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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  • This article brings up SO many questions for me – I’m going to host a podcast on the topic.

    -Are educated Black women now in a class above the average Black man? Are Black men and women finding they have less in common with one another?
    -Is dating interracially now the sole option for a Black women who is educated and financially self sufficient?
    -Who’s dating educated and financially stable Black men? (many exist, but apparently the sexes aren’t hooking up)
    -One commenter made the point that “degrees don’t get Black men”. Is this true? Also, is a degree required by men of other races to deem a Black woman acceptable enough to date?
    -Does having an education make it unnecessary for a Black woman to use her femininity to attract a man?
    -Finally, do Black men and women just not NEED each other anymore?

    In my personal experience, men in general aren’t overly concerned with a woman’s accomplishments, especially if they see themselves as provider regardless of how much money their spouse/partner earns. I’m a dual language speaking, book reading, architecture and film loving blerd who married a hard working accountant. My husband comes from an affluent Black family, the type of folks that collect art and have summer homes in Martha’s Vineyard and he chose me, a girl from the hood with big dreams and aspirations. I use to worry that I didn’t fit into his milieu but quickly was at ease with his family, as they were all self-made. Though my husband can’t speak Japanese, and is more into numbers than letters, and was raised in a very different environment than I, he is still a great fit for me. When dating we found we had a shared passion for music and black history, and common goals for the type of life we wanted to create. We’ve worked together to build our lives, and it doesn’t matter to me that he can’t discuss Edwidge Danticat novels. I have friends who can. What matters for me is that he supports my career goals, pushes me in fact, and I support him. We’ve grown together, made goals and met them, and after 12 years together, are still going strong.

    I grew up dreaming of Black love and I think more and more people are growing away from the idea that is exists. Not much I can say on that since my choice was to create it – what I do know is that long-term relationships take MUCH more to last than what folks share in common, especially since people in relationships go through changes that aren’t always in sync. It’s possible to date forever (as proven by some of successful single commenters here) but trust that if what you want is a long-term love, it will take work no matter how much you have in common with your significant other. Commitment to love and the long-term has very little to do with accomplishment.

    • Ruby

      Are you Kasi Lehman, the director of Eve’s Bayou. That movie is amazing !!

  • Ann Samadhi

    My advice/response to the last part of your editorial is simple, but tried and TRUE: follow your own heart and mind and divorce yourself from the opinions/needs of others.

    Those who move in circles with interests other than your own are likely not worried about explaining themselves to, being understood by, validated on any level, or embraced by you, me, anyone.

    So if your heart’s pining for the “safety” of suburbia tips the 51% mark…easy one. Go.
    And if a harmonica-playing man grates at your being…easy one. Be gone, love. (And next time a bit swifter before the list of ills is so long.)

    Date who YOU want of any race/form and allow the (real or misperceived) slights of strangers with skintones similar to your own to stay with said stranger. Be in the moment with your date.

    The intellectual sometimes overthinks herself away from joy’s doorstep. This comes from a reader/thinker with an equal love/value of silence, walks through nature where there’s no path, and stillness…silence within my own mind. It is in these moments, when I detach and allow the book to slip from my grasp and the thoughts to pause, that I feel my ability to connect with and love ANY fellow traveler on this planet IF. I. SO. CHOOSE.

    I hope you and your sistren find that soul space as well.

  • I’m a smart, black man and I’ve felt these same things. It’s difficult to find someone compatible with you. The blacks at my university are fucking stupid, only care about strolling in a frat and being “popular”. They consistently hang out in the Student Union talking and laughing whilst everyone else is taking their studies seriously. They’re jealous of me because I don’t talk to them… because they’re stupid and there would be no point. It’s hard to find a date with a GPA above a 3.0 and who actually has a promising future. Hell no I won’t marry or even date you. You’re fucking stupid. Being a smart black man you get it from both sides. There’s the pressure to “sellout” and the pressure to completely throw your life away. I’m surrounded by a bunch of insecure children who want someone to be their daddy and mentor. I like helping people, I really do, but I have my limits. Go fuck those guys over there, go fuck them and have a baby. The Basketball team is full of throbbing hard cocks waiting to leave you with a 2 babies and an attitude. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll stay single for now.

