Recently, I had a five-hour ice-cream date with an intelligent, ambitious, chocolate cutie, with friendly eyes and a great smile. Yep, I said five hours. He’s a great conversationalist, wonderful at asking questions, and pretty interesting himself. He showed genuine interest in my career, my research, and my recent career-related travels. He respects my intelligence, told me so in not so many words. Awesome, right? This is what feminists have been fighting for.
Yes. But these days me and my well-educated hetero feminist friends have two categories of male-female relationships, if we have them at all. There are those of us with intellectual affairs and those of us with just, um, affairs. Never the twain shall meet. I am in the first category, and let me tell you that the grass is looking much, much greener on the other side.
What, pray tell, is an intellectual affair? I’ve had so many of them, that I might as well have a Ph.D. in that, too. Intellectual affairs revolve around the episodic mind f*ck and they have all the potential to leave you feeling just as emotionally drained as an ill-thought sexual liaison. In an intellectual affair, your mind, rather than your body, is your biggest asset. That’s all the person wants you for—the amazing insight you have, the way you make them think differently, the advice you give. Ugh. Your body, however, get the short end of the stick.
Said affairs usually start like this:
You and a brother meet at an academic event. Perhaps you’re both guest panelists on some discussion about Black life, culture, or politics. You hear what he has to say and think to yourself depending on your needs at the time, “The brother is intelligent, articulate, and cute to boot. I wanna get to know him better.” And if you’re honest, you probably also think, “Wow. He could get it.” The brother sees you and thinks (apparently, and I’m most certainly speculating), “Wow. She’s attractive and really, really smart. Probably couldn’t pull her though. I don’t have enough degrees [money, etc, etc].” There are basically three types of dude reactions in this scenario: dude A will ignore you entirely. Dude B the educated, but intimidated jerk will attempt to diminish you to make himself feel better. Dude C has hometraining and considers himself progressive. He respects strong, intelligent women. His mama probably is one. So he befriends you. For you, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship with tantalizing possibilities. For him, it is and will only ever be friendship, because he perceives that you are more intelligent and accomplished than he. And that makes you friendable, but not datable, and certainly not f*ckable. Why the two are mutually exclusive is absolutely beyond me.
So yes, just for today, I blame feminism for the particularly sucky state of my love life. If you ride or die for feminism, you will inevitably find yourself in a kind of dating quicksand, knowing that you’re sinking, but absolutely unable to do anything about it. I knew I was sunk after the first hour or so. I had a strategy, which I had mapped out diligently with my homegirl the night before. She had said to me: “Now just let him see you. You don’t have to do all that feminist stuff right up front. I mean be you, but be the regular you. He’s already seen you be Dr. You. Show him the other stuff.” However much my fellow feminist friends will find such talk problematic, I totally felt her, because these are the pragmatic issues of dating while feminist. So my alert went off when he kept asking me questions about my research. I really need to shift this conversation to something non-academic. And quick! Because otherwise, I’m going to be permanently in the homegirl—unwilling sage—big sister [by virtue of superior accomplishment] category before I can say the words P.H.D.
It didn’t work. Every attempt to express all the reasons why my love affair with the idea of a Ph.D. is over [numero uno being this whole terrible dating scenario, numero dos being the fact that I’m acutely aware in this moment of just how warm my diploma will not be keeping me tonight] led right back to discussing the Ph.D. Now that’s partially because the brother is about to embark on the journey himself. Commendable and attractive. But I’m not trying to be his advisor. If I was interested in a professional relationship, I would’ve invited him to office hours or lunch once the school year starts. But it’s the middle of the summer and at my invitation [because feminists aren’t afraid to ask for what we want] we’re having ice cream at 3p.m. in the middle of the week. Clearly, this is not a professional encounter.
So there we were talking about the plight of Black girls and boys [he used to be a teacher], the plight of Black men and women and what feminism has to say about it, the vicissitudes of the academy and how to last through it. But what I really wanted to talk about was anything but that. That’s what I get paid to talk about. Let’s discuss music, sports, dreams, sex, love, food.
As we walked to our cars, he told me that I had “given him some things to think about.” Famous last words. They mean, “you are the sister that I will call when I need some serious intellectual engagement without all the educated male posturing that happens among me and my boys. And after I call you, I’ll go call my cut buddy to handle everything else.” Sigh.