I do this roundtable in DC for a conference, right? It’s kinda like a sit-and-ask the editor thing. One big table, 10 chairs and women can just sit and chat at their leisure. I never prepare for these. I figure anything someone 25 and under shoots at me, I should be able to answer. And if I can’t? I have no qualms about saying “I don’t know.”
So I sit with half a table of women, and I’m like, “so I’m the relationships editor. Ask me anything.”
They’re a little hesitant at first. So I throw out some ideas. “What do you wanna know? How I got my job? How to get a job? You wanna know about relationships? Sex? What? I talk about men and sex for a living, there’s not too much you can say that will embarrass me or catch me off guard.”
I get a little laughter. Good sign. Some women milling nearby come and take seats. (Eventually I will get a standing crowd of 30.) So a very poised young woman announces that she has a question. She begins to tell her backstory, which will inevitably explain her question, but she stops herself two sentences in.
“Hold up, do you have a man?!” she demands.
“Uh, yeah.” I try to avoid giving her the blank face, but it evidently slips past my guard by the expression she gives me. “You know, I’d probably be really embarrassed if I didn’t, you know?”
A word about that. I hate it when people ask women that question. If it was out of genuine curiousity, I’d get it. But it’s not. The asker is using the answer to judge all manner of irrelevant ish about the woman. (It’s like attempting to determine class and intelligence and salary by asking, “what college do you go to?”) If she has a man, she must be stable, sensible and valuable. If not, there must be something wrong with her and any advice she has is null and void. Whether I’m in or out of a relationship doesn’t change my qualification to talk about them. And when was the last time you heard a man or a non-sexually interested woman ask a man, “do you have a woman?” You haven’t. Probably ever. We only judge women’s character and intellect and value by their relationship status.
Anyway, back to the story.
So she launches into this tale about how she was dating this guy who after four months cheated on her with a white girl. She practically slurred the description of her color.
“So are you mad that he cheated or mad she was white?” I ask.
Another thought: black women tend to have a serious complex about black men dating white women. Like if because he goes white, it means he thinks there’s something wrong with black women or he secretly hates us. I argue that straight men like women period. A black man having sex with a woman of “another” “race” has little to do with black women and more to do with who, of any color, was attractive, ready, willing, and able to provide what he wanted/needed.
Okay, back in.
“It’s neither,” she begins. So why did you bring up her race? I want to ask, but I don’t because I don’t want this conversation to turn into some unlicensed therapy session. “It’s because she was of a lower caliber than me.”
I can’t help myself. “Really?” I try to do that quizzical raised eyebrow thing, which I still can’t do just right. “What was her caliber exactly?”
“Well,” she starts. “I have a college degree and a job and I’m going to grad school and I have my own place.”
I try not to be condescending as I nod more because I’m listening and want her to go on than because I agree. Would his cheating have been okay if the woman he’d dipped with had multiple degrees and a higher salary than hers? I spare myself from asking because there’s a bigger lesson here and I don’t have all day to drop all my Belle-brand of wisdom on one woman’s misguided misconceptions. She’s got the same misinformation that I had for years and it led to disastrous relationships. I’m not here to harp. I’m here to help.
Here’s what I told her:
Women date men for different reasons than we date them. In so many ways, we judge a man’s value by his ability to provide well and maintain security (the former is a version of the latter.) All the chat about where he works and what he earns, and whether he owns or rents, or drives or rides shotgun, or has a degree (ie, unlimited earning potential) aren’t so much about gold-digging as they are about women wondering, “Is he stable? Will he be able someday to take care of me and our clan?”
Because these are the traits we want in a man, we–especially good degree and job-having women– assume this is what men want in a woman too. And it’s not.
Most men could give a shit about your earning potential. Of course they want someone who brings something to the table– no one wants to carry someone else– but if you’re not bringing a whole lot financially, that’s not likely to contribute to you getting cut you from the runnings. (And there’s a difference between being a drain on his pockets and just not earning a whole lot. Struggling is workable, but no sensible man wants a broke-broke woman.) We’ll stop dating a broke partner. But when was the last time you heard of a man doing the same?
It’s not that a man doesn’t appreciate Miss Independent. He does. There are tons of men practically salivating over Shelly Obama because it’s proof that Claire Huxtable exisits. But it’s not because she was once the breadwinner of the family, has a couple Ivy-league degrees, or even because she has a fatty. It’s because she’s a partner to Barry in every since of the word. She’s supportive, but she’ll get in his ass. She pushes him to be his best and she ain’t leaving him if he fails. She’ll beat someone’s ass over him. She’s got good sense and is raising the children right and holding down the fort while he hunts and gathers. She sacrifices for the betterment of THEM. She sees the vision. She’s smart as hell, yes, and that counts for a lot. But the reason Shelly’s the Barry-proclaimed “rock” of the Obama family (and the neo-goddess for Black men) is less about what she puts in the joint account, and much more about her personality and character. Got it?
(I didn’t tell her anything after this sentence.)
A final sidebar: A lot of ladies are under the misconception that black men are intimidated by black women’s success in college and the workforce. I’m yet to hear any dude say this. The problem that I’ve heard many men voice about successful black women is women throw it in their face and because they are successful, neglect to develop the traits that men are looking for in a woman such as nurturing and support and partnership. In so many words the complaint is that successful women tend to think their (potential) earning power grant the right to think you’re better or more important than someone else, especially him. And it doesn’t.
So the next time any of you wonder, “how could he be with her because she’s not even on my level?” Consider that your level is what may attract him, but it’s not what keeps him interested. Actually, it’s you and how you treat him. And perhaps if more successful women focused on that, some black men wouldn’t cheat with other women, who happen to be white and of lesser caliber; And so many successful black women wouldn’t be single and alone.
(Can’t wait to see the comments on this one.)
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