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Session 185: Single Life During the Pandemic

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

In session 132 we spoke with Dr. Jessica D. Moorman about reimagining what it means to be single and several community members requested that she return to talk about what singleness means during the pandemic. So she’s back! This time we chatted about about the new layers of being single that have been illuminated by the pandemic, how community care is more critical now than ever, how she’s been creative in getting her social needs met, and policy changes we should consider to make the country more supportive for single women.

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Session 185: Single Life During the Pandemic

Dr. Joy: Hey, y’all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 185 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. In Session 132 of the podcast, we spoke with Dr. Jessica D. Moorman about reimagining what it means to be single and several community members requested that she return to talk about what singleness means during the pandemic.

As a reminder, Dr. Moorman is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Wayne State University. She earned her PhD in Communication studies from the University of Michigan, and her Master of Health Science in Health, Behavior and Society from The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Moorman’s research explores single black women’s experiences of unmarried life.

In today’s conversation, Dr. Moorman and I chatted about the new layers of being single that have been illuminated by the pandemic, how community care is more critical now than ever, how she’s been creative in getting her social needs met, and policy changes we should consider to make the country more supportive for single women. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please make sure to share with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here’s our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Dr. Moorman, thank you so much for joining us again.

Dr. Moorman: Thank you for having me back. I'm excited.

Dr. Joy: Yes, the community was like, “We want to hear from Dr. Morgan again,” so we had to get you back. But I think it is perfect to just kind of talk about during the pandemic, there's been so many new layers related to singleness on Earth. I’d love for us to begin with you just talking about what you've been up to since we last chatted.

Dr. Moorman: You gonna start there? Oh my! Since the last time we talked, a relationship of five years ended, I got a new job, I moved to another state, I rehabbed a house–so I bought an abandoned house and rehabbed it and I'm now living in it. What else do you want to know? My life is just sort of... I flipped the table upside down.

Dr. Joy: Obviously! You have done most of this during the pandemic?

Dr. Moorman: Oh, 1000%. I was looking for jobs starting September of last year and started my interviewing process in November of last year and didn't sign a new contract until April. My partner and I ended up breaking up because he found a job back in Trinidad where he's from, and I'm from Detroit and so I got a job at Wayne State University, which is where I'm from. I'm from the city so I came on home, he went on home, and I had to interview right before COVID hit.

My interview for my current job was on May 2. We had lockdown orders going into place that next week so I had to shift everything online for coursework and teaching starting March 12. And packed up my house in Iowa single handedly, because I didn't want... You know, my parents were offering to help me, “But y'all 70, have a seat. You don't need to be up here running around.” Then moved here, finished my rehab because I wasn't expecting to actually be in my house, because I wasn't expecting to leave Iowa, because I was expecting to get married and have kids in Iowa! So yeah, my life looks completely different from how it did when we talked last time.

Dr. Joy: Obviously, obviously. I am curious, I know that you engage fully in qualitative research and so we know who we are as a researcher then shows up in the research. I'm curious to hear how maybe any of your personal experiences have kind of led to any new research ideas or what kinds of things have you been studying during this time?

Dr. Moorman: During this time, I've actually really been sitting with the qualitative data that I was talking with you (kind of preliminarily) about last time. And so thinking more sort of about how I want to purpose that project and what kind of deeper insights can be revealed from those conversations that I've had, because we're in quarantine so I can't go out and get data in the same ways that I would have otherwise. And really kind of thinking about what's going on in that project and you asking me such questions are drawing kind of parallels between my own life, is just sort of thinking about the infinite flexibility of single life. It can look any kind of way.

And then I think, also kind of very pressing for me, but also for others, is just thinking about the ways that structural conditions are really shaping a lot of people's experiences in COVID-19, shaping my experiences. I have the privilege of working from home, I don't have any kids, which before this experience was maybe not seen as a privilege. But in lockdown, I'm 1000% experiencing it as one because I don't have to worry about the kind of concerns around childcare.

