Why I’m Dating Online

In a city of 12 million souls, I find it difficult to meet men. That seems somewhat ironic to me. How can my life intersect with hundreds of people in a day, from the subway, to the sidewalk, to the supermarket, and yet I never CONNECT with any of them? But NYC is like that. People aren’t friendly and, in fact, are rather surly and suspicious of one another. When I first arrived in town, my semi-Southern sensibilities had me smiling at and saying hello to strangers on the street and even thanking bus drivers as they dropped me off at my stop. These pleasantries were met with blank stares of confusion. And so, those habits stopped (although I still thank bus drivers… and cabbies, too).

It seems to me that many people in this city build their social circles around three things: work, school, and church/temple/place of worship. Well, I work in a industry rife with women and gay men, which makes for fun times but, since I’m a straight woman, doesn’t leave me with many dating options. Also, I went to school in a different city. There are people from my undergrad who live in NYC, but I wouldn’t consider them “friends” and they wouldn’t call me a friend either, and so there goes that option. I haven’t found a church in NYC (although I fully admit that I haven’t really looked very hard for one either). That said, I do have friends from my church back home who are living in the City. They are also women and also experiencing the same dating struggles I’m facing, so when we do get together, we just commiserate and validate each other’s time spent in the dating trenches.

You may be asking why I’m giving you a rundown of my situation; some of this you already know and some of it you may have assumed.  But I guess I’m telling you all this to justify the fact that I have resorted to online dating.  I shouldn’t use the word “resorted” because it gives off the (false) impression that I was somehow resistant to the idea.  I wasn’t.  To me, online dating makes perfect sense.  Recently, I was talking to a guy I met online and I asked him the standard set of conversation-starter questions (I’ll get to that later), which includes a version of “why are you doing this?”  He gave the best answer yet.  He explained that online dating allows him “to filter through the crazy, the stupid, the gold-diggers” et al.  He also said that for him, online dating allows him to focus more on quality than quantity.  This makes sense to me, and if you look at it this way, it makes online dating seem like less of a less resort and more a savvy strategy for finding worthy candidates.

I opened an account on eHarmony the first week I moved to NYC.  I was single and ready to mingle and open to meeting and connecting with new people.   In the last four and a half years, I’ve tried nearly all of the online dating sites from eHarmony, to OkCupid, to Match.com, to BlackPeopleMeet, to ChristianMingle.  I’ve had different experiences with them all, and clearly haven’t made a love connection (or else I would be writing about a completely different topic).  But along the way, I have been highly entertained, challenged, stimulated, and ultimately have learned so much about myself, my deal breakers, my must-haves, etc.  And I have stories for days.  One day I’ll write a book about this stuff.  But for now, I’ll attempt to capture some of my triumphs and disappointments in a few blog posts here for your reading pleasure.  Hopefully, they’ll culminate in a happy ending… *fingers crossed*

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Balotelli, Smart, and Me: Racial Slurs Hurt (and they can also GET you hurt!)

I’m Black.  I haven’t shared my photo, but in case you had any doubts, I am a Black American woman.  Now I am very comfortable in my skin and I celebrate my identity.  I love being Black.  But my feelings about my identity have evolved over time.

I grew up in Washington, D.C., which is also known as Chocolate City.  But in the Maryland suburbs situated just outside of the city, which is where I grew up, there wasn’t much diversity in the 80s.  Often, I was the only black kid in my class.  It was never really an issue for me.  I always loved school and I thrived.  But I was also somewhat of a “mascot” at school.  I remember my mom commenting about how popular I was.  “When I walk into the school, everyone knows who I’m there to see.  They all know who you are,” she bragged.  Even as a child, I knew that I wasn’t popular because of my glowing personality (’cause it DID glow, even back then!).  When you’re the only black kid in the class and one of only a few in the entire school, you’re difficult to miss.  Of course everyone knew my name – I stuck out like a sore thumb.

It’s hard being the token black kid.  You wear the weight of the world on your shoulders.  You field ignorant questions, asked “innocently” and you’re not supposed to show anger or aggression in response; you’re just supposed to shrug it off and forgive the ignorance, pretending to be grateful that people want to learn more about what makes you different.  I’m sure some of the dumb sht*t people said was well intended, but as the old folk say: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, so… there’s that.

