As a 30-something year old black woman, I pride myself on having embraced my differences. This was not so much the case back in my mid-20s when I was struggling with my so-called “otherness” during a time when most people were trying to figure out who they are. I don’t eat fried chicken (anymore, at least). I do yoga. I obsess over Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I can express at length the differences between Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses. Kayaking and wine tasting are two of my favorite things to do. I have never once used the words “cray” or “twerk” in conversation. In fact, I’m still a bit foggy on what those words are even supposed to mean.
That isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with anyone else who doesn’t have my same characteristics or interests. I think what’s great about black women is that we can’t all be put into one box. We don’t all have the same experiences or think the same way. That is one of the wonderful things about of being black; we’re all so different and beautiful all at once.
But sadly, that appreciation isn’t shared by everyone.
This summer I’ve been trying out the world of online dating (and by “trying out” I mean approaching it for the fourth time in two years after completely erasing previous unfortunate experiences from my mind and starting anew). Last week I agreed to go on a date to a bar/grill with a lovely black man I’ve been talking to online for about two weeks. If you’ve navigated the online dating world, you know that first dates from the online dating world are more crucial than those from the “real” world. You hope that he looks like his picture and that you have in-person chemistry (note: people can be very different in person than they are online–their tone, their conversation, delivery, etc.). Luckily, this guy looked exactly, if not better, than his picture online. He’s tall, handsome, nicely built and holds the door open for me.
But that’s about where it ends on his list of positives. As soon as we sit down, he riddles me with borderline uncomfortable questions:
Him: Where are you from?
Me: I’m originally from Boston, but I’ve lived in New York on and off for 14 years now.
Him: No. I mean, where are you from, from? Like, where are your people from?
Me: My people…?
Him: Your ethnicity.
Me: Oh, I’m black. African-American.
Him: Oh…wow… Me: [puzzled]
Him: Oh. Because you are kinda light skinned and you have nice hair. I mean, you’re gorgeous. You know that.
Me: [wishing he stuck with his latter two sentences while at the same time confused/flattered that my humidity-frizzed hair has been deemed “nice”] Um, thank you…
Him: Well, I’m from the ‘ hood. [Pauses for reaction. He gets none]. What color are your friends?
Me: Um…what color…are my friends?
Him: Yeah…did you grow up with white people? Me: I grew up with friends from various backgrounds…
Awkward beginning of a date, right? I tried to chock it up to nervousness. But then he continued to probe me, to try “figure” me out. He was noticeably perplexed and turned off when I revealed to him some of my interests (for example kayaking, like described above ). He says, “I just don’t know too many black people who are into those things. I’m more of a pro-black kind of dude, into mostly black things. Simple.”
I have never known anyone to call themselves simple without immediately feeling embarrassed about it afterwards. He doesn’t stop there:
Him: I was at the Trayvon Martin rally. Do you know that name?
Me: [long, staring pause] Yeah…we actually talked in depth about the case on line. Remember?
Him: Oh, yeah. So you do know him. Okay.
Me: [annoyed by the satisfied look on his face right now, the “at least I have that” face]
Him: What type of music do you listen to? Movies? [Obviously struggling to find a common ground with me]
Me: Many kinds of music, mostly old school. Old school hip hop, R&B, jazz, alternative, rock, soul, pop, etc.
Him: [dejected] Oh. I mean, I’m a hip hop guy, new school. I listen to R&B too. Some old school, I guess. But mostly the popular s^*t, from the black artists.
Me: Oh I see. So no Lenny Kravitz, Seal or Jimi Hendrix for you, huh? [Growing more noticeably annoyed and trying to make a point here]
Him: Um, no. Not really. I like the black sound.
From this point in the evening, we go back and forth about his acquired definition of the obviously subjective term “black”. What I’ve learned from him is that not only does “black” have a look but it also has a sound, and according to him, I wasn’t fit to personify the word . Apparently neither does Kravitz, Seal and Hendrix. You can only imagine his face when I told him I don’t watch Scandal (watched the first season and grew to dislike it). I can almost hear him telepathically call for the waiter and ask for the check.
I knew this was going to be our last date because as much as I was attracted to him physically, we had nothing in common. And I don’t want to date a man (black or otherwise) who confines any ethnicity to one set of characteristics and set of interests and looks down at those who don’t fit his narrow definition.
But alas, it’s all about trial and error. It’s about finding out what you want and what you don’t want. As the list of attributes that I seek in a man continue to evolve over the years, I know that there are some things on which I cannot budge. I want a man who appreciates me as an individual and who is comfortable enough in his own skin to celebrate our differences, not condescend them.
Until then, I will continue my online dating journey.