Personally, my “romantic revelation” solidified on a Tuesday afternoon in a Jamaican gift shop while talking to a young woman from the island named Cher. My friend, Prisca, was inside shopping for bracelets and I was window-shopping next to her happily picking fresh oxtail from between my teeth. Before I knew it, the three of us were embroiled in a conversation about love, happiness, and the appropriate appraisal of one’s self-worth. Cher, eager to pour into us both, told us about (1) her two children, (2) her giftshop and emerging taxi business, and (3) her current boyfriend—all of which were actually related. Right there, in the middle of the giftshop, Cher broke down her rules to finding a good partner. She explained why so many women got it wrong, how so many men take advantage of it, and 3 rules that we must start embracing if we really wanted to be in the romantic partnership of our dreams. Most astonishingly, Cher is only 25 years old, giving free TED-like talks in the comfort of her store. She spoke with such confidence and certainty, like someone with an attuned clarity far beyond her years. Once you meet a woman like Cher, you never forget her.
As the words tumbled from her lips, I frantically tried to keep pace with my pen—attempting to capture each of these gems to later share with more women. At the end of the day, each “rule” is what you make of it. They are meant to save you time in this journey, and not necessarily to eliminate the reality of heartbreak. Use them as guiding principles, as they ring true for your lived experience. Cher taught us the first step to finding authentic and healthy love in a man, was unlearning everything we thought a “man” was in the first place. Or at least, unlearning everything I thought I had to be whenever one came around. I’ve paired these rules alongside their accompanying defunct myths that I once fiercely believed and am officially ready to retire. Additionally, each section ends with a short story that exemplifies aspects of these rules in action—as further evidence that maybe we’re on to something…
Rule #1: Be boring.
Defunct Myth: A woman must be pretty and exciting to keep a man’s attention.
Read the following words carefully (I know they may come as a shock): You don’t have to do a single thing to get or keep a guy’s attention. I mean absolutely nothing. Nothing. at. all. You don’t need to wear makeup, don’t need to cook, smoke, drink, nor entertain. You don’t have to know how to dance, dress, nor dazzle. You don’t have to be a writer, reader, nor singer, don’t need to play an instrument don’t need a fancy degree, don’t need to compliment him–or worse–insult yourself. Not text him back. Not answer his phone call. Not remember his name. NOTHING.
I was raised thinking we as women must entertain and entice. I readily subscribed to the outdated rhetoric that because there are “so few good men out there,” we women must fight and outshine our fellow sisters to be noticed; and ultimately, to win the prize of his gaze. To me, being boring is embodying that you have “no additional assembly required.” It means you can and ought to truly be yourself: the dominos-playing, 90s RnB and gospel-listening, teeny weeny afro-having, no makeup in sweatpants-wearing, self-help bookworm that you are at your core. Being boring is your permission to allow a potential suitor to meet you where you are instead of meeting a version of you that is frantically putting on performances. A performance of a more glamorous, more funny, more intelligent version of you (that we often treat as more deserving of love and affection than us, the way we already are). Don’t settle on the idea that you, exactly as you are, are not bursting at the seams with reasons to be loved and treasured.
Real life example. Story of 3H: The legendary Black girl who rocked a headwrap, house slippers, and a hole in her leggings to a club in Jamaica—and won.
At some points on our vacation to Jamaica, Prisca and I ran into a group of six young Black greeks from the U.S. They had come to the island to live their best lives (i.e. popping bottles, balling out, and hitting up the clubs). They wanted us to accompany them that evening and we both agreed (note: keep in mind this story has been shortened for your sake and mine). The thing was, Prisca and I were not prepared to go to a club. We hadn’t packed heels and barely had enough time to beat our hair into submission let alone our faces. About 30 minutes into the ordeal that is “getting ready,” we looked at each other and I asked, “Why are we doing this? We’ve been having an amazing vacation, walking around free and happy. And here we are, barely speaking to each other, anxiously walking by the mirror to obsess over our appearance. For what?!”
I put on a simple outfit with sandals, a big necklace, and not a drop of makeup. Prisca donned a similar outfit with a headscarf, light makeup, and leggings. We walked up to their car, arms crossed, and told them we weren’t going anymore. (Well, to be honest, Prisca told them we weren’t going. I immediately started stammering and finding excuses while she kept us strong). One of them asked us why, totally perplexed by the sudden change in plans. We (Prisca) explained to him that we didn’t have the right clothes, didn’t feel like being uncomfortable, and we just wanted to be ourselves no matter where we went. He looked at us with his head tilted in confusion, saying that he couldn’t agree more. He told us we looked beautiful and insisted that we go exactly as we were. Thus, the 3H’s were born.
