Jenée Desmond-Harris and David Swerdlick of The Root have ostensibly opposing viewpoints on why African-American women shouldn't let the swooning over Barack Obama prevent them from meeting guys — but we think their advice is is more widely applicable.
While I'm not remotely qualified to opine on the difficulty faced by African-American women who wish to date men of equal educational and career attainment (though, please, opine in the comments if you are), Desmond-Harris' and Swerdlick's advice rings as true for most of my friends as it does for theirs. Having lived in three major East Coast cities (Boston, New York and D.C.) as an adult — and with girlfriends in Philly, Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco — there is a near universal-lament: "Dating here sucks. There are no guys."
This is, demographically-speaking, demonstrably not true. What it inevitably means is that my friends — like Desmond-Harris's and Swerdlick's — have found the men they have met wanting. Desmond-Harris who, like me, is an inveterate match-maker, lists some of the reasons she's heard.
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.)
And she's not done yet.
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 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.
And these are just the guys self-selected to be bright, ambitious, well-educated and young professionals. Desmond-Harris's point is that sometimes everyone lets superficial things get in the way of getting to know someone enough to even decide if there's attraction or chemistry — choosing instead to focus on some perfect archetype (like Barack Obama) that one can slot into one's perfect fantasies without having to deal with the messy parts of a real relationship.
Swerdlick, in a defensive fashion, agrees.
But if any of you are holding out for a future U.N. high commissioner who's also won an Olympic bronze in tennis, makes sushi at home and DJs at his own club on weekends, you really need to get a grip.
I said it sounded defensive. He also recommends women stop obsessing on how much guys spend on them; try to recognize the hottie under the sweatpants or goofy ears; check their own egos about how attractive their partners should be; and (since it is about African-American relationships), try dating outside their race. Defensiveness and stereotypes aside, it's not terrible advice. For instance how many times have we read or heard that the man should pay for the first date? It's not just an outdated stereotype about earning power and responsibility for the date, it was originally based on assessing a man's ability to support you, and, for some people, it still is.
As a setter-upper, I've heard it all from my girlfriends: too "ethnic" (don't get me started); too tall; too short; too fat; too skinny; has a beard; too nice; not aggressive enough; and on and on and on. Which isn't to say women shouldn't be picky — but the things one should be picky about include how he treats you (and others around him); whether you share similar values; whether you want similar things. It's rare to find out any of those things, or determine if there's real attraction outside of hot-or-not if you never talk to someone. And while it's easy to figure that some dude asking for your number while staring at your chest doesn't probably want to get to actually know you, maybe the goofy-eared guy drinking hot chocolate while sweating nervously does — but you'll never know if you don't try.
I have to admit that my father — and my parents' ongoing relationship (34 years of marriage, 36 years together) — is a strong factor in my dating philosophy. My parents were set up on a blind date and my mom's first impression was: Too Short (my dad's 5'4", and my mom's 5'6"). He was also portly, hads a strange sense of humor (yeah, I take after him), worked with his hands and had been divorced. They stayed just friends. A year later, my mom was out with her 6'2", suave, urbane, handsome boyfriend and all their friends (my dad included) when her boyfriend got a little drunk — and more than a little aggressive with my mom. And of all the people there, my dad marched right up to him and told him that if he wanted to fight, he should start with someone his own size. My mom ended things with the tall-and-supposedly-perfect guy and started dating the guy that cared about her, shared her values and wanted what she wanted, even if he was going to come up to her nose when she wore heels. And... it worked out well for them, even if my dad is the shortest person in family portraits these days.
[Image via The Official White House Photostream]