On Acquiring A Very Particular Skill…And Watching Your Marriage Murder It

"Ok. She's finally close to me. Try not to slobber this time."

“Ok. She’s finally close to me. Try not to slobber this time.”

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.

I’m sure most of you recognize this quote from Taken. It’s part of a phone conversation; the most memorable scene in a movie filled with memorable scenes. It’s so good that excerpts from it were even used in the trailer. What made it so effective was the level of confidence and control Liam Nesson (“Bryan Mills”) was able to convey. It didn’t matter if his daughter was in Uzbekistan or Youngstown, you knew he was going to find her, you knew he knew he was going to find her, and you knew he’d do anything necessary to do it. (Well, I didn’t know he was going to shoot his homeboy’s wife during dinner. That was a f*cking surprise.)

Yet, as great as that scene was, what really resonates with me were the early scenes showing how mundane his life had become. Here was this expertly trained and highly skilled government operative in peak physical and intellectual condition living in some hotel next to an airport, eating cheap wings with his buddies, and losing pissing contests to his daughter’s stepdad.

Granted, this “new” life was voluntary. He chose to be more normal so he could spend more time with his daughter. But damn. Without his dumb-ass daughter and her fast friend getting kidnapped, all those years of training and combat would have continued to waste away in a Rent-A-Center barcalounger and a bottle of Jack. This wasn’t just a tiger losing his stripes. This was a tiger shopping at Urban Outfitters and ordering gluten-free couscous at Mercola.

Why does that scene resonate with me, especially now? Well, I don’t possess the skills necessary to murk an entire room of murderous kidnappers with a paper clip and a pair of New Balances, I’m not cold-hearted enough to electrocute someone after they already told me everything they know, and I don’t own an Armenian to English dictionary.

But…I can relate.

You see, I too have spent decades working very hard to acquire a particular set of very useful skills. Skills that don’t make me a nightmare for people like you. But did help me sleep very well at night. I am also better at this particular skill right now than I’ve ever been. (And there’s still room for improvement!) On July 19th, though, these skills will no longer be necessary. I will be a tiger with a bowtie and a bottle of honey Jack.

There are some boys who seem to be born with an innate ability to be comfortable around girls. At least more comfortable than most other boys. I was not one of those boys. The moment I realized I was attracted to girls was also the moment I realized I was completely and undeniably frightened by them. As I got older and entered high school, this fear began to subside. But I never was comfortable. Fortunately, I was good at basketball (and I had nice Nautica jackets) so girls started to notice me. Still, even with them noticing me, I still had to actually talk to them, and all the witty jokes and articulate thoughts swirling through my head were reduced to monosyllabic mumbles when forced to talk to one I actually, gasp, liked.

I got better when I got to college. And by the time I reached my early 20s, the fear was pretty much gone. I could approach women I liked, and I felt relatively comfortable around them, but now I was faced with another obstacle: What the hell do I say???

It took a few more years to realize that being myself — and not a representative of myself — was the best way to pull this off. Just be silly, slightly awkward, and surprisingly inappropriate me…and own it. And, if she doesn’t like me for me, she’s not the one for me. In hindsight, this seems like an easy concept to grasp. But, well, it wasn’t. At least not for me. I guess I’m a slow learner.

It took a couple more years of trial, error, and success for this to all come together. And “all this” includes a better sense of timing, an appropriate attitude and demeanor, a slight tinge of “I-don’t-give-a-f*ck-ness,” the ability to be self-aware, and the insight to know which types of environments are better for people like me and which types of women I’m most compatible with.

That’s over 20 years of very intentional work at getting better at talking to and cultivating romantic interest in women I’m romantically interested in. Today, I am better at this than I’ve ever been. And to be clear, I’m not saying this to portray myself as some Idris/Leonidas hybrid. Just acknowledging that I’ve never been more confident of whatever it is I bring to that table.

But, I’m getting married on July 19th. And those decades of work at refining that very particular skill will all be for naught.

Ok, ok, ok, ok. I know how this sounds. If I used these skills to help find someone I’d eventually fall in love with and propose to, can I really say I acquired them for naught? (No.) Isn’t this the appropriate end to those means? (Yes.) Isn’t what’s happening on July 19th the point of all of that? (Yes.) Don’t you realize you sound like a fisherman who finally caught the BIG FISH and can retire from his earnings but still bitches about wasting all this minnow bait he bought last week? (I do.) Do you expect anyone to have any sympathy for anything you’re saying right now? (I don’t.)

