Dating While Woke: A Retrospective

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| December 05 2015,

02:00 am

I’m coming into this space with three things:

  1. I am a young cis-hetero black woman invested in black feminism, justice, and art/media. Details.
  2. I curate my Tinder very well. I think.
  3. Dating and ~finding a life partner~ are two different, and only sometimes intersecting, journeys.

Since January 2015, life has been a whirlwind of travel, transitions, and turning old dreams into reality. I’ve been loving my friends, my family, and my own company. Besides the daily emotional negotiation of persistent black and brown death in our country and the world, I am generally at peace. So dating has become really quite fun. For the first time, I’m not wishing and hoping that my life will operate with all the romance of a '90s black love movie. Do I exchange glances with a guy at a café and wonder if it’ll turn into something? Yes. For old times sake. But ultimately, I have had a pleasurable time getting to know different guys through Tinder (because options and filtering), fellowshipping over hookah, meeting up at concerts, fulfilling natural needs, etc. It’s chill.

When I say I curate my Tinder well, I mean that I am very intentional. My bio literally says, “Artist, scholar…and I sing sometimes. If we vibe, we vibe.” My fro is in every picture. Essentially, my profile filters out the dudes that don’t like to read, critically think, discuss, and feel. It filters out the guys who believe in “good vs. bad” hair and other stuff I find deplorable.

At least, that’s what I had hoped.

Lately, I’ve been feeling pressed. Although dating has been fun, it has also been teaching me about what it means to change the culture while also trying to live in it. When I engage with cis-hetero men, I’m also having to negotiate the very problematic, misogynistic (noirist) structures and ideologies that have shaped what it means to “be a man.” Now, as an organizer and potential Africana Studies scholar, I have already committed to a life of societal intervention and ideological transformation. But what’s a girl supposed to do when she’s just trying to have a smooth romantic encounter and homeboy’s misogyny just kills the whole vibe? I know I’m not the only one who has been grappling with this, so let’s get into it:

Story A:

Last month I started hanging out with this dude who we will call Med Schooleroni. First date was solid. Second date: Netflix and Chill. Word. We watched Bad Grandpa on his living room couch. I’m usually not down for the Jackass stuff, but this movie was funny AF. I unapologetically cackled MANY times. After that, I’m thinking we’re going to make our way upstairs. Nope. He would like to start a second movie. K. We start watching some random film about some white lady and sexual frustration. Ironic, right? So, we’re cuddling, all cute and what not. Early in the movie, a white lady meets a man at a bar and you can tell there’s a weird back story. He gives her his number and she goes home. Upon entering her house, she does a little introspective narrating and decides that it won’t be a good idea to keep his number, so she casually (albeit self-consciously) tosses his number in the trash can.

“Man, she’s a ho!” Med Schooleroni exclaims.

“Um, what?” I whipped my head around so fast, I probably cracked all kinds of stress out my neck.

“She’s a ho! If she was just gonna throw away his number, why did she even take it??”

After trying “the silent attitude,” flipping him the definition of misogyny on my phone, and suggesting we just watch something else, I was still interested in having a conversation about the unnecessary violence implicit in his language. A woman throws a number away in the comforts of her own home and she’s a ho? Like, that doesn’t even make sense considering the definition of a “ho.” I mean, there was so much wrong with his statement, I just couldn’t move on from it. Additionally, I went to his house for a reason, and as much as I wanted to just call it a night and head home, I surely wanted to achieve the goal for the evening. We eventually get through the conversation, for he “appreciates learning new things.” And, by the time I did leave, the whole night wasn’t worth it anyway. Fancy that.

Story B:

I started seeing a guy from home (MA) during the summer, and we’ve maintained a fairly fulfilling emotional bond since I’ve moved back to Atlanta. We’ll call him Homeroni. Our differing professional pursuits kept things interesting. We shared humor, were mutually supportive, and he paid for our dates without mocking or challenging my feminist integrity. That is so important. We even had a huge argument over the summer about the “Arch Your Back Challenge” and the danger of respectability politics. But we got through it. Dope.

