Back when I was younger, like high school age, I used to think you could get a guy to like you if you were simply really nice to them.
This was so terribly wrong.
But I believed it. I believed that if you would just be there for them and listen to them talk about their girlfriends for hours and how terrible their girlfriends were and think “Oh maybe, heart of hearts, they’ll break up and I’ll get to be the girlfriend!” And then they do break up and he gets some other chick pregnant and never, ever dates you.
You sob in your dorm room alone. Or, should I say, I sobbed in my dorm room alone as this is what happened to me, oh-so-long-ago.
In fact, this was the story of my life from age 15 to about 18 – pining for a boy who was my “best friend” who would never ever fully reciprocate his affections for me. Menfolks call this “friendzoning,” but unlike menfolks who whine incessantly about how they put all this friendship into this woman and it didn’t turn into sex – I did not blame the boy I wasted three years chasing for never actually wanting me in that way. I blamed myself. What on Earth was wrong with me where I would spend three years trapped in some fantasy (that he often encouraged) that we would be together?
(My lack of understanding here was clearly Hollywood’s fault. Giving me these false hopes where girls simply took off their glasses and shook their hair out of their ponytails and the boys suddenly came running. I got contact lenses and wore my hair down and got the same tired results I got when I was totally geeked out, looking like a black Ugly Betty.)
I learned the hard way if a boy (or by extension, a man) wants to be with you, he’ll act like he wants to be with you. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I can’t say that every person learns it.
Flash forward to my life in Washington, D.C. the first go-round and I ran into so many smart, capable, nice women who were trapped in weird dating situations where it was like they were auditioning to be the wife of a reluctant bachelor.
D.C., counter to popular wrongheaded belief, is a terrible place to try to find a date as a black woman. Yes, there are lots of black people in D.C. Yes, D.C. has more black college graduates and PhD’s and executives than any place else. Yes, everyone is extremely “fancy.” But in D.C., according to the U.S. Census there are a little over 49,000 black men between the ages of 21 and 49 compared to more than 60,000 back women in the same age range. Of the more than 65,000 black “family” households in D.C., about 21,000 are husband-wife households. You do the math.
Dating is fun for black women in D.C. for about five minutes when they are in their 20s, getting drunk up in Park at Fourteenth while enjoying the many permanent bachelors of the city. But rather quickly the city becomes a dating black hole once they enter their 30s and decide they want to get married. There’s nearly 20,000 black women between the ages of 30 and 39 in D.C. and a little over 14,000 black men in the same age group. That causes some interesting situations where even the blandest of man is a hot commodity because he has a “good” job and doesn’t smell (that bad), therefore he thinks he deserves a former supermodel turned diplomat. And this discrepancy has caused some pretty unfortunate behavior.
I knew way too many women who thought they were in an exclusive relationship with a guy who saw them as “just friends who sleep together on occasion.” Sometimes they would spend years on these men. Sometimes this situation would default into a relationship, but rarely did these relationships last. This was no matter how many meals they cooked, how “fabulous” they looked, or whether they let him drive their cars, sleep in their houses and soak up their air conditioning. No amount of niceness could change the fact that he just, pardon the over-used parlance, was “not that into them.” No amount of singing Beyonce’s “Upgrade U” could change the fact that you can “upgrade” a man all day and all you might end up with is a man who suddenly believes he is so upgraded that he can do better than you. Especially in D.C. When there are a ton of single ladies and me-oh-my, a man can’t be expected to choose JUST ONE.
And yet it would persist. These women, in their own version of the “friends-with-benefits-zone,” waiting for a man to finally “pick me, choose me, love me” when he was never, ever going to do that. You can’t audition your way into a relationship.
You can’t make someone love you if they don’t.