Chuck T’s, Wallabees, and happily ever after

My name is Ro and I am a liar. I remember the day that I realized that I had been lying to myself for an incredibly long time. It’s never the nicest of things to acknowledge, but I suppose there is some value in getting to such a place.

It was a Thursday, one of those days where you run back and forth between locations and appointments, mostly because your day was poorly planned, and there wasn’t a damn thing you could really do about it.  I had to go into school, for a lecture at half ten, then come back home for a conference call at 1:30, then be back at campus for drinks at five, before a dinner at half seven.  Basically a day where you are exhausted before you take a step out the door.  Fabulous.

While brushing my hair on the bus that morning ( one of my mother’s most hated of  my time saving strategies), I noticed a tall-ish man.  This is not a surprise, as I tend to notice most tall-ish men, because at a staggering  5’3, I often fear being crushed.  Still, I noticed him. And I did something almost strange on my part – I smiled at him while looking him dead in the eyes. Then, the strangest thing was he smiled back. I countered with the most logical thing:  I looked at his shoes.

They were grey, a pair of lived in Chuck Taylors with laces that had seen far too many beer dampened bar tiles.  When I looked up, he was still looking at me.  The bus stopped, and he left, walking slightly ahead and rushing into the station.  I rushed a little faster, half because I wanted to be on time, half because I thought of the possibility of us ending up on the same train. In dream scenarios when this occurs, there are more stolen glances, and eventually some sort of exchange that allows two people to fall in love and then tell the story of how they met on the tube.  And he seems to be just a little bit hipster, like me, so we’d tell that story while listening to vinyl at our dinner parties. Who doesn’t want that story?  Critical feminists like cuddling while watching TV too. We’re just very likely critiquing the rubbish on television midst cuddle.I made it to the platform in record time – not quite catching up to him, but the tail of his matching grey coat never quite leaving my sight. I duck onto one train, and then slyly scan for my new future husband.  And that’s when I notice bachelor number two.  “His hat is really cute”, I say to no one. It could have been out loud – as often I forget that others are around when trying to fulfil dream sequences.  I sit and we catch each other’s gaze for a second which in stranger time is about, five years.  I break first, eyes falling once more to his shoes. Green Velcro this time, though equivalently lived in.  An olive green that is only slightly darker than his pants, and his heavy overcoat.  He’s all matchy, and cute with a beard and a hat. And I’m smiling to myself thinking how cute we’d look in our matchy matchy hats, even though my hat is orange.

I suddenly stop. It is not even half nine in the morning and I have already projected a future on not one, but two complete total and utter strangers.  How could I BE this ‘man crazy’? I am disgusted with myself, pause, and rectify this the only way I know how.  Meditating on public transport is always a risk – most times you look bat shit crazy. But I figure, that can’t be as crazy as what has just transpired. I close my eyes, and then engage with the disastrous task of silencing my inner self.

Dinner time finally arrives a million hours (and believe it or not, a million daydream sequences with potential life mates) later. A catch up session with a sister/friend who knows my history in a way that makes conversation simple.  A conversation riddled with laughter slips easily banter that is more a muscle memory of stories about alcohol induced mistakes.  She has been blissfully paired off for about four years, during which time I have made my way through a list of men that is longer than I would like- and that I literally produce at the end of dinner  for added hilarity, and to ask for assistance with clarification of names.

“Tossed salad? Seriously? ”

“It’s not like that. It was a cheeky remark he made when he ordered a salad. I think his name was Tom. Maybe.”

She nods, and scans down the list, head shaking in disgust at ones that are locations rather than names of individuals.

“I am tired, of this.”  I continue.  “You know? I just want someone to… someone to willingly do ten to life with me.  Everyone knows black women age like good wine so I can’t really see the hesitance in partnering up with me. Good long term investment.”

“You’ll find him. Probably when you stop looking”.

“Girl I stopped looking years ago. I am NOT looking for a man anymore.  I don’t know what else to do, but at least I’ve stopped doing THAT.”

