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The Dating Game

January 13, 2010

Notable News from Today, January 12, 2010: Rumors are spreading about Derek Jeter’s possible engagement and everyone is telling him not to do it. Oh, woe is marriage! Be a ballplaya for the rest of your life!


So I got an iPhone for Christmas, and one of the first videos I watched on it was this feature on 20/20 about the dating plight of successful black women. I don’t really recall how I came across it, and the truth is that, at first, I thought it was satire… because what does 20/20 care about the dating problems of educated black women? And then I watched a few seconds and realized it was real. And then I shared it with my wife before we went to sleep, and we talked about it for about an hour. Then, the next day, we talked about it some more, and again on our trip back from New York.

A few weeks have passed since Christmas, but still, I’m thinking about those millions of troubled black women, and I decided I wanted to say something. And since I was already looking for a way to kick off the “Wednesday Special” portion of this blog (which is the main feature, and which starts NEXT WEEK, Wednesday, January 20, 2010), I thought this made for an appetizing beginning.

At the least, it’ll be controversial.

Anyway, welcome to The Weekly Vista, and on to today’s entrée.

First, a word of acknowledgement — because if you’re going to make a comment about dating and you’ve been away for the game for a while, you need a few qualifiers. Here they go. My main asterisk in the dating game is simple: I don’t know what it means to date outside of college. My wife? I married her two years after I graduated, but we were senior sweethearts. She knew me when all I had to eat was rice and butter. So I’m well aware, starting off, that my kind of dating isn’t precisely like the dating you typically think about. I’m horribly uninformed in this arena, but you know what? I’m going to say what I have to say anyway.

Why is college dating different from post-college dating? Well, in college, there’s a shared community, and you can get to know a person in a non “I want to get with you cause you’re cute” way. For my wife and I, that time period was three and a half years. We took classes together, we studied together. In a lot of situations when she was less than perfect, and when I was blind to what was in front of me and desperately pursuing other things, we got to know each other, and there was a lot of subconscious evaluating going on. I didn’t know who she was totally, and wasn’t really trying, but I knew where she stood roughly, and she knew the same about me. And when it finally happened — when I’d matured enough to see what I’d always missed — it just did, and nothing was forced about it.

Some people might call that storybook. For me, looking back, a lot of it was divine intervention.

Okay. So I’m telling you I’ve lived a very cloistered dating life, and I hope you’re cool with that, but I’m not ready to deliver on the shortage goods yet. Before I do that, in fact, I have a little more red tape and fine print to go through; a little more platform building do. Because you don’t know what I think about myself when it comes to dating (or how I used to think anyway), so you can’t possibly know how this self-reflection spills over into my opinion of women. I could cheat you of this information, of course, but it would be one-sided. One-sided like suggesting Derek Jeter should remain a playboy for the rest of his life and never asking the man once what he wants, and what’s best for him.

Anyway, on the physical dimensions, and it starts with looks, and basically, I don’t think I’m ugly — that’s the beginning. It’s a funny way to put it but I kind of look at handsomeness as a percentile, and I’m not at the top, and I’m nowhere near the bottom. Safe non-egotistical estimates place my appeal in the upper 80th percentile, and if my grooming is superb and I’ve got “that sexy look” in my eye (it’s an unconscious thing; I don’t really know when it happens, or how to do it on command) I can make it to 85-90%. It varies among women with some making strange compliments about my nose, but the fact is I have a hardy but not outlandish opinion of myself. Even with this, though, I’ve never gone into a relationship thinking I was going to wow a girl with my looks.

And, on this point about attraction, you have to understand that I don’t believe in “game”. At one point I did — I believed, like this guy, that I could find the perfect lines that would sway an uninterested woman into my corner — but over time, personal experience proved otherwise. A woman knows, I believe, before you even open your mouth. Assuming she hasn’t been “hit on” fifty times that day already, a woman is open to sane discourse, not boisterous nonsense. Just be interesting. Just be yourself. Game? Striving to be Don Juan Jeffersón? I don’t think Don Juan’s need to apply.

Besides, you don’t run “game” on a woman you’re trying to marry anyway. That’s counterproductive. I tease my wife about it all the time, I tell her: “You married a man utterly devoid of game, and I even have a corny way of saying it, so how did that happen?” And she comes back and says: “But you told me you were a romantic person. That’s game, isn’t it?” And I’m shaking my head — I say: “No, it’s not. That’s the truth.” Since she remembers a slightly different history about how we got together, she rolls her eyes.

