Loud. Cantankerous. Fidgety. The clock read 9:17 pm and my 7-year-old self hadn’t stopped riding this morning’s fruity pebble sugar high. The backseat of my Daddy’s ’95 Lexus ES300 had become my own personal McDonald’s Playhouse. I sang, I danced around despite the seat belt, I played imagination games with whatever toy I could find. If I annoyed my father, he never showed it. Daddy simply placed a stern hand on my knee and–in his most serious voice–said to me, “Babygirl, it’s dark outside and it’s time to take a chill pill.” He wanted me to understand that after a certain time of night, people didn’t want to hear loud noise and playing. So when it got dark, I’d have to find other ways to entertain myself–like reading–which is equally if not more fun. I didn’t know it then but Daddy had taught me my first lesson in discretion.
Interestingly enough, discretion has two definitions. (1) The power or right to decide or act according to one’s own judgement. (2) The quality of being discreet, especially with reference to one’s own actions or speech. However, when I’ve seen modern women use discretion they usually take one definition to the heart or the other–never both. Such as Exhibit A, the woman who embodies the first definition.
Man: Babe, can you fix me a sandwich while you’re in the kitchen?
Woman: Fix you a sandwich? Uhhh this ain’t 1955! Boy you got hands come fix it yourself.
Typically, this woman revolts against anything “old-school.” She may or may not cook, she may or may not clean, and she probably makes more money than most men. She does what she wants to do when she wants to do it, despite what her man or any man might think. Some call her Ms. Independent because in every facet of life she doesn’t need a man–and has no problem telling you so. She exercises her post-Women’s Rights rights to the fullest.
Then there is Exhibit B. See below.
Man: So what do you want to do tonight?
Woman: Whatever you want to do!
Man: Well what do you want to eat?
Woman: Wherever you want to eat is fine!
From experience, I can say that both of these women are equally annoying to men. I’ve chased men away playing the part of Ms. Independent because I made the men feel useless. I confused them. If he was a polite fellow, he didn’t know if being chivalrous–opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc.–would offend me. And if he was a complete Mr. Jerk–like guys who drive off after a date before they know I’m in the house safe (#petpeeve)–I’d get angry that I wasn’t being treated like a lady. I straddled a fine line mainly because I was confused myself. Ms. Independent claims to not need a man but still has expectations of what it means to be manly. And if those expectations aren’t met, she writes the guys off. Which isn’t fair at all.
And as far as Exhibit B aka Ms. Push-Over–well, I shouldn’t even have to explain why she’s annoying. Yes men or yes women are annoying in every dimension of life. She doesn’t challenge her man, she doesn’t stimulate his mind, she’s simply there to serve. Although I thought this woman was extinct, I’ve met men who dated her. And they’ve told me getting your way all the time gets boring after a while (shocker!). It’s almost like being in a relationship with a robot. And Mr. Right, a man who recognizes relationships are about partnership, will NOT marry a robot.
That night in his Lexus my Daddy helped me realize a few things. Although I had the right to do whatever I wanted to do–at the same time–I should be cognizant and considerate of others if I wanted to avoid trouble. Daddy had no problem with me entertaining myself. He had a problem with the way I’d been entertaining myself. After a certain time, he preferred that I do so quietly. So I learned that I could get all my energy out during the day, take to reading at night, and everyone would be happy. A 21st century woman, in this post-chivalrous society, should do the same thing to get the most out of a relationship with a man. Try to embody BOTH definitions of discretion. This means knowing when it’s right to cry to the world “I am woman hear me roar” and when it’s time to take a heavy dose of “chill pill.”
“I came to grips with this a long time ago. A woman can run the household as long as she makes it seem like she doesn’t,” said Mr. Right-For-Now. Although Mr. Right-For-Now hardly speaks for the entire man community, there is an admission here that (1) men need us. Hell, even gay guys can’t have a baby without some woman somewhere lending her uterus. And (2) our “power” can either be intimidating or a turn-off. I happen to think this is why I hardly see any powerful black women married. From Condoleezza Rice to Oprah to Tyra Banks, modern black women are still making that age-old choice–career or relationship. Well, what if I don’t want to choose? I want both!
Whether you’re spineless or spinefull, the key to having both a career and a relationship is discretion. If you’re the Exhibit A type of woman, discretion involves learning how to compromise effectively. An effective compromise will not hurt you physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. However, it means either both parties give up a little or both parties gain a little. If he takes the time out to cook, you can wash the dishes. This shows him that although you may not cook, you have no problem serving him or helping him out. It also shows him that you can think about someone other than yourself. In a healthy relationship, the two partners should care equally about each other’s well-being. Therefore, both a good man and a good woman will do the things that make life a bit easier for the other.
But if you’re Ms. Push-Over, your key to discretion is reciprocation. Make sure you’re getting out just as much as you’re putting in. This might mean allowing a man to take care of you. The next time he asks you where you want to go, blurt out that Thai place you’ve eyed. Or if you like to frequently invite a man you’re dating over for dinner, suggest he buy the groceries. That way what you’ve spent in manual labor, he’s spent out of his pocket. A man will be much more invested in something he’s had to spend both time and money on. And you won’t walk away feeling like you gave and gave and gave and got nothing in return.
If you’re already in a relationship, the time has come to talk about roles. What do you expect from your partner? What do they expect from you? In 2011, a man’s role and a woman’s role aren’t as clear cut as they used to be. So discuss it. Me and Mr. Right-For-Now have what we call “non-negotiables.” “Non-negotiables” are things we expect from our partners important enough to us that we aren’t willing to give them up for one another. For example, I ask that my man have a general respect for womankind. Though he might not have given two shits about those issues before, Mr. Right-For-Now and I sometimes indulge in long conversations about women’s rights and the black woman struggle. On the other hand, he requires his woman to have a close relationship with his family. Though I’m shy at times, I have to forego that to attend family functions. And if you’re not in a relationship, you can think about these types of things when looking for a good complement. Write down your “non-negotiables” (try to limit the list to 5) and stop dating guys who won’t fit the bill. And stop dating guys who’s bill you refuse to fit. Whether single or taken, the world needs to know that you’re a woman with wants and needs BUT you have no problem fulfilling the wants and needs of others.