I was in the second grade when I was called a nigger for the first time.  I was involved in a fierce game of kickball during recess.  I wanted to pitch, and this little boy with white blonde hair who had designated himself the “captain” of our team looked me in the face and said, “We don’t let niggers pitch.”

I was floored.

The boy, Vernon, was popular.  My best friend, also white, was his “girlfriend”.  When Vernon spit the slur at me, I ran to tell his grandmother, who volunteered at our school, and she let him have it.  I felt somewhat vindicated, but then I told my best friend how embarrassed I was that he’d said it.  I expected her to side with me, but she didn’t.  My world was rocked.  In addition to my embarrassment, I felt betrayed.  It was a sad day.

My parents were fitful when I reported the incident to them.  My father was unsurprised, but nevertheless wanted to kill the kid; my mother was shocked and devastated that I was dealing with such a heavy incident at such a young age.  She had hoped I would be protected from that ugly word for a little while longer.  It came before she was ready.  My feelings were hurt.  I cried.  But, surprisingly, I didn’t hate Vernon.  I was just confused as to why someone would dislike me because I looked different from them.

It’s been almost 30 years since that incident happened, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  I vividly see Vernon’s round face, his pale skin, colorless hair, and ice blue eyes staring at me with contempt when he called me the n-word.  I’m not hurt by it now, but then… then, I was devastated.  I recall quite clearly the feeling I had when he said the word.  It was as though I’d been punched in the gut.  I couldn’t breathe, then I felt hot, and finally I, literally, saw red. I’ve been called a nigger a few times since then, unfortunately, but none of the other incidents hurt quite like the first time.  Vernon popped my n-word cherry, so to speak. Thanks, kid.  Hooray.

So, that’s why I immediately felt like a knife had been driven deep into my chest, opening an old wound, when I saw the story about soccer player Mario Balotelli yesterday.  Balotelli, a striker for AC Milan whose parents are Ghanaian, was taunted with racial slurs by the opposing team’s fans.  Apparently, the slurs were so hurtful, this man broke down and sobbed on the sidelines.

Balotelli, reduced to tears after being reminded, in the worst way, that he is black. (via SportingNews)

Balotelli, reduced to tears after being reminded, in the worst way, that he is black, and that black is somehow a “bad” thing. (via SportingNews)

Now, who knows whether this incident was Balotelli’s first experience with racial slurs (although I doubt that he’s managed to escape other incidents during 20+ years on this Earth), but what we do know is that he was hurt enough to be reduced to tears on the field, which is MAJOR for an athlete since sportsmen are typically known for their bravado and masculinity, making such an emotional spectacle extremely rare.  Sure, he’s European and maybe they’re more in touch with their feelings than American athletes (I’m aware that this is a stereotype and major generalization, but just go with it), but this is obviously a big deal since it’s reached us across the pond.

Also this week, Marcus Smart, who plays basketball for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, was criticized for pushing a fan who called him – surprise, surprise – a nigger.  I’ve got to say, I’m never one to encourage physical altercations, but “nigger” is a fighting word, plain and simple.  If you are Black, if and when you hear it, you WILL be taken to another level and all bets will be off.   So, I freely admit that I do not fault Marcus Smart for reacting the way that he did.  He will now have to face consequences and criticism for his actions, but at the time, he did what he felt needed to be done. *tsk tsk* me if you want, but I can respect that and I can relate to it, too.  Had I been strong enough to fight Vernon back in the day, we’d have tussled.  Trust and believe.

Hours after the Balotelli incident occurred, there is now some question about whether the taunts were really the driving force behind his emotional outburst.  But regardless of whether the whole situation really brought a grown man to tears, why would the Napoli fans think it was okay to hurl racial epithets at someone anyway?  People deriding your differences instead of celebrating them are hurtful, especially when your differences center on your identity.  One cannot change being black, nor hide it (in most cases), and it’s particularly frustrating when people hate you for things beyond your control.  As such, racial epithets can cut like a knife.  They can break you down, and frustrate you enough to make you cry… or fight.  I get it, and 7-year-old me gets it, and I need for you to get it, too.