Also, this is a completely voluntary decision. As much as I might have enjoyed field tests with these skills, my relationship is better than that. Much, much better. And, I’m sure these skills will be applicable in other areas. Perhaps I’m done getting phone numbers, but I’ll still be able to get free bagels and hotel room upgrades.

But, let’s take the romance/marriage part out of it. Wouldn’t feel weird to spend a decade learning how to be a sharpshooter, only to never shoot a gun again after hitting a difficult target? Or to wish to be a doctor, go through a decade of medical school, graduate, and decide to teach Zumba instead? Or to develop a discerning palate at a young age, take cooking classes in high school, study all the cooking-related materials you can, enter the culinary academy, graduate, get invited to (and win) an episode of “Chopped”, create the perfect meal…and retire from cooking right when you have enough capital and status to start your own restaurant?

Nevermind. Don’t answer any of these questions. Just know that I have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. But, since they’re not of much use to me now, I’m selling them to the highest bidder. The auction starts Sunday, July 20th, at midnight. The tiger stripes will be first.

—Damon Young

How Idris Elba Proves That “Cool’ Is More Important Than “Swag”

If you were to ask 1000 random Black women to name the single sexiest and most attractive man in American pop culture today, I’d bet a month’s pay that Idris Elba would come out on top. In fact, considering the sheer obsession some women seem to have for him — at a house party I attended a couple weeks ago, I heard a woman call him “the epitome of sexy” — I wouldn’t be surprised if he got 20 to 30 percent of the votes.

This in itself isn’t surprising. Elba is an “understandably attractive” man (“understandably attractive” = “other guys get why woman are into him and even expect them to be”), and he’s the best current candidate to fill the “Black hearthrob with a first name no other American has ever had” quota previously manned by Denzel Washington.

What is surprising, though, is that if you asked the same 1000 women to name the one celebrity whose sexual appeal is completely overrated, Idris Elba might get first place on that list too. There seems to be just as many women who don’t see what the big deal about him is as there are who are infatuated with him.

On face value, this doesn’t make much sense. Actually, lemme rephrase that. It doesn’t make much sense…until you remember how he first entered our collective consciousness: As Stringer Bell on HBO’s “The Wire”

Cool, calculating, manipulative, imposing, and always the “smartest man in the room” — well, at least he thought he was always the smartest man in the roomfew characters in television history had as much of a cultural impact as Bell did, and the previously unknown Elba was the perfect person for that star-making role.

Why does this matter? Well, it seems like Black women’s feelings about Elba are directly correlated to when they first saw him. Basically, my completely unscientific opinion tells me that the majority of the women who are gaga over him first saw him as Stringer Bell, while the majority of the women who don’t see what the big deal is first saw him in “Obsessed” or “Sometimes in April” or “Daddy’s Little Girls” roles where he’s nowhere near as cool as he was on “The Wire.”

Now, if you were to ask those same Idris-obsessed women what exactly it is about him that saturates their panties, most would probably cite something having to do with his unmistakable and indescribable swagger. While I won’t say they’re incorrect, I think it goes a bit deeper than that.

As stated earlier, women who first saw Elba on “The Wire” seem to be the ones most enthralled with his “swag.” This is no accident. The character was intentionally written to be a person practically dripping in brooding confidence, and Idris Elba was placed in a perfect position to show off his attributes. His swag was able to resonate so deeply because of the manufactured coolness of the character he portrayed. In this sense, David Simon was the best wingman ever.

While thinking about how Elba’s hold over Black women’s ovaries is directly connected to him being placed in a position that enabled him to be cool, I couldn’t help but also think about how it applies to our dating and relationships lives. More specifically, how we put a premium on a man’s swagger and the effect it has on women even though his “coolness” actually matters much more than that.

The swagger/emotive confidence thing is something that many men just aren’t ever going to be able to possess. But, while many assume that this is a death knell to a man’s dating life (especially a Black man’s), any man can be cool if they can find a way to replicate the type of environment that made Idris the “epitome of sexy.” It probably won’t happen on the same scale (and by “probably” I mean “definitely”), but it can happen.

The problem with nerdy/socially awkward/introverted guys who claim to have difficulties meeting and attracting women isn’t their lack “swag” or that all women want bad boys or whatever self-depreciating excuse of the month happens to be popular. No, they’re  struggling because many of them are desperately trying to be something they’re not, and they haven’t found a way to manufacture their cool yet, leaving them stuck competing in places where they have no chance to succeed.