It’s not here, by the way – when I realize that I am a liar. I bet that’s when you thought it would happen. But alas, I am a special kind of stubborn.  So, my sister/friend and I part ways, and I board yet another train to my final destination for the evening.  My back is beyond aching. The bulk of my energy is focused on staying upright. I begin counting how many hours till my osteopath appointment the following day where I will hopefully find some relief.

And then, it happens.  The corner of my eye sees someone who looks strikingly like my future husband – and oddly, like my ex boyfriend. He is tall with wavy hair, a grey cardigan and blue scarf and jeans that are just jeans, and the shoes of a man. Brown. Leather. Simple. He carries the appearance of a man who will not be fussed by the fact that I smoke cloves, go to hip hop shows, dig indie rock, and pop up gallery openings,  and have a doctorate in ‘saving the world’ as one terrified ex once said, and what’s more – he was getting off on MY STOP!

We walk the same path, while I deny myself the right to look at him at all.  He makes a left – the left that I need to take to get to the next train.  Somehow I have forgotten the agony of my back, and I am walking entirely too fast, until – my back remembers its own agony all by itself.  Electricity shoots up my spine and down my legs and I am frozen.  Two trains, littered with potential men that I am not looking for pass me by.  I do not get on them. I simply stand, willing myself not to cry, but eventually giving in, because it really, really hurts.

Yes, THAT is when I realize that I am a liar. That despite my best efforts, I am, technically still ‘looking’. I cannot help but look. Look five years, five months, five minutes down the road towards a future where they notice that I notice them and we notice each other and someone is brave enough to say something and we all live happily ever after.   I don’t know if I ever stopped looking to be truthful.  Because, dare I say it – I want a man in my life.

I am cognizant of my history. Which I attribute to being the shared history of women who have traveled this proverbial road before me. Unfortunately, my recollection of the women, in particular the black women, who struggled for decades to enable me to be able to do what I do today, often saddles me with … guilt over such an admission. Guilt when my list of accomplishments becomes (momentarily) diminished in the absence of my ‘other’.   And so, this is what I do.  Publicly deny, and privately dream until my back literally gives out.

I eventually got on a train. I sat down, very carefully, and thought about my latest self discovery.  More importantly, of a way to explain how all of this happens. Will I never really find someone because they say it happens ‘when you stop looking’?  But isn’t EVERYONE always looking? Are we doomed to romantic failure because we’ve a propensity for day dreams?  Perhaps.  The potential of using theory to explain my own pseudo-madness opens up to me like a delicious buffet. Thank the heavens for the social sciences.

Why do I look?  Probably for the same reason everyone looks. Is it a simple eye reflex, in response to motion, which is then held in place when cognitive processes begin to assess the balance of facial features which, given a certain degree of symmetry indicate some kind of attractiveness?  Neurocognitive and evolutionary psychology would give me a grace for that one.  Amazing.

Ok, but what about the shoes? Well I suppose I can turn to classic social psychology for that one.   Socially constituted knowledge is often in part made up of myth, old wives tales that are older than time, and through shared experiences and a hell of a lot of stories from aunties, mommies, and blessed grandmothers become accepted ways of thinking, and ultimately, shape action. I can basically hear my aunt reminding me that you can tell a lot about a man by their shoes. So, this too, is not my fault.

With each successive pair of shoes I project a potential life or characteristic associated to, the stereotype that this shoe type projects, or represents to me.  Over reliance on stereotypes (or schema) are a natural process of making sense of our world and the people we encounter in it. Never mind that I am technically smart enough to know that sometimes a shoe is just a shoe, but at that first moment, and many first moments, we don’t have the time (or the guts) to ascertain if the shoe is just a shoe, and instead make a judgement call – a best guess for who that person ‘could’ be – like my super cool man-partner who teaches me how to skateboard at age 30.