And so, for me, I think those are kind of the two biggest reframes that have happened, is just sort of thinking about the ways that structural factors are really kind of undermining single women's opportunities to be great in the most kind of colloquial sense but then also thinking about how we kind of have a privilege inversion. Things that in the culture may be derided or mocked are showing up perhaps as saving graces in this period of time. That's not to critique any mothers, I'm not trying to kind of shade anybody or create any conflicts here, but if we're speaking specifically about my own experiences, those are the two things that have come to mind.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And can you say more about some of those structural pieces? Because I do think that a lot of what has happened during COVID-19 is that we have realized (or further realized, for some of us) how so many of these structures were very shaky in the first place. Can you say more about what that looks like and how that maybe is impacting singles?

Dr. Moorman: Sure. And so we can think about the kind of structural factor that's taking place along race, class, gender but then also, very acutely, marital status lines. First and foremost, we kind of need to think about what it means to be single in this moment. In my research, I define being single as a person who is unmarried and not cohabiting because those are two institutions or relationship structures, whether you're married or not, that provide a lot of support, ideally. You have a person in the house with you if you're cohabiting with them or if you're kind of living with a partner. And so what you're seeing is that... I don't want to frame this as privilege because constrained choice is not privilege, but there are certain choices available to married women that are not available to single women. And that doesn't mean that those choices are better or privileges; it just means that's the way that their experiences are playing out.

And so I'll give you an example. We recently saw the release of Bureau of Labor Statistics data talking about the number of women who have left the workforce, which by no means would be considered a privilege because of the mothering tax. You leave work, you take a hiatus on your career, we know that that has implications for lifetime-earning, that has implications for career advancement and that's, for many of us, a very necessary thing that we have to do in order to prioritize our families. And so what we're seeing right now is that women have left the labor force at four times the rate of men and that Latinx women make up 37% of all women's departures.

But we have to also frame that and, to be clear, 865,000 women left the workforce between September and October of this year and we're still digging into that. This is National Women's Law Center, I believe, that did this analysis. But we have to think about those from the standpoint of constrained choice–you can't leave the workforce unless you have a system of support that allows you to do that. And so what you're seeing now is this kind of bifurcation of the workforce where you have people who need to stay working in jobs, like single parents, who don't have the opportunity to rely on a spouse's income earning. So you're seeing kind of burnout among singles and single parents who have to stay in the workforce to sustain themselves. And you're seeing these kinds of constrained choices for women that are married, but are having to trade away career advancement to secure their families.

And so again, that's not about privilege per se, but the choices that are available to single women compared to married women. When we talk about kind of single status and thinking about the fact that a lot of, specifically single parents, but singles in general, just need to be working right now, now we need to think about the kinds of labor that they're doing. Are you able to stay home and do mainly office work, white-collar jobs? Or do you have to go into community? Are you an essential worker? Do you have to work outside of the home in order to sustain yourself? And we're seeing those types of jobs break along class lines in general. People that can work from home are typically white-collar workers who make salaries.

Then you're seeing that the people that have to be outside of the home the most, those who are working essential jobs or who are working jobs that are maybe in the service industry, they're not receiving the kinds of supports they need in the home space to ensure that a healthy kind of balance between work and family is going on. And so there's tensions and pressures there that are requiring singles to think innovatively about how to live life. So are we combining households with our sister? Are we having to come up with an alternative care structure, maybe even sending our kids back to in-person instruction if you don't want to? It's a set of kind of choices that might not be in one's long term best interest but have to be made to sustain oneself in the here and now.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, I mean, I definitely saw those numbers coming out and thought, wow, that is a very large number and I appreciate you breaking it down. Because it is still an unfolding situation, right? Like we don't necessarily have an end in sight, so to speak, and so we don't even know how many more women are going to be leaving the workforce or making different decisions, kind of continuing to be based on COVID-19.

