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Dating guru Demetria Lucas, pointing the way to eligible black men

By DeNeen Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010; C01

Some women were not taught to be damsels in distress and drip sweetness to attract a man. Instead, you were instructed to approach dating as if it were an assignment -- aloof, projecting independence while sitting there waiting and waiting to be approached. And then, when the man gets up the nerve to walk across the room, and ask you to dance, you say no, hoping he'll come back and ask again.

But you are still single, sitting at the bar. Waiting. Not recognizing that the man is more delicate than you imagine and you sent him away to nurse his wounds, sometimes for years.

It doesn't have to be like that, says Demetria L. Lucas, a.k.a. A Belle in Brooklyn, a relationship columnist who has devised rules black women should abide by when seeking a date. She advises them not to think about the dire statistics and well-publicized odds against them. Instead, focus on possibilities, Lucas says.

Lucas, 30, advises single black women to stop being "so alpha." Take a fresh approach. Add a little softness. Remember you can attract more bees with honey. And soon, they will be swarming.

If this sounds suspiciously like 1950s dating advice -- downplay yourself while building him up! -- Lucas insists this is not her intent. After all, how can you ever get a man to love you for who they are if you can't get past the first date? She is, she says, offering black women hope.

"Now that the weather is nice again and the men are out," she writes in her blog A Belle in Brooklyn, "I want to do a quick refresher course on how to meet men."

Rule 1. "Smile & Say 'hi.'

2. "If you want to meet a man, look like you want to meet a man. . . . Lip gloss and a comb never hurt anyone. Use both liberally.

3. "Men don't notice you across a room because of your brain. Give them something to look out for.

4. "Flatter your best asset. If it's your smile, um, smile. If it's your legs, wear a skirt.

5. "Stop looking for men in bunches like at the club or happy hour. Men are everywhere, on the street, in line, in the elevator, on the train (in fact, I ran up on a superior cutie last night getting off the train. . . . I smiled, said, 'Hell-o.' He took it from there.) When you see someone that catches your eye no matter where you are, say something. ('Hi' is fine. If he is remotely interested, he will take it from there. He's been practicing opening lines since he was 13.)

6. "Go out alone. (But be safe.) I know you just thought 'hell no!' Try it, just once."

Out on the town

But will they work?

On an evening in downtown Washington, Lucas sets out to prove that they do.

She is seated in Busboys and Poets, with its velvet sofas, low coffee tables, big windows and books. She is looking over your shoulder. And pauses.

"Sorry," she says, "there was a cute guy behind you."

Of course, you did not see him. She seems to spot men where other women do not.

You ask her to apply her knowledge. Here's a pop quiz. There is another guy behind her. He is reading a book in the sunlight, sitting on a window bench. Khaki pants, rust-colored shirt, smooth brown skin.

From where you sit, he looks okay. But Lucas pronounces him cute. You squint.

She observes. The scene reminds you of those nature channels when you see a tiger gazing before she pounces.

And then comes the question most single women have when they spot a single man alone: Is he available?

"Nobody said dating is supposed to be easy," Lucas says.

Without hesitation, Lucas stands up, smooths her black jumper. Swivels in her lavender pumps. Smiles, extends her hand to the man sitting in the khaki trousers. He smiles. He offers her a seat. He closes his book. And they are talking. And he is nodding. Then he grins a gorgeous grin.

He is Brent Dial, 29, of Alexandria. He says he is headed to get a master's in business at Wharton in the fall. He says her approach was wonderful. "You are forgiven if you are nice," Dial says. "She can beat me over the head as long as she has something interesting to say."

They talk more about dating. "What does it mean to be a good dater?" Dial asks. "If we say we are dating, does that mean we are hanging out with other people?" Then what happens "if one person starts to develop feelings?"

"Then you have to have a discussion," Lucas says. "The big problem comes when women and men feel they have been strung along."

"What about love?" Dial asks. Using his smart phone, he pulls up a quote from the movie "The Devil's Advocate." Keanu Reeves's character asks Al Pacino, who is playing the devil in the movie, What about love?

Pacino answers: Biochemically, it is no different from consuming large amounts of chocolate.

Suddenly, the conversation dips from the niceties of a proper introduction into that treacherous territory of love.

On Lucas's blog, a person asks: "What's your latest 'aha' love/relationship epiphany?"

Lucas answers: "It's way harder to be in a relationship than to be single. All these single women out here pining for relationships, like that's when they can exhale. Like um . . . no. That doesn't happen. When you say, 'Ok. Let's me and you pair off and try to build something,' that builds to something more is when the real work begins. I think people forget that even a bed of roses still has thorns."

