“You know there is an enormous difference between me and you,” he said with a slightly exasperated voice. Veins were starting to form on his forehead and it was clear that he was slowly getting agitated. He leaned back on his chair and took a deep breath. “I am a man ….and you are a woman,” he continued, taking a sip from his club soda. A puzzled Sophie stared back at him in awe. Her beautiful big eyes opened wider than usual. She wanted to say something but her throat went dry. She opted to also take a sip of her gin tonic instead. She turned to look around as if to see if someone had heard what had just been said. But everyone at the restaurant was busy at their table, drawn deep into their own worlds as they chatted the evening away. From her seat, she had a pleasant view of the lavishly furnished restaurant, she tried to distract her thoughts by soaking herself in the ambient jazz music playing in the background, but it proved futile. Nothing could erase what had just been said.
“Women were created with a lot of emotions. And there is nothing wrong with that. It just means that sometimes they can’t think for themselves because of their emotions. That’s why they need men to think for them, take care of them and make decisions for them.” He added.
Sophie’s face suddenly felt hot, her heart started to beat fast, her mouth wide agape as if she had seen a ghost. She was literally rendered speechless. It was at this point that she knew that the date of her dreams was going to end in a disaster….
Jeremy is an educated, successful and attractive young African man living in Europe. A doctor by profession. He had the kind of face that stopped you in your tracks. It didn’t help that he handled this with modesty, and it made girls fall for him all the more. Despite all the female attention he got, he was a one-woman-man who prized genuineness and thoughtful conversation above lipstick and high-heels. He was handsome alright, but many thought inside he was beautiful, for some maybe a little bit too macho.
A few weeks prior to the date, he attended a book reading, where he spotted Sophie. He was taken by her beauty, her sense of humour, her smartness and most of all her breath-taking smile. Although Sophie had played uninterested at the beginning, she knew very well there was something about this man that would keep her on her toes. Was it his attractiveness, his charisma, or the fact that he stimulated her brain when they shared their views on the book on display at the event? Or was it their mutual love for literature and poetry? Or was it his confidence, his goal oriented nature? Sophie had no clue. One thing was clear, there was a lot of chemistry between the two.
After a few weeks of shallow texting, they finally got a day away from his crazy shifts at the hospital and from her a job as a senior consultant at a renowned investment bank.
Sophie was reluctant to go on the date at first. Dating was crappy. She was tired of making the effort to tell people about herself only for them to resolve that she wasn’t ‘the one’. If she had to hear “It’s not you, it’s me” one more time she thought she’d puke.
Just like Jeremy, Sophie had moved to Europe from Africa to further her studies, where she later landed an excellent job. Everyone back at home was proud of her. Especially her father, who was her greatest fan. He would walk around the small town they lived in with copies of her great academic achievements and show them to anyone he didn’t like. Sophie cannot count the number of times she told him that that was embarrassing, but he would always cheerfully reply “I helped bring you to this earth, I can boast about you to whoever I want.”
Jeremy had never been comfortable showing his emotions or anything that was considered weak by the society he was brought up in. Instead of showing up with flowers like he initially wanted to, he had them sent via post to Sophie’s apartment a few hours before the date; God forbid he is seen on the streets carrying flowers to take to a woman. That would be weak!
The day had finally arrived and Jeremy drove to pick Sophie up. As she came out to his car, he tried hard to hide his admiration of his date. He tried to control his eyes but at that moment they had a mind of their own. They keenly followed Sophie’s figure hugging red dress, right from where it started just above her breasts down to her tiny waist, expanding to her proportionally wide hips and ending just above her knees. “Are you ok?” She asked startling him out of his thoughts. “You are beautiful,” he said. Sophie’s inner self just wanted to shrink, she had butterflies in her stomach and couldn’t help blushing. She could tell that he was attracted to her with the kind of heady trance that brings a butterfly to nectar.
They exchanged a few pleasantries before finally driving off. Jeremy wanted the date to be perfect, he had booked a table for two at a fancy restaurant. Both were looking forward to a wonderful night.
The date started very well, they got through the appetizers and the main course of the meal with laughter. At first, the talk was shy. As they got more comfortable and familiar with each other, their hands found their way on the table, their fingers entwined in a loose grip every time they had a chance to.
Trouble started when she asked him about his job and he pointed out how he thought that one of his workmates, a woman, was incompetent because she had mood swings and how it would show in her work. He went on to explain how there were days she had been terribly rude, even to patients, and there were days where she had been surprisingly delightful. Jeremy presumed that her peculiar behaviour had something to do with whatever was going on in her private life. “Typical women,” he said with a sigh.
