You Don’t Own Me

A couple of weeks ago I rode the elevator down 27 floors to the lobby of my office building. Just as the doors opened, I was seized by a pang of guilt. I had forgotten—yet again—to ask Hubby if it would be alright to give the evening security guard the telephone number to our home office. So when I walked past ‘Dean’, who manned the desk in the evening, I grinned sheepishly, shamefacedly, while rushing toward the door.

My feeble nonverbal apology wouldn’t work. Not that day. ‘Dean’ the security guard in my office building, is a handsome, Caribbean gentleman of about 60. He has small eyes set in an expressive face that can switch from jovial to grave in a heartbeat. And that is what happened. Dean was visibly irritated that I hadn’t come through with what he deemed a simple request, and he let me have it. He wagged his finger at me, chastising me for letting him down yet again. Because I constantly forgot to retrieve that bit of personal information, Dean made me feel like I was being standoffish and unfriendly.

To own the truth, sometimes I am standoffish and unfriendly, but benign snobbery did not apply in this case.

He’s taken up the habit of referring to several of the black women who work in the building as his cousins. Okay, that’s fine, I appreciate a good joke. Hubby worked in the building years before I did, and a couple of years ago, the daily routine for us changed drastically when: a) my Little Sister came to live with us, throwing us into parental roles immediately and b) Hubby began to freelance from home full time. Add to that the fact that Baby Silk is on the way, and it changed everything. So, Dean wanted to keep up with Hubby and me, mainly Hubby and asked for the home/office number. Several times. But my new mommy/big sister/new mommy role had become so demanding that I simply kept on forgetting to ask Hubby if giving Dean the home number was OK. Only after I walked past the security desk on the way home every day would I remember, and I dreaded having to scurry past Dean, who became increasingly irritated that I hadn’t come through with that bit of personal information. He sulked, and that friendly demeanor became a bit colder toward me for at least a couple of weeks. He’s still not as friendly as he used to be. No more jokes for me to chuckle about on my commute home. No more inquiries about Hubby. Apparently, it’s all or nothing with Dean.

I started to wonder if I was being an uppity bitch about the whole thing until one day, during a lunch excursion, I mentioned this to one of the other black women in the company. She edits a weekly financial newsletter. She knew exactly what I was talking about, because Dean had hit up two other women in the building for their home numbers, too. In one case, the woman regretted it, because his periodic calls had become a nuisance. In the other, he kept asking, through that editor I mentioned, for the number of another black woman who had left the company about a year ago. He so exasperated both of them that our former coworker conveyed the message that she is pregnant with her second baby, hoping he would get the message that she really does not have time for frequent idle chit chat.

Well, this changed everything.

I can see the comments now, especially from any black men out there. :Why can’t you just give him the number? What’s the harm in a little chat every now and then with an old coworker? Too good to keep in touch with the security guard? It’s black women like you …”

Why should that be the case? These episodes make me wonder if black men universally have an attitude of ownership toward black women. They might believe that our common African ancestry confers a common way of thinking, meaning that regardless of our inherent gender differences, cultural upbringings, creeds, etc., their social customs are our social customs. Their expectations, priorities or what have you, are ours. Every now and then, I have a run in with an African-American, Caribbean or African guy that leaves me absolutely baffled about what makes them tick. DON”T GET ME WRONG!  I love black men. If Hubby and I have a son, he will be a black biracial man, after all. And fortunes could have just as easily landed me with a brother instead of a white guy. OK?

I see no real harm in Dean’s motives, but I still think he’s lacking some graciousness and basic maturity. Why be so persistent about shaking down so many black women in the building for personal contact information. And why make us feel bad about not wanting to share that personal information?

More importantly, we all lead busy lives. I think those other black women are single moms, and we all know what tremendous responsibilities that entails. After a harried day of being the sole breadwinner, planning family meals, managing extracurricular activities for the kids, planning the finances, maintaining a civil relationship with the ex-husband or ex-boyfriend, and playing the roles of being a sister, cousin, friend and neighbor, I think these women are entitled to some peace and quiet whenever they want it. That means their personal phone numbers are off limits to anyone who, frankly, they don’t want to talk to for whatever reason.

So why can’t certain men like Dean understand that?  Do you really need to create a bad vibe by being frosty and morose just because you don’t get to hang on to all the people who passed your security desk every day? Why not just let people come in and out of your life and keep it mellow without any awkward strings attached?

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