The Strong Black Woman Strikes (out) Again

By Sowhatiff Jenkins

We all know at least one. She comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, she’s well educated and dons a bunch of expensive letters behind her name. If she’s not formally educated, she can still school you on a bunch of things. She comes in the form of your mother, auntie, sister, or play cousin. She works out at your gym, and sits across from you on the train. Yep. She’s everywhere and to some, she’s intimidating.

There is always talk about how hard it is out here for a pimp for the black man, and I would never deny that. While I too get crooked looks from certain people when I enter certain places, I don’t evoke the same “fear” that a black man does, so I get this struggle.

But for many black women (and I’m sure women in general), particularly those with a sense of confidence and an aura of strength about her, we too evoke fear in the hearts of, dare I say it…men (and each other, but that’s for another entry), and thus we face a different struggle. In order to get to a place of stability and success, we have to develop certain characteristics about us to aid in the journey. As I’ve noted in a previous entry, our success doesn’t (always) equal less of a desire to feel like a woman, or to be taken care of, and walk beside a strong man.

If this is so, why is it that so many women find themselves being “saved” by the men they deal with or even are in love with? Maybe its never happened to you, but I have heard of so many dudes playing the superhero role by telling a woman what she “needs” by saying that she doesn’t need, or shouldn’t want to be with him. His justification is often riddled in a list of things that she “should” be concerned about relating to his potential as compared to hers. “What will your friends think?” “You need to be with someone more like you.” “I won’t be able to give you what you need.”

Reactions to these types of sentiments should be taken in the context in which they were expressed. For example, if a woman is in a relationship with a man and has expressed things to him that she wishes were different, be it his job, benefits package (no pun), choice of residence, etc., and he brings up this “let me save you” bit, then okay, maybe he is doing what she should do on her own. (Its probably best that she let him go because its may not to work out anyway.) Sidenote: Remember ladies, do not try to change a man, or mold him into what you want him to be…it’s not going to happen.

However, if a woman has not expressed such sentiments, and a man takes on this role on his own, it leaves one to wonder about the source of this new found altruism. Is the man doing so because he thinks he is doing what his woman wants him to do? Is he really saving her, or is he saving himself? Is he “protecting” her because he fears (men have those, right?) that, even though she loves him for “what and who he is” now, that she will one day feel differently? Is he trying to push her away because he feels that he isn’t good enough for her i.e. he feels less than super confident in his potential and/or progress as compared to hers? Or does he need something more from his love interest to make him feel more like a manly man?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, and I would love the male perspective on some of the possible answers.

And for you ladies; What is a woman to do when she is confronted with this age old, “it’s not you, it’s me,” dilemma? Does she heed his warnings? Or should she ignore them at the risk of losing him anyway? Should she just bounce to look for something “better” and find lameness instead (or worse, that there are no real alternatives)?  What about changing her standards?

Let the games begin…


16 responses to “The Strong Black Woman Strikes (out) Again

  1. If there’s anything I’ve learned about relationships, it’s that when people tell you something about themselves, believe it. If a guy says “I’m not good enough for you”, it’s because he doesn’t believe he is. You’ve known this guy for a fraction of his life – who’s in a better position to make a judgement call? Same way, if a girl says “I don’t know what I want” it probably means that you shouldn’t be surprised if you see her with some other guy that’s your opposite. The way I see it, people aren’t going to tell you something negative about themselves if it isn’t the truth. If a guy tells you he’s not good enough, he’s putting his insecurity out there on the table. It’s his way of saying “you already know i’m unstable, so don’t get mad when you catch me actin’ crazy”. What anyone chooses to do with the warning is up to them.

  2. Great post…

    I’ve definitely had someone try to talk me out of wanting to date them and I chose not to listen, not because I thought I could change them, but because I thought that my loving that person would help them be more self-confident. I was young and stupid and wide-eyed in my belief that love can change anything (yes, Disney ruined my love life). Not that I don’t still believe in the power of love, it’s just that anything doesn’t mean everything. You have to be able to accept love and not everyone can do that.

    Here’s where I get all existential on y’all…

    One of my favorite quote is by James Baldwin. He said “The inability to love is the central problem, because if you can’t be loved, you can’t be changed, and if you can’t be changed, you can’t be alive.”

