statuses, with men reporting being single, romantically involved, married, divorced and remarried. The men were also diverse in their educational attainment. Some had graduate and professional degrees, while others had high school diplomas and GEDs. The men also varied in their economic situations, with annual incomes ranging from $0 to US$175,000.
In sharing their experiences, the men provided an in-depth look into their love lives. Their discussions touched on many important factors that have shaped their past and current relationships.
They reflected on how they met their partners and the characteristics that made them stand out from previous partners. The men described their ideal marriage mate and shared what marriage means to them.
In discussing what attracted him to his wife, one man stated, “She wasn’t phony. She was comfortable being herself, she wasn’t trying to impress anybody. So it made me learn to be comfortable being myself.”
‘The most important decision’
In the interviews, many of the men credit their partners with making them better husbands, fathers and men. According to one of the participants, “I always tell her that I couldn’t have become who I am without her. Meeting the right person, to stand with the right person is probably the most important decision I’ve made in my life.”
The men even recognize the ways their relationships serve to combat the negative perception that often surrounds Black men.
“The media portrays us as shiftless and violent and not to be trusted. I think when you see a man with a woman treating her well, a man with his children treating them the way they should be treated, it dispels a lot of what folks see in the media. Just seeing positive men doing what men should do is a good thing,” said one man.
Most often, the men talked about how the unique characteristics that set their mate apart from others they had dated.
In explaining what attracted him to his wife, one man stated, “I think just how she was able to articulate 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 carries herself. Her presence made me want to be with her and I never had another woman make me feel like that.”
However, many of these men said they struggle with previous traumas that challenge their relationships. A detective alluded to the psychological stress he faced in being a Black man having to police his community at a time of distrust and unrest, only to come home and have to be emotionally available for his wife.
In one of his interviews, he stated, “I try not to let the stress bother me, but it’s still one of those things. It just does. Sometimes I’m really withdrawn because I’m thinking about things at work or I’m always working. When it happens, I’ve got to put myself in check.”
Another man wrestled with the realization that many of his former girlfriends had a striking resemblance to a babysitter who abused him as a child.
The near-total focus on low-income Black men by academia and popular culture creates an unrealistic picture of them. Here, at commencement at Howard University in 2016, students heard from then-President Barack Obama. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Haunted by failures
In discussing their fears and insecurities, many of the men acknowledge being guarded with their emotions as a result of some of their early experiences.
Even when they were able to move beyond early negative experiences, many of the men discussed feeling haunted by their friends and family members’ failed relationships.
In these cases, the men expressed concern that their relationships would not last. As one participant said, “I don’t know that many people of color have seen marriage modeled very well.”
Yet over and over again, in the interviews, men told how they would strive to maintain their relationships in the face of myriad internal and external challenges including racism and early negative relationship experiences.
Given the lack of research on Black men featuring firsthand accounts from them, “Black Love Matters” represents a departure from previous work that seems to be preoccupied with implicating Black men in discussions of what ails their families and communities.
In lifting up the men’s voices, “Black Love Matters” shifts the focus away from talking about Black men and instead talks to them about how they love and want to be loved.
Last summer, the media couldn’t get enough of the word “entanglement” as actors Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith confronted rumors about infidelity in their relationship on an episode of Jada’s Facebook Red Table Talk show. The couple displayed a united front, forgiving the indiscretion and committing to their partnership no matter what happens.
For over two decades, people have been attempting to redefine marriage. And as commendable as pledging a lifelong commitment is, there is no difference between that and how God intended for us to approach our marriages. Marriage simply used to mean a union between one male and one female, but it is increasingly becoming a socially constructed concept with multiple meanings. People with nontraditional views of marriage seem to look down on others as closed-minded or inferior when they don’t waver in their traditional beliefs on marriage. Additionally, the concept of a life partner is gaining traction as though it supersedes marriage. However, if one looks at how God originally designed marriage, there is no need to create a “better” concept of the dyadic relationship. Perfection cannot be improved upon; it can only be tainted.