Dr. Moorman: And I have one more comment about that data. Again, this is the National Women's Law Center, I believe, who did these analyses, and I can pull it up to confirm where that report is from. But they looked at the metadata, it’s 865,000 women left. 37% of those women were Latinx, 6.5% of those women were black. And again, like you said, we're still learning about that data but it's my hunch (because marital status differences look so different between Latinx and black women) that one of the reason you're seeing black women remain in the workforce is because, A, they have financial constraints that might require them to stay but, B, because they don't have the option of relying on a marital partner in the same ways that other racial groups of women do.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And so when you think about like the long-term implications of that... Again, we don't necessarily know but what would be some of your guesses about what that means?

Dr. Moorman: Well, based on what we see in the data around labor and women's trajectories in the workforce, we know that departures from work have implications for career advancement over the long term, and have implications for income earning over the long term. And so, departure from the workforce has implications for professional women's security over the life course but for single women, that has implications in the here and now for how we're going to manage the stress of this current moment. And because social support networks are a bit frayed right now, you can't rely on maybe support that you would have from a parent or a sibling in the same way because maybe you are not able to access them.

There's a lot of difficulties managing perhaps the isolation of this moment, the added responsibilities of this moment and then also because lots of states are still kind of going back into lockdown (because our COVID numbers are getting so high) for some of us, this also might mean going into the winter without employment. And so because we know that there's not really a safety net in place–in terms of people receiving childcare, in terms of people receiving supplemental income–the current moment that we're in has very real kind of tangible implications for day to day survival. And if you recall, we're not in the same moment of protections regarding evictions that we were in June of this year, there's not the same inertia or trajectory or motivation to ensure that workers have the resources that they need to maintain their household’s, yes, monetary but also childcare resources. And so people are stressed, legitimately so, and depending on where you sit in terms of your economic, your marital status, your child maternal status, these can be a different kind of configurations of stressors.

Dr. Joy: Right, on top of the stress of being in a pandemic.

Dr. Moorman: 1000%. Because, oh yeah, by the way, did I mention there is a pandemic?

Dr. Joy: Right, right. It's this general level of stress for most people, but then you add all of these additional stressors that single women might be experiencing.

Dr. Moorman: Correct. And what I'm seeing and talking and kind of hearing informally from folks is that if you're in a position where if you're home alone, let's say you live alone, or you live with a roommate, great. There's privilege attached to being able to work from home, to be able to kind of stay home and shelter in place, but that's a lot of isolation. That's a lot of alone time, that can be a lot of “Me and this house, I'm sick of looking at these four walls.” And so it is that kind of thinking about needing to create intentional opportunities for connection for community.

Because, again, our social networks are undermined. Folks are not able to go to church meetings, club meetings, sports gatherings like they normally would. You can't just hop on a plane and go see your mom if you're worried about her in the same ways. Like we've also got a lot of restrictions in place that keep us from being able to access the people who we would seek comfort for and be in community with in normal times as well. So it's not just that the stressors are different, but our ability to actually soothe those stressors are different as well.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I'm glad you said that. Because we spent a lot of time when you were here last time, talking about that being a large part of reimagining. Like, of pouring yourself into these community resources and developing your chosen family and all of those things, and now all of that looks very different. Have you seen people talk about different creative ways that they are trying to be intentional about staying connected to support systems?

Dr. Moorman: I have. And the other thing that I want to highlight about singlehood, one of the things that people hate the most of it is the freedom. It's too much freedom, what am I doing? One of the best parts of single status is the freedom: being able to lean into innovation, lean into reinventing, lean into tinkering and playing with solutions that work, doubling down on those and rejecting things or letting go of things that don't work. And so single status allows unmarried folks, people who aren’t in relationships, to really kind of create a laboratory of their lives. And so I would say that folks have been really leaning in hard to that. Combining households with friends, combining households with family to cut down on expenses, to increase opportunities for childcare. Thinking creatively about how to use Zoom to create connection between folks, to create... Can I share? You know, it's not a raunchy story but can I tell you something funny, Dr. Joy?

