We'd give up three hair appointments in a row, our designer puppies and that annual tropical vacation with our best grad-school friends to meet a man like him. Brilliant. Confident. Best smile ever. So into his wife. On the cover of April's issue of Washingtonian magazine, he appears shirtless to illustrate the publication's No. 2 reason to love D.C. ("Our new neighbor is hot!") But if we'd first encountered him the way Michelle did, as a regular guy, under the glow of office lights instead of the spotlight, would he have made our lists at all?
In footage that plays when the networks mention how our cool, young, black president shot hoops with his staff and friends on Election Day, Obama is close to gawky in a simple gray T-shirt tucked in just a bit too tightly. Between plays, you notice tapered pants pulled up a little too high. A slightly skinny build. In those few frames, he's not the hottest guy on the court, let alone in the country. When he appeared as a presidential candidate on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, my initial swoon as he stepped on stage was short-lived. He playfully hip-bumped the host in an overly bouncy dance routine that embarrassed me into looking away. Suddenly, I was watching my boss get down at the company Christmas party or a friend's dad grooving to Earth, Wind and Fire at her wedding. Not bad. Endearing, even. But "swagga" did not spring to mind. Sure, Obama is a dad and a boss to many . . . but I get the impression he's been dancing like that his whole life. Read more...
Desmond-Harris serves up a litany of reasons that she and her circle of friends have nixed potential romantic partners:
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.)
Getting kicked to the curb over hot chocolate...that's gotta sting.
Finally, the thesis of the article:
But if black women are going to defy the statistics, they need to start being more realistic. Holding out for the perfect man, someone who is intellectual but not nerdy—cool but not arrogant—impeccably dressed but not effeminate—not a player but with just the right amount of edge—is useless.
Ah...I knew we were getting here: Stop being so damned picky black women! You're going to end up old and alone!
I certainly can't discount Desmond-Harris' experiences. If she says this is how things go down with her friends, then I believe her. But I suspect something more nuanced is happening.
It is my experience that, made crazy by all the dire predictions about black marriage, black women often are not picky enough. We are afraid to hold out for a partner (of whatever race) that will treat us wonderfully and receive our love warmly and unabashedly. We don't wait on the guy who shares our off-beat sense of humor and our life goals. I suspect that what Michelle loves about Barack has to do with these things.
Just because a guy looks good on paper--with degrees, dollars and swagger to spare--doesn't mean he's a good fit for YOU. Surely we've moved on from viewing partnership by such mercenary criteria. In my single years, I met a lot of "good on paper" guys who couldn't debate politics with me like my now husband can. And he impressed me on one of our first dates--a movie night--by bringing over both a Monty Python flick and "A Cabin in the Sky." My heart went zing! Frankly, this stuff was more important than whether he wore a suit to work. Yes, I wanted a man who values education and has a good financial head on his shoulders, and I got that. But I don't need to be taken care of. I have a degree, career and swagger of my own. Black women have every right to be picky. Everyone does when they are searching for a life partner.
Before you even get to assessing the important stuff about a potential partner, attraction is all about chemistry. Now, chemistry is ephemeral, hard to pin down. It can seem like it hinges on silly things like whether a date ordered a grande coffee or a tall, hot chocolate, but really I think it is a visceral, instant, gut-level evaluation of several things, from how a potential suitor stacks up against a list of important and not-so-important wants to how much he stirs your...erm...nethers. Black women aren't alone in wanting chemistry. Watch an episode of "Sex in the City" or "Seinfeld." Remember when Jerry ditched a date for having large, meaty paws that turned him off?
When folks profess to have passed on a romantic partner because of something shallow and silly, I don't take it too seriously. I suspect what they really mean is that the chemistry was off--that there were a bunch of little things that sank the union, but they're sharing the one that makes the best story.
Case in point...A friend once set me up with a guy--degreed, professional, etc. We went on a few dates, but the relationship didn't stick. Why? Because he seemed inordinately dependent on his mother (who he lived with), a little dim and he had the nerve to ask to borrow $20 shortly after we met. But when I share my dating horror stories, he appears as DJ Boy, because on an early date that ended at his (mom's) place, he drug out his old high school DJing gear and started scratching, mixing and boasting about his skills on the turntable. It was like being locked in a basement with the Sugarhill Gang. Now, did I dump DJ Boy for this incident? Not really. I mean, it was wack, but if he had been a better match for me in other ways, I may have found the moment endearingly stupid. Given our overall lack of chemistry...not so much.
I'm tired of hearing black women told that they don't have the right to date in the way that other men and women date, that we don't have the right to be picky and sometimes fickle, that having our needs and wants met is not important. Better to ignore whether or not you have chemistry with a person in an effort to snag a man before your expiration date.
Pretending that professional black women are marauding about, breaking black men's hearts over poorly-moisturized feet and cold-weather beverages makes a humorous story, but also reinforces the meme that hard-hearted, over-educated, status-obsessed black women are to blame for the sorry state of black marriage. If only we weren't so demanding.
Most women I know aren't holding out for six-figure bank accounts, multiple degrees and crazy "swagga." They do want a man with similar values and interests and life goals who treats them well and makes them tingle in all the right places.
Since when is that too much to ask?