    That being said, love requires change and growth. When you stop growing, you are essentially spiritually dead. In a truly loving relationship people grow. People who can’t accept love are those who can’t accept change and don’t want to move from where they are in life. If a person is limiting your ability to love them they are a limited person and are limiting your growth. They are stuck in place and there’s nothing you can do to pull them out of that situation and you don’t want to get dragged into their limited world.

    Love is precious and you should not and cannot give your love to everyone. If you can’t love the one you want to be with, then you have to love yourself enough to walk away. Other wise you are just standing still, wasting time, and wasting life.

  3. In the spirit of being thorough, and to ease my slight OCD, I must make the following correction.

    James Baldwin wrote, “Inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed. And if you can’t be changed, you can’t be alive.”

    That being said, in relation to the original entry, when a man says, “It’s not you, (you’re wonderful and I’m a complete piece of shit.) it’s me.” he is essentially saying that he does not want to be touched (emotionally, at least). He is saying he does not want to be changed.

    Why spend time loving someone who does not want to be loved? We’ve all done this, some excessively than others. Nonetheless, I have found that when we allow ourselves to give love to someone who wants it, someone who is ready for it, all that we put out (NPI) is reciprocated. Movies (particularly Disney movies) give us the impression that good intentions can change the life of someone you love. Life is not a movie, it is so much more ruthless, so much more raw. We know our lives seldom turn out to mirror the story lines that entertain us, and this can be discouraging. At the same time, it is liberating to know, that life is so much more versatile than any movie could be, and there is a unique beauty to that versatility.

  4. Sowhatiff Jenkins

    That quote from James Baldwin is very profound…Thank you both for bringing it to the post. For reference, when/where did he say this?

    The quote seems to imply that to love is to expose, and even more, to share a terror with someone, an act that requires an amount of selflessness because of the risk. So could it be said that, in essence, when someone pulls the “it’s not you it’s me card,” they are acting out of selfishness masked in concern for the other person?

  5. The quote is from an interview by Jere Real entitled, “James Baldwin: A Rare Interview with a Legendary Writer.” Published in the May 26th issue of Gay and Lesbian Magazine, 1986. It was then cited by Gary Comstock in his book “A Whosoever Church”, which discusses the introduction and treatment of gays and lesbians in to African American congregations. However, for the sake of reference, it was originally an ode to those who are resistant to homosexuality.

    Your interpretation above is exactly what it could mean in heterosexual terms, brilliant.

    It could either be selfishness, or that person just doesn’t cared to be loved by you. They don’t want to be touched by you, changed by you, loved by you. Too bad, so sad.

    ::Sheds a tear::


  6. Southern Belle your OCD is much appreciated. I came across the quote a few years back in bell hooks’ book Salvation: Black People and Love (highly suggested reading) and she had ellipses in the quote so I knew it was paraphrased, but had no idea there was only a 1/2 a sentence (albeit a profound 1/2) missing. I assumed it plucked from a much larger quote. I must update my email quote IMMEDIATELY!!!

    Dr. Scott Peck wrote a phenomenal book called “The Road Less Traveled” where he discusses love and what REAL love is. It’s another great read that I actually made all of my girlfriends pick up so we could all get our love lives together and spend more time laughing rather than crying into our wine glasses when we all get together.

    Now that I’m all grown up and over my Disney syndrome I’ve found a definition of love that works for me. Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth. Love is an action not a feeling. Love is a mix of care, affection, recognition, attention, respect, commitment, trust, honesty, and open communication. As I examined past relationships using that definition it was easy to see exactly why they were deficient and rather than continue to drive myself crazy about why I couldn’t seem to make it work, I was quickly able put those men in my past and move forward.

  7. Seattle Washington

    Ahem, I know you guys are having an “Exhale” moment, but it wouldn’t be Three Ways to Take It if you only heard the female perspective.

    I love the idea of Disney love and the quote from James Baldwin about love and being touched emotionally, etc., but maybe the person is just trying to save you some heartache and is saying it tenderly.

    He/she (yeah, women pull the it’s me not you card too) realizes you guys aren’t on the same plane, so they want to split. As a dude, he prolly wants to continue to live his life without having to change or just want to go back to being a bachelor. Either way, he doesn’t see how you’ll fit into it. While the thought of being emotionally touched and love changing all does make for a great Disney or even Tyler Perry movie, sometimes it’s just reasoning that prevails in situations like those.