Let me put it this way: If you’re a shy and somewhat socially awkward engineer who has to labor to approach and talk to women, nightclubs, bars, and lounges probably aren’t the best places for you to meet them. You know what would be though? A NSBE conference. You know what would be even better? A NSBE conference where you’re a speaker on a panel about some super smart shit only 17 other people in the world understand. You know what would be even better than that? A panel you organized to gather people interested in some super smart engineer shit.

Basically, if you’re not “cool” in a traditional sense, put yourself in a position that enables you to be cool. And, if those positions don’t currently exist, invent them!

If you’re good at what you do and you’re able to put yourself in a position where your talents are recognized, trust me when I say that regardless of how weird, unusual, or “uncool” your specific skill is, there will be people out there who appreciate you for it. (and by “people” I mean “women”) Shit, if you’re a cat who happens to be an expert crocheter and a comic book maven, start a professional network for crocheting-ass n*ggas who like to read comic books, and watch how much more popular and “cool” you’ll get in if actually takes off.

Maybe you’ll never be the swagged out cat who attracts all the eyes at the club like Stringer Bell. But, if you’re a friendless recluse who has more experience with computer codes than coochie, invent something that brings people into your environment, on your playing field — something that makes people acknowledge whatever unique skill you bring to the table. If it worked for Mark Zuckerberg, it can also work for you.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***If you haven’t noticed, we also posted our first “Very Smart Single” today as well. Check out R.G.’s profile and hit us up at contact@verysmartbrothas.com if interested in her***

On Saturday, June 2, 2012, we’ve got another edition of REMINSCE at Liv Nightclub coming up! Except this time, we’re gonna be celebrating Panama’s birthday! Please come out and hang the VSB team. Plus, it’s free before 11pm w/RSVP (reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) and $10 after. AND there’s an open bar from 930-10:30 WITH NO DRESS CODE. You can come in shorts because it gets HOT in there.

How Rick Ross Proves That Irrational Self-Confidence is The Ultimate Panty-Dropper

I published something at Ebony yesterday about the peculiar infatuation many white-collar young black guys seem to have with Rick Ross. Titled “Strange Love: Black Men and Rick Ross,” I tried to come up with a few reasons to explain this phenomenon, but I didn’t really buy any of them. There were no “Voila!” moments, just a couple theories that didn’t hold as much water as I would have liked them to.

Anyway, after I saw that the article was live, I posted a link to it on Twitter. It got a few replies/retweets, but none more interesting than the responses I got from Demetria Lucas. 

@VerySmartBros@EBONYMag there’s a quality essay to be written abt why bourgie women like Ross too. Totally diff reasons than you mentioned.

@VerySmartBros LOL. I might be one of his biggest fans.

@VerySmartBros@EBONYMag i enjoy the themes of hustle/ambition. and also the shameless arrogance. similar reasons to why I like Kanye.


As I said in a reply to her, I remember how floored I was a few years ago the first time I heard a female friend of mine express that she was infatuated with Rick Ross. As variable and unpredictable and arbitrary and contradictory and occasionally dependent on time, weather, location, vocation, and how many of her girlfriends want to sleep (or have already slept) with him as “what the hell women are attracted to” tends to be, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the type of guy that would get multiple women all Brazilian Rainforesty down there. Basically, it’s easy to see how and why women would be very attracted to guys like Idris Elba and Dwyane Wade and Common, and you assume that most women would go gaga over those guys.

But, that same instant recognition didn’t immediately apply to Ross, and I had trouble “getting” how a life-threateningly obese guy who looks like he smells like a Black & Mild factory managed to, to quote my homegirl, get her “all tingly inside” when he speaks.

Yet, as more and more and more and more women I knew would sing his praises, it began to dawn on me. His appeal isn’t necessarily about his music or his voice or his larger-than-life stature or even his (presumed) riches as much as it’s about the fact that he is an unfalteringly, unflinchingly, unflappably, and, to be quite honest, irrationally confident motherf*cker. His steadfast belief in his own “I’m the sh*t”-ness — even when the shaky merits of his status are publicly questioned and exposed — is infectious, causing others to believe “Well, if he’s so certain, he must be the sh*t” by osmosis.

Obviously, this doesn’t affect everyone. There are many women who are, for lack of a better term, disgusted by him, and even more disgusted that everyone isn’t disgusted.

Ross is just one example, though, of the fact that there is no other quality a man can possess that will “raise his sexual stock” better than a belief in himself so strong it almost borders on insanity. Irrational self-confidence — not height, not status, not intelligence, not handsomeness, not a Bentley coupe — is the ultimate panty-dropper. 

