Please, No More Discussions About How to Get a Man!

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos
by Candace Simpson

A few weeks ago, someone invited me to a panel discussion of eight men who promised to give us the secret on how to find a boyfriend. The accompanying photo depicted a disheveled woman holding a baby, while a thought bubble asked, "Why can't I find a good man?"

Before we talk about why women can’t find “a good man,” I think we need to talk about the narrowly defined qualities we attribute to a “dateable woman.” We also need to talk about the ways these ideas are counterproductive to the aim of supporting relationships.

I cannot imagine an agony greater than being flung into a discussion that asks me to appraise my worth by only paying attention to my relationship status. In her book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, Melissa Harris-Perry uses both psychology research and her political science expertise to explore the phenomenon of shame and its relationship to social rejection. Experiencing shame releases cortisol into the body, which is a hormone related to weight fluctuation, heart disease, and other health issues. Harris-Perry argues that African-American women are “structurally positioned to experience shame more frequently than others” due to our group risk factors, including the tendencies to “be poor, to be unmarried, to parent children alone, to be overweight, to be physically ill, and to be undereducated and underemployed.” There is almost no safe haven, because even Black women for whom these statistics are not applicable are aware that “others see them through a distorted lens that renders them socially unacceptable.”

We compound the interest rate of oppression by telling women to magically overcome these societal forces while inflicting pain that affects their self-confidence. When the New York Times referred to Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful,” women took to Twitter to defend a sister who had been offended. We found a great way to self-affirm in that moment; but sadly, misogynoir still seeps into our dating narratives.

It is a cultural cliché. We ask why Black women are single because if they were worth anything, someone else would take notice. That’s just poor logic. But still, people are continuing to make hurtful claims as to why Black women are single. Even that wondering is counterproductive. List-based articles, panel discussions, and think pieces are all tools to publicly shame and humiliate women into proving their worthiness. If we know that shame induces cortisol release at dangerous levels, telling women they’re single because they “don’t work out” or “gave up the cookie too early” only continues the cycle of shame. No one wins.

We’ve got to stop seeing relationships as a capstone event, with “having a man” as another bullet point on our Respectable Resumes. It makes sense then that we are challenged to prove who can be more desirable, more loveable, and more worthy. We auction. Regulate. Compare. Ironically, none of that is any good for fulfilling, safe, respectful relationships. None of that is any good for positive self-worth. There will always be something you have not mastered on Steve Harvey’s list.

My healthiest relationship was one where we shared our needs, desires, and expectations for our partnership. We did not assume the other eventually wanted children or would make dinner. A healthy relationship requires constant affirming feedback. It is a continuous dialogue that raises up the needs of both people. It treats these needs as dynamic and ever-changing.

When we talk about “how to be desirable” rather than “how to be fulfilled,” we set ourselves up for an unattainable goal. Our energy is wasted by trying to prove our worthiness, and hoping someone else will validate us. We rarely discuss how marvelous it might be to explore the beautiful details of a partner. The true miracle of relationship building comes from paying attention to how he or she behaves without coffee, taking delight in his or her accomplishments, and sharing dreams on the couch while listening to the Pandora stations you created together.

To remedy this, I say we go back to the days of elementary school. I remember scrawling on a sheet of paper, “Do you like me? Check yes or no,” and passing it discreetly to the classmate I liked. If the person did not check “yes,” the world did not end. Because hopefully, expressing interest in someone was a private event in which both parties had the freedom to vocalize desire in someone as they are.

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