“So, let me get this straight, you think she is incompetent because she is a woman or she is incompetent because of her bad attitude?,” Sophie asked interested to see where the conversation was leading to.
“Women and mood swings are one and …” Jeremy started to explain.
Sophie now knew exactly where the conversation was leading and she started to feel uneasy. “Look, I agree, the woman you described seems a little bit unprofessional to me, but it has nothing to do with her gender, it has more to do with her personality.”
“Why are you getting defensive, there is nothing wrong with being emotional, women are naturally more emotional than men, sometimes it affects their rationality. That’s why men are created to be rational thinkers, it balances the equation,” replied Jeremy.
“So, what you are trying to say is we are incompetent professionals because we supposedly cannot think rationally?” Sophie’s voice was beginning to sound squeaky, she was trembling.
“No, I didn’t say that, but women are more likely to make irrational decisions, making men better options when it comes to professional roles. Especially if it involves important decision-making processes.”
Sophie stared down at her drink, one would think she expected it to tell her what to say. They were not holding hands anymore. She felt offended. She considered herself smart and able to separate her emotions from her professional work. At this point she had two choices, either flip out, cause a scene and authenticate the very inaccurate ‘angry black woman syndrome’ or find an alternative to end the date.
No, I will not give him the satisfaction. That is his opinion and I should not let it agitate me. I just have to make it through the dessert. I will keep my calm, she convinced herself while taking a deep breath.
“You know, I miss those days when our African women were proud of our culture. Women had no problem letting men be men. The roles were clear, men took care of the families and were bread winners, and women were happy to take a submissive role. Then the colonial power came to our continent and corrupted our minds. Our women have become so Europeanized and it is painful to watch,” Jeremy blurted out. “You see…”
“Let’s have some dessert,” Sophie interrupted him with a smile. But deep inside, she was slowly boiling with anger. Her smile had a magical effect on Jeremy, enough to make him forget what he was saying. Instead he signalled for the dessert menu, which was brought to them within minutes.
“Oh wait, I forgot, I am feeling very emotional at the moment, I don’t think I can even decide what I want for dessert, you are the man, do you want to decide that for me?”
Jeremy looked up from the dessert menu he was going through. Did she really say that? Sophie was staring back right into his eyes, this time not making any effort to hide her irritation.
Did I take it too far? Wait, why am I even worried, he is the one who started it, she told herself.
“See, this is what I am talking about.” He said, shaking his head, he ignored her sarcastic comment and looked back down to his menu. An awkward silence followed. Finally, the waiter came by and each of them made their orders.
What have I gotten myself into? This is not going well at all, definitely no second date, he thought to himself.
“Judging from how you are thinking, you definitely must be one of those typical macho African men with old fashion mentalities,” said Sophie.
Jeremy let out a loud laugh. “If by old fashioned you mean true to my roots then yes, sure.” He stopped to take a sip of his drink. “I have lived in Europe since I was a teenager, I have integrated myself in the community here, I speak the language, I have amazing friends and I consider this as a second home, but that will never change who I am. I just wish that many of our women would have a sense of that.”
“By ‘our’ women you mean like me?” Asked Sophie.
“Please, don’t see this as an attack on you or any African or black woman. But black women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of European cultural standards, even when it comes to subjective issues like beauty. For instance, these standards emphasize skin colours and hair types that exclude many black women, especially those of darker skin. European standards of beauty have damaging effects on the life trajectories of black women, primarily in the form of internalized self-hatred. What comes after that is skin bleaching, hair extensions, eating disorders, the list is endless.”
Jeremy also made it clear that although he embraced the change of the role of women in the society, he still believed in the values that he was taught, the man is and will remain superior. “A woman can have her career and realize whatever goals she has, but she has to let a man be a man, especially in a relationship or marriage. That is how I was taught and it will remain that way.”
Jeremy’s dad had always been the bread winner of the family. There was not a single day that his mother had to work. He and his four other brothers never lacked a thing and he cannot ever remember his mother being unhappy. In fact, she used to say, “what woman doesn’t want a comfortable life where everything is provided for?” He remembered her words the last time he visited home, “My son, find a woman who is humble and who will not give you any headache. A woman who knows her place and will take care of you and your children. If you take the ones who have no regard for your authority as a man, you will die young.”