In Mark 10, Jesus says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Those who take this at face value will automatically see the lifelong commitment implication here. The Biblical version of marriage is not the problem; people have started to consider these sacred words as optional. Marriage is becoming more about how we feel rather than what we do. If we feel okay with our spouse’s actions on a particular day, we are more likely to want to stay married. If we’re going through a season in our relationship where things seem strained, or we feel a disconnect with our spouse, then we look for exit strategies. Soon, a habit that our spouse has had since we’ve known them becomes magnified as well as their other flaws. Or we retroactively recall how we never prayed about this marriage in the first place and begin to convince ourselves that this person was not who God intended for us, forgetting how we’d thanked God for sending us a “soulmate” initially. Suddenly, what was a blessing, turns into the biggest mistake that we’ve ever made in our lives. (At least that’s what we tell ourselves.) It’s not that God’s statutes changed. We’ve changed our minds, and we want to make the Word fit our scenarios.
The Smiths have openly shared how they began to redefine their union during rough patches in their relationship. While some may consider it amazing that this couple has found a way to stay together, others may find the terminology and overall explanation hubristic as it implies that a life partnership somehow transcends God’s plan for marriage. When one enters into a marital relationship with the mentality that there are no exit doors other than death, then the lifetime commitment doesn’t have to be an addendum. It’s built into the fabric of the relationship. When one truly embraces all the components of love as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, there is grace for flaws. Furthermore, an “entanglement” doesn’t have to be the end of a marriage but could signify the beginning of a new and better one. While marital healing from “entanglements” requires contrition from the entangler and forgiveness from the spouse, couples must learn that infidelity is not the problem in a marriage, only a symptom.
Having a life partnership mentality toward marriage is great, but it should not replace what God has already perfected. Marriage is not a meaningless piece of paper or a man-made control mechanism. It’s a God-ordained institution that pre-dates sin. In its heyday, it was flawless. Now that we are inhabitants of this broken world, it is stained by ideologies and philosophies that attempt to undermine its importance. A life partnership may be a verbal contract between two people, but a marriage is a covenant between the couple and God. When we realize that, we don’t have to find creative ways to ensure that we stay together because we’ve already decided that we would when we began our journey.
Tree imagery appears throughout Scripture when describing human beings. When Jesus began to heal the blind man in Mark’s Gospel, He asked him if he saw anything. The man responded and stated: “I see men like trees, walking” (see Mark 8:24, NKJV). Jesus Himself used this imagery to describe the interconnectedness of human beings. One of the most profound statements that He made was connected to something we try to figure out all the time in this life—relationships: “…for a tree is known by its fruit” (from Matthew 12:33, NKJV).
The “Job Interview”
One of the most frustrating things I notice in unhealthy or failed relationships is the lack of accounting when it comes to examining another person’s fruit. Sadly we mistake the honeymoon phase of dating relationships as the true nature of another individual. Anyone can go on a job interview dressed up and ready to answer questions impressively. This is precisely what dating tends to look like. The one thing the job interviewee knows? Putting one’s best foot forward increases his or her chances at getting hired.
I’m willing to bet you that a man will not reveal on the first date that he’s possessive, jealous, and insecure, and has expectations that you treat him like his mother treated him. I’m also pretty confident that a woman probably will not reveal that she is looking for someone to treat her like her last boyfriend or someone who knows exactly what she’s thinking without her saying it. Nor will she reveal any other emotional baggage she may carry. Let me give you a simple secret to help you see through that “impressive resume” on the first couple of dates: Time!
Taking Some Time
I know. I know. It sounds elementary and simple. I am pretty sure the heavens didn’t open up after that revelation. Sadly, this truth is avoided like the plague when it comes to entering relationships and causes more frustration than most people would like to admit. In addition to a tree being known by its fruit, Jesus also revealed that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18, NKJV).
Let me put it this way. Entering a new relationship is like planting a seed. When you begin to water that relationship seed, it will begin to break through any dirt (i.e., any unrevealed vices) that either one of you have and reveal one another’s true nature. Of course, that watering occurs by means of the “living water” (see John 7:38). Afterward, things will begin to bud in the relationship and eventually trees will emerge with accompanying fruit. Here’s the key. Whether or not the other person’s tree bears good fruit depends on their response to your watering.
Please hear my heart on this. Developing a healthy relationship requires an effort on behalf of both parties. If you begin to feel like you are the only one attempting to develop your relationship, then you will begin to feel unattended to and lacking nourishment.
