Dating While SmartI love the Original House of Pancakes — with my parents, or us holy-ghosters after church, or some fellow-revelers after a hangover-worthy night, or my little niece and cousins who deserve a nicer breakfast than an Egg McMuffin.  But … for a date?

I have a friend who had a man take her there for their first date.  They are not in college.  And, he took her on a Sunday afternoon after all the churches let out … now, you know.

This friend and I both survived the University of Chicago.  We are both first-generation college students who became first generation graduate students to insure that generations after us would not carry such an ironically noble and conflicted award; we have both traveled the world on our own dimes; we both have mastered another language … Français pour être précis; we are both expected to mine the black holes of our psyches to write for a living; we both chose self-directed professions that mostly require discipline and determination as fuel; we both recognize “A Love Supreme” or “Satin Doll” or “Gershwin” within a couple of bars; we read philosophy; we write it; and, we definitely love pancakes with plenty of butter and syrup.  But … for a first date?

We could have stayed up working all night then needed to brave the two-hour wait at IHOP on a weekend day just to refuel again.  But, as grown ladies on a date?!  No.

After her narrative of this waste of an afternoon was over, I recalled my unfortunate episode, once colliding with a man nearly 20 years my senior who led me to believe he was only 10 years such.  He met me shortly after my 2nd novel debuted in 2008.  He never bought (let alone read) that one or the first.  He begged me out to eat often (ranging from sushi to Boston Market), texted me decent but fairly common poetry, paraded me around his musician friends as his “girlfriend” after a few days, gave exclamation to all my color-coordinated and accessorized outfits, talked my ear off about his music dreams and projects, sang my loathed and familiar so-called compliment of “Chooocolate” on a daily basis, and certainly made a show of circling my body whenever I wore a dress so he could admire my derriere and “them hips!”  (His guy friends gave thumbs up to the hips.)

But, he never perused my bookshelf to initiate conversation on one of the nearly 2,000 books I stock.  He never asked about one art piece I collected.  He never asked to read anything I was writing on my computer, often as he sat nearby in impatience.  If I mentioned a country I had visited, he did not request to see pictures.  When I discussed my college memories, he grew mute.  The irony of this was he met me in Starbucks while I was banging out an article for a classic film website.  He could not say he did not know.

Soon, I learned that “full-time” musician and concert organizer meant showing up later at friends’ shows asking to play for a second, and then going to the public library to “network” on Facebook and Myspace the next day.  It meant driving a few friends to their more regular gigs before they arose at 5 a.m. to stand in line for Ford factory applications.  My father was a factory worker, so that was not it.  It was the misrepresentation that we had a career and life experience in common.  It made me wish I was a nurse.  Then, he would have known better to have thought we might be a match.  But, that writer and thinker thing … there really is no context for most people as to what that means.  He once wanted me to take him to a poetry slam and sign up for “Open Mic” so he could see what I did.  I had to politely explain I was not a good poet.

One fine day, he overstayed his welcome in my home (overnight) after yet another attempt to prematurely bed me before I could verify his age, address, income source, and origins through that process formerly known as “dating” (or “courting,” or “getting to know you,” if you will).  I was determined to carry on with my day — which included cleaning my kitchen before taking a break to watch Jeopardy!  As a Black historian, I had extensive knowledge of virtually any blues artist he named to me (he played the harmonica).  I had a themed library in every room of my home, including my bathroom he had insisted on marking his territory with a shower within that very morning.  But, he heard me answering 3 out of 5 questions correctly on Jeopardy! and he grew pale, buck-eyed, stiff, and anxious.  You would have thought I had transformed from the cool, sexy, “Chocolate” chick he was trying to bed into a ghost come up from Hades. Or maybe Reagan, the sad character Linda Blair played in The Exorcist: possessed by a devil, speaking foreign tongues I should have never heard, giving information I could not have known, taunting, strange, and dangerous.  I went from sexy, to well … discomforting.

When I was in junior high school, I was comfortable with and actually honored to make peoples’ day in “Around the Way Girl” ways.  I flashed my smile often, showed I could snake with the best of them, threw on my FUBU outfit for the basketball games, and rapped along to Kid-n-Play or Will Smith on Video Soul.  But I turned down my Mozart when friends knocked.  I did not invite the Pep Club to my piano recitals.  I kept my obsession with the Sophocles’ tetralogies to my closet intellectual self.  I closed our front door when the family studied the Bible.  For my peace of mind, I thought it best to fit the “norm”; popularity balanced my nerdier pursuits.  But adulthood becomes a self-selecting world.  I have discovered that it is still difficult to select a world around me where “Smart Black Woman” is just as celebrated and comforting as “Strong Black Woman.”

