AT EVERY STAGE OF LIFE, OUR INNER SELF REQUIRES THE NURTURANCE OF LOVING PEOPLE ATTUNED TO OUR FEELINGS AND RESPONSIVE TO OUR NEEDS WHO CAN FOSTER OUR INNER RESOURCES OF PERSONAL POWER, LOVABILITY, AND SERENITY. THOSE WHO LOVE US UNDERSTAND US AND ARE AVAILABLE TO US WITH AN ATTENTION, APPRECIATION, ACCEPTANCE, AND AFFECTION WE CAN FEEL. THEY MAKE ROOM FOR US TO BE WHO WE ARE.― David Richo, How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving
Even in the best of times, seeking the gold standard of dating Richo references is often met with frustrations, confusion, and waves of both hope and hopelessness. Those of us dating or looking to date might spend time on apps, have friends introduce us to their friends, or find connections out in the real world and in the activities that we enjoy doing the most.
What I think makes dating the emotional roller coaster that it is exists in the structure of dating and how that structure doesn’t necessarily yield the goal of the practice. I see dating as a means to an end (or many ends in my case!) to eventually finding (or attempting to find) a lasting connection. “Lasting” here is defined as longer than 3–6 months. And at the heart of that goal exists the goal with a capital G: honest and authentic connection. “Connection” meaning a container to practice love.
Seeking connection requires me to be my honest and authentic self. There is an obvious vulnerability in approaching meeting new people this way. And when the desired outcome doesn’t happen, I, like so many of us, wonder if that is inherent to who I am honestly and authentically… or is it something else?
Over the years, as I have continued to explore this question, I think that it is, in fact, something else. My experience—and research—support my belief that it might have something to do with my race and skin color. And it likely also has to do with often being in predominantly white spaces.
EMBRACING OUR VULNERABILITIES IS RISKY BUT NOT NEARLY AS DANGEROUS AS GIVING UP ON LOVE AND BELONGING AND JOY — THE EXPERIENCES THAT MAKE US THE MOST VULNERABLE.— Brené Brown
Dating is one of the most vulnerable activities I participate in. It’s a sequence of managing my desire for partnership and love, assessing my energy, vetting, asking questions, trusting my intuition, putting myself out there, holding the integrity of being honest and authentic while also being discerning and hopeful. Truly, it is exhausting.
As a Woman of Color, I imagine that I am more exhausted than most white folks while dating. There is a complexity in the equation of love, race, privilege, and white supremacy. I am less likely to find dating success on online dating apps and less likely to get married. Research on the subject further illuminates one unfortunate fact: Black women are the lowest in the online-dating hierarchy. In a 2014 oft-cited OkCupid study, findings revealed that 82 percent of non-Black men on OkCupid showed bias against Black women. And I feel that this statistic is representative of IRL experiences, particularly where there is a white majority. I have always lived and existed in predominantly white spaces, which has meant dating outside of my race. These findings point to something that has always felt true to me. And while I feel validated in my experience, they don’t make me feel less alone on this journey.
Consulting an expert always makes me feel less alone in the challenging things I face. Support is helpful! Working with coaches, talking to my therapist, and participating in women’s circles centered around self-love have served me well on this path to finding love and partnership.
Pre-COVID, I would often have conversations with Dating and Sex Coach, Myisha Battle to discuss the trials and nuances of dating white as a WOC living in San Francisco. So much so, we expanded those conversations and launched a podcast, Dating White, on Loving Day in 2020. This show has been a space for us to further dissect the nuances of dating interracially as well as create community around this discussion with other people who have had similar experiences.
While interracial dating has historically presented difficulty for me, dating has been made more complicated both by the pandemic plus the political and racial climate of 2020. All of the pre-existing complexities of dating white are that much more complex now. And navigating them hasn’t been an easy task. I’ve noticed that I am being even more selective when screening potential suitors, taking more time for myself, having really difficult conversations if we meet IRL, as well as adjusting my expectations to accommodate and protect my physical safety and emotional well-being.
I was curious as to whether or not other unpartnered people were having similar experiences to me during this time. I had a brief conversation with Myisha to weigh in on this, as she is my most trusted resource in this space.
What is a common challenge you’ve heard or seen in your clients during COVID?
MB: One of the biggest challenges I have seen with my clients who are dating right now is the need to conserve their energy throughout the dating process. Dating looks and feels very different during COVID and my clients want to remain safe physically but also psychologically. So much emerges as you’re getting to know someone romantically and with political and racial tensions running high, my clients want to make sure they are spending their time wisely with people who share their values. There’s a lot more vetting going on than before COVID when an impromptu drink with someone didn’t feel like a big deal. It’s very much a big deal for folks for a number of reasons now.
What is one thing that you feel people need to know/ think about when it comes to interracial dating?
MB: Gone are the days when “I don’t see color” is an appropriate response to a racially charged situation. White people have to take a more proactive role in identifying and addressing racism in their day to day lives and that means talking about how they might handle racism with their non-white partners.
What are some of the challenges WOC face in dating white and how has that changed during COVID + the attention on Black Lives Matter?
MB: Interracial dating requires discussions of race much sooner than people may be used to because these conversations are happening in such a public way in our society. It may be difficult for WOC to take the lead on these discussions because honestly, they have been dealing with so much already. Dating is a space that people typically think of as light-hearted and fun (even though most active daters would beg to differ). Online dating isn’t particularly kind to WOC though, so it’s hard to navigate trying to connect romantically in a racist space and feel flirty when you question whether your potential matches “get it.” It’s an exhausting process.
What is one way you hope dating will be transformed for the better in all this? “All this” meaning 2020.
MB: People taking more time to vet potential partners and having tough conversations about race at the beginning of relationships are both very positive changes in dating. It’s not easy, but I think the more these things happen, the more it will become the norm and the easier it will be to address racial issues within partnerships. I would love to see antiracism become a cornerstone of all partnerships moving forward!
And that is my hope too. Anti-racism has been centered in my conversations with friends, colleagues, and loved ones and has absolutely become a necessary conversation in dating. It is a necessary value to align on, and while in the past it may not have been a conversation I was having regularly, it is now. These conversations foster safety, inclusion, connection, and belonging.
I DEFINE CONNECTION AS THE ENERGY THAT EXISTS BETWEEN PEOPLE WHEN THEY FEEL SEEN, HEARD, AND VALUED; WHEN THEY CAN GIVE AND RECEIVE WITHOUT JUDGMENT; AND WHEN THEY DERIVE SUSTENANCE AND STRENGTH FROM THE RELATIONSHIP.― Brené Brown
Since the global pandemic and since launching Dating White, I find myself in a new realm of dating—one that is more intense, more nuanced, and more exhausting than ever before—and it hasn’t been a smooth transition. I’ve endured many difficult conversations around my needs earlier in a new relationship than I would have pre-COVID. Discussing race, dismantling white supremacy, and disrupting the patriarchy are now early conversations, and I wish they always had been! I also ask questions like: What do you do for your mental health? When was your last negative COVID test? Who do you spend time with unmasked? When was the last time you were in love? When was the last time you cried?
Vetting has become an incredibly powerful tool to discern who might meet me where I am emotionally, see me in what I value, and hear what I need in order to feel like a safe connection is possible. Albeit intense, I feel confident that it is the only way for me—in these unprecedented times and beyond—to move in the direction of people who will ultimately be capable of attuned, loving understanding and the capacity to make room for me to be who I am.