Now full disclosure, I only date within my race. A couple of years ago, after a string of failed relationships, I took some time to reevaluate my whole damn life. I knew what I wanted, or at least what I was supposed to want, and I thought I was clear with my intentions when it came to dating. No matter how different the guy appeared on the surface, the results were consistently too similar for it to be a matter of happenstance.
Of course I did all the self-reflective stuff — ate, prayed, loved, started seeing a therapist on a weekly basis. I mean I was the quintessential Black Woman on her journey to self-rediscovery.
Sure, I had developed some great communication skills, learned a lot about compromise and partnership, and even more about realistic partner expectations. And in being realistic about my partner expectations, I had to acknowledge that my dating pool needed a major revamp. I had exclusively dated Black men up to that point, finding commonality in the fact that we were both Black and both American-born, but my perception of marriage and relationships had undoubtedly been shaped by my West African father and my American Baby-Boomer Uncles.
I was expecting the men I was dating to mimic a culture and generation that they had no real relation to. In reality, we have just as much growing and evolving to do as our male counterparts do when it comes to relationships and long-term commitment.
Ultimately, I learned that I was. One day my therapist forced me to make a list of the things I wanted in a husband. And as we reviewed my list, one thing became clear, and that was that I had no business dating Black American men.
Initially, I felt bad. Almost like I was turning my back on them if I agreed with these findings. Surely, I could mold a potential mate into the guy I wanted, right? If I wanted to make it work despite what the evidence stated, I could. The first thing I indicated on my list was that I wanted to marry a man who wanted to be married. Various factors played into this phenomenon which has yet to be identified in any other ethnic group.
Whatever we attribute this to, many Black millennial men do not consider marriage to be a personal milestone. We research program offerings, campus life, tuition costs, etc. In contrast, other non-American Black communities view marriage as a part of maturing and coming of age. Marriage is celebrated and seen as one of the most important cultural traditions, not just for little girls, but for little boys as well.
Those boys grow up to desire marriage for themselves, without guilt from potential mates and without coaxing from external influences. My belief that I could convince adult men that marriage was suddenly of value was severely misguided and up until the point that I acknowledged that, I had actually convinced myself that my efforts were noble.
I was dating men for their potential, not the realities of who they were and that was on me. The second item on my list was that I wanted the option to stay home once children were brought into the equation. This, for me, has never been negotiable but one thing I had to accept was that for this to ever be a viable option, a certain level of income had to be maintained in the household.
A level that Black American men have been all but physically barred from reaching. Generally speaking, Black American men do not have the financial means necessary to support a household based on their income alone and to require that of a man whose ability to do so is limited by no fault of his own is inconsiderate and dispassionate.
I,too, was guilty of this. As we moved along to my third must-have, spiritual openness, the role I played in my dating failures was becoming painfully clear. Christianity is a huge part of Black American culture with 8 in 10 identifying with the religion. The discussion surrounding how that came to be is a conversation for another day but what we do know is, on average, Black American men identify as Christian more than their peers, attend church regularly at a rate that exceeds their peers, and say that religious commonality is one of the deciding factors in choosing a mate, which has always left women like me, who do not follow Christianity, in an awkward position.
I was dealing not only with ignorance on the part of my spiritual beliefs, but I was also dealing with the unconscious bias that many have towards practices that derive from African culture. I continuously found myself having to defend my beliefs and humanize them at the same time.
Could I eventually find a Black American man who would come around to understanding my beliefs? I chose the latter. In comparison to my friends who still date American men, dating for me has been relatively stress-free and surprisingly liberating.
For a long time, Black American women have had to forgo the idea of security in their relationships. Operating with a double mindedness that on one hand desires the security that men are culturally expected to provide, and on the other feels obligated to protect our men from the embarrassment of not being able to. Going out to restaurants and mindfully ordering the cheapest item on the menu, bringing a form of payment just in case a date is unwilling or unable to pay, being expected to pull additional weight in relationships while women of other ethnic groups marry to alleviate these same pressures.
We are responsible for our intentions and for our expectations, no one else. Dating to find a spouse should be an enjoyable experience, one you can cater to your specific needs and wants, and no one can make you feel guilty about knowing and getting what you want.