    • SouthernDarling

      This has got to be the most childish response. Maybe it came from a good place but your delivery is childish and seems to come from a jealous place. “They’re jealous of me because I don’t talk to them….and they’re stupid…”?? How old are you? Some people know how to multitask when it comes to their studies and being social. Someone like me who laughed, had fun, AND had a 3.4 GPA (finance major). These are the people who will make it because they know how to network and effectively communicate with others. Your grades will only get you to the interview. They won’t get you the job. Be clear on that. I’m not the sorority type but I don’t sit around hating on them. You seem disgruntled. Perhaps because you were denied?

      All in all, this response just may be worse than the pretentious article. Are you still wondering why you’re single?

    • Just venting pent up frustration. I normally don’t talk like this, but the behavior and stupidity I’ve experienced has made me come to this conclusion. I knew a girl once, in a Biology class, who was making loud noises to entertain the crowd of white students. Who does this? What kind of person does this? Yes, I’m fucking disgruntled. I get tired of the stupidity. I have to deal with a bunch of insecure people who think I’m stuck up and arrogant because I like to READ. I’ve had black students accuse me of “thinking I’m white” because I get good grades. Would this not frustrate you to some degree? I’ve had “friends” attempt to destroy my confidence because of my smarts. Maybe it’s my fault for attracting these kind of people, but after a while I have to vent. Once when I was reading a Physics book I had a girl proclaim to someone else “he doesn’t know”. Who says that kind of shit??? There is something seriously wrong with the state of “black america”. The culture is toxic and it’s destroying our people. And yes, they’re JEALOUS. It’s as childish as I made it sound. I can’t do anything about they’re jealousy… I’m happy that you’re doing well in your major, I really am. But I’m tired of jealous blacks wanting me to fail like they do rather than allow me to teach them. What do you have to say about that?

    • SouthernDarling

      I’ve had black people call me bourgeois and stuck up. But guess what? I’ve had white people do the same. I had a white woman call the AVP to warn her that she thinks I’m trying to take her job because I think that I’m too smart. People of ALL races have their opinions of you, whether they be negative or positive. People of all races are insecure. So what? But you take the frustration out on the social black people? Perhaps YOU’RE alienating them? At least in this post it comes off that way. Youre coming off as pretentious. That never really attracts people. That’s what I have to say Sir. Hope all goes well. I sincerely do.

    • You’re lying if you don’t agree that the problem is far more catastrophic among blacks. There are more black males in prison than in college. What other race has those kinds of stats??? Yes, some white people are stupid, but in my life I’ve had far more assistance from them than I’ve had from blacks. This rant has been a long time coming, and I’m sorry you can’t handle the truth, but “black america” has a serious problem. When you have 70% of your population having out of wedlock children, when you make up 12% of the population but account for 50% of new HIV infections, when you have more of your members with an IQ below 80 than the entire white population which is 5x’s your population, you have a serious fucking problem. The fact that blacks don’t address this is, in large part, the reason why our group continues to fail. And the reason why people are so pissed at this article is because they know everything this woman is saying is true.

    • SouthernDarling

      I don’t deny that your stats are factual. But they have nothing to do with your initial argument. You were addressing “blacks” (as you call us) in college. Your frustrations with how they view you. Correct?

      And the article doesn’t piss me off at all. I think it’s actually funny and it kindve reveals the reasons that she is probably single. There is no humility. AT ALL. It gives off an heir of Im better than because…. I appreciate a black man (they’re my personal fave) that is intelligent and can carry on a conversation. But it is a HUGE turn off for a man to talk about himself as such. “Yeah, I’m smarter than most black. I have 3 degrees.” “I read books that most others wouldn’t read.” “I’m different.” ….those types of statements are (and no shame in showing my age) WACK. Let me come to those conclusions myself. I’m capable of determining if you’re intelligent. Or not. I’m capable of determining if you are indeed “different” (whatever that means).

      She’s single because she’s pretentious. Period.

    • SouthernDarling

      All in all, in regards to your initial argument, you’re judging them as they are judging you.

      What’s the difference?

      (Rhetorical question)