Dear White People (and others):

If you don’t want to face any potential repercussions, physical or otherwise, that you may experience as a result of using then n-word, then simply remove it from your vocabulary.  It’s never okay to use it.  Not even as a “joke”, not even in the heat of the moment, not even amongst friends, not even ever.  The “why” is irrelevant, please just don’t use it because we said so.

Regards,

Black Folk

People: Black folk, White folk, and other folk, please remember that words hurt.  Use your mouth to speak LIFE to each other, not to kill, steal, or destroy the self-worth of another human being.  Know that a word – ONE WORD – can reduce a grown man to tears.  And also know that if you use a (certain) word with the wrong person, it can also get your ass beat.  Take heed and govern yourselves accordingly.  Please.  Life is just too short.  Let’s be nice to each other while we’re here.

BET’s Being Mary Jane — Another “broken” black woman on TV?

I literally couldn’t wait for the season premiere of “Being Mary Jane”, BET’s new one-hour drama series starring Gabrielle Union.  This summer, I watched the two-hour pilot/movie that BET aired and was so excited to see a young professional black woman on TV dealing with “real life” problems on a prime time television show.  I usually can’t do BET because, in my opinion, the programming has been crap.  What they did to “The Game” is a travesty.  And, so, when I watched the BMJ pilot and actually liked it, I was thrilled to be able to support a BET show.

It’s not often we get to see a fly Black woman anchoring a TV drama.  When Kerry Washington first showed up on our television screens as Olivia Pope in ABC’s hit-show “Scandal”, Black women everywhere did a collective happy dance.  We were doubly-ecstatic because the show is penned by Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, so there was a black woman behind the curtain writing a role for another black woman who took center-stage.  Initially, I was just as excited about “Scandal” as everyone else.  If for no other reason than to see a black woman “handling” her business on television, displaying intelligence and sex appeal in one very sharply-dressed brown body.  That said, I quickly lost interest in the show.  Why?  Because of her dysfunctional-ass relationship with Fitz, the show’s very-married President of the United States.

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(One of “Olitz’s” steamy scenes.)

At first, I was attracted to the rapid dialogue of the show, and over-the-top story lines of the “cases” that Olivia and her Gladiators “handled” every week.  But then, I couldn’t get past the fact that outside of the professional realm, Olivia was a basic side-ho.  I also couldn’t stand the hundreds of posts flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds, hyping up this crazy-ass relationship.  People were “#Team Olitz” (an annoying combination of the names Olivia and Fitz), and swooning over the steamy love scenes in the Oval Office where this woman was banging someone else’s husband.  These same Facebook friends posting these pro-adultery posts are the same ones quoting the Bible on any other day.  I was shocked that women who claim to have morals in tact conveniently disabled their moral compasses for an hour every Thursday.  Isn’t it ironic?  Well, I’m sorry, but homewrecking hos get no love on my TV, so as much as I wanted to support Kerry and Shonda, I started changing the channel.

Fast forward to July when the BMJ pilot debuted.  I was happy to see that Mary Jane was family-oriented (even if her family presented with some extremely stereotypical issues), career-driven, and frustrated with dating.  These are all things to which I can fully-relate.  I especially understood the pressures she was under to be all things to all people.  She felt the need to be Superwoman and had no one with whom she could curl up next to after she took off her cape for the day.  I get that, and I think many other black women know just what that’s like.  We’re all forced to be so strong and to appear that we have it all together at all times.  We can’t afford to show any cracks in our veneers  because everyone is expecting us to be half a woman anyway, and so we overcompensate, which can be totally exhausting.  We’re afraid to show people that we’re vulnerable because we’ve been told all our lives that we are supposed to be strong.  And so many of us are the proverbial backbones of our family and can’t afford to take a break from saving everyone in spite of ourselves.  We are constantly putting everyone else’s needs before our own, and when we do take the focus off others and instead choose to focus on ourselves, we feel selfish and guilty.  It’s a terrible conundrum.  I felt her pain, her frustration, her loneliness, and her guilt.