By this time Sophie was beginning to get fed up with the date. She wanted to counter Jeremy’s argument but paused to let the waiter place their ordered desserts on the table.
“Jeremy, you have made very serious and valid points. I applaud you and I understand where you are coming from. However, the world is not black and white. You cannot generalize the experience you had while growing up as a formula of how things need to function. Every person views the world through the eyes of the society he or she was brought up in. Just like you, I myself was born and raised in Africa, I only came here as a grown up.Back at home, everyone had their role to play, but nobody was given any preference. I was given the same opportunities and care as my two brothers. My father, a proud African man, one of my greatest fans in life by the way, has always been at the forefront to encourage me to empower myself and never to feel inferior to anyone. He always tells me that I must offer respect to everyone and have humility in everything that I do, but never should I feel the slightest bit inferior to anyone.” She paused as if to gasp for air.
“Does that make my father less African because he appreciates that a woman should have more value to her life than the traditional gender role assigned to her? Does it make me less African because I chose education and emancipation? Didn’t you choose the same thing? Aren’t you also to some extent Europeanized? That’s why you are here and not somewhere in a village practicing herbal medicine or being a witchdoctor’s apprentice…. right?” Sophie felt like everything she had been suppressing was bursting out of her.
Sophie could not remember a single time in her life where her mother wasn’t working. In fact, both her parents worked really hard to put her and her brothers through school and to provide all the basic needs they required. So, for her, it was automatic that she was not going to be anyone’s housewife. But deep inside in her head she knew that emancipation would come with a price, like the one she was paying during the date. She also knew that being emancipated did not mean that she did not need a man by her side. To her, it was just more of a complementing role and a way to expand her horizon to do things that women had wished to do for the last centuries.
“A man is and will always remain the head of the household. No dispute about that. The woman is the neck, without which the head is useless and vice versa. It should be a companionship, not a master-slave relation. The man shouldn’t have to carry the burden of taking care of the family alone. There are ups and downs in life, anything can happen from him getting out of work or even unfortunate incidences like illness. A companionship means that when one is down the other can step up and carry the load. They can work together and share responsibilities……to be honest, if I have to constantly massage a man’s ego so that he can feel like a man, maybe he isn’t man enough in the first place.” At this point Sophie felt mentally drained.
What do I have to lose anyway, it’s not like I want to meet him again, she thought.
“Jeremy, we obviously have different upbringings, but that does not make you any more African than I am. Societies have evolved, try to keep up.”
By now Sophie was developing a mild headache and even though she had more to say, she didn’t feel the need to continue.
“Ok let us leave it at that. We have both put solid points across. I think we should call it a night.” Said Jeremy.
Sophie could not have agreed more. None of them had enough appetite to even eat the dessert they had ordered. The waiter brought the bill, which Jeremy hurriedly picked, almost as if he thought Sophie would grab it. They put on their coats and headed to the car. They both could not wait to part from each other.
The drive back to Sophie’s place was filled by a deafening silence. It was extremely awkward. They were both disappointed, and almost wished they hadn’t gone on that date. They had been ready for anything, but such an anti-climax was unimaginable.
At least I tried, thought Sophie to herself.
There will definitely be no second date, Jeremy thought to himself. What a shame. She still looks sexy even when she is angry though, he smiled at the last thought.
When they arrived at Sophie’s place, she took her time to make sure she left nothing in his car. After which she bed Jeremy farewell.
“Wish you all the best in the future. I am sure you will find someone” he said waving goodbye.
Sophie could not wait to call her best friend Susan to tell her about the disappointing evening she had just had. But somehow, she felt drained and had no energy left. Instead, she took a shower, switched her phone off and went to bed.
The next morning, the first thing she did after breakfast was call Susan and spent a good one hour filling her friend in. Of course, she had to exaggerate a few details of the story for special effects and win more empathy from her friend. Susan being a good friend, she helped Sophie call Jeremy a few names and they both agreed that it was the best decision to toss him aside.
Sophie felt good after talking to her friend and the frustrations from the previous night seemed to have melted away. Just as she was about to put her phone away, it rung, making her hand vibrate rhythmically with her customized ringtone.
She was surprised to see that it was the last person she expected to hear from; Jeremy.
What could he want? I never left anything in his car. I thought we had a mutual agreement to cut further contact? Why is he calling? she asked herself. She knew there was only one way to find out.
Till this day she cannot explain why her heart almost skipped a beat when she heard his voice from the other side of the line. Her hands became sweaty. She literally tried to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. She could not even begin to believe what she was hearing…………….