Dr. Joy: Of course, of course.

Dr. Moorman: Deep in the midst of... was this April? My man had just left, I'm at the house having a panic attack, I'm gonna be in Iowa forever, okay? This is where I was at mentally. April comes. I saw an advertisement from one of my favorite black-owned lingerie brands that she was hosting an online stripper party for like $5, or whatever. And I went, of course, because I wanted to see what's going on. But it ended up being an opportunity for just women across the country, A, to ogle at this man on screen, but B, to just have a good time, to scream and yell and whoa and holler and check out from what we were dealing with in terms of the pandemic.

And so we've seen a lot of entertainment shifts moving online, the Verzuz battles have been great. Anyway, and so this kind of reinventing of culture and retinkering of culture is something that is allowing us to adapt and so singles need to kind of scale that down for themselves. How can we retinker and reinvent this moment? How can we think of creative ways to stay connected with friends and families? I normally don't use FaceTime, but I've been burning up the FaceTime because I want to see people who I love and this is one of the only opportunities available.

And so I think that's where folks have been most creative, is thinking about ways to use technology to leverage community, to take events that wouldn't normally be able to be online (like the stripper party I went to). Creating an opportunity for community out of those kind of new entertainment venues and then also just really thinking creatively about how to reconfigure and recombine life so that folks are getting the support that they need.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, I agree. We definitely have seen large advances in being creative in terms of entertainment during this time. The last time you were here, we also spent some time talking about a part of your single woman action plan really being looking at emergency health contacts. And, of course, during a pandemic, I think that that became even more illustrated for people and so I'm wondering if you have additional thoughts about developing an emergency health plan as a single woman, in addition to what you shared the first time.

Dr. Moorman: Absolutely. And I think I talked to you about sort of the single woman action plan being a set of directives that you want for your life. Single status is changing, we change as individuals, and the circumstances around us change daily, as we've seen in the pandemic. And so this document is something that can be an ongoing conversation that you're having with yourself, it can be a clearing house for your directives, perhaps it's a master file that gives loved ones access to where a will is stored or passwords. But the goal of the single woman action plan is for unmarried folks, single folks, to have a clear set of goals, to have a clear set of emergency plans and emergency contacts in place, and have that information collected in one place.

And so thinking about this kind of emergency plan, one of the things that has come up in the pandemic is the need to be very clear with one another about our COVID expectations. Some of us might have family that don't seem to take the pandemic seriously, some of us might be very concerned or might have chronic health conditions, but now is not a time to be silent about what you need in order to feel safe and actually be safe in this moment.

And so one of the things that I would suggest for folks to do, alongside other general directives within their plan, is get clear for themselves what their COVID boundaries are. What do you expect for your household? What do you expect of your close contacts? And how can you disseminate that information in a way that everybody's on the same page? Maybe you have a small group of friends, you all have been quarantining and kind of want to come together as a pod, basically a support system for one another so you're seeing each other, in person. It would be a great activity to sit down with your friends and say, okay, well, what do we expect for our quarantine buddies? So that would be one kind of thing to include in the plan, is just get really clear about your COVID boundaries, what you expect from people who enter your home, and communicating those.

Other things I would suggest alongside that would be just a clear sense of who your emergency contacts are and making sure that those people are aware that they are your emergency contact. Get really clear if, for example, you don't have legal documents spelling out what your directives are or kind of having a plan for if you find yourself debilitated by the disease. Now would be a time to kind of really sit down and think about what your advanced directives would be. Identifying somebody that can act as a health proxy if you're on a ventilator (God forbid).

