"I am a weak Black Woman!" I joked in the parking lot. I had just performed my dramatic interpretation of the Tyler Perry tragic heroine; scorned, mad and consequently strong. Actually, I'll be glad when someone breaks the monopoly that Tyler Perry has on Black culture. Spike Lee? John Singleton? Can another director please stand up.
Mr. Right Now laughed at me.
"No really" I said positioning myself to slide into his car. "I'm going to start telling people I'm weak before they assume that I'm strong and therefore a bitch."
Mr. Right Now smiled at my sarcasm before closing the door. We were wrapping an enjoyable evening at a popular new restaurant on the Southside of Medium-City, South. He and I have been innocently dating for several months now and I'm rather enjoying the ambiguity of our romantic aims.
On this night, we fell on the subject of how men date. My ears perked up.
"Basically there are three types of men in your dating pool. There's that cool guy with like a professional job and he's most likely dating multiple girls at once."
I nod, chewing my salmon.
"Then there's like the awkward guy, and he probably doesn't mess with Black women because they never paid him any attention. He's the type of guy you'd find in a place like this," he said referring to our waspy environment, "at the bar trying to pick up girl."
"And then there are gay guys."
I drink my 'diva martini', creating a noticeable pause in our dinner conversation. I am letting the shock settle.
"What?!" he says laughing.
I set my drink down and look him in the eyes. "So there's men who don't want anything serious, geeks and gays."
"So no eligible Black men want to date for real?"
I giggled realizing his analysis probably wasn't that far off at face value. It certainly suited his situation. "I got you." My 'diva martini' tasted so good.
That was the pleasure of Mr. Right Now. I enjoy having him around, but he is pretty much free to leave. Mr. Right Now meets all of my Betty qualifications. He has learned how to court me and over the past few months my feelings for him have grown. But at the end of the day, my socks (and panties) are still on. I believe his greatest asset is his timing. He came around a few weeks after Miles.
"So what about the woman you do consider getting serious about? You know, if there's multiple women in your life, how do you determine where they stand?"
I know that men, just like many women, have levels of endearment.
"You talking about the type of girl I'd make my old lady?"
"Something like that."
And he had a laundry list, including nice teeth and a woman that "wouldn't embarrass him in front of his co-workers".
Then he added this. "And a woman has to let a man be a man."
It wasn't the first time I'd heard a successful Black man way this. Ironically, Miles had made the same observation... on our last date.
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad....*
Now I'm as feminine as they come. I cross my legs when I sit. I cook dinner on Sundays. And I never leave the house without perfume. But even I, in my two years of post-collegiate dating, have had to learn how be a lady-- all over again.
I have learned to let the man signal the waiter for me and lead us in grace. I've learned to give him a chance to talk about him self and to pepper conversations with questions that require his expertise. I've learned to compliment him on the restaurant choice (if it is indeed a good choice). I've realized that every polemical statement does not require a rebuttal and that sometimes it is wiser to speak with my eyes rather than my lips.
I've discovered the old saying is true. You catch more flies with honey.
And unfortunately I did not learn these things from my mother.
My son noah built new/ark and I stood proudly at the helm as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
Men intone my loving name
I am the one who would save*
My mother is a wonderfully supportive wife. In fact I believe my parents are very much soul mates, still happy after 25 years. But mommy is an alpha female. She runs a huge medical practice and she pretty much runs the household as well. Growing up, it was dad who chauffeured me to dance class and to the beauty parlor for my Saturday morning press-and-curls. He made sure I'd eaten dinner and helped me with my homework. He took me to school in the morning and picked me up if it was raining. His law office was conveniently a mile away from home. Mommy worked. A lot.
Dad provided and kept us safe by any means necessary, but in many ways my mother was the de facto leader. That situation works for my parents but I have feeling it would not work for most of the accomplished men I date. While they admire my intelligence and independence, they are looking for a queen, not a co-ruler.
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct*
A lot of Black women grew up surrounded by 'strong' matriarchs . Our culture celebrates them. She is the woman who if need be, could do it all on her own. She is provider, chef, lover, accountant, therapist, counsel, handy-(wo)man--- willing to play any role at any given time. Her instinct is not to defer to a man, though she may appreciate and respect the one that is there. She is strong.
My mother was an excellent mother and she raised me in the image of her. She raised me to be God-fearing, independent, and emotionally resilient. She wanted me to treat my body like a temple and to be a lady-- and yet, I feel her lessons were incomplete.
In truth, I am not a weak woman. I am quite strong. Really, there is no way I could not be strong. I live thousands of miles away from my family. I work in an industry where my Ivy-League degree does not protect me from racism. And every time my heart is broken, I have to present a stiff upper lip to the world. For me, and women like me, being vulnerable is really not an option. It's just a selective tool.
The modern woman on the quest for the pervasive 'all' faces a mighty dilemma. In our post-liberation world we have earned the right to eat, drink, and work like any man. We fight wars with men. Many of us even date like men. But we want to have our careers and marry well too. Herein lies the problem. Some men find us too independent, too fast, and too liberated for our own good.
And what about Black women? Let's face it, from slavery onward, many of foremothers were placed in situations where they had to be 'strong'. They didn't have the luxury of succumbing to emotion. They had to keep it together for the family. Us modern women, even if we did grow up as princesses, are descendants of that legacy. And how do we survive dating the rounds of men who will break our hearts, and not develop a thick skin in the process?
And then what about our culture which has made the term 'strong' synonymous with a slew of negative words--- mad, angry, bitter, un-nurturing, loud, quarrelsome, un-supportive, combative, picky, feisty, scorned.... bitch.
I don't know. Clair Huxtable made having it all look so easy.
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission
In this day and age, a man appreciates a woman who does her own thing and has her own interests. Accordingly a fly woman should want to be appreciated, and respected, for who she is. I sure do. But as I grow up, I am also learning to straddle that murky line between old-fashioned and liberated. Vulnerable and strong.
Perhaps like all things in love, it really comes down to compromise. I've come to realize men don't only need sex. They need attention, loyalty and subtle strokes to the ego too. And while our needs as women have evolved since liberation, for the most part, there's have not.
We moved our discussion from Tyler Perry to locating my car as Mr. Right Now drove around the crowded parking lot. I had a good idea where it was, but I thanked him for finding it. How could I have forgotten? I smiled sweetly and bid him good night.
Tyler Perry, what do you say to that?
Flyness and funk,
*Nicki Giovanni's 'Ego Tripping'. A poem written in honor of the strong Black woman.