Women who are single, and unhappily so, love to come up with all types of reasons why their singleness has nothing to do with them.
“All the good men are either, married, broke or on the down low.”
“He couldn’t afford me.”
And my personal favorite, “ Men are intimidated by my success.”
Wherever did that last one come from? Blanketed stereotypes like this have to come from somewhere. And like with most stereotypes, this one probably comes from a place of truth.
Oh, I can hear the grumblings already. “How refreshing, another black woman complaining that men are intimidated by her success…” I know but hear me out. While there are plenty of men who revel in their woman’s success, there are also men who are secretly and not so secretly jealous of it, especially when her success comes after the two are already together. This jealousy, and not intimidation, is the root issue.
But let me throw a bit of a bone the fellas, this is not just a male problem. Jealousy is one of the nastiest emotions any mere mortal can face. Women are more than capable of being jealous of a man’s success as well. It’s just heightened in men because they have societal pressures, from men and women, to be smarter, make more money and exercise a certain level of dominance in their households. But for centuries, women have been expected to quietly and willingly take a backseat.
So what happens when a woman’s talents, dreams and aspirations are greater than her adherence to social norms? She either finds a man who shares and acts on the belief that it’s ok for her to shine or jealousy and resentment eat away at her relationship. I say that her man should not only share the belief but also act on it because we all know there are plenty of people, who desire to believe something, but their actions show they really don’t.
We can see several examples of this jealousy take place in our own lives but for the sake of providing examples everyone can relate to, let’s examine the life and words of celebrities and public figures who’ve struggled with this very issue in their own romantic relationships.
When I was younger, the boys in school would talk about their infatuation for whatever starlet was hot at the time. Listening to them, you’d swear they believed they had a real, legitimate chance with the object of their affections, if only they could meet her. I knew even then that this would never happen. Age, looks and accessibility aside, celebrities rarely date and marry us common folk because one we really don’t understand the lives they lead and two it takes a very special person to be with someone who’s always going to get more attention than you.
Recently I was watching an interview with the late politician, Shirley Chisholm. If you know anything about Chisholm, you know she was a force to be reckoned with. Even before her run for president, Chisholm was making some major moves when women were still relegated to domestic duties.
But despite her public success, she told the National Visionary Leadership Project her personal life suffered:
Everything was Shirley, Shirley. The limelight was on Shirley. And this is one of the reasons why my first marriage cracked up after 24 years because it put my husband in a position of becoming extremely jealous. He became very, very jealous and I could understand because no attention was being paid to him. Everything was Shirley, Shirley. Shirley this, Shirley that. Then it was he’s the husband of Shirley Chisholm. Imagine what that does to a person’s ego after a while. So that was the thing that really lead to the break up of my marriage, the business of his being jealous and everybody, everybody catering to his wife, Shirley.
Dang. Those words are so powerful. Even after 24 years, he just couldn’t hang. And before we judge, ask yourself could you, whether you’re a woman or a man, be defined solely as someone else’s spouse? It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when your spouse’s success eclipses your own.
Enter Bobby Brown.
While Bobby and Whitney were probably never on the same playing field as far as commercial success goes, you have to remember that back in the day Bobby Brown was nothing to scoff at. He could sing. He could dance. The man was an entertainer. But he was plagued by his wife’s success.
In one episode, of “Being Bobby Brown,” Bobby tries to explain to a man he met at the bar, how and why he’s famous. (I can’t remember how the interaction started, but the man probably wondered why a camera crew was following this random black man.) Bobby tried everything to get the man to remember him. He told him he was in New Edition; he talked about his solo career, with all his hits, “My Prerogative,” “Don’t Be Cruel” etc. The man kept drawing a blank. Finally, realizing he wasn’t going to get it, Bobby begrudgingly hit him with the absolute last resort. “I’m married to Whitney Houston.” Instant recognition.
Sure this random white man might not have paid particular attention to the R&B scene in the ‘80s but it still hurts to think after all your hard work, after all your success, to some people you’ll only be Whitney Houston’s husband. That sucks.
So what’s the solution? If you’re a woman who’s on the fast track to greatness, how do you actualize your career goals without giving up the dream of having someone to share them with?
You take time in finding a person who can handle it, a person who is assured in their own worth so they can celebrate your accomplishments. In another Visionary Leadership interview, (They do good work, you should check them out.) Coretta Scott King said that people’s biggest misperception about her is that she was just Martin’s wife, that she was able to achieve what she did, simply because she was married to him. Well, that’s insulting. Certainly, a person lacking in self-esteem, wouldn’t be able to handle those false accusations.
But Coretta took it in stride:
“But you know my mother taught me, not to worry about what people say about you. Just be what you are. And I try to be my best self and be what I am and knowing what I am and be satisfied with that. And if people don’t know it, maybe they’ll eventually know it. You know, it doesn’t bother me…keep your focus.”
That’s certainly not a new lesson, but it’s one we’ll all struggle with from time to time. As ridiculous as this may sound it’s hard to remain unfazed by public opinion and continue to be yourself. The people who can remain true to themselves, in the face of opposition and criticism are the kind of people who can stand by an über successful individual without feeling less than.
You know who else has a partner like this? Oprah Winfrey. How many times has Stedman Graham, an educator, author and businessman been the brunt of a “wimpy or gold digging man” joke? Too many times to count. Undoubtedly, there are serious perks to dating a billionaire, but I’m sure there are times when it’s not the greatest. But, like Coretta, Stedman seems to be pretty assured in who he is as a man.
In one interview, Oprah talked about how she was attending or being honored at some event where Stedman was accompanying her. She mentioned how she felt him lower his energy because he recognized that they were there to celebrate her, that it was her moment.
Some people might look at that and see that Stedman lessened himself but I look at that and see that Stedman knew how to let Oprah have her moment. Being confident in who you are, doesn’t mean you have to be the center of attention at all times; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Being self-assured means knowing when and where to celebrate yourself and when it’s time to fall back and let someone else shine.
It’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.
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