A Story for Context
It hit me like a ton of bricks. The young woman sat in front of me as I pleaded with her to continue in communication, not argument and stand-off, with her boyfriend. “How can you communicate with someone who is a thick as a brick?” she quipped. Without hesitation I retorted, “You’ve been breaking up with him for a few hours. That’s a brick too, baby girl.” [Yes, she made me bring out the “baby girl” language!] As I reflected on the conversation, mannerisms, and eventual make-up of the couple, it occurred to me that I had just been schooled first-hand in the challenge of male-female romantic interaction in the 90’s forward. All I could think of were the words of Lauryn Hill, “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.”
I believe I now understand the operational challenge to sustainable relationship choice in all interactions, not just male-female romantic, but all interactions. On its surface, it is what everyone already knows, but operationally it is important to understand the motivations behind the choice behavior. As well, the choice architecture, the perception of choice during the interaction is important to informing more sustainable choice. I was floored when I listened to the full Lauryn Hill song again and realized that she had all these items covered. Doo Wop (That Thing) is a scholarly treatise on sustainable choice architecture for operationally efficacious relationships. It covers piety, perception, attraction, communication, learning, and self-esteem ending with an appeal to consonance: “How you gonna win when you ain’t right within?”
Piety “Remember when he told you he was about the benjamins? You act like you ain’t hear him, and gave him a little trim…”
I am continually flabbergasted at how girls and guys become couples today. Instead of the weeks of wooing and courtship portrayed in movie love stories, couples often “end up” together. That would not be such a bad thing if sex wasn’t a part of the deal. Lauryn recognizes the problem that this poses especially for the female. In order to justify the physical intimacy, the girl has to disregard all evidence that this relationship is not sustainable and continue with the appearance of developing it. Otherwise, she will be perceived as promiscuous. Though some females address this by establishing “friends with benefits,” they miss the fact that their desire is long-term companionship and mutual support. As Abby Conner notes, “they are giving the opposite impression.”
Perception “Talking out your neck saying you’re a Christian, A Muslim, sleeping with the Jin”
I once said to a young lady, “If I told you not to go to church, you would tell me I was wrong.” She agreed. “Now, tell me what you are learning that you are applying in your daily behavior?” She looked at me puzzled before dropping her eyes.
The problem is evidenced in the behaviors each day. I agree with Raven Warren when she states, “…women have tremendous power, but how we use this power can determine our futures.” The solution is to perceive fully the promise of your favored status and your power to influence your desired outcomes. Your choices make a difference.
I also see a deeper quest in Lauryn’s phrasing. Just as many Muslim find that the trip to Mecca opens their eyes to the expansive brotherhood of believers, trips to professional conferences, educational events, and cause-oriented rallies will open the field of potential relationships. A trip to a night club may yield 20-30 potential contacts. A trip to a professional conference may yield 100’s. An educational trip abroad may yield thousands of options. Not only is the increase in the pool valuable, but the character differences increase that you may observe and use to make your own list of “desired mate traits.”
Attraction “Showing off your ass ’cause you’re thinking it’s a trend…”
Let’s be real, attraction is the core of every relationship. If you do not enjoy being around a person, you will limit your time in their presence. If you are attracted to them, you will find ways to spend more time with them. Lauryn’s question is how to make yourself more attractive. Later in the first verse, she highlights some of the unsustainable methods, symbols of attempting to be something or someone that you are not: “hair weaves like Europeans/ fake nails done by Koreans.”
I judge with one simple question: Why? I ask this simple question when I encounter a piercing, a tattoo, a hair weave, or a certain style of dress. I am often amazed at two things. First, many I ask have no substantive answer. Second, many see my question as offensive and judgmental. As if my asking the question is out of line.
The answer to the why is simple. Everyone wants to be more attractive. Those with an answer to the question realize that confidence and a certainty to individual identify is naturally attractive. Those without an answer attempt to hide their lack of identify formation behind a veil of indignation. That veil brings me to the central statement in the song.
Communication “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.”
Girls and guys are prizing the wrong things in the wrong order. I encounter many who are quick to shelter and protect themselves from being verbally disrespected, especially in an audience. They insist that you can not talk to them “any kind of way.” You must give them a wide birth of individualism. You must listen to their opinions. You must allow them to self-determine as responsible adults.
