Single-Minded: Changing My Brand

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 For a long time I thought brands were for chattel and corporations: an idea that occupies the ephemeral space between the untouchable and fully recognizable. According to "the father of advertising," David Ogilvy, a brand is "the intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised." 

Then, of course, came the age of shameless self-promotion and even the homeless guy on the corner has his own shtick, solidified mainly by the people who give him quarters, those that buy into it. 

So for years I thought I had no brand-no "packaging" or "reputation"-but the ads for my adulthood as black woman proved otherwise. "Single and successful" is my tagline. The alliteration adds a nice ring, I guess. And the slogan's been repeated so many in the last few years that I'm sure pop culture consumers can't distinguish black and woman from single and successful. 

Even I have a hard time doing it. Especially after my boyfriend (yes, I can!) G-chatted me this last week: "You're going to ruin your brand!" He meant it as a joke. As if eating ice cream sandwiches among the cherry blossoms would tarnish my good name as a "single and successful" woman. Or, taking it even further, that having a boyfriend meant that I was no longer one of those women-the one's with the over-sized "S" on their chests and no recollection of the trip to the phone booth.


Actually that's not entirely true. I wasted most of 2009 thinking up colorful euphemisms for the word "boyfriend." The guy I was dating then didn't see the point in false advertising, so I spent the subsequent months pretending as if the generic was just as good as brand name. I figured "titles" didn't matter as much as actual feelings, right? 

This from the woman who gave the Washington Post the definition of a "winter boo": n. a seasonal shorty who, lacking the qualifications, isn't really your boyfriend boyfriend but something close enough around midnight and the occasional happy hour. To be clear, I am not the linguist responsible for the term. Really, I have no clue which of my many friends (men and women) coined it first, but I'm glad someone was paying attention. Born out of a necessity for grownups to seek comfort in another person but to shun personal responsibility. 

Responsibility and relationships are obvious bedfellows. From last spring up until this winter I had no real responsibility to any living thing besides my canine incarnate, Miles Davis Andrews. As a result I was afforded only the occasional thin slice of sentiment from a significant other whose slogan went something like "what relationship?" He was stingy with his heart, and me, being used to hunger pains, accepted even the most shriveled piece of it. Because according to all the trailers ushering me out of my twenties, being alone is simply what successful women do. 

"You are so full of it," explained one of my besties, "you ‘like being alone' plenty unless you're with someone you ‘like being with.'" If she was right then, I refused to believe it despite totally seeing her point. 

Like the contents of a snow globe, everything was shaken into clarity with the help of Snowpocalypse 2010. This dude didn't even want to be my winter boo-I mean my real winter boo, someone who gave two marshmallows about you when it was freezing cold outside. Instead he'd wanted to be alone (me and Miles be damned) and I realized then that wasting another year settling for a boo instead of boyfriend wasn't just frugal — it was futile. Sometimes there's a good reason folks a willing to pay more for brand names — it's better. 

So when the cherry blossoms bloomed again — bringing with them a man who opens doors and hearts— I was so used to avoiding titles that I almost ruined his with my cynicism. Having pretended for so long to not need it. 

For a week I debated the benefits of having a boyfriend. Responsibility and vulnerability being at the top of my list of don'ts. "Why can't we just date," I asked, knowing full well how badly that's turned out in the past but, so used to seeing things through the blurry "prescription" glasses they sell at CVS, no other path was clearer. Plus, I consider myself a brand loyalist. Been using the same Dove unscented bar soap since grade school. I had my head (and my heart) all fixed on being single (and successful). If things changed mid-way through then what would become of the me I thought I was supposed to be? 

"You're becoming the jerk you always complain about," warned another friend, who's watched me play it cool too many times to let me do it again. Jesus was a G-chat line. And since I was with someone who actually cared about the real me (and not just my brand representative), being just another one of my boos didn't appeal to him. He wouldn't go for it. And I had to grow up…and out of my old brand. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.