I turned 31 on June 1 and found myself single and quite ready to mingle. Eight months after the end of a five-year relationship, I realized I was ready to date and love again. After putting my Bumble profile on indefinite hiatus months before, I begrudgingly downloaded Tinder and decided to give digital dating a try on a whole new platform. I saw the dating horror stories of requests to have a date in the 7-11 parking lot and the Applebee’s debacle, so I approached it with lowered expectations.
I knew the odds stacked against me from go. I’m indisputably Black, so I have to contend with both anti-blackness and fetishism from men with a chocolate fantasy. I’m fat bodied and yes, I always share a full body picture from go but I know this can lead to fat shaming from men I reject after a few inboxes, unsolicited gym and personal training offers, and being both hypersexualized and desexualized at the same damn time. I’m also a Womanist who is generally courteous but uncomfortably forthright. I’m not afraid to initiate conversation and will respond to sexual innuendo as aggressively as it’s delivered.
Still I bit the bullet, setup my profile, and so my window shopping for humans began. After a couple of days of blind swiping, I took the plunge and upgraded to Tinder Gold. I believe in efficiency so why not wade through the men who’d already indicated interest to see if it’s mutual? Finally, I got to behold all the men who thought I was worthy of a right swipe — a boost for the ego indeed. I told my Sister Circle that in the process of eliminating the 821 men who swiped me on Tinder, I noticed a pattern.
What I noticed is that nearly every Black man’s profile I read mentioned something about “got my own car, house, job” and something about not looking for pay to play, not being interested in “hoes”, requiring that I be a “real” woman (read: cisgender), and that I be up for “building together.” For the non-Black men I did consider, this never showed up in their profiles.
Suddenly, it just dawned on me that these notations, while common, were stupid for a couple of reasons. For one, we’re over 30. Is it truly brag-worthy to announce that you are functioning as a basic adult with employment, transportation access, and shelter? Yes, I know there are many access barriers for Black folks to have these things. Yes, I know that Black men have the odds stacked against them. But still.
Secondly, Black women often not only have all of these things, we’re usually exceeding these “accomplishments” of basic adulthood. And yet Black men are very clear about their desire to not give us anything except all the trauma we can handle and repair. It’s like we’re in competition with one another. We come to the table ready for more war than love. I’m exhausted of battling Black men because I want to love them.
While my heteroflexibility has introduced women I’ve seriously considered partnering with, I tend to desire relationships with men. Yet, with the dominant mindset of Black men, partnering with one for life is becoming less and less viable. To be clear, this isn’t a build-up for why I’ll no longer date Black men. This is not a “Sis, just say you hate Black men and go” type of thing. It is because I so deeply long to partner with a Black man that these dating experiences are so disheartening.
While I’ve never been the girl that dreamed of her wedding, when I visualized my life as I child I always saw myself coupled with a Black person. I had fanciful dreams of raising a family, creating success, and enjoying the sweet life. Of course, I could have these things with a non-Black partner. But there is a level of innate enculturation that I think I could only find with a Black person. I want the unspoken understanding from my partner if I come home saying “damn, white people!” followed by an exasperated sigh. I want someone who doesn’t need to question the code switching of my tongue from my assimilation voice to African American Vernacular English (or ebonics, if you must). I want to raise my Black children with someone who can frankly speak from experience about the world our babies will face not because of the content of their character but the assumptions made about their skin color.
As someone who has publicly built a brand and personal reputation that centers of Black people and experience, I can’t say I’m not concerned about the optics of choosing a non-Black partner. It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that desirability is neutral. I’m painfully aware that who I’m attracted to speaks volumes about what I value as desirable and acceptable. While I believe that Black folks who partner non-Black can and do continue work to dismantle anti-Blackness and marginalization, it doesn’t stop folks from questioning — and perhaps rightfully so. What would I reinforce about gendered, anti-black standards of beauty by partnering non-Black? What am I saying about my beliefs in the financial, social, and communal power of Black folks if I choose to partner non-Black? (Credit to Dr. Kinitra Jallow [The Lemonade Reader] for this challenging thought)
So for reasons both personal and idealistic, who I love matters deeply to me. I cannot comfortably ignore the optics and implications of who I choose to partner with by defaulting to “love is love.” I also can’t deny that trying to hold to these ideals has cut and bloodied my hands in the process. Pursuing partnership with Black men hasn’t helped me dodge anti-blackness, misogynoir, or trans/queer antagonism. I still have to wade through education, wage, and sociopolitical gaps with potential partners who swear by patriarchal courtship until it comes to financial provision. Perhaps the deepest cut is that my, no, our loyalty and exclusivity as Black women to Black men is often not mutual.
Heteronormative relationships between Black folks, from dating to marriage, are seemingly fraught with conflict that I’m not certain either side is ready to wave the white flag of surrender on. We bring to the proverbial table a battle of wills. Black women are often fighting to be heard, valued, and respected. Black men are fighting to not succumb to emotional and financial vulnerability while still desiring all the benefits of women’s emotional labor.
I’ve often seen Black men wax poetic in longing for the marriages of our elders, the ones that lasted decades and weathered many stormy seasons. I’ve also seen women speak up that this romanticization of those marriages ignore the decades of infidelity, emotional and physical abuse, and other heart betrayals. What I think we ought to consider are the social issues that have irreversibly changed our perceptions of one another.
Between our grandparents marriages back then and our attempts to couple today are critical pivot points. The 1965 Moynihan report pushed the narrative of Black women as welfare queens who birthed unplanned children for government funded income in fatherless homes. Black men became sideline fathers because their earned income was not enough to replace welfare but enough to endanger receipt of it. In the 1980s, Black women became crack whores who would do anything and anyone to supply the habit while Black men became monied kingpins who provided the supply. Deeply entrenched, multi-generational poverty remains mostly Black and single parenthood is both expected and normalized for us.
Our portrayal as “welfare queens”, “crack whores”, and “bitter baby mamas” all have had serious socioeconomic implications. In these examples, we paint black women as being financially dishonest and stupid, and without self control (re: attitudes and childbearing in poverty). The reality is that these attitudes and beliefs have bled into our romantic relationships. The voices of Black men have raised to a fever pitch in portraying us as gold diggers for requiring dates outside the home, accusing us of trapping men for child support, and dragging women who have the audacity to ask for money in sexually intimate relationships. Single Black mothers are fodder for criticism and cautionary tales every day. And Black women, exhausted of being unheard, fight back with ferocious attack of our own. If love is a battlefield, then Black love is a perpetual fucking war zone.
How do we come to a place where folk don’t believe the lie that’s told about them? How do we as Black women not hold fast to anger and resentment that Black men helped concretize these illustrations of us amongst themselves and others? I don’t know. I only know I’m tired of fighting for the chance to love someone.
I am utterly and completely exhausted from showing up in full battle armor to find someone worth doing life with. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the art of dating. I don’t wish that every first date is my last first date. There’s a beauty to casually engaging many people and gleaning from their lived experiences lessons for ourselves. Every swipe isn’t made with the intention or hope that this is “the one.” Still it is not lost on me that I, we, struggle to find neutral ground to even build connections in the first place.