Still, Lucas clings to a "Yes, we can" attitude for single black women.

"In general, the conversation has been negative, all about problems without offering solutions," Lucas says.

'The go-to person'

Lucas grew up in Mitchellville and graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park. She went on to NYU, earning a master's in journalism. Then she began freelancing, working for different magazines and Harlequin.

At Harlequin, she says, she had to dissect romance novels, trying to figure out whether the story lines worked. Her friends often came to her seeking relationship advice. "I was the go-to person."

She thought about becoming a romance advice columnist and started pitching the idea to magazines, but was told she did not have a body of work that showed her expertise. That's when she created a blog. It caught on.

One day Lucas ran into the editor of Honeymag.com, an online entertainment magazine dedicated to multicultural women. "I told her about this idea to become the black Carrie Bradshaw." She signed Lucas up. And "gave me a launch party. It picked up from there." In 2007, Lucas was hired as a relationship editor at Essence.

Her consistent advice has been: "Put yourself in a position to meet guys. . . . You can say hi. My approach is to open the conversation."

She scans the room.

Again, she sees men where you saw none.

Maybe men stop and talk to Lucas because they think she's attractive. What about someone without her attributes? "There is no woman every single man will find attractive," she says. "There are men who would even say 'Halle is cool, but . . .' I think the physical does matter. How much it matters is up for debate. I say whatever is your best, do that."

Only one man has not said hello back to her, she says. He was an NFL player.

Lucas, who is single and has never been married, thinks confidence is key. Personality counts. "Pretty women who are boring only go so far," she says.

A direct approach

Switch venues: Lucas is on a blind date, an assignment for Essence. She and her date are seated at Eatonville, a restaurant in Northwest Washington dedicated to Zora Neale Hurston. The tables are filled on a Wednesday night. Waiters in black move quietly through the crowd. Soft jazz plays over the speakers. Lucas and her date are at a reserved table near a deep blue wall.

Afra Vance-White, 32, a communications expert from Baltimore, happens to be at the next table. From her seat, she can overhear theconversation. You ask her about the more direct approach that Lucas advises. "I wouldn't say that works necessarily," she says. "Men like to be the pursuer."

After nearly three hours, the date ends. Paul Carlton, 40, a network engineer who lives in Baltimore County, says he loves Lucas's sweetness. She told him, "Your dimples are so deep I can live my whole life in them."

Sometimes, he says, there is a disconnect between men and women. "A lot of times, black women don't know how to approach or when to approach. Sometimes you speak to someone, and they keep walking. After a while, you build up a wall to the rejection. Nobody likes rejection."

He says some men get discouraged by materialistic women.

"I may not drive a Mercedes-Benz, but there are good men who want a house and a family. And are looking. And yet women are saying there are no good black men out there."

He tells of an incident that happened when he was in his 20s. He met a woman at a D.C. nightclub and was walking her to her car. A guy in a BMW pulled up and asked her to come over. And the woman left him. "It bothered me," he says. "She based everything on something material. She had no regard for my feelings."

Carlton says women often judge men by their outer shells. "They think we are not sensitive." After being rejected or meeting women who prove to be materialistic, men are cautious, he says. Some black women "make it hard to approach them because you get the look." He says if a man smiles and says hello, the best answer is to say hello, even if you are having a bad day."

Chat attack

Later that night, down 14th Street at Marvin, a groovy little dance club, Lucas demonstrates the smiling approach. Bars are not her preferred venue for demonstrating her advice, but you press. She looks through the window. "Looking in, I don't see any cuties."

Do they have to be cute?

"I like cute men."

She scans the first floor. Nothing. Goes upstairs. Stands on the side. She twirls her necklace. She spots a man in a hat. He is wearing a light beige suit, patent leather shoes and a straw fedora. She pushes through the crowd and stands by the stairs. Then, without warning, she peels off the wall. Swivels on her lavender pumps. Extends her hand. And they are talking. The man is smiling. He is D'Maz Lumukanda, owner of a hotel and restaurant.

Her opening was simple: "I like your hat. Where did you get that hat?"

He leans in and whispers, a glass of white wine in his right hand. Other couples squeeze by. Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird" is playing. Now Lucas is snapping her fingers. Another black man in a suit twirls on the dance floor. He cuts in and asks Lucas to dance. Her lavender pumps do not seem to hurt. It is late. Her makeup is still perfect and she is still smiling.

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