Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I had an interesting experience at lunch with a number of co-workers, almost all black women, the other day that encouraged me to think about “standards,” and how we decide what is important to us in a potential mate.

As many of you know, I work for a large law firm, that pays its attorneys fairly well in exchange for a pretty grueling work schedule. As a result, I often find that my peers have developed an appreciation for the “finer things” in life that I don’t entirely share; I try not to judge it, because I am sure there are things I spend my money on that they could find fault with, but some of their choices are just not for me. Our conversation at lunch generally revolved around work, popular culture, etc., and then some ladies started discussing automobiles. There was a general agreement that the Lexus SUV was the vehicle of choice—the BMW just didn’t feel “luxurious” inside, the Range Rover isn’t dependable, the Mercedes looks like a minivan, and the Porsche Cayenne doesn’t even come with Bluetooth standard! Only I, and a first year who received a Lexus coupe as a graduation present for graduating from law school, didn’t own one of these automobiles—and believe me, I felt quite out of place with my little Chrysler!

From cars, the talk segued to weekend jaunts to Paris and St. Barths and finally, to men. One former co-worker, who had acknowledged on a previous occasion to being “bougie,” described a suitor who drove a white Mercedes convertible, and due to successful real estate investments, had retired from paid employment in his 30s. Another woman pointed out that you can’t judge a man’s wealth by his vehicle, and the first sister assured us that she makes no such judgments, but a man certainly can’t expect her to pick him up in her Lexus SUV or date her when he isn’t “pushing” something equally plush!

I joined in the laughter, but I wondered—what our are REAL standards? I know that many of these sisters were probably perfectly sincere—they could never date a man who did not have a certain level of education, a certain level of income, a certain level of wealth, a certain type of car, etc. I also know from prior conversations, that most of them wouldn’t even consider dating a non-black man. In NYC, or anywhere else in the U.S., this certainly makes their situation rather . . . challenging. The competition for men who meet this kind of criteria is fierce: not only do these sisters have to face off against other lawyers, doctors, investment bankers, engineers, and other professionals, but against models, actresses, and women who’s entire lives are invested in their looks. And, again, the pink elephant at the table is that many of the men that such sisters see as compatible don’t necessarily limit themselves to black women, or have any interest in black women at all. Unsurprisingly, I was one of only a few women at the table who was married, and ironically, my completely unpretentious, non-luxury automobile driving husband probably comes closer to the “baller” ideal being touted simply by virtue of family background and career trajectory than the husbands of the other women there who were also married.

Halima and Evia have blogged repeatedly about the need to help sisters “get free” by sharing with them as much information as possible about their options and their ability not to limit themselves needlessly. I agree wholeheartedly when the issue is simply one of not allowing the social expectations of others to dictate your individual choices; and yet, I am hesitant to directly address the choices and criteria of many of the women I know. After all, these women are in essence “ballers” of sorts themselves—they aren’t seeking anything from a man that they don’t themselves possess in terms of social status, education, income, professional achievement, etc. Just because I eschew flash, why should they? If they find flash attractive, can they ever feel real passion for a man who lives more simply but has more (in my opinion) substance? If you drive a Lexus, is it really so wrong to want your man too as well?

On the other hand, almost all of these sisters want to meet a life-partner and marry, but have yet to find him. In a city like NYC in particular, even the most forgiving standards do not place the odds in favor of a single woman. If a different approach could help, would it be better for them to take such an approach? Please note that I ask the above with full knowledge that I am speaking of a very tiny percentage of the single black woman population—that for most black women the problem is perhaps not needing “different” standards, but needing some standard other than race alone. However, I would like to hear what the women and men out there think about the role of “standards,” in finding a mate, and whether they make any difference at all?