Original Post – Monday, June 8, 2009
What Single Women Can Learn From Michelle
By: Jenée Desmond-Harris
Posted: June 8, 2009 at 7:24 AM
I’ve played matchmaker, unsuccessfully, for scores of black professional women. And I’m convinced that Michelle’s got something on many of us. Not her intelligence or her confidence or sense of style, her glowing skin or the carved silhouette of her arms. I could fill a room with friends who have all these qualities to spare. I’m talking about the choices I imagine she made in those crucial moments between meeting Barack and deciding who he would be to her. She must have focused on an abundance of goodness instead of his hint of goofiness and fixated on a warm smile instead of a pair of oversized ears. It’s easy to see now that he was a great catch, but how many of us would have been open to this guy who strayed so far from the black Prince Charming ideal, starting with his very name?
My single friends and I mingle at events dubbed Pandora and Equilibrium, or with long acronyms about political engagement or the black community, where open bars and soul food buffets are the draw but really not the purpose. I will often identify a black man who “someone should be dating” and talk him up to a female friend, colleague or neighbor, offering descriptors like: Funny. Laid-back. Attractive. And more honest ones like: Ambitious. Shy. Soft but not fat.
Just as I picked at the less-than-cool undercurrents of that presidential pickup game and talk-show dance party, my female friends hone in on the negative as they snub my suggestions.
His toes were ashy.
He seems like he’d be a really cool friend, but I don’t know, those lips. . .
He was wearing a bubble coat, and seriously, it was not that cold.
We had a good conversation, but I like a man to be more aggressive.
That was our second and last date. He used the word “authentic” like 14 times.
How many times do I have to tell you I’m looking for someone TALL and HOT? Keywords being tall and hot.
He drank a hot chocolate instead of coffee. What is he? A 6’4’’12-year-old? (I’m putting myself out there—this was my own reaction to an otherwise pleasant date just a few years ago.)
In these comments are echoes of my conversations in mini-communities of black professionals—at brunches, bar-passing celebrations and housewarming parties. I think of my years at Harvard Law School, which has 150 black students at any given time. One would have thought that the Black Law Students Association was a group of first cousins; dating among members was so unusual and so scandalous when it did occur. In these “professional” contexts, women are shaking with one hand and tossing men right into the friend zone with another. Across the country and over the years, the take-away often has the same theme: There was not a single guy there I would date.
Yeah, he was tall, but his head seemed a little small for his body.
It was loud in there, so I’m not sure. Did I detect a stutter?
Boy, was he was sweating!
He seems like someone who would like Star Trek.
I don’t care if he can’t see. He should have left those glasses at the office.
He was dancing (or worse, trying) way too hard.
I don’t mean to minimize the statistics that are the baseline explanation for black women’s dating difficulties. They’re so distressing that last year CNN dedicated an entire segment of Black in America to the dilemmas of successful black women in dating and marriage. The Journal of Higher Education published statistics last year showing that less than a third of black males who enroll in college graduate within six years, and that black women outnumber black men in higher-education settings by 2:1. Between 1970 and 2001, the marriage rate for black men and women fell by 34 percent, versus 17 percent for the rest of the nation. The most recent Census Bureau figures show only 70 single black men for every 100 single black women. And those 70 men are not necessarily available—the figure includes single men who are incarcerated. The same survey showed that 45 percent of black women have never been married, compared with 23 percent of white women.
The idea that things are hard for black women who want to date black men who match us in academic and career success is a well-worn cultural narrative.
But if black women are going to defy the statistics, they need to start being more realistic. Holding out for the perfect man, someone who is intellectual but not nerdy—cool but not arrogant—impeccably dressed but not effeminate—not a player but with just the right amount of edge—is useless. Smart can go with a little nerdy. Artsy can be accompanied by off-beat. Ambitious and focused may mean less than a social butterfly. Yes, there was that one guy in law school who was easily 6’5’’, a Rhodes Scholar and a rapper, with a baby face to top things off. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but please!
And let’s be fair. We expect men to resist what society tells them about ideals when it comes to us—God, help the brother who admits a preference for skin or hair displayed on every magazine cover; or the arrogant fool who holds out for his own Clair Huxtable, not acknowledging that The Cosby Show was fiction. We’re justifiably upset when unrealistic standards are imposed on us, but many of us don’t seem to give black men any breaks in return when it comes to the superficial.
I was lucky enough to meet my beautiful, hilarious and unfailingly confident boyfriend two weeks after arriving to D.C. to begin my legal career. (By lucky, I mean I tracked him down in a Giant parking lot, tooting my horn to get his attention and asking if he was new in the neighborhood or needed a ride.) Jason works for a nonprofit. He drives a rattling, rimless Mazda. He has a particular pair of pants that were cuffed too ambitiously by his tailor, and he still wears them to work with determination because he paid for them. He has long dreads that see neither a twist nor a drop of beeswax in between the days I style them. If a tuft of hair escapes a lock in the middle of his forehead and I don’t see him for two days, it sits front and center for meetings and happy hours and pictures.
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