Jill Robi -Trust issues, trolls, trophy-seekers and true love. In the battle against loneliness, the rules of engagement have changed, says an expert. Five single women over 40 report from the front lines.
Aurora R., 45, approaches interracial dating eagerly after a “pins and needles” relationship with an angry partner. She felt that some other Black men she dated expected to be catered to. Meeting white and Latin men with whom she feels desired and feminine, she says she can relax and feel protected.
Melanie D., 47, says that non-Black men she’s dated don’t understand her battles as a Black woman, but that she also doesn’t feel valued by Black men. She’s looking for something greater than surface love and will accept that in any form.
Stephanie S., 53, feels defensive toward interest from non-Black romantic prospects during this age of optical allyship, cultural exploration and virtue-signaling. “I would question the motivation and genuineness.”
Karen R., 48, scans the photos in online dating profiles warily. She considers elements like the diversity of the profile poster’s group of friends, clothing details such as mirrored sunglasses and what sort of flags, if any, are on display in the background. She admits to sometimes succumbing to stereotypes and superficial thinking. More than once she formed the impression, “He looks like a white supremacist.”
Dating outside the box, for many sisters, isn’t a rejection of partnerships within their race, but a rejection of the very real prospect of being alone. Dating was hard enough before all of this. How should they now go about finding a mate in this brave, new world?
The world has changed rapidly in such a short period of time as awareness of racial disparities and racially-charged violence grows and a global pandemic has raged for nearly a year. Loneliness these days is amplified due to social distancing — especially for people living alone. And sisters aging without partners may be among the loneliest. Over the past few decades, Black women have been closing the gap on our lower tendency to date interracially compared to Black men and to both men and women of other races. (However, it should be noted that researchers studying this relationship trend often limit their scope to heterosexual partnerships. Their findings don’t faithfully reflect the dynamics experienced by our sisters in the LGBTQIA community.) Social forces putting the squeeze on many Black women’s dating prospects within the African American community include education gaps, colorism, lower life expectancies for Black men and racially disproportionate incarceration rates. Add to that the gap in perceived desirability that favors men and devalues women as we age.
As a result, “dating outside the box,” for many sisters, isn’t a rejection of partnerships within their race, but a rejection of the very real prospect of being alone. Dating was hard enough before all of this. How should they now go about finding a mate in this brave, new world?
“A major benefit to interracial dating is simply increasing the likelihood that you’ll find the perfect life partner,” says licensed clinical social worker and counselor Sheri Parker. She has counseled Black, white, mixed, Latinx, gay and straight couples among her diverse clientele. “When you limit yourself to only dating others of the same race, you miss out on the chance to connect with someone on so many other levels. Healthy, lasting relationships are built on love, respect and commitment. Those characteristics are not bound by the amount of melanin one possesses,” Parker said.
Guess who’s coming to dinner
Pursuit of those benefits may also come with risks. “Several Black women [among my clients] are lonely and are open to dating anyone with whom they believe they can have a healthy relationship,” says Parker. However, given the current social and political climate, she’s observed two distinct dating dilemmas — one for women who have recently entered into a mixed relationship and another for sisters still in the dating market who may be considering one. Black women clients within the first group conduct their romantic life discretely, often hesitating to share their relationship status. “They don’t want to be seen as a sellout, turning their back on Black men at a time when they’re experiencing so much racial discrimination,” she says. “This is more of a concern if the person they are dating is white.”
Second, she observes that dating has become fraught with fears and anxieties for single Black women. She says they include “fear of dating in person because of COVID-19, fear of [connecting] because of trolls online, fear of dating in public because of the racial tensions in America and even fear of discussing politics.”
Ebony, the sister who chose to cut short her dinner date, has experienced both dynamics. “To be honest, I have always dated interracially,” she says about a romantic history that includes white and Latino men. “Black men don’t seem to be interested in me.” It’s a common experience for dark-skinned sisters who encounter colorism. “Dating interracially is not for the weak,” says Ebony via text message. “You’re going to get it from your culture. You’re going to get it from his culture. And both of you have to be strong enough to not listen to the outside world about your relationship.”
Currently unattached, Ebony considers this once-familiar romantic terrain much harder to navigate, saying, “Guys I thought were interested turned out to not be as open-minded as I thought.” Of her eye-rolling dinner guest, she recalls, “He was not receptive to the fact that Black Lives Matter is not a hate group and is meant to fight for equality under systemic oppression and a horrible justice system.” Ebony shared her point of view, but says he was unwilling to listen. “We can agree to disagree on a lot of things, but not when it comes to [nonnegotiable values]. Needless to say, the date ended before dinner was even served.” She’s seriously hesitant to date someone other than a man of color these days. But she jokes, “I got a vibrator. It charges. I’m good.”
The new rules of engagement
Parker stresses the need to pursue dating with an open mind and a listening ear. You are likelier to find a wonderful companion if you’re willing to give and take. Prepare to engage in courageous, respectful, candid and vulnerable conversations.
“You’re aware of what you hope to gain and what you have to offer. It’s important that you understand what the other person in the relationship is looking for, and what they have to offer.” One conversation starter she suggests is, “Tell me, what attracted you to this relationship?”
You have to be comfortable setting boundaries, including those around the way you’ll be treated, Parker said. “Don’t read off a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, but do weave your expectations into your conversations.” If your potential mate says or does something that doesn’t sit well with you, be specific right away about what you found offensive. Calmly explain why, then clarify what words or behaviors are acceptable.
No matter who you date, self-respect and self-care are paramount. Your time is more valuable than ever, especially during COVID-19, as there is now a whole new level of risk to meeting someone new. Finding a mask to go with a date-night outfit is a light problem, but a potential serious illness is a huge risk. This is the time to set standards that work for you.