Nicole Marchand is celebrating another birthday. A 31-year-old black woman, she's already a prosecuting attorney in Atlanta and running for state court judge.
Personable yet direct, Marchand isn't the kind of woman you find standing by passively on the sidelines of life. But you would find her, for example, at the Georgia Dome, cheering on the Atlanta Falcons pro football team.
You've heard of a man's man. Marchand is the quintessential man's woman: She appears to have it all. And, yet, she's still single.
She has plenty of company. Forty-two percent of U.S. black women have never been married, double the number of white women who've never tied the knot.
"I look forward to the day," Marchand said. "I look forward to being married."
It's just not that easy. For starters, there are 1.8 million more black women than black men. So even if every black man in America married a black woman today, one out of 12 black women still wouldn't make it down the aisle if they hoped to marry a black man.
Let's take 100 black men. By the time you eliminate those without a high school diploma (21 percent), the unemployed (17 percent) and those ages 25-34 who are incarcerated (8 percent), you have only half of black men, 54 percent, whom many black women find acceptable.
As a prosecutor, Marchand sees this problem firsthand every day.
"It is sad to see that the majority of the defendants that we prosecute are black males," Marchand said. "Those numbers can be very disappointing."
"Nightline" broached the serious dilemma with comedian-turned-relationship-guru Steve Harvey, author of the book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man."
"Admittedly, the selection of men is slim," Harvey said, but "there are still a lot of good men out there who are being overlooked. ... There are a lot of women, though, who are trying to match up their education level, who are trying to match up their corporate status to find somebody on the same level, and they are having trouble. That has nothing to do with manhood at all."
Harvey says black women don't have to settle but they may need to compromise.
"You are a corporate exec, does he have to be a corporate exec?" Harvey asked. "You make $150,000. He has to make $150,000 or above? If your requirement sheet is ridiculous, then you have to look at it."
What "Nightline" looked at were the large numbers of professional black women who have groomed themselves for success with B.A.s, M.D.s and J.D.s. Seventy percent of them are still without the more elusive title: M-R-S.
The tick-tock of the biological clock is a bit louder for many women, including several of Marchand's single friends who live in Atlanta.
Chato Waters is a 32-year-old high school counselor pursuing a doctorate degree in psychology. "I would be lying if I said I don't have fleeting thoughts of, 'OK, I am 32, my clock is ticking," Waters said. "We have a saying called the 'black girl curse.' A lot of our white friends are married by 25, happily married with kids by 27, and we're like, 'What's the deal with the BGs?' -- and that's black girls."
Jakene Ashford is a chemist for a pharmaceutical company. Now that she's 34, Ashford (who is 5-foot-9) has lowered the bar when it comes to height requirements.
"I don't have a certain criteria, like if you are not 6-foot-5. ... And I used to, but then as I got older I said, 'Maybe if you are 6-foot-3, 6-foot-2, 6-foot-1, maybe if we can see eye-to-eye."
At issue is whether Ashford needs to set aside certain standards in order to make it down the aisle.
"I kind of have certain standards that I hold myself to, and I don't think I should have to settle on those for the sake of having somebody," she said.
Her parameters are pretty flexible. "I've dated unemployed men, men trying to find themselves, struggling artists and rich men, poor men," Ashford said.
She's also open to dating outside of her race. Indeed, the number of black women entering interracial marriages has more than doubled in the past decade.
"Last night, I was at a restaurant and had a great conversation with a Caucasian man," she said. "I mean we were vibing, we were clicking and I am thinking at the end of the night he's going to ask me for my number, because white men never ask for my number, and he said. 'Great conversation, maybe I will see you around.' And I was thinking, 'What happened?'"
Melinda Watson is a 28-year-old payroll specialist who hasn't had an exclusive relationship since college.
"We are maybe not as coveted as black men in society," she said. "I just feel there is a lot of taboo that is associated with dating black women, because I don't think they are necessarily ready to take us home to see momma."
The consensus in this group was that their preference is to marry a black man. And it's not that they can't find one to date. The issue, in many cases, is exclusivity.
"You meet these great guys, you have a good relationship, and then it is like, 'I'm going to keep you around, and hopefully when I am ready to settle down, you'll be there,'" Ashford said.
Waters said, "That is the back-pocket girl. Every once in a while, they will check in on you to make sure you are still single: 'You still single, you still waiting on me?'"
Waters hasn't been in a committed relationship in more a decade. "I have my emotional moments where I cry, where I sit and I think, 'Could I have done something differently?'" she said.
"I get lonely, but in that same vein the hurt I felt, and no peace, being in a situation I knew wasn't right for me. I am more at peace with just crying myself to sleep sometimes, or going everywhere with Jakene [Ashford], rather than just having that little piece of a man."
Marchand speculated on underlying causes.
"It may be the numbers," she said, "It may be the options, it may be them realizing the disparity is there and saying, 'Well, let me just test the waters and see what the options are.'"
Waters said, "If you have four quality women in rotation, who is going to rush into a marriage?"
Harvey, the self-proclaimed expert on men, listen in as the single ladies talked about their requirements.
"I had a list of about 50 things that I would keep in my Bible," Waters said. "It is now down to about 10."
"Honesty," Ashford said.
"Supportive," Watson said.
"Financially stable," Waters said.
"Now granted, I am 31, so he needs to be at a certain stage," Marchand said.
"We need to be able to pray together," Waters said.
As for the deal breakers, Watson said, "Just because of my past -- men with kids or just not being ambitious."
Ashford said, "If I don't have that initial chemistry, it's not going to work, I don't care if you have everything on the list."
Marchand said, "I am not going to talk to you if I'm not attracted to you."
Harvey's first reaction was not, technically, advice.
"Y'all fine as hell, who don't want to go out with y'all?" he said.
"Men my age have made a mistake in that we didn't teach the generation behind us the principles of manhood."
His advice was to go for the older man.
"You have a biological clock," he said. "We don't."
While these women look forward to settling down, they say they're not willing to settle.
"The one thing that I can't control is a man choosing to marry me," Ashford said, "and, so, I choose not to worry about it."
Waters said, "I am lonely, but having the faith I have and being the woman I am and waiting as long as I have, I can't settle now. It's not an option for me."
She's not alone. "I would love to be in a relationship, in a marriage, but I don't feel that defines me," Marchand said.
"So if I don't find the perfect person for me, then I'll just remain single."