I would also think about... Now I don't want to encourage hoarding because that is not something that we want to repeat from earlier in the pandemic, the hoarding of resources. But I would say be deliberate about when you go out and get resources and combine those trips with friends. So let's say that you and your siblings are working to support aging parents, part of your plan could be getting really clear and on the same page with them about roles and responsibilities. And obviously, this isn’t an ideal world, right? People are stressed, people got things on their plates, we're all just trying to survive here. And so I understand if this seems overwhelming for some people to be like I don't have time to go and get a will. I totally get it. In the moments that you have, write down on a piece of paper, let someone know what you're thinking, but just have a clear sense of what you expect for yourself because it will make it easier to communicate those plans and expectations in the future, should you need to.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. You know, the other thing that I have seen happen, at least quite often talked about on social media, is a lot of singles moving back home with primary family. Like maybe with parents or with a sibling, especially since lots of companies have now realized, oh, we can open this up. We don't necessarily need to have people in the office like we thought they did. And so I'm also wondering what that means. Like a year ago, you thought your life was kind of blooming in one city and now you're thinking like, oh, I need to maybe move to where I have more green space. So I think that that will be something that will continue to kind of unfold as time continues, is that people have made major changes like you have in terms of geography.

Dr. Moorman: Mm hmm. And also exactly what you're saying about reconfiguring actually homes and families, families within the home. You're absolutely right. We're kind of in these moments where we're needing to think creatively. We have had a lot to grieve this past year, grieve in terms of people, grieve in terms of opportunities, joys that we had planned. I have a mentor who was on sabbatical this year and she was telling me about all of the plans, she had a trip planned a month–all of it got canceled. She had to cancel like six trips, six things that she was trying to do with family and friends. Which might seem kind of trivial, considering the loss of life in the current moment and the stressors that folks are under, but those are disappointments that we have to process.

And so that kind of grieving piece is important because we might have had an idea about, oh, this year is going to be the year that I buy my first house, or this year is going to be the year that I go up for that promotion, or this year is going to be the year that I have the opportunity to really spread my wings and move out from my parents’ house. I had plans in place to do that. And the bottom line is there's no shame in having to recalibrate temporarily. The beauty of single life is that it gives you the flexibility to be able to be light, to be nimble, to move quickly and kind of efficiently in ways that folks that have marital arrangements can't. Like it's easier for me to just pack up and pick up my whole house just by myself than it would be if I was trying to negotiate two careers, and so this is a moment to really lean into that.

The other thing I would say is that this is not forever. We will not be in pandemic lockdown forever. No, I have no idea when it will end but the bottom line is that no one's dreams are canceled. We can still have and move towards and create opportunities for ourselves and live the lives that we want to live, we just have to be flexible about how we go about that. And so it might make temporary sense to combine households with your aging parents because they don't have a contact person in their city and I can work remotely now and I don't need them going out. Perfect. What a great way to temporarily solve multiple issues. I'm isolated at the house, my parents need support, we're both spending too much money, let's combine our households. That doesn't mean that is a decision that's made forever. But yeah, we're having to kind of really reshuffle family, reshuffle what work looks like and just reshuffle and kind of get honest and grieve a lot of some of the goals that we've had.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. But you know, on the other side of that, it also feels like black women have had some major wins this year, right? I feel like I've seen lots of people and it feels like it's a very difficult thing to kind of hold space for the joy of maybe getting that big promotion that you've had your eye on or expanding your family or whatever it is that has been a blessing for you in this year. So it feels like there's a difficulty kind of combining that with the amount of loss that we have had this year.

Dr. Moorman: Oh, absolutely. I know I can personally speak to that. I felt very odd having a great year in what is literally a pandemic. I'm also seeing from single women who are like, “I don't have any kids, the pressure of dating is now off of me. I've been really running around after my career for the past few years and have needed a chance to sit down, so this has actually been a moment of rest and rejuvenation.”

And I think that for a lot of singles that this has really been a great moment to check in and say, wow, I actually do love being single and that it's really working for me in this moment. And so you talk about the tension between exterior outside things happening regarding the pandemic and maybe black women's individual experience of single life being kind of more joyous; that's a hard tension to hold. But we have to zoom out. Shout out to Georgia, I know you're down in Georgia.