In any case, romantic or not, there are few other things you’ll want to know about me before you assess the quality and verity of my dating experiences. I’ve presented them below in list form:

  • I’m tall (and I mean in the 6-6 range), which means I meet every basic height requirement for available black men on the market. But, the truth is, I doubt my height has ever been the tie-breaker in any relationship that I’ve been in, so go figure. No woman has ever said, “I’m going to keep him because he’s tall.” Yeah. Right.
  • I’m fairly intelligent, okay. I rank my brain in the 95th percentile. Some would call me the overachieving type. But again, to my knowledge, being smart has never made a noticeable difference about who wanted to date me. Homework or lab partners? Sure, pick the big guy. Snuggle buddies? Different story.
  • I’m a better than average pianist, which means I’m not only tall, but I’m also a musician. A rare combination. Musicians are like athletes in some ways, and I can safely say that when it comes to women, there are undeniable perks. I mean, you’d be amazed at how differently a woman will look at you when you can play an instrument or sing — especially when she didn’t know you could do it. I’ve seen it happen before. It’s startling. It’s also an opportunity like a fast ball down the center of the plate, and many musicians are sitting with the bat on their shoulder, licking their licks. Once again, though, being a musician hasn’t been the difference-maker in any of my relationships, and not in my marriage. It’s only the cherry that sits atop the chocolate sundae.

So with all that in mind, I return finally (and I do mean FINALLY) to the video I started with, and I’ll make a fair observation. Because I do believe, like the women in the video say, that there is a shortage of successful (read: college educated) black men. That probably puts me in the minority when it comes to men who will say this aloud, but you have to remember that I went to Georgia Tech in the late 90s, and while I was there, I was outnumbered. Those are the facts. There were more black women in classrooms. Student organizations were like 90-95% women-led. Everywhere you looked, there was a black woman handling her academic business. Not that black men weren’t; there were just less of them.

So, yeah, if college enrollment discrepancies for one school can be translated across others, and if those enrollments turn into degrees, and then those degrees into real world career imbalances between black men and women, then when black women say, “Yo, brothers, you need to step up your game,” I hear ya. On the surface, the numbers don’t lie. There’s a lotta steppin’ by black men to be done.

But when it comes to dating — when it comes to finding a suitable life partner — I’m a little less convinced about the meaning of these numbers. Easy for me to say, right, because I’m married, and I was never in the real dating game anyway. But what will ten choices instead of one really do for you? What about a hundred choices? A thousand? Does that make the decision any easier? Does more choice equal happier marriage?

So my criteria here isn’t success, it’s happiness, and I maintain that finding a life partner of any sex that will make and keep you happy is hard work, with or without plentiful options. It takes a little luck, too, I believe.

But the only thing you get to have from a bounty of options is an opportunity to be more judgmental. More fish in the sea (if you want a quality catch), only means more fishing, more criteria to eliminate the riffraff. I know I didn’t feel like I “had it easy” just because of all the “choice” I supposedly had. I don’t know any married black man who can say that.

I repeat. Finding a life partner: Hard. But not impossible.

In all of this, I think it’s important to recognize the differences between what men and women want in a relationship. I’m not a woman, of course, but I get the impression women like the ones in this video feel like something has been taken from them. It’s not the options they complain about verbally, however. It’s not a scarcity of black men. It’s another option loss. They’re only using “black men” as a surrogate for they truly want to say.

And it comes down to motherhood, femininity. Not that a college educated woman would ever give up her career and accomplishments, both at school and professionally — but why can’t she have the option? Why can’t she find a man such that, if she decided she wanted to “try” the motherhood thing out for a year or two, see how it went, she could do it without a loss of security, or lowering of her financial objectives? Because that’s the biggest risk for women, really. Not just in marriage, but on the job, too. Have a baby; lose everything you worked for.

But, ah, if there was a man there to stand in the gap, help bear that burden, a black man preferably, but any man, that would make the difference. Is there anything wrong with asking — dreaming — for that?

I don’t think there is.

Next Vista: Wednesday, January 20, 2010, “The Quick and the Dirty”

(And don’t forget, this Vista was special. Next week, we’ll start our regularly scheduled program. Hope you come back!)

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