A few months ago I wrote a post about dating and why I’m being happy staying single til I find the right guy. The positive response to that post has encouraged me to write a little more about my dating experiences. In this post, I’m going to share a candid look at my experiences of dating as a woman of colour. Between the loaded questions, presumptions and fetishisation, it’s a bit of a minefield, to say the least!
“So, where are you from?”. Such a simple sentence with such varied undertones. I discussed this question with a white-passing South African friend a few months ago. While it’s one of the most common questions I get asked, it rarely comes up for her. When she is asked, she assumes it’s because the guy is interested in hearing where she grew up outside of London and she’s proud to share her connection to South Africa.
As a woman of colour, that question has a completely different connotation. I’m asked frequently and it’s usually the third or fourth question, often completely out of context with the rest of the conversation which makes it seem more like a demand for information rather than the natural progression of a conversation. When it’s asked abruptly, it puts me on edge. I wonder what answer they’re expecting, whether it’ll change their perception of me and even whether they’ll unmatch me.
Naturally, if the question is asked genuinely and as part of a naturally flowing conversation, it feels completely different as the person asking simply wants to find out more about you. I love talking about my family, my childhood and what my name means. But sadly, this isn’t often what people want to hear, in my experience.
Often, asking “where are you from” comes across as demanding that you account for yourself and your existence. You may read this and think it’s an exaggeration or that I’m being dramatic. I beg to differ. Every single time I reply with “London” and without fail there’s a swift follow up along the lines of “no, where are you really from?” which shows that my original answer is not what they were expecting and they aren’t satisfied with my response. Me, with my brown skin, I couldn’t possibly be from London. It has to be somewhere more…exotic *rolls eyes*.
The question itself seeks to “other” non-white people. There’s an underlying power dynamic designed to make people feel like they don’t belong, simply because of the colour of their skin. It’s problematic as hell because it’s based on the notion that people of colour *must* be from elsewhere…and that your whole family history must be offered up upon request. This is the reality of dating as a woman of colour.
As a woman of colour, I’m used to experiencing microaggressions but it doesn’t mean it’s not tiring or draining. The usual pitfalls of modern dating, from catfishes to unsolicited dick pics, are bad enough without having to question a guy’s intentions from the moment they say “hello”.
After explaining that my family is Indian via Kenya, I’ve been told by a few guys that they love Indian girls or they’ve always wanted to try an Indian girl- what does that even mean?! Am I just an exotic new dish they want to taste? Once, a guy I was in a relationship confessed that he always had a thing for Indian women. It was his favourite genre of porn. We’d been together for about 5 months and it made me feel really uncomfortable. Was he dating me because he loved me or because I fulfilled a fantasy?
There’s a fine but distinct line between fetishisation and preference. Of course, everyone is entitled to have a preference. My personal preferences are fairly vague – tallish, traveller, environmentally conscious, ambitious. In my experience, women of colour often get defined by their race without any scratching beneath the surface. I rarely have the opportunity to recall the story about climbing an active volcano in Bali or the time I won a massive industry award at the age of 27. Sadly, my brown skin tends to be what defines me, rather than who I actually am.
I’m not alone, several studies have shown that unconscious bias is rife for minorities on dating apps. OkCupid did a study in 2014 which found that black women received the fewest messages of all demographics. It also found that women were less likely to initiate a conversation with black or Asian men.
The entire process of dating as a woman of colour can be very disheartening. Being at the receiving end of these microaggressions and second-guessing whether someone is actually interested in you is tiring. I find that dating comes in cycles. I begrudgingly open up Hinge or Bumble with the intention of finding a nice guy to spend time with IRL but I quickly get dating fatigue and usually pull the plug sharpish. I realise meeting a guy offline is pretty impossible so I head back to apps to repeat the entire process.
So, where am I at currently? Well, I’m back on dating apps. Regardless of how other people act, I’ve decided to stay optimistic about finding someone who wants to see me for me. I realised that anyone who decides to judge another person on (literally) face value or via racial stereotypes quite frankly isn’t worth my time or effort. Never settle for less than you deserve.
Photography by Lauren Dudley.