This doesn’t mean that this level of confidence won’t immediately repel many women too. It most certainly will. In fact, it will immediately repel far more women than it immediately attracts. But, the fact that it does repel actually adds to the aura, as knowing that this irrationally confident motherf*cker doesn’t give a damn if his irrational confidence offends anyone, hurts any feelings, or even makes any logical sense has a way of turning women all the way on.

Also, it’s important to note that I keep repeating terms like “panty-dropping” and “turned on” and “tingly” and “Brazilian Rainforesty.” That’s intentional. By and large, women usually do not want to seriously date and/or marry irrationally confident men. No one aside from the WorldStarHipHop “model” of the week actually wants to marry Rick Ross.

But, white-collar brothers, be warned. Why? Well, let’s just say that if your girl is sitting beside you smirking to herself while you’re blasting “MC Hammer” in the whip on the way to brunch, she’s probably not thinking about bottomless mimosas.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Exceptions

I don’t buy the whole shortage bit. Let’s start from there. Hot chicks have options. Period. But you can’t stop a woman from being a woman and if there’s one thing that all women specialize in it’s this:


Once an interested woman sees potential in  you to be…well whatever she deems you to be in her fantastical fantasy version of her life, she will find a way to keep you there – save for cheating, decapitating her pets and leaving the toilet seat up. This unyielding belief in men and our abilities often allows us the strength to keep holding on. Yes, you’ve got to keep, keep, keep, keep holding on.

This belief in potential is not without its downfalls. You see, women can be very full of sh*t. Some, not all, for those of you who are going to get your thong in a bunch. And here’s where the differences between men and women’s thought processes come into play. See a man is very rarely going to forego something that is very important to him. If he’s very adamant about dating a woman with a donk, he’s not going to date Backside Barn Betty. He just won’t.

If he doesn’t like smokers, he’s not going to date a woman that smokes. Period. Men want what men want. And women do too, until they can get past it. See, women are willing to look past nearly all of the important dealbreakers on their list if you bang ‘em out right they can see the potential in you. What’s interesting is how big some of these foregoances can be.

* sees hand raised *

You in the cheap seats.

Audience member: What do you mean oh big brother P almight-y?

Glad you asked padre. Here are some things that women will entirely look past because they are interested in you:

1) Kids

Can’t tell you how many women will tell you that they don’t want to date a man with a kid…until you tell them you have a kid. Then all of a sudden its “well, not 2 kids…wait, how many did you say you have because my cut off is whatever you said”. I saw this play out right before my very eyes with one of my best friends. I watched a chick back pedal from saying “no kids” to “well, I mean, I can deal with it if you can” in the matter of 3.7 seconds.

2) Religion

This actually happened to me more than a few times. After a little while of “getting to know you” convos (and because we’re Black), the how did you come up convo arises with the inevitable church background story. Many women will tell you they want a man to go to church with them every Sunday and help build them up spiritually, etc. Then you drop the, “yeah, well I don’t go to church and have no intention of doing so.” Without missing a beat, “well you do believe in God right? Because as long as that’s the case I’ll look past the fact that church really matters to me and you’d never go with me. I have cable.”

3) Employment

All women say they want a man with a job. Until they meet that jobless Idris Elba character who is a starving artist. Then all of a sudden ambition is more important than the financial manifestation of dollarage. Women love a man who can make ‘em weak in the knees from singing. And lucky enough guys like kneepad action so its a win win for everybody. Hmm…what was I talking about? Oh yes…

4) Living Situation

I know a woman who dated a man for a year and a half…WHILE HE LIVED WITH HIS EX. She swore she couldn’t believe she was doing this but she loved him so she would deal with it. ‘Scuse me waiter, I’ll take my crazy with a capital C, please.

5) Good credit

“It might not be the best credit ever, but at least I have some credit, baby”

“Oooooh Jerome St. Jerome, you right. The root word of bad credit and good credit is credit. And you got that. Oooooooh Can I get you a soda?”

I don’t know very many men who will say, I ain’t dating a woman with 2 kids who will end up dating a woman with 2 kids. Perhaps we’re more shallow. Or just more on that mellow mellow. Me no know, but I do see women making beaucoup concessions all the time. Maybe women just have really big hearts. Which is good since you can’t trust a big butt and a smile, naw that’s the old style.


Anyway, do you make exceptions that you claim you’d never make? Do ya? Do ya???

Step in the name of love.