Dating while Black is a complicated labyrinth — a mystical quest through white foolishness, misogynoir rejection, and other circles of pain to find possible happiness. Dating while Black means underestimating your true goddess potential in fear of never finding "the one.” Dating while Black means making compromises, giving parts of yourself away because you’re too nervous to demand anything lest you end up alone. Anti-Blackness ended my last relationship. When it was over, I was left reeling, trying to see what went wrong. Now, reflecting back, I know how I can protect myself as a Black woman in the romantic world.
My ex and I met at a concert last October. We were introduced by a mutual friend. We said our hellos, and I didn't think of them afterward... until I did. We started hanging out more, first with the friend who had introduced us, and later alone. It didn't occur to me that I liked them for weeks. I decided to to tell them. At first, they didn’t feel the same way. However, after a week, they said they felt otherwise. We were officially in “like.”
My partner and I were planning on quarantining together for the summer with our mutual friend. We made Pinterest boards filled with IKEA knick-knacks and handmade storage ideas for our new apartment. We compiled lists of cheap AirBnB listings in Chicago that we could all afford. On a cool Friday evening in late May, as we all cuddled on the couch and watched a movie together, everything was set in place for a summer of love and friendship. Until it wasn’t.
I woke up to a text the next day saying, “I’m sorry. I can’t live with you anymore.” Disappointment and anger flooded me. What about the plans we had made? What about summer evenings spent chilling on the porch, watching the sun go down? What about late-night, bad TV marathons with sh*tty Chinese food and $5 wine? All gone in a single text.
“What the f*ck, dude?” I replied, stunned and irritated. At this point, I expected to receive a long-winded explanation about a previous summer commitment or not having enough money for our new apartment. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of that.
“My mom doesn’t want me to live with Black people because they have a higher chance of getting COVID-19.”
I sucked in my teeth, completely caught off guard by the racist reasoning. “You know that’s... incredibly racist and hurtful, right?”
“Yeah, but —”
The first lesson I learned about dating while Black is to never underestimate my partner’s ability to be racist. I had never met my partner’s mom before. I had no relationship with this woman who determined me too risky to be a roommate. Regardless, my partner allowed their mom to judge me and my entire race, and they sided with her anti-Black conclusion. When my partner proceeded to defend their mom despite her crude racism, it really hurt me.
Here was someone I was supposed to rely on, a person who was supposed to love and care about me, openly letting their mom call me diseased. I had grown way too comfortable in the fantasy that my partner’s white silence wasn’t violence. I had made too many excuses for their racial failings. I made myself OK with the fact that they weren’t the most vocal when it came to race issues. I continually excused their problematic behavior and jokes they made when it came to their whiteness, comments like, “I can do [insert privileged action] because I’m white.” I gave them slack when it came to less kosher comments on race or when they lacked the curiosity to ask about my Black experience.
Looking back, I was selling myself way too short. As a Black woman in America, I know that racism isn’t always obvious or undisguised. I’ve been hurt by all sorts of microaggressions: weird questions from “friends” about my hair and other “Black” topics, backhanded compliments, and other acts of violence. For whatever reason — poor self-esteem, being conditioned to expect and accept less — I expected so little from my white partner. In the future, if I date white people again, the bar will be much higher.
The second lesson I learned about dating while Black is to be wary of how much labor I do in my relationships. In an effort to fix what was broken, I got comfortable doing the majority of the work. Who was actively making plans about where we could live? Me. Who was holding our group accountable when it came to housing decisions? Me. Even in the midst of our breakup, who was actively communicating to my partner about how I felt and why things needed to end? Me, myself, and I. I had to reach out to them, explaining why I was so hurt and angry: “I’m not mad that our plans fell through. I’m mad that your mom is racist and you’re OK with that.” I had to coordinate our socially distanced breakup. I had to explain why we couldn’t be together any longer while they got to sit back and shed tears. My partner got to have an apathetic role in our relationship and breakup while I had to be emotionally vulnerable and present, time and time again.
Maybe the dynamics in our relationship were because I internalized their white fragility and thought they couldn’t handle putting in the work. Maybe I had gotten too comfortable being a strong, independent Black woman and didn’t know what it meant to get help from others. Moving forward, I have to put clear boundaries on my time and labor, allowing for future partners to share the load.
The final lesson I learned about dating while Black is to value myself. I didn’t see myself as someone others should feel lucky to be with. I always felt that I should be grateful to be in my relationship, even when things clearly weren’t going well. Anti-Blackness always left me devaluing myself and all that I had to offer. I made compromises in situations that were unfixable. I tried to explain away racial violence as microaggressions or things that I could “get over”.
Since then, I've learned that I need to be absolutely sure of my worth and what I have to offer. I need to have clear boundaries about behaviors I will and will not accept, no matter how cute or "special" my partner is. I didn’t see myself as worthy or sacred or a catch, so I didn't get treated as such. I will never make that mistake again.
The breakup will be another tally in a series of racial traumas in my life. But the lessons I learned from my relationship are invaluable and will only help me make more informed decisions about dating in the future.