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Sex and the Man-Child

01 May 2006

I remember being on the phone with a blind date I was being set up with a couple of years ago and we were talking about what we knew, or thought we knew, about how members of the opposite sex think and act. She was commenting on how much of an advantage it was for her to have grown up with three older brothers because that gave her an invaluable perspective about men.

She recalls hearing one of her brothers talking to a girl as if she was the only woman in the world and then switch to the other line to have phone sex with another girl. She’s heard all the male boastful talk, seen all the tricks, and was a witness to all the lies. She claims that it didn’t make her bitter but rather “saved” her from the illusions that many women have about men and relationships. “Thinking like a man, or knowing how they think” is a woman’s most prized asset as she put it.

We as men, however, don’t always have it so easy when it comes to obtaining inside information about the female psyche. Only the battle-tested bruises of a lifetime in the dating scene, from the grade-school playground to the office jungle, will sometimes give us a clue. You see, I have a sister, and like most Black, White, or whatever brothers, the very thought of thinking of our sister as being out there in the dating scene is traumatizing enough. We don’t want or need to know that Michael or Peter hasn’t called in three days and why she’s upset about it. And god knows we won’t ask for relationship advice to the boys except if it has anything to do with improving our “scoring” chances.

So from those angles, the ladies have us beat.

But there “is” a loophole in this rule of the battle of the sexes where men can even the score: “The Female Friend.”

I’m lucky enough to have Mary.

I’ve known Mary for longer than I care to remember. Fifteen years actually. I those fifteen years, we have known every intimate details about each other’s dating lives. Just by talking to her about a new girl I meet, she can always tell from how I talk about her if this is lust, love, or just a like thing. Sometimes long before I can even figure it out myself. Likewise, I am somewhat of an expert at reading Mary’s relationships. In the fifteen years I’ve known her, I’ve seen several phases. One of her most interesting phases was her “man-child” period. We shall look at Mary’s favourite phase of mine in Part II, but for now, let’s air out Mary’s dirty laundry.

Woman, the nurturer

This advantage of perspective, perceived or imagined, that women are thought to have in understanding men better than men could ever understand women is in itself the root cause of the battle of the sexes. Face it, this is a man’s world; and women have been exposed to the male world-view their whole lives. But while men have traditionally held the visible levers of power, women have an equally potent set of powers that aren’t so obvious.

The machismo ethic isn’t that hard to grasp. Give a man his sense of manhood; know which buttons to push and at what time, keep him fed and satisfied with his basic needs and your man is happy.

There’s nothing more powerful than a woman who knows her man inside out and can predict his slightest moods, reactions and emotions. She can make him think he’s king of the world while the poor fool doesn’t even realize he’s just the head talking while his woman is the neck pointing him in every which way direction she desires.

I’ve seen Mary be that woman when we first met right out of high school. She would date those tempestuous characters who seem normal at first glance but who could erupt in fits of anger at the most unpredictable times. Unpredictable, I should say, to everyone else, except Mary. No matter what though, she always made them fall in love with her and there was always the usual drama of them groveling back after they broke up. After a while, I was getting pretty good at timing how long it would be before she called me up again crying her eyes out.

After years of witnessing this pattern, we had this most interesting conversation where I finally gave those man-child lovers a name: “the wounded birds.” She was slightly offended at my attempt of defining the destructive pattern in her life but later on, she admitted I was right. Basically, my theory went at follows: Women, since the dawn of time, have been the caretakers and nurturers. It’s an almost biological predetermination that most women in their teens and twenties (and some of them for their whole lives) will seek to be the nurturers.

The basic idea is to take a man at his primal, somewhat deficient, state and build him up, whether he realizes it or not, into the man she knows he can be. Then, once the mission is accomplished, her love is eternal because, in a way, he is “her” creation. He is quite literally “her” man. If something ever happens to the relationship while the male specimen is in mid-transformation, one can often find these Frankenstein beings wandering aimlessly and clueless until another woman picks up this latest wounded bird.

I’m not your boy

If I were to point to one reason why Mary and I never hooked up and remained life-long friends, it would be precisely because we were always the antithesis of who each of us dated. Yet, we somehow managed to have an amazingly clear perspective of each other’s destructive patterns long before either of us ever realized it for ourselves. Yes, there was also the fact that we are from different backgrounds (she Asian, myself Black) but that wouldn’t have been enough to stop us from being together if we were meant to be anything more. We’ve already been getting the stares from everyone in the rainbow coalition walking around together for years on Montreal, Toronto and New York streets. What we are essentially is the best reality-check mirror for each other’s twisted souls. She loved the wounded birds, I loved the Charlottes and we’ve spent nearly half our lives trying to cure each other.

I never wanted to be the wounded bird. In fact, if I realized that a woman was trying to change me, I’d revert to my usual passive-aggressive self. Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect, and there's nothing wrong with a woman pointing out that I need take better care of myself by hitting the gym, eating healthy, and overall improve the whole mind, body and soul thing. Even budgeting together to achieve common objectives is all good. But it's another story when you are being literally dictated what you "should" be doing for a living, who you can or can't hang out with, and how to spend every dime you make. To me, it would be like dating my mother. I always thought that my mother already did a pretty good job so who were they to think they can treat me like a child. Any man reading this, even the wounded birds, can identify with this frustration of feeling like you are being treated like a child by your woman. Especially with the constant negative media stereotypes which represent the Black man particularly as essentially a lost man-child. We are often forced to confront those stereotypes on the dating scene.

Sisters, how many times have you been on the phone with your girlfriends before a first date and not list all the faux-pas you “expect” a brother to do on a date. “Watch him not pick up the check at the restaurant.” Or, “I know he ain’t trying to pick me up in his mom’s car.” One thing about expectations, they shape your interpretations at the subconscious level.

Sisters love to get together at house parties and bash on the man-child. But truth be told, the man-child lacks no lovin’ from even the most successful sisters. The man-child is a diamond in the rough. He’s a man you know you will always understand while he scratches his head trying to understand you. And isn’t that a comforting thought?

Love him right and you will be his queen. He might have wandering eyes but you know who he’s coming home to. And what kind of a man would he be if he weren’t in demand. Them heifers just best recognize he’s “your” man. But watch out sisters, White women will love him just as much because he’s sending her father to the crazy house and he fulfils her BET fantasies.

But regardless of his race, whether Black or White (as were all of Mary’s men-child), the man-child doesn’t represent the majority of men. The difference is that, unlike White men, all Black men have to live with the stigma of the media-dominating Black man-child. We must not only carry the man-child burden 9-to-5 at work, but we are confronted with it every time we even say hi to a sister. Victim of the statistics ‘til the end.

Want to know why the state of Black love is so bleak? Not only don’t Black men admittedly recognize the full value of the Black woman, but Black women go around placing labels on brothers like they are working the night shift at Dominion. In a way, labels are comforting because this is what we know. Despite the fact that they would deny it, I have come across some sisters, especially one who literally came to a horrible date I''ve recently been on with her loaded with a label gun, who wouldn''t know what to do with themselves around a genuinely good and stand up brother. It''s hard to blame them. They rarely seem to come across or care to even recognize them on a regular basis.

What do they say about the devil you know?

It’s time that we start recognizing each other’s full humanity. But that requires the courage of stepping into the unknown.

More on Part II …

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