The public denial of  the ‘looking’  is perhaps the worst part of it all, and the hardest to explain. Why do I, and many of my crazy intelligent female friends, sometimes feel ashamed to admit to this in public?  Well, partly because the representations of  women who ‘look’ for men, are not cute to fellow feminists, or to anyone really. In fact, they are portrayed as sad sallies in pretty much every popular media outlet. No one wants to be the girl who is caught reading books like this, despite the fact that you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who could honestly say she hadn’t at the very least, ‘skimmed’ her ‘less independent friend’s copy of said book.  Beyond this, I hate to think of how many millions of dollars Beyonce and others have made off of projecting the opposite of this image as the ideal. Strong successful women don’t need men ! That’s for women of the past yo! I don’t blame them… not really.  I blame the misrepresentations of what it means to be a ‘strong’ woman, maybe a modern miss-reading of feminism.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing women in every dimension of my life.  And for those who are single there is this push and pull between success, being ok with ‘not needing a man’ and the more very human and realistic desire to share your life with another individual.  And if this many of us are feeling the twinge of it, then we as women aren’t doing enough to publicly challenge this strange catch 22 of a “modern successful woman”. It should be ok, to – heaven forbid –want a dude in Chuck T’s to share your success with.

You hear it from friends, who console you and say things like “But you’re so smart, and successful,  you don’t need a man, you’re amazing. I wish I could do what you do! Dudes suck anyway”.  Bless their hearts. Yah, guys do suck sometimes. But I mostly find these things annoying. I don’t think it makes me less bad ass, or strong, or successful to say I want someone who is a bad ass in their own respect to share that with.

But just when I think I’m OK with that, there is, sadly, science like this which tries to tell us that success and ‘happily ever after’ for women don’t go together.  The study some how makes this ridiculous claim that successful women choose careers because they didn’t think happily ever after was in the cards in the first place. I don’t think this makes things easier for anyone.

All of this just shows us how far we still have to go.  We aren’t equal. If we were equal it wouldn’t have to be either or. It never has to be either or for dudes.  They just get to go about their business, and when they are ready, they do the ‘I do’ and get on with it.

Feminism evolved to create the option for women to be able to have a choice in the matter. But it also, accidentally, (yet systematically) through the process of identity work (a quick reading of social identity theory reminds us that in the process of challenging the dominant other in seeking greater access to power, marginalized groups will engage in identity distinctiveness strategies, one of which includes competition, that positions yourself as a united and favoured in-group against the out-group, like good women vs. bad men)  created a pretty heavy representation of what we ‘should’ be.  The most salient images from our collective history remain of marches, and resistance, and battle cries of  women chanting we don’t need men. That’s why Beyonce makes these kinds of videos to represent women’s power. In a sense, I don’t challenge this. I agree. We don’t NEED men, in the way that we were once told we did.  There is a big difference between want and need, and the really hard work that my fore-mothers did to ensure that this difference was clear is never to be discounted.

But regardless, such imagery carries pretty heavy implications for later waves of women who, like myself decide that they  still ‘want’ one, and then deem to still self identify as a feminist. I just feel ridiculous when I am left to feel that something is lost if, now that we have the right to choose, we still choose option A.

Successful women who choose option B, or who do like the fellas do like men do,  simply wait longer to partner up and have children– career first, family a little bit later.  But even that isn’t without reproach: women have to feel bad about that too.  You’re damned if you wait, (you’re letting your eggs get old! quick freeze them you selfish woman!) and I think, much worse, dammed if you admit that you DON’T WANT to wait. Because that damnation is most often a private and personal one.

Well you know what? My reading of feminism tells me that it’s my right to choose. Full stop. Even if  I choose “not waiting” en route to whatever it is I’m going to be when I’m as grown up. Because the thing is, the climb to the top of your respective field will be really damn hard (multiply by two million if you are a woman of colour).  And while it’s all well and good to have your girl friends, family, and even that random dude you meet at a pub while crying into a pint because your journal article got rejected – again- tell you “it’s all gonna be OK girl”,  nothing beats being consoled by the dude (or woman) who you can cuddle. Naked.

The train arrived at the last stop. I very slowly moved by broken ass off the train.  Alright, I’m a liar. But perhaps we all are.  Perhaps it’s a bit of a lie to say we ‘Stop looking’.  I think for people who are built to seek ‘others’ (which many a social psychologist would argue, we all are) the search only ends when there is an ‘other’ next to you.  Maybe that’s ok.  I just need to stop lying to myself.  And probably get a little clearer for what I’m looking for – so I don’t chase as many potential ‘happy ever after’ dudes. At least till after my osteopath sorts my back out.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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