“You’re Still Single? What’s Wrong With You?”

David Malebranche
12 min readOct 8, 2023

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While scrolling through social media recently, I came across a post from a fellow Black same gender loving (SGL) man that caught my eye:

“When a Dude is Handsome, Educated, have Money but still Single, What could be the problem?”

I had a visceral reaction to it, wondering why there would have to be a “problem” at all if a brother was single while also being handsome, educated, and with money? I didn’t understand the question — why would something have to be wrong with him? The comments section was a cornucopia of responses that read like a laundry list of individual level flaws:

“he’s crazy”

“that third leg ain’t hanging”

“he is boring”

“sex game is weak”

“his breath stank”

Other comments rose to defend this hypothetical single brother:

“Who says there is a problem?”

“He knows his worth”

“Maybe they want to be single”

I was triggered because, at the ripe age of fifty-four, I am currently single and have a job that keeps me comfortable with a roof over my head. I’ve gained some weight over the years but feel I have held together pretty well. And despite having a few relationships in the past that didn’t last for a variety of reasons, I have appreciated the lessons I’ve learned and growth I have experienced from them. As a result, I’m in a very peaceful place right now. What’s the problem with that journey? Personal connection aside, the question got me thinking. Oftentimes in medicine and public health we tend to “blame the victim” when a less than desired medical outcome occurs. If you are overweight, it’s because you eat too much. If you get in a motor vehicle accident, you were driving too fast. If you contract a sexually transmitted infection, you shouldn’t have been messing around in the first place. I’ve read this script before.

We live in a society where the norm we are brainwashed to believe is that our primary life goal is to be in a relationship. Not any kind of relationship, mind you, but the cookie-cutter, heteronormative, Judeo-Christian “two kids and a white picket fence,” “honey, I’m home, what’s for dinner” type of relationship that even white and/or straight people can’t seem to get right. We hear about it on podcasts, are bombarded with messages from social media influencers, and see it modeled in countless movies and TV shows we watch every day. The concept of someone having to be in this brand of relationship in order to feel whole is all around us. Endorsing this model as an entrepreneurial endeavor can even be a very lucrative concept to peddle to the masses. Self-proclaimed “relationship experts,” authors, psychologists and dating coaches can all make a good living giving advice to people on how to get and keep a man. We get it — if you aren’t in a society-endorsed type of relationship or dating with the ultimate goal of being in a relationship, then something must be wrong with you. Not the paradigm or socially constructed norm, but you. Why would anyone in their right mind willingly choose to be single?

I don’t know how or when Black SGL and queer communities adopted this goal as our primary life aspiration, but somehow it has taken hold and refuses to release its grip on us. This is the predominant romantic narrative we must embrace, or else we will be labeled as operating out of some type of deficit. God forbid as a Black SGL man, you make it past the age of forty, then you really must be some kind of loser to not be in a relationship or at least working towards being in one. This thought process becomes so entrenched in our collective psyches that it has us struggling with our mental health as a result. We put manufactured expectations on ourselves as we reach certain chronological age milestones — 30, 40, 50, 60. If we aren’t in a so-called “stable relationship” by a certain age, no whatever fulfillment you have in your life from other sources, you are lacking. Loneliness, depression, and anxiety can ensue as a result.

This line of thinking also leads to sentiments such as “I don’t wanna grow old alone” or “who’s gonna take care of me when I’m aging” as the primary incentives to find a man and be in a relationship. If a Black SGL man reaches any of these age landmarks and find themselves not in a relationship, a common question asked about him would be “Is he afraid of commitment?” or “Does he not know how to compromise?” When I hear this simplistic assessment of single individuals, I wonder if the same judgmental lens can be used to question why some people always seem to be perpetually in a relationship or actively dating: “Are you afraid to be alone?” or “Have you always this codependent?” would be perfectly appropriate questions to ask if we followed this logic. This is why so many of brothers struggle after a breakup or ending partnership. We think something must be wrong with us — like we’ve somehow failed at the one thing that so many have pressured us into believing is our only reason for living.

