by Latoya Peterson, originally published at Jezebel
Note: As I mentioned before, I’m not really interested in writing on racial issues for the Jezebel audience. However, my analysis always incorporates race, gender, and class, and I was interested enough to comment lightly on this story. I am in the process of writing a longer piece about race, dating, and the specifics of dating in DC, published for the Racialicious audience, probably for sometime next week. Oh, and one more thing – these pieces are intended to explore some of the broader societal issues that impact dating, including stereotypes and societal expectations. This is not a chance for people to jump on their soapboxes and dole out advice (unless someone in the comments specifically asks). Please focus on the issues, not what black women “need” to do. – LDP
The article revolves around Helena Andrews, an author who recently sold and optioned her memoir, which is described as a series of satirical essays about being an urban black woman in Chocolate City.
However, taking the long view of Andrew’s life – and what broader conclusions can be drawn around race, gender, and region – often forces the article to stumble. For example, this description of Andrew’s life works from the archetype of the sassy, single, chick-lit heroine mashed up with BAP overachiever stereotypes:
A journalist who has written for Politico and The Root, Andrews says her book attempts to reveal what’s behind the veneer. In a series of essays, Andrews documents the lives of so many young black women who appear to have everything: looks, charm, Ivy League degrees, great jobs. Closets packed full of fabulous clothes; fabulous condos in fabulous gentrified neighborhoods; fabulous vacations, fabulous friends. And yet they are lonely: Their lives are repetitive, desperate and empty. They are post-racial feminists who have come of age reaping the benefits of both the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, then asking quietly: What next?
Fabulous gentrified neighborhoods? (Is that before or after all your cool friends move out because no one can afford the rent?) How can your life be repetitive, desperate, and empty if you have fabulous vacations and fabulous friends?
And don’t get me started on the post-racial thing.
The small glimpses we are shown from the book appear to have the potential to be hilarious:
The disappointment as you end up at the bar once again, committing straw violence in your drink (stirring the drink frantically and unconsciously).
Much of the focus of the piece comes back to this key premise, that all of Andrew’s problems seem to stem from:
“For a lot of black women, especially young successful black women, we have a lot of boxes on our master plan list checked off,” Andrews says. “We think happiness should come immediately after that. But that is not always the case.”
Love is much too hard to find and when these women do, it may go all wrong because of issues that are too complicated for statistics, Andrews says. She is quick to say, “There are tons of black families who are healthy and good.” Even so, black women are more likely than white women to grow up poor or otherwise struggling financially; to be fatherless and to experience a myriad of other societal and/or familial dysfunctions. Ironically, the “issues” can also include being a “strong” woman: the can-do, opinionated type many black women become after growing up in a matriarchal household, the type with whom some men still just can’t deal.
The idea of love as another item on the to do list doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t happen on a timetable. It’s as Kelis sings in Millionaire: Saks Fifth Ave don’t sell affection. So while doing things like earning a degree or landing a good job can be accomplished with focus, dedication, and follow through, love is messier kind of alchemy.
I mean, think about it. To get into a relationship with someone, you generally need two people to be: currently or soon to be available; in the same physical proximity (or internet savvy enough to be on the same website); into the same types of hang out spots, or to have enough in common to cross paths; both need to find each other physically attractive; and both need to be at a time in their lives when they can afford to spend the time to develop a relationship.
Throw all the other preferences out of the window – the list above is enough to make anyone’s head spin, and we haven’t even personalized it yet.
The article continues, revealing that Andrews may also have a habit of setting herself up for failure:
“I went on a date last night with Cornrows,” Andrews says, using the nickname that her friends have given the man. “I got in his car and there was this strawberry smell fragrance. I had to roll the window down by hand. I assume it’s paid for.”
Cornrows, she says, seems nice, but that is the problem. “He can put together coherent sentences, but they are not in any way related to my life,” she says. She laughs, but catches herself. She knows the man is trying hard. She also knows Cornrows doesn’t stand a chance.
“I’m a mean woman. I don’t date nice people. That’s why I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. I will always have to settle.”
This sentiment is one that quite a few of women can relate to. This guy is nice enough – but still not quite enough to be what Andrews is looking for. Many on the Post site seem to think that Andrews has overly high expectations. But a large part of this is the fantasies sold about life. Just as there is an entire industry around the idea of having it all, there is also one at selling the easy relationship. Sister Toldja has a hilarious take on the quintessential black romance movie Love Jones, saying:
I know many people have been let down by this movie. Talk about setting the stage for great expectations. I think sisters take it especially hard. Showing Love Jones to a group of Black women in their early 20’s is like showing a bunch of Iranian kids a Disney World brochure. Dream all you want to, kids. But that trip probably ain’t happening for you. […]
Okay, so maybe I don’t have the longest list of reasons as to why I shoulda had a real life LJ experience by now, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. Because I should.
And I’ll tell you why I haven’t. Because brothers like this don’t exist in real life:
I don’t mean brother like Larenz Tate. I am talking about Darius “groove in yo’ left thigh/tryna be the funk in yo’ right” Lovehall. This man was phenomenal. He was a poet. He cooked breakfast. He respected a woman who brought him home after the FIRST NIGHT. He was fine. He had great friends (except for Bill Bellamy; but I think dudes all got one Bill Bellamy-ass friend). And even when he got Nina started smoking cigarettes, it was sexier than anything the average man can do on his best day.
Meanwhile, I can’t find a marginally attractive and reasonably interesting man to give even half of a flying fuck about me.
I had a different read on Love Jones (I enjoyed it but it could have been subtitled “Massive Failures to Communicate”), but Toldja’s point is what’s important. Nothing comes easy, but a lot of women are convinced these kinds of men don’t exist at all.
But, speaking as someone who is a DC area native, there are lots of men that fit every type of profile around town. Hell, if you want a man that’s good with words, who will tinge love poems with sweet vulgarities, they are plentiful. Last night, at Busboys and Poets, I didn’t see Darius Lovehall, but I did see “Have You Ever Made Love to a Poet” Marc Marcel:
Many of the commenters over at the Washington Post site latched onto Andrew’s admissions of bitchery to justify everything from racism to continuing black gender wars to anger over what passes as WaPo worthy. However, buried deeper in the article, I found this small segment more compelling:
The genesis of Andrews’s book came from a conversation a few years ago between Andrews and Gina, a social scientist who lives in Los Angeles. They wanted to start a blog to explore “why black women can’t find a man.” The day she talked to an agent about this idea and pitched it as a book, one of her sorority sisters committed suicide.
It jarred Andrews. “We stopped. Discussed what happened. We think each other’s lives are fine. You got a good job. A good place to live. You will handle it.” But some people can’t handle it. “She looked like any other successful black woman,” Andrews says of her friend. , “Good clothes, stylish. Ivy League degree, master’s.” Nobody saw it coming. She won’t discuss the details, but you can see it in her face, the mind racing over the why.
This darker theme drives the fear behind narratives of singledom and success. What does it mean if you achieved everything, checked off all the boxes on the to-do list, and still feel empty? And realize this emptiness comes from realizing that the stories we were sold about “a good life” may not be what we want, and the one size fits all American Dream is confining? What if searching for a relationship wasn’t really about the dynamics between men and women, but about having the last piece to a puzzle we are told will unlock true happiness? And what if, even after achieving everything on the list, it still isn’t what you want?
Sometimes, our quest for love and companionship is really a quest for affirmation and answers. As Andrews asks:
“People keep talking about the black single woman in D.C. But do you know who she is? Does she know what she wants? They should stop saying we have it all together. . . . I am that single black woman in Washington, D.C. Why is she single? This is who I am. Tell me.”