My Black female friends and I are anything but “typical.”  For all of us, education has been a fundamental core value.  The term “Domestic Goddess” is a natural descriptor that anyone who tastes our food or enters our home experiences.  The world is our oyster, and we travel it often.  A conversation with any one of us is as significant a pleasure as winning (or losing) at Trivial Pursuit.  We want Tupac Shakur to come back to life.  We love Meryl Streep as much as we love Nia Long. We are not racist.  We remain steadfast and committed to our families and communities.  And, most essentially, we are kind and diplomatic women who give others freedom to express themselves, exhibit genuine interests in others’ interests, and fit in very well to environments beyond our owns.

Yet, we remain ensconced by and encased within a world that is more likely to view us as that banshee-yelling-at paternity-tests and referees on daytime talk shows, or as that helpless dysfunctional problem to be solved (or saved) within impoverished and violent environments, or that half-talented songstress whining catchy hooks for the booty-shaking crowd, or that distressed foreign woman in dire circumstances of need, or that “angry” and “mad” thing … These gentlemen I have discussed here are a part of this world — and they were Black and educated themselves.  When we have dated men of other races who relate to our minds, we suffered dirty looks in our own communities.

Bad dates are not unique to Black women.  All women experience this fact of life.  But for other women, the “bad dates” occur at sophisticated venues where the grievances hover more in the realms of personality incompatibility, or crudeness on the part of the male, or the poor guy’s awful choice of tie.  For Black women, another dimension to this fact of life usually contributes to our unique tales: we are stricken with the heavy task of overturning stereotypes that demean the experiences we ought to have in this world.

My observations are not original.  That is the problem.  They have been discussed, ad nauseam, by writers and cultural critics the world over.  Most people would fail this quiz:

  • Did you see a Black woman wearing glasses or reading a book on TV this week?
  • Did you actually see a Black woman at work — in her office, at a meeting, negotiating a contract, or delivering a monologue — on any one of the sitcoms that claim to portray Black people in a more positive and progressive light?
  • Did you see a film where a Black man, or any man for that matter, chased a Black woman down for her love — betwixt winning conversations and memorable lines?
  • Have you watched a Black female commentator or expert, outside of discussions on violence or community ills or politics, win an intellectual spar this week?

For those of us who flow into our own recipes, we exist in a state of arrested development that silences us outside of a very narrow group of people.  It is troubling to see shock on wait staffs’ faces or amusement on grocery clerks’ faces when we pronounce “foie gras” or inquire where the tahini sauce is.  I once had to ask a White man at a party to move away from me; he was visibly shocked that I not only knew who National Book Award winner Joan Didion was, but that I was actually reading her latest book.  I went from relaxing to thinking: How could a woman assembled at a gathering of writers, professors, teachers, and artists not know who Joan Didion is?  Oh, I am Black.

To some extent, the heart of this matter is that my girlfriends and I have crossed paths with close-minded individuals.  But at this stage of our lives, what filtration process must occur before we can guard our steps against even tip-toeing near such paths?  Will we sell out if we flee off to the suburbs or Europe?  Are we that needed here, in urban Americas, to explain ourselves to no avail?  For no one ever wishes to be a role model.  It usually happens naturally by way of striving for a model — and we have had great ones.  So, what is a smart Black woman to do when she arrives there — but she better pour syrup like Aunt Jemima on first dates or lose her voice when Jeopardy! is on?

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  • I liked the article and I also loved your comment, Nikster. I think the writer should share her knowledge with the men she’s dating, instead of looking down at them. For example, with IHOP… ok, she may have did IHOP in the past in her college years, instead of looking down at the guy… she can offer up a suggestion of a French restaurant that offers crepes. Share a book that you love with the guy. My point is, that not everybody is going to be on the same level as you, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing either. Enlighten your date, put him on to Joan Didion and he’ll learn something. That guy may not be on your academic level, but he could have shown you, how to do a oil change on your car. Of course, always keep your standards high, as far as what you can take.

  • Kr

    She wants a fun, good looking, successful, EDUCATED black man. There’s plenty of them out here. Only 18% (less than 2 out of 10) black women have a degree.

    Her problem is those men don’t want her. So she then complains about the only black men willing to give her the time of day.

    • somerealtruth

      I’m certain that if a goodlooking and educated white man wanted her she would have crossed over a long time ago but white men tend to be VERY selective about the black women they have serious relationships with.

    • OH

      Link to that stat please? And what % of black men have degrees in anything? You do not want to play the stat game when it comes to black men and black women, fill in the blank, please.

