I recently went out with a guy I gave my number to because he did the chicken dance. Turns out not all chicken dancers are second date material, but even so, I learned a tremendous amount about myself during our four-hour date that I’ve continued to mull over even after deciding not to keep seeing him.
I am, for better or worse, a magnet for strange men on the street, most of whom I do not engage. 50 year old man comes over and says, “Hey big legs, let me take you out.” then turns around and asks someone for bus fare. This is what I’m referring to. In the spirit of being open, however, I gave my number to a youngish looking guy who seemed a good sport about chicken dancing in the cold and went into the date with low expectations: Is he a Christian? Did he go to college? Does he have kids? Has be been married? If it’s not yes, yes, no, no a second date is off the table. That’s not asking for a lot.
But that bothered me. Why shouldn’t I be looking for more than that? If it weren’t a random guy from the bus stop, I would want more. If he weren’t black, the second and third question would have most likely been replaced with ones about what grad school and passport stamps. Why did I have a different set of standards for this guy?
Turns out the answers were yes, yes, no, no, but even after (and honestly, during) a pleasant time together a few things still gnawed at me.
He went to a black church.
Nothing wrong with that. Except the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was distrustful of the black church. And, I knew I would unlikely be comfortable going to a black church again. I told myself that based on a prior negative experience with black churches that they could not be trusted on the whole. However, I’ve left two predominately Asian-American churches—one because of their problem with excessive drinking and another because they were unwelcoming and excluded people not like them—but held no similar distrust. I had double standards: for the black church, what was true of one must be true of all, but for the other churches (including predominately white ones), their problems were exceptional. Why so quick to judge one and not the other? This strikes me as the same impulse that causes people to blame crimes committed by people of color on their racial or ethnic background where white criminality never gets conflated with the group at large.
He went to a black school.
My parents and both of my sisters went to black schools so I’m not throwing shade on HBCU’s. But, he didn’t even go to a good one (and there are many). So first, I’m doubtful of the education he received. Second, If I had to guess, he probably feels most at home around other black people based on his choice of school and church. I’ve consistently said that I find monochromatic friend groups less interesting than diverse ones, but, despite living in chocolate city, this couldn’t be further from my world. As much as I’ve stated over the past year that I want black friends, the implicit qualifier missing in that statement is that I want highly-educated black friends. If any would do, I’d have tons considering the neighborhood I live in and the bus that I ride. But I don’t. In fact, as I do a mental survey of the black friends I’ve made (or tried to make) since college they’ve all either gone to Ivy League schools or have (or are working on) PhDs. Actually, come to think of it, I’m the least educated among my black friends. And I’m a thousand times more comfortable being in that position than the opposite. And, that makes me uncomfortable. In my defense, since college when there have been black people around at all (read: when I wasn’t living in Asia), I was in Boston where you’re hard pressed not to run into folks with PhDs and/or who went to Ivy League schools, and I was in graduate school myself where I had greater access to other people of color pursuing terminal degrees. Even in my own family though, my older sister has a PhD, my younger sister has a JD, and my mom has a master’s degree.
He had a blue-collar job.
I have always imagined myself with someone who earned a living with their mind, who worked on problems of global or national importance. I realize it is a luxury to be able to chose a job based on those considerations rather than a simple need to earn money. It seems classist or elitist to not date someone because they work with their hands. But to be fair, I did agree to a second date. It’s not right to make assumptions, but I just couldn’t imagine him jumping at the idea of going to the ballet or opera or to a museum or on vacation outside the Carribbean. But then again, I have very well educated, white-collar friends that don’t like that stuff either. I’m not unaware of my tendency to think narrowly in terms of “people like this” or “people like that”, but I couldn’t easily picture what people like that do for leisure. But even more problematic, there have been attractive, well-educated men that weren’t museum people or symphony people and I’ve liked them anyway. But they weren’t black. Again, a double standard. But not having had the opportunity to date these others guys I don’t know if I would have eventually run into the same frustration with lack of shared interests.
I concluded, perhaps unreasonably so, that I probably had much less in common with this guy who comes from the same ethnic background as me than I would with someone from another country or ethnicity who had gone to a good college, made a living from a specific type of intelligence that I preferred, and went to a predominately white or multi-ethnic church. It’s not fair. It made me uncomfortable. But I own that it is what I thought.
He misspelled Laos
Asia’s my passion. I’ve spent five of the past ten years living there, plus another two studying it in grad school, and my current work is related to it. I’m not looking for a partner who is an expert on Asia, but come on, “louse”? A quick google search would tell you that’s not how it’s spelled—I know, I tried googling “language spoken in louse.” It just seemed lazy to me. How you have a smart phone that lets you get away with that? I admit that I’d prefer someone who at the very minimum could spell the name of the country where I lived for two years correctly even if they couldn’t tell you what language they speak, point it out on a map or tell you its capital.
I get a lot of crap from people about too high standards. Yeah, I called it crap. There’s also this lie told to black women about needing to change their standards so they can get married. Not interested.
The more I replay last week’s events, the more questions I have about my own character and what my preferences say about who I am. Am I racist? Am I elitist? Am I wrong to prefer my partner have a certain type of job? Also, as a black woman who often feels like I am not seen as date-able by others because of assumed cultural differences, how could I do the same thing? Maybe I’m being too harsh on myself. I did, after all, make the decisions about irreconcilable cultural differences after texting with him for two weeks, a four-hour date, learning of his DUI, and receiving a string of rude, immature texts. And I have briefly dated a black guy who didn’t go to a good school, worked with his hands for a living (a sculptor) and, though I didn’t know it at the time, had a kid (and a wife—yikes!). Out of the five people I’ve gone on dates with in DC, three have been black. One had a kid, one lied about speaking Arabic—the most interesting thing about him, and the other was this guy. Of the two non-black guys, one guy drank way too much and smoked only when he drank (which I gathered was whenever he wasn’t at work), and the other, even though we bonded over k-dramas, was disrespectful of my personal space—that’s how seriously I take my personal space, y’all!
THE END OF THE MATTER
At the end of the date I agreed on a second. But it worked out that I got the definitive answer to our compatibility without ever going on that second date after all. The following evening, he sent a nasty text that was malicious and spiteful after a run-in with me on the street that didn’t go as either of us had anticipated. Both his tone and his words were incredibly disrespectful and ain’t nobody got time for that. Bye Felicia.
At the end of the day, I’m still kind of scratching my head wondering if a girl can want what she wants, or if those preferences really betray ugly things about who I am.