    But, emotions and love sound a lot better so you can roll with that.


  8. RightCoastLexSteele

    No matter what the situation, the last thing a man wants to feel is inadequate, no matter what the circumstance. While it is safe to assume that love should calm whatever fears exists, it also helps to fuel fears. Love and committment is something that men do take seriously believe it or not. And when you are talking about FOREVER, you really have to make sure you can make that committment. The last thing a man wants is to have his lady stepping out on him or leaving because one day she comes to the realization that she is too good for him. If this means he has to change, that’s all well and good, but lets keep in mind that you are never going to drastically change a man into what you want, and at the end of the day if that is your particular rose, be prepared to deal with the thorns. Even if your man is using this as a cop out, just read the writing on the wall. But also dont be so quick to dismiss it as a cop out. If you know the person well enough you can really tell if this is how he truly feels. I’ve definitely been in a relationship where I KNEW my better half was “too good” for me, and knew eventually we’d grow apart. She was an absolute sweethart, while I often felt like the spawn of the devil or even the devil himself. (And oddly enough it was her sweetheart factor that made me feel like such a dirtbag). Yea, she wanted me to change and there were some things I wished were different, but guess what, if we were to be married, the vow states “for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, T.D.D.U.P. (shoutout F’02). So if you know you cant love this particular person unconditionally, then it’s a waste of time. Even worse, if you feel that you cant be loved unconditionally, it’s not the best feeling in the world. To summarize, I’ll quote a lunatic, and the only cats I’ve ever respected that cry on their records:

    “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you then it’s yours…” -DMX

    “You gotta believe in the spirit of Love, it will heal ALL things, it wont hurt anymore (and you definitely) Dont want to believe that our love’s terminal…”

  9. This brings up an issue that now has my eyes rolling uncontrollably. Yes, I recognize that it is no fun being the bastard 1/2 of a relationship and that a lot of men do take love and commitment seriously, but here’s my issue…

    I know that every thorny rose that grew from concrete is not gonna flower into something beautiful. My question is, when are black men, gonna let go of this fantasy of being the “anti-hero”?

    There is nothing that brings out my side-eye more than a black man who thinks he’s Batman. He fights for the greater good but he’s destined to be alone. He is a bad influence, and a bad man who does bad things. I actually had a man tell me I would never understand how dark his darkside really was and I know he truly, truly, truly believed he would always eventually hurt every woman he tried to love. It was truly heartbreaking to watch a man I really cared about, vilify himself and judge himself so harshly. Seriously?!?! What exactly constitutes being an evil man? Are you raping and pillaging on the weekends? Do you walk down the street snatching candy from babies?!

    I have had a good number of men give me the speech about how I was a sweetheart and such a good friend and a good person, that someday I’d meet a cornball nice guy and I’d be a wonderful wife and mother.

    You are not a superhero; please stop trying to save me.

    Sweet and even innocent does not equal fragile. It is so arrogant to decide that you a) are God and know the future; b) know how I’m going to react to your “bad” traits and c) to think that you are “saving” me. Pain and hurt are a part of life. Every truly painful experience I’ve lived through has made me a stronger person for it. It is not your job to shield me from them. Now if there is a particular evil deed that you think is good reason for us to part i.e., you’re cheating, then say that, but don’t give me a complex and shroud that in the mystery of your darkness. If infidelity is the root of the evil then you’re saving yourself not me. Rather than get cussed out and have to deal with being unfaithful you’re gonna try to play like you’re trying to doing the “right thing” by letting me go instead of accepting responsibility for your actions… UGH!!!! B*!!$#it!!

    If it’s not infidelity then sure, you’re no angel, but uhhh you’re not Lucifer either; you’re just human so stop it.

    :: queue the dramatic score as our anti-hero walks back into the darkness, destined to live a loveless life in solitude ::

  10. RightCoastLexSteele

    In no way shape or form do I feel like a hero, and if I did, it will probably by favorite super hero, Captain Apathy. He has all the talents and abilities of a regular superhero, but just chooses not to use them. Gotta love the Cap’n.

