“When will you marry?”
It’s a phrase I hear all too often. Just this week, my mum, who was married at 23 and by 25 had her first child, asked as she explained her concerns over my love life. At 24, she says, I should at the very least be engaged.
Well, I’m not – and, according to her, I should stop focusing on what country I’ll travel to next or what restaurant I’ll go to and dedicate myself to finding a husband.
My parents, uncles, aunties (and even cousins) alike are all intrigued to see who will sweep me off my feet and father my children – something I hadn’t really thought about too much as I foster a career and make shmoney.
There are three things that are certain for any second-generation African living in Britain: you must graduate, you must marry, and you must have children. In the olden days – I use ‘olden days’ loosely as my mum will read this and be far from impressed at me making her sound old – dating was easy. Back before the world wide web came along, the love of your life was likely a family friend or a neighbour or a school friend. Any Tom, Dick or Harry who came your way you’d be happy with, you settled.
Now, thanks to social media and an endless supply of romantic comedies, we expect more from a partner. We see the Molly Maes of the world flying out to Paris and we’re green with jealousy thinking why not me, damn it! We want men who drive, who are over 6ft, work at JP Morgan, and will spot a Birkin bag and buy it for you just because they can. Psychologists asked people to rank 76 characteristics to discover what people valued the most. Of course, being kind and having an exciting personality topped the list – but so did good earning capacity.
“I was constantly told as a child that an A wasn’t good enough, A* is better – and the same rule applies for your partner. A banker is nice, but a CEO would be better.”
In my experience, this expectation is even higher when you’re African. I was constantly told as a child that an A wasn’t good enough, A* is better – and the same rule applies for your partner. A banker is nice, but a CEO would be better. I guess it’s endearing that your parents want you to be the best and have the best? After all, a CEO husband would guarantee their baby girl a much better life than they ever had as migrants to the UK, so I totally understand this notion of finding a mate that makes Bill Gates look like tech support.
However, though it’s seemingly easier dating now with the introduction of online apps like Hinge and Tinder, I’ve actually found it’s a lot harder. Why? Well, in my experience 65% aren’t looking for anything serious (why are you on here wasting my time in the first place?), another 25% are weirdos who don’t fit my brief, while the other 10% will engage in conversation for weeks and then ghost me out of the blue, leaving my confidence at a zero. Cheers, pal.
Online dating while Black is, you guessed it, even harder. Research from OK! found Black women receive the fewest messages of all users, and men are least likely to respond to ‘likes’ from black women. It’s disappointing to think that someone isn’t interested in getting to know because of the melanin pacing through my veins, but you know what? Your loss, I’m fabulous.
And when we aren’t being ignored, Black women are fetishised. Phrases like “you’ll be my first Black chick”, “what mix are you?” and ‘hello, Black beauty” are immediate red flags you’ll touch my braids on the first date and tell me about your gap year trip to Uganda. By fetishising black women you’re essentially reducing us to mere body parts and focusing solely on the colour of our skin. It’s totally fine to have a type or preference but when you start making assumptions like ‘you must have a big batty’, you end up reinforcing stereotypes we have fought so hard to diminish.
“By fetishising black women you’re essentially reducing us to mere body parts and focusing solely on the colour of our skin.”
And if it’s neither of those, it’s often outright racism. I remember being called ‘blackie’ once. First I felt shock, but then came pity. Instead of plucking his eyelashes off one by one, I choose to educate him on how degrading and offensive the word was, hoping he would understand and learn from his colossal mistake. He apologised, and I believe he meant it sincerely.
I’m lucky in that I haven’t experienced much racism in the UK (to my face) because I live in London, the most diverse city in the world. But, when I do venture out to other cities and Europe, I am very aware of not only my Blackness but my woman-ness. People look not in disgust, but intrigue – perhaps because there aren’t many Black people in the area. I don’t mind people looking as I’m pretty adorable but please, garcon, don’t touch. When online I’m very upfront about my ethnic background and don’t shy away from discussing how incredible Why I’m Not Talking To White People About Race is.
So no, ‘dating while Black’ is not easy. My parents will always wish for me to meet my Jeff Bezos, and there will always be men who will ignore me, fetishise me or hate me. But I am hopeful. Every romcom out there is telling me that there is someone who will accept my love for melted wax, subtitles and appreciate the novelty of comically small things (I mean come on, how could you not smile while sipping from a really, really tiny Coca-Cola bottle). It just looks like I just have to be patient, and date a lot of trash men, to find him.
Olivia Mushigo is a blogger and works in PR. She is documenting all her dates on @whenwillimarry on Instagram.
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