Whether I like it or not, and whether I preach against it or not, many of my thirtysomething girlfriends are trying to get chose. When I begin my rants about women not needing to fill a ridiculous list of demands from men to find happy, functioning partnerships, they—in all their Black girl, neck-rolling glory—remind me that I’ve been married and am currently in a relationship, then proceed to tell me to have a stadium of seats. I laugh and shut my mouth. I get it.
One friend in particular is dead set on taking a series of pole-dancing classes. She has zero rhythm, and I tease her about it often. She’s also an established CPA with a wonderful sense of humor who creates immaculately crafted pastries for fun and has a ridiculously banging body. She’s a keeper.
When I asked her why she all of a sudden wants to add “stripper” to her repertoire she replied, “Haven’t you heard? Riding that pole will get you that ring.” She was (sort of) joking, but I know that her self-proclaimed awkwardness makes her feel like less of a catch. And this is because, all of a sudden, every woman needs to don fifty-eleven hats just to feel adequate and worthy of a mate. It’s all quite absurd, really.
These sentiments were echoed in a recent-ish post on the popular blog Black and Married with Kids, where writer Franchesca Warren asserts that women are made to believe they must “move in the bedroom like a stripper, look like a model, cook like Betty Crocker, be a great mom like Claire Huxtable and manage money like Bill Gates” in order to secure romance. I’m for people having whatever expectations they see fit, but here’s the danger: being a stripper and porn star, an expert on football and basketball, the woman who always “fixes” plates, the one who can debate every issue in the news, and more?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!
My mother made sure I understood that whatever one does to “catch” a man, she’d better be prepared to do to “keep” him. If you know that (with your own career, personal life and more) you won’t have the time or desire to cater to all those expectations, then you need not start the courtship or relationship pretending that doing all of those things comes second nature.
Nobody can maintain those types of illusions throughout long-term relationships and marriages. The attributes I present to a potential mate are attributes that reflect who I am, whether he’s watching or not. Further, attempting to live up to such unrealistic expectations (and giving men the okay to demand them) keeps women trying to be some other version of themselves, which doesn’t work out well for anyone involved—ever.
But what about the men, asked a male friend? Men are made to live up to ridiculous expectations too. It’s true. In order to be considered a “real man,” many brothers feel they have to earn six figures, drive fancy cars and break headboards in the bedroom—all while tending to their woman’s emotional needs and never appearing to be too tender or vulnerable. That’s a lot.
And although most of the women I know agree that it’s the greater society and the men themselves who seem to set these expectations, I realize that they’re still very present and real. Striking a perfect balance between all of those things seems impossible. A man who is “chasing paper” will rarely be the attentive partner and co-parent that a woman desires. And dammit, either you want the man to be sweet or you don’t!
I had to chastise one of my girls recently who was lightweight disgusted that her boyfriend had an emotional breakdown because he was trying to accomplish all of the things above and was really becoming depressed because he just couldn’t seem to get it together. She was harsh, I said, for demanding that he “man up” (a term that is literally killing Black men, and women and children); that language is dangerous and we have to discard it.
In all, we must create spaces in our partnerships that declare who we are is enough. We have to enter those partnerships with the expectations that she just may not lose that baby weight, that his BMW just might get reposed one day, and that even if those things happen we will be there with love and support. Otherwise, we’ll be chasing the ghost of perfection that keeps many of us chasing instead of loving.
Do you think we have unrealistic expectations when choosing our mates? Sound off!
Josie Pickens is a writer and educator who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Connect with her on Twitter @jonubian.