    While infidelity can be a huge concern in a relationship, sometimes it’s the little things that are dealbreakers. While I may not rape and pillage on the weekend, I have been known to lay hands to cats, and my name aint TD Jakes. I smoke, I drink (I’m supposed to stop but I cant) and various other bad habits that annoy women to no end. And then there is the friend factor. Not only do I have incorrigible heathen friends, but there are also these pesky fraternity brothers of mine that dont make most women comfortable. I have a very, very, very, very, very short fuse and a limited capacity for bullshit. (Which usually leads to the laying of the hands.) Now this is just for starters. All of these factors put a lot of unnecessary strain on my last relationship. I had the choice of changing these things, and she had the choice of just putting up with them. To boot, I’m hardheaded, so I’m really not going to stop being friends with people to accomodate you, I cant unjoin the frat, I could probably stop drinking and smoking, but uh…no. And yes, I do know how you are going to react to my habits. Because you usually always do. At first, it’s all good, then slowly but surely you make comments are start acting funny. And I’m really not going to have to yakking my ear off about the same crap 20 years from now, when it should be quite obvious that aint @#$% gonna change except the weather. (What can I say, I love mary and she loves me back.) I’m a bit of an extrovert, she’s an introvert. Both ways there things about the others personality that was highly annoying. And you have to realistically ask yourself if you really truly believe that you can spend the rest of your life with this person…not as a shell of yourself, but just being who you are, or who you think you are going to be 20, 30, 40 years down the line and be comfortable in your skin. I dont care how much I love you, I’m really not going to start skipping chapter meetings and conventions because you are worried about me hanging out w/ the bruhz. No how, no way, not going to happen. That’s a part of me, so deal with it.

    I dont think it’s a situation of trying to save you as much as trying to come to terms with what may be percieved as the inevitable. And I actually do believe that telling you this upfront is being responsible. I mean, I could be a total dick and just lie to you. And actually…if their parents arent watching and the kid is eating either sour starburst or watermelon twizzlers, then yea, I’ma take it. What?

  11. Well, on this one I will just have to say that maybe you ladies should read Sowhatiff’s post “No Girl, It’s Not that Deep.” In my opinion this is a prime example of when a woman hears what she wants to hear instead of what the man is saying. Now I have been the recipient and the giver of this statement and as such feel I can speak from both perspectives. Wanna hear it, here it goes…..

    Number 1 – if I tell you I am not good for you, instead of dissecting why I would say this, take my comments for what they are….a warning, a disclaimer even. It’s sort of like when you go to get coffee and the cup says caution, hot! The same thing is true with relationships. You already know that coffee is hot (or that man is no good) but you believe that you have something “special” that will or should make this man change the characteristics about him that are inherent to who he is…as my boss says “women always think they can turn burlap into velvet.”

    Number 2 – even if I am (or this man is) telling you this just to scare you off or as a weak copout, then isn’t this an equally valid warning sign. I mean lets face it, if a person is telling you “I ain’t shit” what sense does it make to try and convince this person otherwise? Why not accept that this person is trying to save you and them a little time and heartache by being straight forward? Isn’t that what we women are always asking for?

    And last but not least Number 3 – if you don’t want to heed this man’s warning (because you think he is trying to be your superhero or any other reason you have concocted versus what the man told you straight out) or believe your love will be enough to make this man who you want him to be…you have NO ONE to blame when he hurts you just like he said he would and I don’t want to hear you calling him a dog in six months when he is doing EXACTLY what he told you he was going to do six months ago….Just my thoughts 🙂

  12. Dont be mad when the scorpion stings!!!!!

  13. Vanessa aka Miss V

    … and i think it also goes back to this whole thing about not enough (black) men for black women. i feel like once we find a dude that we are attracted to/really like, we try our best to hold on to him no matter what. so even if he’s saying that he’s not good enough, we try to convince him (or maybe just ourselves) that it’s not that serious and we can’t get past it. however (and speaking from experience here), you never really do get past it…

  14. Vanessa aka Miss V

    sorry, i meant, we “can” get past it.

  15. Interestingly enough, I look at this from the reverse. I don’t think I could ever date someone who didn’t have a college degree and a solid career. Depending on the woman’s insecurity level, it could become oil and water. “Shut up muhf*cka. Just cuz you went to *insert college*, you think you know everything!” Sound familiar anybody?

    If a dude tells a chick that she’s too good for him because of reasons others than looks alone, he probably knows his inferiority complex will get the best of him. Despite the tv show, you’re probably not gonna turn that G into a Gent. Sorry.

  16. InsightfullyBlunt

    Oh, Slim……………love this blog

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