Over the years, however, I have noticed an interesting trend amidst all this societal pathologizing of single Black SGL men. Many of us who are partnered, in relationships, or married are struggling. I have had in depth conversations with friends and colleagues who don’t seem happy, peaceful, or fulfilled in their partnerships at all. They are on cruise control to ensure that they check the expected boxes of what it means to be in a relationship, but they function as glorified roommates. Some stay in these situations for the financial or tax benefits, others for the clicks and likes when they post pictures together on social media displaying their profound marital bliss. Others stay out of a sense of obligation or familiarity but are starving for true intimacy in all its forms behind closed doors. Which begs the question, is there truly this mythological “soulmate” that everyone talks about? The one man who fulfills your every need and with whom you settle down with for the rest of your life? Can one person actually do that? Is that even realistic? These questions are up for discussion, but in the meantime many of us continue to stay in stale and unfulfilling partnerships while at the same time passing judgment on others who are single. Some may respond to this topic by saying “relationships are work.” But after working all day at our jobs, doing all we do for our families, communities, and churches, shouldn’t a reasonable expectation be to not have to do more work at home? If two people in a relationship are in accord, it shouldn’t feel like work.

I had a recent conversation with a friend who has been in a relationship for almost 2 years with a man with whom he has truly fallen in love. I was asking about how things were going, and he was describing how they had a rocky start at the beginning, but now they have hit a smooth flow. They have traveled internationally together, spend the night over each other’s houses, and aren’t rushing the notion of marriage because things are going so well. Then he paused and said to me:

“We gotta get you a boyfriend.”

I’ve always hated when people get into relationships and all of a sudden get brand new, thinking that their new mission is to pull their single friends out of the depths of despair and depression and help them find a man. It reminds me of when a Born-Again Christian finds religion or someone “in the closet” comes out as queer — they are so happy for their personal epiphany that they erroneously believe that everyone else is on the same timeline and life journey, and it’s their duty to help them get there. I responded to his comment in kind.

“Why do you need to find me a man?”

I thought he was going to give a trite response like “because I want you to experience the joy I am,” or “you really should settle down.” Instead, he quipped back with something I wasn’t expecting:

“Cuz misery loves company!”

We both erupted in laughter as soon as those words escaped his lips. Though his answer was tongue in cheek, I sensed there was a little of truth behind it. He has always been an independent spirit, but also as a man in his mid-fifties, he may have been thinking that his time was running out to be in a defined relationship. I imagine he weighed the pros and cons of being in a societal-endorsed partnership vs. being single and chose the former — fully understanding that his life was now different, and in some ways, not as free as the one to which he had grown accustomed. He made that choice and seems incredibly happy with it. And I’m happy for him.

How one interacts with others in intimate, romantic, and sexual relationships is a fluid thing. People change over time. Our wants, needs, and desires shift and mutate as we grow, mature, and experience more in life. If one is in a relationship, the person you started the relationship with is not going to be the same person as the years go by and life experiences pile up. The true test of love and intimacy in a romantic connection is not just if you can accept that person for who they are, but who they may become over time.

Anyone reading this right now may be thinking that the issues I’m describing are not exclusive to Black SGL men, that they affect romantic relationships across the board, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. On general principle, that’s a fair statement. What makes this relationship expectation particularly alluring for many Black SGL men is the unique set of circumstances we live under that magnify our desire for meaningful contact. We deal with racism from a society that abhors the very existence of Black men. We are forced to endure the trauma of sexual prejudice and discrimination by society, our churches, and our families for being same gender loving and queer. Our attempts at society-endorsed relationships are often met with disdain and/or silence from our families. We exist during a time when we are disproportionately impacted by HIV, experiencing stigma, discrimination, and criminalization that impacts how we communicate and share intimacy with each other. On top of all this we are even subject to shaming from the general public and our own communities for simply having the audacity to love each other in open and authentic ways. Dealing with these myriad oppressive forces can be isolating, amplifying an urgent longing for connectedness. It’s no wonder we latch on so tightly to the romanticized relationship ideal we see all around us, even if it may not be the best fit in some cases.

A few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with four friends to celebrate one of us turning fifty-seven. Five Black SGL men, ages ranging from mid-40s to 50s, all successful and comfortable in our own right, and depending on the eye of the beholder, all considered beautiful. We got into a conversation about relationships and went round robin across the table to discuss each of our current situations. Some of us were single, others in traditional relationships, others in entanglements and various other arrangements. Each of us was vulnerable and raw when telling our stories, and there was an openness in our dialogue that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. No one was scorned for their romantic choices and exploits — we just showed support and encouragement. It was refreshing. An oasis in the desert of negative day-to-day messaging we often receive as Black SGL men.