Sitting in the VIP section, we were two Black girls wearing leggings, slippers, little to no makeup, a headscarf, and not a care in the world. Meanwhile, our new friends were all dressed to the nines: designer dress shirts, “indoor sunglasses,” watches, chains, and dressy loafers. On our short trip to the women’s bathroom, we passed by women wearing what looked like suffocating bodycon dresses, balancing on unstable 6-inch stiletto heels, nursing broken nails with makeshift supplies, adjusting eyelash strips in the mirror, and assessing themselves over and over again. We were looking at familiar reflections of what was typically our fate. With the smiles of victors that had avoided a disaster, we washed our hands, checked the time, and we hit the dancefloor. It was the most fun I’ve ever had a club in my life. I danced until I was quite literally about to fall over. We were treated like queens the entire night, as if we were the most beautiful and captivating women in the entire room. And you know what, as confident and courageous as we felt, I don’t doubt that we were.
Rule #2: Request something semi-ridiculous, but not impossible.
Defunct Myth: Women must not ask a man to do things for her or she risks scaring him away.
Yvonne Orji told her friends that she was waiting on a guy that would make her first time special (i.e. rose petals, a waterbed, candles, and Maxwell’s “A Woman’s Worth” playing in the background). At the time, her fellow 15-year old friends scoffed at her dreams, telling her that it was unrealistic. “Yvonne, your expectations are way too high for your first time. You should be lucky if you get the backseat in some dude’s car.” A young Yvonne retorted, “yeah of course no 15 year-old who is unemployed and is emotionally underdeveloped is going to meet that, but I’m not looking to be with a 15 year-old, and that’s okay.” Near the end of her TEDxWilmingtonSalon Talk (@ 13:14), Yvonne adds “Let’s not excuse, [i]nexcusable behavior. You are a priority and you are worth somebody who will put you at the top of their list.” Women, don’t we owe it to ourselves to stop tolerating things that we don’t like? To, at least, request changes in behavior whenever something makes us uncomfortable or unhappy?
One of our trusted friends in Jamaica, an older gentleman that deeply revered women, told us “A man can never do too much to please a woman.” Honestly, I think women need to start giving men more credit instead of buying into the narrative about men that says: they’re oblivious to their actions, they’re like children, and they don’t know any better. If a man waits two weeks to call you back, meanwhile his IG and snapchat are lit every day, chances are he knows exactly how that might make you feel. It’s up to us to stop excusing inexcusable behavior and speak up about how we would like to be treated. As the late Dr. Maya Angelou advised, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Nowhere in that advice, does it say to make an excuse for them too.
After overhearing a man attempting to woo a woman over facetime on a crowded flight—I realized, many men definitely know what they want. In fact, men go after what they want. Men are in full control of their actions and behaviors and must be held accountable of such to the same standard that we hold all people. And Yvonne, much like Meagan Good, both proved it—these men do exist. And they are willing to do most things you ask because they’re doing it out of love. And the best part of it all, is that they likely won’t even find your requests to be the least bit ridiculous. Wait on someone who does that.
Real life example. Story of the semi-ridiculous request to swim to the buoy and back.
Let me set the scene for you, it’s 85 degrees and the sun is beating down on our beach umbrella. My friend and I sip our gifted ginger wine while laying on beach chairs in bathing suits and reading books. Enter the greeks. Radiating high vibrations and excitement, with a booming speaker and a tendency for attempting random handstands, this group of six men caused a stir everywhere they went. And they had decided on us.
As they passed by our little setup, they beckoned for us to join them in the water and enjoy our drinks on the buoy floating off in the distance. For reference: the buoy looks like a large floating trampoline capable of holding up to 10 people sitting comfortably. The buoy is about 80 feet away (think length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool), and it’s just chilling in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Needless to say, we told them that we would not swim to the buoy with them until they proved to us that they were strong swimmers. We stated that, if they were serious, they would have to swim to the buoy and back for us to consider their request. The guys, looking a bit taken aback, laughed us off and got into the water. My friend and I went back to our books and conversation and wrote the whole encounter off—we just knew they wouldn’t actually do it.
Several minutes later, two huge smiles attached to outstretched hands dripping with salt water extended beneath our umbrella to help us to our feet. The guys had done it. They had swam 80+ feet to the buoy, did a mini victory dance on top of it, and then swam all the way back to get us. Impressed by their persistence and charm, we were eager to join them. We started the swim, but soon realized that we could not complete it without life vests. The guys swam us back and within seconds, one of them darted off to a lifeguard to purchase two life vests. A gentleman helped each of us slip it over our heads and then we made our way back to the ocean. This whole time, they never cracked a joke about it or made us feel silly for worrying about our safety in the water. They truly only cared about our comfort and wellbeing. We had asked them to do something “semi-ridiculous,” and they had done it. No questions asked.