Dr. Joy: Yes.

Dr. Moorman: Shout out to Governor Stacey Abrams. I know they stole it from you, girl, but shout out to you. God had a plan for you and put you to doing exactly what you were supposed to do. Back to your point about black women having larger wins in this moment. We're killing it. We're killing it, we're getting it done, okay? We stay getting it done. This is one of the things about black women that I love about my research and I love about thinking about single black women.

Think about the history of black women in this country. We weren't even legally allowed to access marriage for like the first part of our being here. And how much we have individually accomplished and as a community accomplished. And now we're in a space in a modern era where we have technology, where we have political activism, where, theoretically, we have equitable access to all facets of society and we are dominating with it. And our ideas are needed. Because who better, for example, in the case of singlehood, to give us guidance on how to be single? Who would be better suited to do that than a group of women who have been having to navigate high rates of single status than black women? We’re the vanguards of this, we’re the geniuses of this, we’re the tinkering inventors of this.

And so that's another thing I would say is that we're on the vanguard in so many respects. I'm thinking about Martha Jones’s Black Women in Political Vanguard, her book just came out. And we're on the vanguard of singlehood as well. And so, yes, black women are winning even in this moment of devastating loss and there's nothing wrong with celebrating that. Thank you, Stacey Abrams.

Dr. Joy: Indeed. Yes, Georgia is having huge celebrations for Stacey. Of course, we’re all very excited about the work that she was able to do, in addition to other sisters who were doing a lot of that work as well.

Dr. Moorman: Of course.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I agree with you. During this time, we have also seen a resurgence, which I am sure you have been especially excited about if you've had time. We've seen a resurgence in all of these old shows, right? Shows like Half & Half and Girlfriends and One on One *[inaudible 0:33:01] Netflix. A lot of us were kind of indulging in nostalgia as a way to keep our spirits up and stay connected to things that brought us comfort in the past. And so I'm curious, if you have done any of that rewatching and if, given your research, there are things that have kind of become illuminated about just the ways that single women were portrayed in some of these shows.

Dr. Moorman: Sure. I have a confession to make. I was raised on Nickelodeon as a child so I did not do a lot of One on One, Moesha, Sister Sister watching. I have to be honest with you. My kind of nostalgic things have been Rugrats and Hey Arnold! I have been and always will be a cartoon girl but I will say this: I sat down and rewatched Girlfriends because, I mean, I have to. Come on, it’s a whole show about being single.

Personally, I was horrified and here's why. Again, this is not critique of any of the actresses but it's like: Joan Clayton, I need you to understand that just because you don't have a man doesn't mean anything about you. It doesn't speak to anything about your character, it's not an indication of any kind of failure or success to be partnered. It just is a feature of your life. And so that was probably the thing that really aggravated me the most, is just sort of watching Joan run after all of these dudes thinking that this is going to be the husband, this is going to be the husband, this is gonna be the husband. That stressed me out.

I personally loved Maya’s Oh, Hell, Yes. I said, “You better be out here telling us what to do here, Miss Maya.” She inspired me to kind of work on my own book, if we're being frankly honest. I was like, I can write an Oh, Hell, Yes. I’mma write one. So now I'm working on the book. But the biggest kind of takeaway for me about Girlfriends was just sort of the desperate way that single black women were portrayed. We've got to have a man, what's that going to be? Like, don't you want to go on a vacation? Don't you want to learn how to do pottery? Don't you want to join a choir? It can't just all be about getting a man.

And so I think that's one of the things that I'm noticing in the culture, but just sort of the shift around discourse in single women is like we've got too much going on to be singularly fixated on finding a man. Joan was a lawyer. She was a lawyer, she was positioned to be a partner at her firm, had kind of an identity crisis around that and then ended up leaving to start her own business. What an interesting story arc in and of itself. The idea of becoming one's authentic self, of leaving aside and rejecting and setting aside a script or a role of how you thought your life should be, and rebirthing yourself in this new space. That's a radical way of being but we’re gonna be fixated on a man?

Dr. Joy: Yeah. In watching it in real time years ago, I don't remember that being such a central focus, but definitely in the rewatch, it is really kind of all that she talked about. It was kind of like her central focus so I think it would be interesting if we do get this reboot or the finale. Because you know it ended kind of prematurely because the thing is going on and so it feels like there have been whispers about like, okay, are we gonna get the movie to kind of really bring it all to a closure? So it'd be interesting, like if we had the current day version, if there would be some updating around that.

Dr. Moorman: I would hope so. I mean, when was that, 20 years ago? 15 years ago? We can't be hungry for a man for 15 straight years and I'm sure everyone that's married is listening to it, is like, girl, what? No man gonna save you, *[inaudible 0:36:44] these responsibilities I have. So, yeah, I would be curious to see kind of what's going on with that reboot because, yeah, I'm exhausted. I had to actually stop watching it like three seasons in because I'm like this is ridiculous.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, it didn't necessarily get very much better in terms of her quest for partnership. So where do you see the conversation going for black women and single black women specifically, in the media?

Dr. Moorman: Well, first of all, I really... It’s such a good question–where do we go? There's no one destination, obviously, and there's a number of kind of competing thoughts about representation. What do we want? The right kind of representation or more representation? Are we going to focus on leaning into a select few high-profile examples of single women that are excelling and doing great and creating media properties around them? Or are we just kind of acknowledging that that would just be another narrative and that black women's lives are messy and real and honest experiences and reflections of human being as being human?

I know, personally, that I think there is a missed opportunity for media companies, conversations, what have you, when we simply focus on single black women's experiences of trying to date and find a relationship. Like I said, single black women are the vanguards of singlehood. We do it better than almost anybody else, in part because we've been having to do it in these constrained and circumscribed ways for so long. And so I would love to see more stories and more conversation around the ways that black women have basically effectively remade their lives in ways that makes sense for them. And have an honest reaction to that, but not one that's, “If I had a man, then...”

So what does that look like? Stories of entrepreneurship, stories of emotional growth, stories of travel, stories of what it looks like, now that I've recombined my household with my parents and we're trying to navigate and get through. And so that's kind of one representational narrative I would love to see more. Is just more and different black women of all marital status backgrounds but particularly single black women, who are comfortable, the central focus of their life is not finding a man, and we're just sort of exploring how they're navigating the day to day stressors and concerns of being unmarried.

There's also a policy conversation that we're not having in the media, one that we absolutely need to start tending to because it has real implications for financial security for black women, and that is the marital status inequities that are baked into society. We know that, for example, married couples pay less in taxes as individuals than single people do. We know that there are kind of cultural disincentives for being single, as you talked about, as we just spoke about in terms of Girlfriends and how being single is despised and disparaged in popular media and popular culture. So there's a cultural tax to being single.

We know that single adults don’t have the same ability to kind of name our systems of support in times of crisis. So for example, if I was hospitalized, my parents would be kind of who is authorized to be in that room, not perhaps a best girlfriend who I see on a daily basis here in Detroit. And so we really need to drill down on and focus in on policy conversations related to single status and equities, and how single status and equities compound other forms of inequity.

The key kind of chief example that I have is like childcare during the COVID-19 crisis for working single adults. Where is the system of support for these folks? Where is the policy conversation around how I'm being taxed higher than my married counterparts, but there's no infrastructure to support me as I care for my children, as I work outside of the home? Do you know what I'm saying? And so, there's a policy conversation that we're desperately in need of discussing, putting marital status and equity right alongside gender inequity, right alongside racial inequities when it comes to thinking about the economic, social and kind of cultural place that unmarried adults have in society.

Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, so many opportunities for us to do just a better job of taking care of so many multiple marginalized people in our society.

