by James Cirrone
Kris Marsh is, in a word, energetic. And she’s passionate about what she does, too — so make that two words. Marsh has been a tenured associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland (UMD) since 2014 and has led multiple police departments in implicit bias trainings since 2015. Yes, she’s dedicated almost a decade to these efforts.
And for the last seven years, Marsh has been writing a book about middle-class Black people who are single and living alone. The book examines the experiences of a group of 62 unmarried Black women and men who do not have children. The Love Jones Cohort is due to be released in February.
“It really is a larger story. You can superimpose it on any racial or ethnic group, but I’m trying to show how people are living full lives as single adults,” Marsh said.
The book’s title is a mashup that refers to the cohort Marsh studied and the 1997 movie, Love Jones, the plot of which revolved around a romance between two Black professionals. Marsh called the romantic comedy “a staple in Black America.”
In her book, she details how scholarship on singlehood is too often focused on the experience of white Americans, even though marriage rates are declining most clearly among Black Americans. According to Pew Research, 47% of Black adults are single. The number of single white adults is much lower, at 28%.
Additionally, two issues constrain Black people’s dating choices: education disparities between Black and white people, and the yawning racial wage gap. There is also a gender-based education gap within the Black community, with more women than men seeking higher education and attaining bachelor’s degrees.
Marsh contends that when it comes to being single, there’s a lot we can learn from Black women. They’ve been thriving at this for quite some time, she said. In the cohort Marsh studied, the women tended to create nurturing, sisterlike bonds with other women. The men she interviewed didn’t have those same strong relationships with other men, she said.
“The women would sometimes feel lonely, but they had … girlfriends that they could draw from. The guys didn’t have quote unquote boyfriends to draw from,” Marsh said. She noted that men are more likely than women to rely on romantic relationships to try to resolve loneliness.
Marsh interviewed men and women for her book during the summer of 2015. That same year she began writing; in her mind, she was going to finish the book in a year or so. That plan was derailed when she began leading implicit bias training sessions for the Prince George’s County Police Department. Now that she’s done conducting police training programs altogether, she’s glad to move on, but she does hope she made a difference.
“I see the officers now whenever I’m out and about, and they often say, ‘Dr. Marsh, whether or not we loved or hated your class, we’re still talking about some of the content that you’ve given us over the years.’ So, at a minimum, I’ve sparked a conversation,” she said.
But while going through it, Marsh said it was hard work, and it took energy away from other things she was trying to accomplish, including completing The Love Jones Cohort.
“Some days were good, some days weren’t good,” Marsh said. “I didn’t really have the mental capacity to spend time working on the book.”
To get through the harder days, the UMD professor revived an old hobby — golf. And after some lessons, she’s confident enough to say she’s “pretty darn good,” though she admits she has some bad habits.
“I took a 20-year hiatus,” Marsh said. “I took lessons again in 2019, and I started to play. … then COVID[-19] happened, and golf was one of the sports you could still play.”
Prince George’s County happens to be a fine place for a golfer to live, with both Paint Branch Golf Complex and the University of Maryland Golf Course right in your backyard — and Gunpowder Golf Course is just a 20-minute ride from campus. But proximity to the greens isn’t why Marsh settled here.
She said came here because the university was the only place she wanted to start her academic career. And where better to study the Black middle class than in Prince George’s County, one of the wealthiest majority-Black counties in the United States. “I live, work and play golf in my own human laboratory. It’s amazing,” she said.
After The Love Jones Cohort drops in February, it’s safe to expect more published works from Marsh. In 2017, she traveled to South Africa and studied the Black middle class there, noting striking similarities to America’s own Black middle class. She said she also has a proposal currently under review at NYU for a book that examines racism, classism and sexism in the golf world.
But if there’s anything Marsh wants people to take away from her upcoming book, it’s to let go of the stigma around being single and living alone.
“Singlehood is not a bad thing. It allows you to spend time with yourself,” Marsh said. “If you want to be partnered, I hope it happens. But embrace your singleness first. Be happy, healthy and whole as a single person, and then consider a relationship.”
The Love Jones Cohort can be preordered on Amazon.com by searching the title.