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TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: 'Where Did Our Love Go' examines relationships in black culture

The song always pops up when you least expect it.

There you are, minding your own business, you hear a few notes, and you're pulled back to a wonderful-horrible time -- starry dreams, laughter, bitterness, love lost. That old love song might be just a "precious melody," but it almost brings you to your knees.

Love is such a complicated thing: easy to fall into and easy to fall out. And in the new anthology "Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community," edited by Gil L. Robertson IV, you'll see that you're not alone in being alone.

The statistics are quite sobering.

Forty-two percent of black women ages 25 and 34 are unmarried. The number is similar for black men, higher for those over age 34. Black people simply are not keeping pace, marriage-wise, with their white counterparts.

But why? Is it a legacy of slavery, a cultural issue, "being picky" or economic fallout? Or is marriage historically "ill-suited" for people of color?

Perhaps, as one writer hypothesizes, relationship woes could be an issue because many young blacks have never "actually seen ... one family unit consisting of a father and mother, plus two children." Or maybe the timing for marriage was wrong, as another believes. There's too much judgment, too much "craziness," too much self-reliance from too early an age.

And it gets even more complicated.

The old "there aren't enough decent black men to go around" is bunk. Malcolm X proved it wrong, though many continue to believe it. Black men often think black women only want someone equal or better, financially, and how can they play against that? Black women consider "swirling." Neither can talk about what they really want.

But then -- every once in a while -- something magic happens. You meet the right person; you do a dance of courtship, and you find yourself in front of a minister, priest or judge. You nurture that union, but sometimes you let it go and look for another.

And somewhere along the line, if you're extraordinarily lucky, the answer to "Where Did Our Love Go?" is "Nowhere. It's been here all along."

You know them. You want one. You can't live without it. And when it comes to that, "Where Did Our Love Go" explains why relationships are so fragile.

With the help of dozens of activists, professionals and essayists (including himself), editor Gil L. Robertson IV examines love in all its messy categories, including the beginning, the goodness and the end.

Readers, I think, will like the varied tones found in this book: some are humorous, with a bit of sarcasm befitting love gone wrong. Others are so sweet that you'll feel almost voyeuristic while reading.

Still others are laced with anger, bitterness and fist-shaking. And then there are the hopeful ones, which round out the selection and make this book browseable to match your mood.

In the end, Mary, Flo and Diana were justified in asking the question about amour. And if you're still looking for the right answer, you'll find "Where Did Our Love Go" to be supreme.

"Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community," edited by Gil L. Robertson IV, copyright 2013 by Bolden, is 240 pages and sells for $16.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at www.bookwormsez.com.