I kept my eye on the time left on the clock. According to Bumble, each of the 25 conversations that I had attempted to start with men who had matched me were about to expire. I had five minutes left, and even though I knew my odds were slim, I was still hopeful. Maybe they had misplaced their phones! Maybe work had gone late, and they were finally about to clock out! Maybe, just maybe, they were sitting at home, staring at their own countdown clock, attempting to craft the perfect message in response to mine.
Time was on my side. It had to be. Surely these 25 guys didn’t all think that I wasn’t worth the time required to message back. I have a nice smile, or so I’ve been told. I wear my hair short, but it frames my face nicely, or so I’ve heard. I have a great sense of humor and I’m a big beer drinker, as evident from my midsection. All these positive observations were somehow referenced in my Bumble profile, whether presented in a carefully crafted profile photo or written in a witty sentence. I mean, I’m not perfect, but it’s clear I’m valuable and have potential.
One minute left. Then it happened. All my matches turned gray. They had expired.
I had put myself out there—on an app that specifically wants the woman to message the man first, so as to avoid unwanted conversations—and I received nothing back. I sat there for a few minutes and I cried. I don’t know exactly how much time passed (I was no longer watching the clock), but once I wiped my face dry, I grabbed my phone and deleted all those failed conversations. I would start again with a new slate.
I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t receive a message back; in fact, I would have been more surprised if I had. This isn’t my first time sending a message into the void. It also isn’t my second, or my 20th, or my 100th.
I never expected that finding love online would be so hard, but I also never thought my race would be viewed as undesirable.
I am a Black woman, or as OkCupid’s co-founder Christian Rudder discovered, I am part of the group of women voted “least attractive than other women of other races and ethnicities” by most male users on that particular dating site. Reading Rudder’s findings was especially difficult for me to read because, when I turned 18 seven years ago, I immediately opened my laptop and signed up for an OkCupid account. At the time, I painstakingly filled out the numerous questions that OkCupid claimed would help me find potential matches. Did I smoke? No, I didn’t, and it was also important that my partner didn’t. Did I believe that a woman was obligated to keep her legs shaved? One quick hand over my shins answered that question for the both of us. I answered the questions honestly. I filled out the About Me, talked about my future, and listed the five things that I couldn’t live with. When all was said and done, I clicked the Accept button and I smiled to myself. I was ready to fall in love, or at the very least, meet someone nice.
I had stated that I didn’t “strongly prefer to date someone of [my] own skin color/racial background” (I lived in Washington state, for God sakes, so dating within my race wasn’t always an option). But it was apparent that a lot of men had selected that preference. A lot of men I messaged probably took one look at me and decided that Black women just weren’t their thing. On one hand, I want to tell myself that that’s fine. People can date whomever they want to date, and one day some man is going to look at me and decide I am all he’s ever wanted. I could live with that—I didn’t really have a choice. However, there was a part of me that still felt othered.
The truth is that I don’t receive a lot of messages on dating apps—I would say, on average, that I receive anywhere from zero to five messages a month. A lot of them are simple textbook openers—“Hey, what’s up?” or “How’s it going?”—but there’s a part of me that’s just glad to have received a message in the first place. It feels like I’m begging for scraps when I open my inbox, and I hate it, but sometimes, your girl needs to eat. My friends love to joke and tell me that the guys that I date are beneath me—but what they don’t know is that these are the guys that actually message me. These are the guys that I end up dating because they sent me a message and were nice.
That’s what online dating is like when you’re a Black woman, especially when you live in the whitest city in America. Sometimes you’re just trying to find the bare minimum because that might be all that’s out there.
Because I get so few messages, it is easy to weed out the men who aren’t interested in me for reasons other than my skin color being similar to a woman in a porn video they’ve bookmarked on their computer. I’ve received all types of cringey messages, such as the one from a white man who called me “ebony” and stated that, although he had never been with “one of my kind” before, he had always wanted to; we were “always way more wild *insert winky face*.”
I’ve been called “chocolate” or “milk chocolate.” I have had my breasts described as “Hershey’s kisses.” A Latinx guy told me that he “liked [him] some chocolate every now and then,” as if he started a new diet and I was his cheat treat. These messages, while fetishizing, usually at least provide me with a chuckle because I’ll picture these men rubbing their hands together, saying “Ah, yes. This Black woman is going to eat this shit up.” Sure, some Black women may not mind getting compared to a dessert. I am not one of them. If you’re going to be disgusting, at least be creative. Compare me to something unique, like a beautiful grain of wood or a bottle of liquor.
The cringey messages may be the least of my worries, but the racist, insensitive messages stay with me.
An Indian man, this time on PlentyOfFish, wanted to let me know that a “Caucasian man will never truly fall in love with [me].” It was fine, though, because at the end of the message, he stated that he was just trying to give me some advice, even though nowhere on my profile did I state that I was interested in predominately white men. In fact, the only thing I was interested in was a cute guy “with a good beard and a cute dog.”
My favorite message came from a white guy on OkCupid who messaged me to say that he was “not actually racist” and was “shocked to find true racism in today’s society”—but that he still used the n-word in everyday conversations and in jokes because he found it funny. I screenshotted that conversation and promptly blocked him, although that kind of conversation and that word seem to come up often in my dating life.
Racism doesn’t stay behind the screen either. I’ve recently dated two white men who have gotten upset with me when I asked them to not say the n-word. The first one was actually a long-time boyfriend, an engineer I had met off of Craigslist, surprisingly. We had hooked up, and even though that first night—and the second night—was terrible, he was cute and funny, and we ended up dating for a little over a year.
His obsession with that word was a topic of countless discussions, none of which painted him in a positive light. He was mostly upset because he couldn’t say it when listening to rap songs with his buddies. I wrote an essay about that experience, and he threatened to sue me if I used his name because it would portray him as a racist and he “wasn’t a racist.”
The second man, another white gentleman, believed that it was racist of me to tell him that he shouldn’t say the n-word. When I questioned whether he would be upset if his young daughter ever used that word to describe a Black classmate, he didn’t have a straightforward answer because “that wasn’t the point.” He argued that, by telling him I didn’t want him to say it, I infringed on his First Amendment rights. “That’s the real racism here,” he angrily stated as he packed his overnight bag and headed home.
It is now a new year, but every couple of weeks, I delete all my dating apps—usually Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge, though I have also used most of the major dating sites. I tell myself that I am done with online dating. That I will go outside and I will meet a man out there in the real world. I’ll probably meet him in a bar, drinking an IPA from a local brewery, or I’ll somehow meet him on a hike, even though that activity still confuses me (extended walking on an incline so I can see a nice view? No thank you). I tell myself that I just need to get back out there or maybe take a break—but then if I take a break, I might miss out on finding him, and then what am I going to do? Huh? What if the love of my life is only one swipe, one like, one heart, one whatever the fuck away? What could I be missing out on?
So, I sit there in the middle of the night and I take out my phone. I re-download all those blasted dating apps and I continue to scroll, hoping that my time won’t run out just yet.