Man up.

Besides the errant mentions from a few of the Momma Grizzlies in the midterm elections, black men have heard the expression more than a few times from athletic coaches, beer advertisers and us–black women.

This week, author Kay S. Hymowitz took to the Wall Street Journal to defend the case she makes in her book, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.”  Her article asked all men the question that black women have been asking for years, “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?”  In it Hymowitz writes:

Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.

I’ll admit, I almost started manically forwarded the article to my girlfriends with the subject title, “Even the Wall Street Journal Sees It.”  I mean after months of hearing male friends call my ‘no good counterparts’ argument “griping,” I was convinced my opinion was being reinforced by the rest of single women throughout America.  How then could I be wrong?

But as I went through Hymowitz’s piece, my initial enthusiasm turned into a larger question.  The obstacles black men face can be distinctly difficult in nature, and we could go through the laundry list of challenges, but as a community we know them well.

While the challenges facing black love are difficult, it seems there are certain challenges all 20-something black and white folks face. And while it’s easy for women to stand on our side and point the finger, pre-adulthood is damn near kryptonite for men.

It’s easy to point out pre-adulthood males.  The characteristics are usually surface traits and comparative in nature.  It’s easy to compose ‘his’ profile because he is the opposite of us….at our best, of course.  If we are the educated black women, he is the less-schooled male.  If we are the women on top of our game, he is the underachiever.  If we are fearlessly determined, he is hopelessly unsure.

We’ve used “Man up” to mean, “Grow up.”  We’ve used it to say, “Choose.”  We’ve used it to say, “Act like an adult.”   But have we been asking the right questions to the wrong person?

For women, our pre-adulthood trap is not as obvious; it doesn’t usually show up in our “experience” section.  But while it isn’t glaring, it’s deep seeded.  For focused black women our outward achievements seem inevitable, but our emotional growth– a question mark.

In many ways, our profile of the pre-adulthood male has become our irrefutable excuse.  It is a series of simple questions we all hate to face.  You know the ones: “Why it didn’t work out?” or the cringe worthy,  “How comes you’re still single?”

We hate to admit it, but the answers to those questions rarely come out of our mouths as anything but blame.  When we talk about love, we talk about damage.  When we talk about opening up, we talk about our past hurt.

Women are as prone to falling into the pre-adulthood trap as men.  We fight our own emotional battles, mishandle love and have more uncertainty than we often say.  We are quick to say we’re searching but slowly sink in fear when the chance at love arrives. Many of us are only prepared for the ideal relationship that we envisioned when ‘Love Jones’ was in theatres.  So is it any wonder the trials of real love surprise us and eventually scare us away?

Sure, many of our male counterparts are not ready for relationships either. And yes, the worst of them have hurt us.  But what about the ones we’ve labeled, “too complicated?”  The ones we have no answer for?

We hate to call it what it is but the truth is this: not every black woman singing India Irie’s “Ready For Love” with sorrow in her throat and red wine in her glass is actually prepared.

Having it together means different things to black men and women, but being whole is the hardest feat for us both.  Instead of asking why others haven’t molded into our last piece, we should probably be figuring out the puzzle for ourselves.  There’s no degree in emotional maturity and no salary for commitment.

Black men and women both have things standing between them and love.  The bottom line is tough to hear but somewhat hopeful.

We all have some “manning up” to do.

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