I Can't Help But Wonder, Did My Exes Break Up With Me Because Of My Race?
The world we live in shapes how we view ourselves—and how others view us. But what happens when there's a mismatch between cultural narratives and individual identities? In our monthly series The Blend, writers from multicultural backgrounds discuss the moment that made them think differently about these dominant narratives—and how that affects their lives.
The first time I got my heart broken was a complete blindside. My then-boyfriend and I had just gotten back to my apartment after having dinner and watching a play with his parents when he dropped the "I don't love you anymore" bomb on me. So I did what people usually do when trying to cling on to any last hope: I psychoanalyzed everything. I spent weeks with my friends, my mom, and my then therapist re-playing the entire one-year relationship to see what I could have possibly missed.
During one of many crying sessions with my therapist, I broke down over the fact my now-ex included me in so many events with his extended family. What was the point of forming these deep connections when he had no intention of keeping me long-term? I felt dumb and misled. My therapist asked if they seemed accepting of me, and I said yes. Besides my ex occasionally "joking" that his dad wished I was Jewish rather than being Filipino, every interaction with them had been fine.
"Have you ever considered the possibility that he didn't want to end up with someone Asian?" she asked.
I quickly defended him. "No," I said.
I started listing why my race couldn't be a factor: he's liberal, he has friends of many different races and backgrounds, and why date someone Asian for a year if that were true?
"Some people aren't as open-minded as they think they are," she responded. She also wasn't convinced his dad was really joking.
The second time I got my heart broken was by someone I was exclusively seeing and fell really hard for. But the same pattern occurred. After a date where I thought everything was going great, he blindsided me and told me that he doesn't see this going anywhere.
"My friends have been wanting to set me up with this girl for a while…" he started to say and the fight of my fight-or-flight kicked in. In true New York fashion, I yelled at him on the street.
I met up with a close guy friend immediately after, not wanting to end the night crying by myself, to get any insight into the male psyche. Besides, if any tears were to be shed, it might as well be at a bar drinking straight vodka.
"He's a piece of shit," my friend told me as I did in fact start crying at the bar. "To use you until this white girl his friends wanted for him was ready."
"I don't know what she looks like," I said.
"Oh, sorry I just assumed it." And if I were honest with myself, I assumed it, too.
It's not fair that race is brought into the conversation when it comes to love. We all hope to find someone who accepts us wholly for who we are.
But for people of color especially, it is something that will always be on our minds and a harsh reality that our race could be an issue for our partner.
"It's one of these invisible tolls of racism," says sociology professor at Hunter College Erica Chito Childs. "White people are rarely going to wonder if they were broken up with because of their race. But that's a heavy burden because you don't know."
When you decide to date someone of a different race, on top of worrying if you're too clingy, too loud, too whatever, you have to consider the possibility of the color of your skin being a reason someone ultimately doesn't want to end up with you.
Racism is especially prevalent in our online dating-driven world. I think about how my white friends swear by dating apps, booking three or more dates a week. My non-white friends, on the other hand, are either unenthused by the apps or avoid them altogether because of these "preference filters" that lead to few matches or people with a race fetish. It's an additional burden that every person of color carries with them. According to a new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, Black, Asian, or Hispanic people were penalized. For instance, participants were 2.3 to 3.3 times less likely to swipe right on Black versus white partners.
Childs says that race is always subconsciously operating in our everyday lives and that not acknowledging it isn't possible. "If someone is saying that they're not seeing [race] or passing [the subject of race] off, it means they're repressing it," she says. "What are [they] afraid to tell [you]?"
I never asked either partner—or any partner for that matter—if they've had any experience dating someone of a different background from theirs. I simply thought that if they agreed to date me in the first place that automatically meant my race isn't an issue for them. But that's not always the case.
"The real question becomes, 'What conversations did we have about race that led up to it?'" says relationship coach and author of Lasting Love at Last: The Gay Guide to Attracting the Relationship of Your Dreams, Amari Ice. "Because if [you two] haven't had any conversation about it, it's very possible that's the reason that it ended."
Ice tells me that asking these questions is vital to determining whether race plays a role in a relationship working out or not. He explains that when you come from a specific culture, you have core values that are different from someone who doesn't share the same background. If your core values are different, those differences might be too big for any couple to overcome.
On the flip side of it, he says many people date specific races and cultures to fulfill a sexual fantasy before seriously dating someone else. "If the only reason they wanted to be with you is because of sexual objectification, then they were never going to be with you long term anyway," he says.
My Asian friends and I talk about the "Asian fetish" all the time. The stereotype of Asian women being submissive and easily dominated, especially in sexualized ways, is another burden we have to carry when dating someone of a different race or ethnicity.
I am constantly thinking, Why is he attracted to me? Am I just a test run before he goes back to his real preference? Is this just to fill some sort of sick sex bucket list? How much porn has he watched and what does expect me to do in bed? With most ex-partners—even the non-white ones—I've been with, I've always felt measured by this stereotype. And it feels pretty shitty thinking you were just someone's sex toy.
While race is a fair thing to wonder about when getting broken up with, experts caution clinging on to it. "[Thinking about race being a factor of breaking up] is part of our makeup," says Thomas Edwards, a dating and lifestyle coach. "At the same time, there is a difference between letting that dictate your life and having the best information to determine what the best decision is for you."
Edwards encourages everyone to see these as learning lessons to keep moving forward. He says what you don't want to do, is carry this baggage to the next partner. "Not all guys are going to behave the way your exes did," he says. "Your past doesn't dictate your future.
And as he says, I can only take with me the lessons I've learned from each ex and move forward. I'll never really know to what degree—if any—my race played in their decisions to leave me. But it will always be something I wonder about.