The Fruit Test
Once you’ve overcome the time obstacle, you can begin to properly evaluate a relationship and look for fruit. The good thing about this process is that everyone produces fruit of some kind. The only difference is the marketability of that fruit. Would you go into a grocery store and buy rotten apples or oranges? Why would you do the same thing as it pertains to a relationship? Here are some things to look for when evaluating relationships: “Now the [fruit] of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery… murders…” (from Galatians 5:19–21, NKJV).
Ask yourself: Is this person adulterous? I know what you’re asking. Isn’t this supposed to be an article on dating? What does adultery have to do with dating relationships? I’m glad you asked. Jesus says that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matthew 5:28). Do you find them looking at other people when you two are together? This is an indication that they are adulterous, at least as far as their heart is concerned. This bad fruit can help you when you examine the relationship.
You might also want to ask yourself: Is this person a murderer? I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not talking about people who may be imprisoned for taking the life of another person. I am talking about people who are locked up in a different way. Scripture is very clear when it says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (from 1 John 3:15, NKJV). Does your significant other have disdain for other ethnic groups? Does he or she make disparaging remarks about others that are hurtful? God saw fit that this issue was serious enough to warrant mentioning and should lead each of us to examine the people in our leaves for this potential bad fruit. Those are just two items on a long list of what Paul deems to be bad fruit. Check out the others on the list in Galatians 5 and determine whether your significant other shows signs of bad fruit.
The Good News
People can exhibit things you should be looking for in a significant other. The Apostle Paul calls this good fruit. Some examples of good fruit? Love, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (see Galatians 5:22–23).
Take time out now to examine past relationships in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Have you seen any of the fruit mentioned above at work in those relationships? More importantly, can you take lessons learned from those situations and move forward with a new conviction? The important thing about the blind man seeing “men like trees” in Mark’s Gospel was that his healing was incomplete. He needed a further touch from Jesus. With that touch he was restored and saw everyone clearly (see Mark 8:25b). Although examining the fruit of others to evaluate our relationships is important, there is still a need to rely on and allow Christ to place His hand on those relationships for full clarity and direction. If you keep these things in mind, your relationship will truly become like a tree planted by the rivers of water (see Psalm 1:3) and flourish in Christ.
For those dipping their toes into the dating pool during stay-at-home orders, it’s been like swimming in a version of Netflix’s reality series “Love is Blind.”
In the show, contestants must get engaged before ever actually meeting one another in person. And while a lockdown engagement might be a bit extreme, it’s entirely possible that two people have grown to really like one another over the previous weeks and months. Maybe it started with a match on a dating app, followed by flirting over text. Then came regularly scheduled Zoom dates. Perhaps they’ve even started envisioning a future together.
Now, as states start to ease restrictions, some may have broached taking the next step: an in-person rendezvous.
What are the chances that their online connection will lead to true love?
In my book, “The Science of Kissing,” I describe how compatibility requires engaging all of our senses. And absent the touch, taste and smell of a potential partner, people dating online during quarantine have essentially been flying blind.
Human attraction involves the influence of cues that evolved over millions of years.
On a traditional date in a restaurant or move theater, we actively gather details about someone by walking side by side, holding hands, hugging and – if things get far enough – kissing. These experiences send neural impulses between the brain and body, stimulating tiny chemical messengers that affect how we feel. When two people are a good match, hormones and neurotransmitters bring about the sensations we might describe as being on a natural high or experiencing the exhilaration of butterflies. Finding love isn’t rocket science – it’s anatomy, endocrinology and real chemistry.
One of the most important neurotransmitters involved in influencing our emotions is dopamine, responsible for craving and desire. This natural drug can be promoted through physical intimacy and leads to the addictive nature of a new relationship. Of course, dopamine is just one player in a chemical symphony that motivates behavior. Intimate encounters also promote the release of oxytocin, which creates a sense of attachment and affection, and epinephrine, which boosts our heart rate and reduces stress. There’s also a decrease in serotonin, which can lead to obsessive thoughts and feelings about the other person.
In fact, one study showed that people who report that they’ve just “fallen in love” have levels of serotonin similar to patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. This chemical cocktail can even lead to trouble sleeping or a loss of appetite – symptoms people often attribute to meeting “the one.”