Yet, neither girls nor guys understand that discussion (whether called argument, disagreement, or debate) can remain civil and productive. Individualism is to be respected when it has consistency and articulation of expression. If you rely on me to explain or understand your individualism, you are missing the point–that I may learn from your communication of your individualism, not your simple insistence on it. Opinions promoted as facts must be corrected and relegated to their proper place. Self-determination is a right ONLY with information and actions that fit a defined goal. I would not be a mentor if I did not point out, citing your right to self-determine, that you are moving East when your stated goal is to move West.
The problem is that the above arguments ARE the arguments that are occurring and stifling communication. Physical, financial, and emotional intimacy–or incomplete approximations of them–are allowed even though intimate communication has not been established. Stated plainly, couples are having sex as if it is less valuable and expendable. Meanwhile, they are protective of what they reveal in conversation and how they are talked to. This is backwards! You are going East when you say you want to go West!
As Lauryn seems to be saying, you are hard on the wrong things, not perceiving where the value actually resides. Before you allow physical, financial, and emotional intimacy, require honest, productive, consistent, vulnerable, respectful, genuine communication. If you cannot give and receive that, there is no value in what remains. The relationship that is not built on communication as described only demonstrates a lack of value for your person, your future, and your feelings.
Learning “Don’t think I haven’t been through the same predicament”
Lauryn admits that the lessons she has learned were learned the hard way. Raven Warren articulates much the same. I have longed practiced the approach to learn from the mistakes of others. Advice is great, but when someone can tell you their story, you have the opportunity to place yourself in the situation and consider what choices you would make.
Raven says, “For some reason women fall for this game and become victim to circumstances that are patently avoidable.” The reason, beyond self-love as Raven describes, is that the lessons from our elders focus on behaviors and outcomes that we are to avoid. How many times have we been told to avoid pregnancy, avoid disease, avoid promiscuity, and more. Who among you has been trained to love someone other than family members, unconditionally and to challenge them to be better than they imagined they could be? Not because of romance, but because your impact on others is the evidence of your value as a person. Often, your first experience of this is with a “best friend.” Hopefully, your next experience of this is with a mentor.
Instead of behaviors and outcomes to avoid, consider the value of approaching relationships as another opportunity to communicate who you are unapologetically. Seek to learn about people holistically rather than to define romance or defend against attraction. Realize that the lesson from others who have been through poor relationships is that they attempted to find romantic love before they enjoyed the love that is ONE–that feeling of being a part of something “like a million women in Philly Penn.”
Self-Esteem “It’s silly when girls sell their souls because of sin…”
My message is simple. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! Your response should not be “Thank you.” Your response should be, “I understand. There is much that I must do because I am capable so much more.” The truth is, all that primping and energy toward beauty and attractiveness is worth nothing if you are not advancing a sustainable movement. Why the “hair weaves like Europeans”? If it is only to be perceived as visually beautiful in this moment, take a picture so we can get back to work that really matters. Your lasting beauty is displayed in what you do, as in who you are, and in the legacy you create. Not your job, but the calling you respond to every time your feet touch the earth, your hands produce, and your words articulate speech.
Rather than being caught in the vicious cycle attempting to justify your prior poor choices with new unsustainable choices, realize that you will take a hit in credibility in the short-term when you switch your direction. But, in the long-term, the choices that will benefit you are those that are consistent with your goals, that account for the evidence in front of you, and that honor your value as a person. You will be viewed as beautiful inside and out. More importantly, you WILL BE BEAUTIFUL inside and out.
Consonance versus Dissonance
Your piety, perception, attraction, communication, learning, and your intention expresses your view of self. I promise that people will be drawn to you as you demonstrate intentionality, responsibility, consistency, vulnerability, love, and action. Anything that you take off is not you. What are the characteristics of you that you never take off? Do they serve you helping you to reach your goals? If it works, great. If not, “a win-win? Come again!”
[Michael A. Wright is mentor, life coach, entrepreneur, curriculum specialist, and Owner/President of MAWMedia Group. His interests span behavioral health, family systems, and wealth creation. Follow @MAWMedia ]
Read 2 other essays on Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing) song:
by Abby Conner
by Raven Warren