Rule #3: Wait on someone who is excited by your potential and ACTIVELY co-invests in you to make it a reality.
Defunct Myth: Men must be built. Made. Molded into what women want. It is a woman’s job to be the rock that gives a man his foundation, his edge, we are what keeps our man standing.
I had once prided myself on how well I could help exes achieve their goals, maybe even dare for things they wouldn’t have imagined otherwise. Whether it was by offering critiques on their speeches, reading over their essays, thinking through analysis techniques, or just sending them applications for opportunities that seemed far out of reach and very worthwhile. It wasn’t until I confronted this third myth that I realized, though I had been greatly appreciated for what I had done, I was not getting anywhere near this same level of support and investment returned to me. I didn’t always feel like a better version of myself because I had dated someone. Rarely did I see true sacrifices, or introductions to colleagues, or schedule rearrangements being made for the sole purpose of helping me reach my goals. It had not occurred to me to seek out relationships that would also enable me to dream bigger than I initially thought possible.
Maybe it’s because women are taught to be the shadows of real people that we think we ought to always stay in the background. Or maybe it’s this constant pressure to make ourselves smaller, to have it all together, to be everything for everybody but not take any of the credit. Whatever this destructive pattern is for you, throw it away immediately. It does not serve you. Both parties need cups that runneth over. Both people want to be happy and incredible and more than they would be on their own. If I’m doing all of the pouring and getting nothing in return, what sense does that make? Especially when I consider that I could have a full metaphorical cup, more mental space, and more time to devise a master plan on my own.
Real life example. Story of Cher and how she became a business woman.
A tidbit of information about Cher, she has two children and a boyfriend. Her current bofriend is not the father of her children and treats them as his own anyway. Believing he saw in Cher a tenacity to be nurtured, he offered her some books, talked to her about some classes, and helped her start her first business with the giftshop. He had not only seen her potential, he had actively invested in it in ways that he uniquely could. Cher credits him for being able to later expand into a taxi business with the revenue she generated from the giftshop. She was self-sustainable for the first time in her life.
After sharing her story, Cher turned around with a pointed finger and asked, “when’s the last time the guy you were with actually made you a better woman?” She questioned why many women assume the sole role of the person being leaned on, “it needs to work both ways,” she said. “Find someone who is also going to lift you up, it cannot be your job to do that all the time.”
Addendum to the 3 Rules
Arguably, the most important part of this entire post.
Beware: you attract yourself in a partner. You’ve probably gotten to this point in the post and are thinking—Abisola, where am I supposed to find this “perfect guy” who allows me to be boring, happily fulfills my requests, and invests in me being a better version of myself? (First, take one of your hands and slap yourself. Good. Now take the other one and use it to ice your face while you keep reading). In all seriousness—friend, you have got to start with yourself.
Becoming the Person You Want to Attract
Tired of attracting people who don’t value your time? Start showing up on time for yourself and for your own personal deadlines. Be five minutes early to meetings, stick to your calendar, and carve out deliberate chunks of me-time. Frustrated by the guys that always call you out of your name or don’t see you as anything more than an object? Take a close look at the friends you keep, the music you listen to, the social media content you consume, and how you engage in self-talk. Convinced that guys don’t know what’s important to you or don’t seem to care about it? Be vocal about your concerns early and encourage open communication by modeling it. Start by saying, “It’s really important to me that…” It’s uncomfortable, I know it is. But the unfortunate, semi-crappy, completely unfulfilling answer to “how do I find this perfect guy?” starts by answering, “what internal work do I need to do, so that I can recognize much sooner when a person is not a good fit for me and thereby save up more time for the person who is?”
Bottom Line: Don’t allow negative, small-minded, and jealous people to be your mirrors. Avoid making excuses for people who have the ability to make their own decisions and the autonomy to enact them—including YOU. At the end of the day, the only person you can ever truly control is yourself. I reflect what I believe I deserve, to me, it’s as clear and simple as that.
** Note: the content of this blog post comes from a perspective in a monogamous heteronormative society. The author does not assume nor promote a purely binary view of gender, gender expression, or sexual fluidity. For the sake of brevity and ease of writing, she reflects on these rules and stories based on her personal experiences. Freely re-interpret this post as it makes sense to your own true lived experience. ❤
~be.so (ack // core)