My mother never earned a college degree, but throughout my childhood she would randomly dole out these pearls of wisdom that gave me a leg up when it came to navigating all the left turns I would make as an adolescent; as well as the ability to side-step some of the minefields I’d encounter as a young adult.
First, she told me that even though I may have more material things than some of my friends, I was no better than them. That statement has served me well. Humility is an admirable trait.
Secondly, she said there are two types of people. Some folks have “book smarts” and others have good common sense. I was encouraged to cultivate the latter. That, too, has been a good decision because it’s my belief that if you have good common sense you’ll be smart enough to succeed academically on some level.
Thirdly, she said never marry a man who makes less money than you do. “It’ll be nothing but trouble.”
She ain’t never lied.
In my effort to build my own financial empire and prove myself professionally in the white-male dominated industries I’ve worked in, it became painfully apparent that finding a man in my same tax bracket with my level of education was next to impossible. Trust me, I really wasn’t looking for Prince Charming. I have an aversion to heels so it’s very likely that I would have hurled that glass slipper across the ballroom floor and lifted my right fist into the air like Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the ’68 Olympics as it broke into a gazillion pieces. I just wanted the guy who was a little bit Budweiser and a whole lot of Cote du Rhone.
When I was younger the search for this mythical creature was tedious, comical, painful, bemusing, exhausting, frustrating, confusing and disconcerting. Now that I’m in my late 50s and look back on the guys I kicked to the curb as well as the ones I let get away, I feel mostly empowered.
And this is why.
One night I was out on the town with three of my girlfriends — Laura, Marsha and Kelly. We were celebrating my new job and Kelly’s, too. We had gone to the SkyBar, which was the hot spot du jour and ordered a round of champagne. When we got the bill we damn near fell in the pool. None of our mamas raised any fools so off we went to Georgia, another popular place among the 30-something crowd.
When we arrived there it looked like a frat convention. Fine men were covering every inch of wall space, occupying every seat at the bar and kicking it in the restaurant, too. Once we were seated we ordered a round of Savannah’s — the southern equivalent of a Bellini. We were about halfway through those sweet bubbly libations when the waiter approached us with four more flutes.
“These are compliments of the gentlemen over there,” he said pointing to the table behind us.
As long as I had been drinking no man had ever sent over a free drink. That gracious gesture felt as liberating as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Wow. I had made it. I felt like freakin’ Doris Day in Pillow Talk or something. Feeling uncharacteristically aggressive that night, I turned around to thank the two men. They weren’t drop-dead gorgeous — which is likely why my girlfriends weren’t as engaging as they’d normally be — but I figured I could use this opportunity to fine tune my long dormant flirting gene. So, after clinking my new glass with the brother who resembled a slimmer version of the late R&B singer Gerald Levert, I said:
“Why are me and my successful and beautiful girlfriends sitting here alone on a Friday night in Los Angeles?”
His response was blunt, but extremely enlightening.
“Because you look like work,” he said. “You look like we’d actually have to talk to you.”
To this day I am so thankful for those words of wisdom and the conversation that ensued about what men really want from women. I became smarter and stronger that night. You know why?
Because I realized I am work.
You have to work to earn my respect, my affection, my attention, my heart, my body, my homemade pizza, my real digits, my personal email address, my handshake, my kiss, my laughter, my tears, my wisdom, my secrets, my ups and my downs.
Why? Because I’m worth it. And if I go through life buying my own drinks it’s cool because I can. Mom never told me that. It’s just one of the things I figured out on my own.
Common sense might not always keep you warm at night, but it will give you the strength to turn up the heat.