    • Honest



  • P

    This article has a good point to it. I’ll admit…I’ve settled in the past. Once I did that, trust me I received a lot (less) than what I had bargained for. Within that short –lived courtship, I discovered my taste was losing its flare. This is why this article is good especially for women. Once a woman dumbs herself down, it appears as if she goes further down. It’s not that you think you are superior to a certain type of men. If he isn’t enlightening your life spiritually or intellectually, really… what’s the purpose of developing a meaningful relationship? I think the author may have arrived to a point of frustration. It’s cute to hang out with guys in which you aren’t as compatible. But now, maybe she is ready to settle down and is seeking more of compatibility mate.

    Ihop wouldn’t have discouraged me. However, not looking at any of my books and they are in every room! Yeah, that would have been my first sign of a mismatch. Then again, it makes me wonder did he just want some where to crash for the night (taking showers)… LOL? The most lacking man will find a way initially to keep your interest; even if he doesn’t have one thing in common with you.

    • Kr


      Do you know the difference between settling and that’s the best you can do?

      A lot of women are botty calls, jump offs and baby mamas because they think they can do better than the men who are truly interested in them. These women rather share a man who is just not into them, no interest nor respect for them than be with a man who wants her. Fine, that’s not a problem. Just don’t turn around and complain after the fact and you’ve aged and now noone wants you. Be an adult about it. You made your bed and your own choices.

    • ASK_ME

      A lot of black men are unwanted though they think they can do better than the women who are truly interested in them. These black men rather pursue the “Megan Goods” who is just not into them, no interest nor respect for them than be with a woman who wants him. Fine, that’s not a problem. Just don’t turn around and complain about ALL black women after the fact. Be an adult about it. You made your bed and your own choices.

    • P

      What the hell are you talking about @Kr? Your response to (my reply) doesn’t make sense at all. Within this article the lady is frustrated because her potential mate isn’t meeting HER standards. And my point is if you choose to settle, it will turn out worse than what you had anticipated. Since I never said how I settled (in the past), you choose the low road and ask if that’s the best I can do? Now I know you can do better than that. Out of all the ways in which a man and a woman can settle you place an emphasis on a lot of women being botty calls, jump offs and baby mamas? Hmm…that’s interesting. Why go there? While it may be true that has never been my world or several other women I know. If you or anyone else chooses to be any of the above, more power to YOU. Do what you do! A woman can settle by engaging with a man with different religious preferences, interests, education or hobbies.

      Since you are trying to take peek into my life, here’s a lil something for you. At that particular time in my life, he wasn’t on the same level as I was spiritually (simple and plain). Kr, that’s one for you to add along with intellect and not jumping directly to a woman settling to the likes of being a botty call, jump off, or a baby mama.

      Now, I need you to dobetter and explain exactly what I need to be an adult about? I have no regrets, only lessons to teach. You may proceed…

    • KR

      @Ask Me

      A successful black man in his 30’s or 40’s might have 99 problems but getting a (megan goode type) woman ain’t one. ;-)

    • ASK_ME

      Right, I guess that’s why this blog is now home to such people. who come here itching and complaining about ALL black women not picking them. Try again!

  • Fancypants

    I used to feel the way the author felt until I started meeting so-called intellectual men. We had great conversation…but I was bored. I soon came to realize that there is more to being compatible with a person than a big brain. The guy that I am dating now (and am head-over-hills for) doesn’t even have a college degree (gasp! He went the military route instead), but he is very loving, attentive, and he knows how to fix stuff! I mean he can take anything apart and fix it with no problem. He also has a level of “common-man” intelligence that all of my “learning” can’t compete with. I can have my high-brow conversations with my friends; I wouldn’t trade my guy if someone paid me.

  • Keepitreal

    The article was long-winded but for some reason, people are more comfortable praising people for superficial traits like looks or hair but get upset when someone is proud of being well-educated.
    Some think it’s okay to brag about looks but mention socioeconomic class, education, and income and people get really angry (and insecure?)
    We’re supposed to be really excited and impressed by women who make their living shaking their bottoms but not by those that use their minds.
    And that is a shame.

    Preach, Nic, preach. What’s even more sad is this way of thinking is prevalent.

    • D

      Uh, no, who thinks it’s OK to brag about looks? Typically people who feel the need to tell others how beautiful they are, are mocked as well. Now people constantly telling you’re hot is different, just like people telling you how smart you are is different than proclaiming yourself a genius.

      If the author had a long, rambling article about how she was too pretty for the men she dated, how these men were not appreciative of the sheer mind-numbing beauty of her booty and breasts, how succulent her lips and legs are, how she and her friends devoted their lives to looking good and making sure everyone knew how good they looked, how she had libraries of self portraits and and paintings of herself and other equally beautiful women in every room of her house, how a woman as beautiful as her who can make her ass cheeks move independently of one another was clearly too good to be seen within a mile of an IHOP, the reaction would be even more harsh.