Our noses also play a powerful role in who we fall for. The famous “sweaty t-shirt experiment” reported that a man’s natural scent may influence how women choose a partner. The women in the study nearly always expressed a preference for the odor of men who differed genetically from them in immune response to disease. Scientists theorize that selecting someone with genetic diversity in this region, called the major histocompatibility complex, could be important for producing children with flexible and versatile immune systems.
A kiss can make or break it
While a man’s natural scent may not be something women consciously notice early on in a heterosexual relationship, getting up close and personal can serve as a kind of litmus test for a couple. A kiss puts two people nose to cheek, offering a reliable sample of smell and taste unrivaled by most other courtship rituals. Perhaps that’s one reason a 2007 University of Albany study reported that 59% of men and 66% of women have broken off a budding romance because of a bad first kiss.
Complicating matters, factors that typically grab our attention in person are less obvious to recognize in a witty profile or photo. Studies of online dating behavior reveal superficial features are correlated with the level of interest an individual receives. For example, short-haired women do not tend to get as much attention from men as those with long, straight hair, while men who report a height of six-foot-three or six-foot-four fare better than their peers at interacting with women. The initial focus on appearance promotes pairing based on characteristics that aren’t significant in lasting relationships, compared with more important factors for long-term compatibility, like intimacy and shared experiences.
Still, at a time when many of us are feeling more isolated than ever, online dating does offer some benefits. Quarantine has encouraged men and women to take additional time to learn about each other prior to meeting, sparing the anxiety of rushed physical intimacy.
For some couples, a real-world date will kindle the spark that began online. Many others will realize they’re better suited as friends.
I seriously dated a brother in Christ last year who happened to be a divorcée. Before then, I never thought much about divorce–let alone remarriage. Frankly, I didn’t know what either of these meant from a faith-based perspective.
I honestly didn’t think it mattered.
Yet, as I began to pray, study God’s word and talk with Christian peers who have experienced divorce and remarriage, I came to realize that my courtship could not move toward matrimony.
Don’t get me wrong. Being divorced isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for me. But I do believe there are important spiritual and practical matters to consider when dating Christians who have been previously married.
KNOW WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT DIVORCE
God tells us in no uncertain terms that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). God’s perfect will is that divorce never occurs because husband and wife are ONE flesh in His eyes (Matthew 19:3-6). It is His intention that marriage be for life and that no man separate what He has joined together. Ultimately, the law of marriage is a bond that should only be broken by death (1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2).
CONSIDER THE STATISTICS
Statistics show that remarriages have a higher fail rate. While 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, the number rises to 67 percent for second marriages (and 73 percent for third marriages). These increases are due to remarriages entered into on the rebound, spousal comparisons, children, and individuals not being fully healed from their previous unions.
These stats don’t mean a remarriage can’t succeed. But you must know what you’re up against so that you can watch for the stumbling blocks; then proceed with wisdom, caution, and lots of prayer.
KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO
Marriage is a blessing, but as my friend Trish admits, “It’s hard.” This is especially the case with remarriages involving young children, she says. In fact, she finds the experience of her second marriage to be more challenging than her first. “No matter how bad a [first] marriage is–yes, even with adultery–when children are involved, it is best to forgive and reconcile [with your first spouse] than to remarry and try to blend a family in a new marriage,” Trish says when thinking of her own situation.
My friend Kathy, on the other hand, shares that her second marriage has been restorative. “My first marriage was a nightmare,” she recalls. Kathy’s first husband was unfaithful, abusive and manipulative. She was extremely reluctant to remarry after him.
When she met the man who would become her second husband, she thoroughly examined his character and was eventually won over by his faith in Christ and kind spirit.“He took to my children like they were his own, and my family loved him,” she says. “I fought remarriage until they wore me out.”
And after he proposed? “The ring stayed in the box for six months until God told me to stop acting silly.”
Yes, Christians should date with the intention to marry. Nevertheless, marriage isn’t possible if your intended belongs to another in God’s eyes. As we date those who have been previously married, ask questions to learn where they stand with Christ and in their previous marriages. Then, seek the Lord to determine if you would be permitted and willing to stand with them in holy matrimony—until death.
It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.
Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.
However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?
The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.
However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.
Fighting for Love
“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”
To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.
And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.
Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.
Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.
Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.
She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.
“Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”
After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.
Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.
Turning Off the Gaslight
Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.
“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”
Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.
As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .
Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”
As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.
“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.
Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?
“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).
In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.
It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?
That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.
Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.