The law requires a certain amount of education for all of us. Some of us choose to stop the education process at a certain age, while others of us choose to attain higher levels of knowledge and understanding.
Our attainment of education or skill sets is typically directly related to the career we choose. We know that even for a trade, certain skill sets are required before earning a decent living.
But how many of us take the same approach to our love lives? For example—how many of you have been to a relationship coach? The point is not for me to hawk business for my relationship coaching line, but to illustrate how we will take classes and acquire education to advance in our careers, but assume that we need nothing for our love lives, even if we are failing miserably.
Let’s take a look at two prime examples:
Tony was an All-American sports hero, demonstrating winning tendencies as early as middle school. He moved from college to professional ball, never letting the team down, leading them to victory four years in a row. His skills acquired for the game were sharp, so he used those same skills in his relationship. For him, it was about winning at all costs, and when his team member (his girlfriend) wouldn’t follow him, he focused on the win anyway. He was a winner, but sadly, he lost his love.
Gina was a vice president in the company that recruited her right out of her Ivy League College. The division of the company she led had a winning year and sales were through the roof. Her skills required for leading a sales team and negotiating with clients were sharp, so she used those same skills in her relationship. For her, it was about management of human resources and towing the hard line to focus on the bottom line, so when her subordinate (her boyfriend) would not follow the plan she laid out for them, she kept her eyes on her goals anyway. She reached her goals, but sadly, she could no longer reach her love.
We learn things as we grow that are good in our careers and in many other places, but are actually bad in relationships.
For example, men learn in sports that if we play hard enough, we get our time to shine. We learn that being hard or even a little rough can get us through a tough place. However, in relationships, you may put in work that goes without notice. It’s still necessary—even crucial—but it’s not about the shine. You also learn that even the women who talk about wanting a man with a little “thug” in him, really don’t—they want a balanced human being.
For women, the world may teach you that you have to tuck in some of your softness in order to be taken seriously. You can’t expose your feelings at work and in many cases, you learn to cry in solitude. However, in a relationship, a man will view you as strange if you aren’t as expressive as he wishes he could be. Even those of us who are emotionally retarded seek more emotionally stable sisters in hopes of passing emotional stability on to our children.
The result of suppressing emotions is also a failure in communication. While the stereotype of men as non-expressive is historic and popular, more women are failing to develop emotionally expressive interpersonal communication or worse, learning to avoid communication altogether.
We also have to let go of things that may sound good, but really make no sense in practice. For example, when I hear men talk about wanting a woman who can cook and clean, I already know what lies underneath. There is something to be said for a nurturing woman, but any of us can cook for ourselves.
What is really desired is a woman who will nurture by nature, demonstrating the behavior of nesting in preparation for a family. However, if both parties are working, the cooking and cleaning duties may have to be shared or even farmed out to domestic assistance personnel. That does not necessarily diminish or define the woman’s nurturing capacity.
It may also sound good when a woman talks about having a “traditional” man. Now, there is something to be said about a man who can be the sole provider for his family, but that is not the majority of our tradition, and it isn’t really our nature. As African history goes, our ancestors were partners in building families and villages—that tradition was carried even into the last century.
What is really desired is a man who is able to be the strength of the family unit and able to take the lead. However, in today’s corporate environment, women are learning to be leaders and taking those leadership skills into relationships where they may still expect men to be leaders, but only based upon the woman’s definition and allowances.
In college and on the job, we learn that if we make certain moves or achievements, we will be rewarded. We learn coping skills for functioning within an environment established for White men, when we are not White, and some of us are not men.
The workplace is a manufactured mini-society, but because humans are present, some of us believe it is part of the real world, and carry over socialization from that fake world into our personal lives. What we fail to realize is that socialization and politics can be vastly different from company to company. The relaxed dress code and friendly environment of Silicon Valley is starkly divergent from the more stringent dress code and more detached and impersonal environment of a law office or an investment banking firm.
A writer or other freelance artisan has less structure in his or life than an entrepreneur who still has to work in an office, often even managing a number of people in a similar fashion to management in the workplace.
The end result may be two people with divergent acquired skill sets, who do little or nothing to enhance their social behavior or social skills.
We no longer have the socialization of yesteryear, when family members would act as matchmakers in addition to passing on valuable information about getting along in relationships. We simply walk into a world where most of us are making it up as we go along.
No matter how successful we are at what we do for a living, we still have to acquire specialized skill sets for dealing with other human beings.
For example, in relationships, we must learn to open ourselves, showing and sharing, negotiating for the greater good of someone else, in order to build mutual trust and the walk of love outside of the feeling of love itself. We must identify the things that make sense for other people and enhance them, while identifying the things that are not very good so that we can diminish them. We have to focus on someone else and sometimes take a loss in order to really win—subjecting ourselves to things we may not like for people we may love.
We must learn that the relationship is not public, but very private, requiring us to close the door and leave the rest of the world outside.
We must learn to communicate and compromise with our mates, so that we can provide each other with respite from the stress of the world, as opposed to maintaining the same attitude and approach from work when we love.
We must leave our politics, the opinions of our friends and family, as well as much of what we learn in our professions once we find someone to love.
We’ve learned how to achieve and maintain valuable skills on our jobs. We must learn different skills for relationships, including love relationships, family relationships and socializing in general.
Darryl James n is an award-winning author who is now a filmmaker. His first mini-movie, “Crack,” was released in March of 2006. He is currently filming a full length documentary. James’ latest book, “Bridging The Black Gender Gap,” is the basis of his lectures and seminars. Previous installments of this column can now be viewed at www.bridgecolumn.com. James can be reached at