I felt compelled to write this article because several things happened recently that left me fuming. All had to do with dating. And race.
I am a dating coach, so part of my job is to ask people what they are looking for in a partner. Clients share everything from preferred taste in music (does that really matter?) to height to religion to age. And then there is the matter of race and ethnicity.
I have read before, in research done by OkCupid, that people who reach out to someone of the same race garner a higher response rate. We can all say that we’re a diverse society and we’re open to people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. But when it comes down to it, are we all as prejudiced as our own Mr. “Send Him Back” President himself? Do we all prefer to be with people who look like us?
The answer is, of course, no. (Thank goodness.) But I have seen so many instances of blatant bigotry in my work that I had to let it out. Isn’t it still some form of discrimination if you say, point-blank, “I will not date an Asian man,” or “Hispanic women are not attractive to me at all”? Or is it just a matter of preference? Is this a loophole, where it’s OK to be prejudiced when it’s just a dating “preference” of yours?
Recently, I was working with a wonderful woman in her 50s. She’s been married before but had never used an online dating site, so she found herself on my website and then as my client. At the end of our call, I always ask, “Is there anything I haven’t asked that you think I should know?” She immediately jumped in with, “Oh, I would NEVER date a ——— person.” I’m purposely leaving it blank because it really doesn’t matter what goes there. Just assume it’s a color of skin or religion that’s not her own. She went on to say, “I would rather be alone the rest of my life then swipe right on those people.”
And then, in the same day, I was working to set up a woman — a woman of color, mind you — with an African American man on an online dating site. He seemed to be an accomplished musician with a degree from a prestigious school who was well-spoken, interesting, and happened to have a really nice head of hair to boot. The date ended up getting canceled due to mismatched schedules, and when I reached out to tell her, she said, “To be honest, the last few guys I have dated are black. I’m kind of over them. They didn’t have their s--t together.” I wanted to pull out my hair and scream, “But you picked them!!!” Instead, I coolly replied, “That’s like saying you are over people with blond hair. Not everyone is the same — far from it. It would be completely unfair to generalize. Plus, I’m sure you’ve met white men who don’t have their stuff together either!”
And I didn’t say this, but I’m guessing these exes she mentioned had other things in common, like something about their personalities that attracted her to them in the first place, that well outshined the color of their skin. She continued, “I’m just telling you my preferences based upon what my past was.” My final response was, “It’s important not to project your past onto future potential amazing people.”
On the one hand, she’s been open-minded in the past. And on the other, she held each to a much higher standard and then used their behavior against others of their race.
I have a male Asian client who refuses to date Asian women. I have plenty of white clients who refuse to go outside their Wonder Bread comfort zone.
As their coach, I respect their choices and do my best to find appropriate matches. But my true feelings are that I want to ask everyone the simple question “Why?” Why did you decide to put your foot down? Was it a conscious decision or something just ingrained in you by society or your upbringing?
To bring this a bit closer to home, I used to date only Jewish men. After years of putting a premium on someone whose mother happened to make a delicious matzah ball soup, I asked myself the same question: Why? And my response — or lack of response — fell short. My only reason was that I wanted someone to come to my annual Passover Seder. Epiphany! You don’t even remotely have to be Jewish to attend a Seder! In fact, every year, at least half of my table consists of non-Jewish friends, which makes the whole experience much more engaging. Once I opened up my religious parameters, I also opened myself up to a world of amazing people who don’t all have the last name Rosenbaum and Cohen.
What is the point of my writing this? To air out my grievances? Partially. The other is to inspire people to look inward.
I encourage everyone to dig. Really dig deeply. Ask yourself why this is something that’s important to you. Is it because it’s been ingrained in you, or is it really what you want, or don’t want? Is it based on one or two experiences only? Or what you think society would be accepting of? If your answers reaffirm your choices, then that’s great. And if they don’t, it’s time to think about whether some changes can be made to your criteria.
I would never tell anyone who to choose as their mate. My job is to get people out there on good dates. It’s not to preach or tell people what’s right and wrong … because I don’t know and there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. What I do know is that I’m tired of hearing arbitrary statements about who you will and won’t date based on race or religion and nothing more, with no other context or rationale. I’m tired of overall generalizations about people’s worthiness in your life made on the basis of race. And I’m tired of smiling and nodding when all I really want to do is simply ask “Why?”
Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating.