Only last week I had lunch with a very good male friend of mine who’s in a relationship. Almost predictably our conversation switched from Africa, tennis and banking to singleness, marriage and African women. A statement he made ‘I feel for women like you……’ was the real trigger to me penning the thoughts in this post. I immediately knew the end from the beginning of his sentence.

His suggestion bordered on the theory of how successful women are more likely to be confined to a life of singleness. He made it sound like singleness was a prison, that you are set free from once married or in a relationship. The undercurrent of the conversation was his belief in the apparent strong correlation between success and singleness. But my friend’s remark was still less extreme that other male friends who have gone as far as suggesting that I ‘dumb it down’ with some of these ‘African guys’ in order to be in with a chance of keeping one! I was dumbfounded.   It also reminded me of another conversation I had around a year ago with a female friend, when I suggested to her that I wanted to replace my old car with a new Mercedes Benz. She told me in no uncertain terms that I should get something a bit simpler because if I was looking for a man, I’d need to be seen as not having arrived yet. She was suggesting that a man needed to feel like he could still provide for me, and would still have something to offer me in a relationship.

Essentially ‘dumbing it down’ means that I should tone down my success – material or otherwise – and moderate my self-assuredness. But aren’t these the very things that make me who I am?  It also rides on the premise that men feel threatened by women and success. Dumbing down is a type of personality curtailing if you like. In any case, I have come to learn that being a strong woman, having a voice, standing on your own two feet can sometimes be a double-edged sword. In a world where women have made advances in all professional fields, and are rising to the top of leadership in business, politics, the arts, we still face the rather dated view that we can’t be fully made or arrive until we have a male companion that we belong to who provides or completes us.

It’s almost like we view men or relationships like a weave that is sewn in, like our hair won’t be as pretty until we have an attachment or extension. While extensions are nice to occasionally beautify and give variety, they should not be viewed as a replacement for who we naturally are, and who we were made to be.

I would struggle to be anything but myself. I work hard to get where I am, and I believe every hardworking woman, single or married, should be free to enjoy the fruits of her labour. That said, as a strong, young African woman, I value my independence and the ability to just get up and go, make my own life choices, come home when I want to and decide whether to cook today or not. However, I know that being in a relationship will inevitably involve compromise and some level of personal sacrifice. But a man does not make a woman, and a woman does not make a man. Of course, if both prove to be the right match, they will ultimately add value to each other’s lives by default. But the very type of man who will love and cherish a woman as an equal should not be threatened by her or wish her to ‘dumb down’ who she is in order to keep him. Sisters, any sensible woman knows that for all our independence, strength, and success, when it comes to love and relationships, compromise, selflessness, forgiveness and unconditional love will ultimately have to play a major role in sweetening and sustaining the relationship. Men appreciate this too.

In addition to beauty, grace and elegance, men – African, European, of whatever culture or race – are attracted to confidence, wit, and intelligence. Men may fundamentally be visual and sexual animals, but most of them know a fake when they see one.  If I attract a man by trying to be anything other than myself, then isn’t my relationship already doomed to fail from the beginning? I don’t deny that men often need to feel like providers or that they need to cement and consolidate that Alpha male role early on in any relationship they’re in. But part of what makes a man an Alpha male, is his ability to let his lady thrive, grow, come into her own, find her own calling and pursue her dreams no matter how big. In letting her do this with ease and love, he is in fact demonstrating his own innate self-confidence and his own self-assuredness.

Finally I think that so-called strong correlation between success and singleness is in fact weak. For every man-imposed rule, there are tons of exceptions!  It is also a veiled insult to the millions of successful and married women with families out there, to suggest that success and singles are strongly correlated, because it would also imply that the opposite is also true, which isn’t the case  I know so many examples of successful career women, including in my own family, who are married, and have stayed married in healthy thriving relationships for decades blessed with children. In a couple of cases, two women in my family are highly successful in their careers and can actually be classed as their families’ main breadwinners. But in each case, each woman has found the right balance between career woman, wife and mother. I can’t imagine better spouses than the men they’re married to too.  It is these very carefully thought out relationships that I hope to model mine after some day. I love being in my own skin. I love who I’ve been made to be.  I know I’m very ambitious. I look forward to sharing those ambitions with him, and sharing who I am with him – wherever he may be. I pray that I give him something to smile about and add value to his life, and I pray he does the same. I want him to share in my success however big, and me in his. But deep down I know that I would be short-changing him if I ever tried to ‘dumb-down’ to find him and keep him.

Sisters, love you, be you and do you.