Dr. Moorman: Absolutely.

Dr. Joy: Yeah. So back to your comment around what you would love to see in media. Are there any shows right now that you've been watching or are there productions that you think are doing a better job and kind of moving in the direction that you'd like to see?

Dr. Moorman: I have very intentionally been checked out from the current moment. I'm watching, right now, Poldark on PBS. I don't know if you're familiar with it but it's about a bodice ripper from about a 1700s mining town in England. And Ross Poldark is in charge of a mine and he's being held in jail and all these things, so I'm like in a completely different era. But one of the contemporary things that I have seen is Lovecraft Country and one of the episodes that I truly loved in that series was when Hippolyta had the ability to name herself whatever she wanted. And this conversation that happened, it's like you have the power to name yourself; name yourself. That ability to agentively claim a space.

And one of the things that I loved about that episode was at one point she named herself a wife–I want to be a wife–and ended up having a really wonderful conversation with Courtney B. Vance’s character (her husband) about, well, why would I name myself a wife? I could be anything. I could be Cleopatra. Why am I here and what has your role been in keeping me here? Why am I trying to be small and fit with you when we can be big together? And of course, it wasn't simply being married that limited her to that role, I'm not making that claim at all. But sort of the dynamics of that relationship and understanding how in conversation around how her partner expected her to be small, it created limits for both of them.

And then the ability of her to rename her world, she created a bigger world for her partner as well. And I thought that was such a sophisticated conversation about the roles that we expect black women to occupy and the tradeoffs that we see between autonomy... independence gets such a bad rap, but we'll call it autonomy, agency, self-determination. How these facets of humanity get really muted in a lot of contexts for black women. Work is the context but, in the conversation happening on Lovecraft Country, it was marriage. And so I thought that was a very sophisticated conversation about black marriage and a way to expand conversations about marriage and expand conversations about partnership. And think about ways that black women can be self-determined within any kind of configuration of partnerships that they choose. So I said, “Excuse me, Lovecraft Country. Good for you, girl.”

Dr. Joy: Yeah, Dr. Moorman, I feel like you could do quite a great rundown and analysis of that episode. Because I think a lot of members of our community love the show or are at least tuned into the show in some ways, but I saw a lot of commentary around that particular episode from sisters really kind of identifying with some of that commentary there.

Dr. Moorman: It was beautiful. I cried so much in that episode. I was like I’m going to name myself whatever. I was given a mission statement. We can name ourselves whatever we want. And I will say this: in single life, you can do that in ways that maybe you can’t at other opportunities in your life. You can name yourself in ways when you’re single that you can’t in other kind of configurations of partnership.

Dr. Joy: Right. I appreciate you sharing that. Remind people where they can find you, your website as well as any social media handles they can reach you on.

Dr. Moorman: For a media scholar, I’m surprisingly lax on the website so no website yet, y’all. But you can find me on Instagram @Dr.JDMoorman and that’s where I act cute and keep it professional. I’d be cutting up on that Twitter, y’all, and that’s @JDMoorman. That’s my handle and you can watch me change my name to all manner of colorful things, and make loud comments about the 2020 election and everything we’ve got going on now.

Dr. Joy: I always love your commentary. I appreciate your Twitter candor.

Dr. Moorman: Thank you.

Dr. Joy: Thank you again for joining us, Dr. Moorman, I really appreciate it.

Dr. Moorman: I appreciate you, Dr. Joy. Thank you so much for inviting me back. It’s wonderful to talk to you again.

Dr. Joy: Thank you.

I’m so glad Dr. Moorman was able to join us again for today’s conversation. To learn more about her and her work or to check out her first conversation here on the podcast, visit the show notes at And please text two sisters right now and tell them to check out this episode. If there’s a topic you’d like to have covered on the podcast, submit it to us at And if you’re looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at

If you want to continue digging into this topic and connect with some other sisters across the country, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at Thank you all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all, real soon. Take good care.


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
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Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here