AND THEN THINGS TURNED UP.

A couple weeks ago, Homeroni and I were FaceTiming, and he mentioned something along the lines of: “I wouldn’t mind if my woman flirted with other dudes or if they flirted with her. I know that all women want to be wanted.”

Hm. I replied, “well…what about all men?”

“Umm….nah. I wouldn’t say that. It's more varied.” Ok, see, the thing with ingrained, socialized misogyny is that many dudes don’t even realize that they afford men a certain kind of complexity and space that they fundamentally do not consider women to obtain.

We end up going back and forth on this matter. Without getting into the specific issues about his statement, I was more interested in why he simply could not logically afford women the same level of complexity he presumed men to possess.

I also had to note: “Many women usually don’t just ~want to be wanted by men~, and aren’t just so open to flirtations and advances. Many women don’t want or want to be wanted in a sexually associative way at all. What about asexual folks whose desires operate differently than you would assume?”

To which he replied, “See, now that’s just a problem. That’s just some f***** up emotional s***.”

At this point, I was completely offended. I might not identify as asexual. I might not necessarily have to internalize things he might think about “all other women” because I know this guy is into me specifically.

But justice is not just about the individual. The freedom and safety to be and flourish as who you are is, ironically, not just about the individual. Justice and liberation is about the dismantling of systems that actively marginalize, antagonize and erase folk, particularly black/brown women, and especially those who identify as queer.

His previous statement made me visibly frustrated. After so many conversations in high school and college of being shut down for being “too argumentative,” I’ve become hyper-aware of finding ways to communicate necessary points without being read as “angry.” So I still tried to respond to his problematic stance with questions and counter-arguments.

Then he started laughing. In my face. “You know, what’s so funny about this is that I barely even mean what I’m saying. It's not even that deep. It's just so easy to get you worked up!”

This comment comes in the wake of many moments when he’s found my activism to be “sexy,” which should have already been enough of a red flag for me. While I appreciate a guy who is attracted to passion and purpose, I always wonder to what extent my fire becomes fetishized. In this moment, Homeroni was making a joke out of the topics and people I fundamentally care about. He minimized and mocked who I am in an effort to resist accountability. Even as I communicated with him that this wasn’t funny and I didn’t appreciate that kind of MO, he could barely hear me above his laughter.

So, I hung up. And I haven’t heard from him since.

While I was never really serious about Med Schooleroni or Homeroni becoming my life partners, these situations still hurt. Oftentimes, conversations about black women and dating stick in that limited sphere of black women being the “least” wanted or something. That notion has taken up way too much public space. I’m more concerned about these seemingly small, subtle moments and internal negotiations that have become an inevitable part of my dating life, even when things seem to be going well. What about the folks who don’t have the language to talk about these moments? What about folks who don’t recognize the violence in a lot of cis-hetero masculine casual dialogue, especially if they, too, participate in it? How do we support each other? Finally, how does one casually date while still having integrity to who she is and what she’s about?

This latter question seems obvious: just be who you are and don’t associate with those who can’t accept that. But when you’re a person committed to transform systems and cultures, your work is all bound up in your everyday sociality and desires. They ask me what I do and who I do it for, right? But as of late, dating has prompted me to realize who I LIVE for. I don’t know how to dis-identify from my being as a reader, organizer, and black woman who just cares about herself and the lives of folks who are constantly targeted and antagonized on all levels of society.

“Woke” has started to become a bit of a black social activism joke. But for real, let’s think about this. To be woke is to recognize that you can’t turn off your awareness of inequity and anti-blackness of all forms. To be woke is a constant negotiation of society as is, society we seek to realize, and how to live in the contours of change. Listen, dating while woke is a real state of being that many folks are still trying to figure out.

Until then, I’ll just have to trust the “vibe” and keep my curve game strong.