This originally appeared on CharlieGlickman.com. Republished here with permission.
Last night, I was chatting with a friend and we started talking about how a lot of people just don’t get her. While she and I clicked pretty much from the start, she told me that when she meets people, they don’t always have the same easy conversation and connection that she and I have. As we explored why that might be, we realized that it’s because she’s a) incredibly intelligent, b) very direct in her communication, and c) attractive. In my observation and from talking with lots of other women who could be described similarly, plenty of people find that combination threatening. Actually, many folks feel threatened by a woman with any two of those three. But it wasn’t until last night that I put it all together: My friend is a black jellybean.
When it comes to black jellybeans, almost everyone seems to fall into one of two categories. Either you love them or you can’t imagine why anyone would. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground, and I’m willing to guess that when we’re talking about actual jellybeans, you know which group you’re in.
Of course, this is just a metaphor and I’m not suggesting that this is only a matter of individual taste. A woman who’s upfront about what she wants and needs is often considered aggressive or a bitch, while a man who does the exact same thing is simply being candid. Women who allow their intelligence to be visible are frequently seen as threatening, while men rarely are. And women who are “too attractive” get scrutinized and attacked in ways that good-looking guys don’t. When we unpack each of those traits and our cultural attitudes toward them, it’s easy to see why a woman who has all three gets a lot of crap as she moves through the world. So don’t stretch the metaphor to the breaking point. There’s a lot more to this than “to each their own.”
For that matter, there are also gendered differences to how this plays out. Queer women who are black jellybeans seem to have fewer difficulties with partner’s attitudes around this than heterosexual women. I can think of several possible explanations, though many of them boil down to the fact that queer folks (regardless of their gender) tend to appreciate traits that are outside the heteronormative definitions of how people should act. Even so, I’ve known quite a few women who find it hard to find women who value their black jellybean characteristics.
While the metaphor is limited, I think it has some value when it comes to navigating interpersonal relationships. Reid Mihalko often says that we have more success when we date our own species. I like Reid’s approach because he offers some really useful perspectives on how to find someone compatible. And I also think that the black jellybean metaphor works well because the reactions that many people have to smart, attractive women who speak their minds fall into that love them/hate them split.
I don’t have any specific ideas to suggest to someone who’s a black jellybean for how to navigate that, other than to try to find people who like that flavor. I’m not sure whether there’s any way for someone to cultivate a taste for that particular combination of traits. I would certainly like there to be—I know a lot of amazing women who would love to find partners who adore them as much as they deserve.
So with that in mind, here are a few questions that have been bouncing around my head. I’d like to be able to offer something more useful to other folks, rather than only being able to tell them that they need to find someone who enjoys them for who they are.
- What’s it like for you when people have that either/or response to you?
- How do you find people who appreciate your particular flavor? What do you do when it becomes clear that someone doesn’t?
- Given how often people blame black jellybeans for not being what they want, how do you take care of yourself around that? What do you do to not absorb their negativity?
- Do you have/have you had a partner who learned to appreciate your black jellybean traits? How did that work out? Was it something they could cultivate? And was it worth the effort for you?
Charlie Glickman is a sexuality educator, occasional university professor, writer, blogger, and coach. In addition to working with individuals and couples to help them create happier sex lives, he teaches workshops and classes on sex-positivity, sex & shame, sexual practices, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual authenticity. Find out more about him on his website (www.charlieglickman.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/drcharliegli