Was it the fact that we were all of a certain age? Could be. Though I would argue that being older in chronological age does not always equate to heightened emotional intelligence or maturity. Was it the drinks we were having? No, because we started our conversation long before we began consuming alcohol. Whatever it was, I didn’t care. I was just happy to be around chosen family, celebrating our friend’s birthday, in a space that felt like a soft landing on which we could share our intimate pursuits without fear of being judged.

So, what’s the answer to all this? I don’t think there is a right answer, and I don’t know if I have one. What I do know is that it begins with us and having the type of conversations I had with my brothers a few weeks ago. When we have these discussions about being singled or partnered, we have to be able to give ourselves the freedom to create the types of relationships that are defined by the people involved, and no one else. Whatever that looks like, not solely based on flawed heteronormative standards with rigid gender roles. And by “freedom” I don’t just mean the ability of two Black SGL men to get legally married, but the freedom to not allow ourselves to succumb to the pressure to squeeze ourselves into a standard that wasn’t created for us. The freedom to embrace our fluid sexual and romantic lives and acknowledge that our needs and wants from a relationship may change over time. The freedom to celebrate our own happiness in the types of relationships that works for us, while also affirming someone else’s understanding that it might not work for them. Freedom to know that we get to determine who and what fills our emotional, spiritual, and intimate cups — which may be as diverse as an investment portfolio or work streams to keep that roof over our heads, and not an idealized conception that it has to all come wrapped in one cocoa-colored package.

As Black SGL and queer people, we have diverse desires and lived experiences. Whether you are just beginning your journey of romantic and sexual relationships as a young adult, or whether you are considered an elder. If you meet that one person who fulfills you and you share a monogamous life’s journey together for 50+ years, good for you. If your friends, family, and other areas of your life pour into your cup to keep you fulfilled, and you only need occasional physically intimate moments from one person or several, that’s great. If you are a serial monogamist who is most content when with one partner, keep on. And if you just don’t wanna be bothered with romantic or sexual endeavors at all, and the rest of your life is enough, have at it. Just know that your existence, including your sexual and romantic adventures, is an unpredictable and winding journey. Give yourself grace if your life’s experiences shift the focus of what you need from physical and romantic intimacy during different phases of your life. Changing your mind and vocalizing your shifting needs is not being hypocritical — it’s called evolution. We have enough people in society trying to write our narrative for us. Don’t allow others to convince you that you have to subscribe to a particular static dating or romantic script just because it works for them and so many others. Remember, things are not always what they appear on the outside, especially on social media. Do what works for and feels right to you at all times. You are the author of your life’s book.

One of the most commonly used statements to convince someone they need to be in a relationship as soon as possible is “Life is short.” I agree with the last part. Life is too short to be allowing others to pressure you to get in any kind of relationship that you either don’t want, doesn’t suit your needs, or is with the wrong person at the wrong time. There is nothing problematic with being single, at any age, at any time, even when you are actively pursuing the best kind of relationship for you. Own the fact that all by yourself, you are operating out of a space of abundance, not deficit. You are enough, regardless of your relationship status. The relationship you choose to be in should be with a person who will complement you, challenge you, and help you grow — not someone you are seeking to complete you.

What’s the problem if a Black SGL man is handsome, educated, has money and is still single? Maybe the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question. When a brother possesses these attributes and is still single, perhaps it would be better to not immediately assume that this reflects his personal shortfalls. Perhaps ask this brother “What kind of relationship, if any, makes you happy, content, or fulfilled right now?” Then trust him with the truth he tells you, even if it doesn’t align with yours.

David Malebranche, MD, MPH, is a board-certified internal medicine physician with expertise in sexual health and HIV/STI prevention and treatment. He is also a public health official, activist, and educator who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and has appeared in the YouTube series “Revolutionary Health” as part of The Counter Narrative Project and also on the #AskTheHIVDoc video series. Dr. Malebranche’s writings and research have been published in JAMA, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the American Journal of Public Health, and Lancet. He has also been featured on the “Greater than COVID” campaign with the Kaiser Family Foundation and has written several articles on HIV treatment education at thebody.com. In 2015, he penned a memoir entitled “Standing on His Shoulders,” a memoir about lessons learned from his relationship with his father, which is available on Amazon.

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