So when the season premiere of BMJ aired last week, I was there for it.  I set a reminder on my phone and tuned in to BET to check it out (since I never watched BET, I had to Google to figure out which channel it is!).  It started off well, and I was sucked right in.

And then, things went south.

Mary Jane, on top of her other personality quirks (and we all have them, so no judgments here), is knowingly involved with a married man.  So… that went from sugar to shit in just under 60 minutes.

And here we go… AGAIN.

Now we’ve got yet another otherwise positive black female character sleeping with a married man.  Mind you, during the pilot movie, Mary Jane discovers that Omari Hardwick’s character, Andre, is married and she’s devastated because she mistakenly believes she’s finally found a man who’s worth her time.

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(Mary Jane and Very-Married Andre)

In the pilot, she breaks things off with him.  But in the season premiere?  She is confronted by his wife in a meeting during which she shows NO remorse for the relationship that she has had with this woman’s husband.  The wife asks her whether her husband has performed oral sex on her and, in response, Mary Jane doesn’t say “yes” or “no”… she says: “It’s required” with a very smug sneer.  Really, trick?!  I wish you would come at me like that.  Then, after she pretends that she’s going to leave the man alone, he confronts her in the gym locker room and, during their exchange, she spies a photo of his family (yes, there are children involved) that she herself describes as “beautiful”.  And, yet, she f*cks him in the public shower (after he removed her shower cap, which I found hilarious).

So, look.  As I said before, I am not here for hos.  And that’s when BMJ lost me.

I was profoundly disappointed by the turn the show took.  Discovering that a man is a cheater and then using that to become a better person yourself?  Well, that earns my respect.  So, had the show allowed Mary Jane to grow as a result of her experience, I would’ve been a proud supporter.  But to have her go from sidepiece-victim to sidepiece-sumbag turned me all the way off.

And then I had this realization: here we are with two beautiful, educated, professional, black, “independent” women as the main focus of two primetime TV shows and they are both reduced to f*cking married men.

This is problematic for me.  Here’s why:

I grew up in school districts where I was often the only black student in the class, and I learned that in those situations, I was the room representative for the entire black race.  What do I mean by that?  See, I realized that I might be the only black person that someone has the grace to encounter, so I determined that I had to be the best representation of who WE are that I can be.  We don’t have many black women on TV these days, especially not in dramatic series on major networks, and when we finally get the spotlight on us, this is the kind of garbage we put out there.  For those people who already believe in the stereotype of the Black b*tch/ho, we are affirming those beliefs by making them integral to “our” story lines.  Why is this necessary?  Both shows would be just as good without the “side-ho” twist.  Can we get one whole healthy black woman representative on TV?  Just one?  Apparently not.

A few minutes after the Andre/Mary Jane public shower sex scene aired, Madame Noire posted a Facebook comment that said “Lawd Jesus the ending of #BeingMaryJane… Do we have to care that Omari Hardwick’s character is married?”.  Lemme answer that for you Madame Noire… the answer is YES, we should care.  And with that little “tongue-in-cheek” thumbs-up to adultery, MN, we’re nurturing the next generation of homewrecking whores. Great. Just great.  Listen up, ladies who want to pretend men they’re sleeping with are not married, heed the warning of that great oracle of reality TV, Nene Leakes: and “close your legs to married men“.

And now, it seems that moral compasses will be switched off on Tuesdays AND Thursdays at 10:00 PM with two black female lead actresses leading the charge.  We’re f*cked.

Maybe someday I’ll go into why it’s ironic that Gabrielle Union is even playing a character who “has it all”, yet ends up dating a married man.  Or, you can do your own research and discover the irony for yourself.  Art imitating life?  Perhaps.

Oh, and that reminds me.  There was another “GTFOH” scene in the first episode.  Mary Jane, in addition to sleeping with Very-Married Andre, also rekindled her relationship with her college sweetheart, David, who is “affectionately” known as “Do Not Ever Answer” in her iPhone (we’ve all got one of those).  Look, we slip up and return to past mistakes — it happens to the best of us.  That said, not only is Mary Jane depicted as a desperate chick who is willing to do whatever just to have piece of a man, she is also willing to do whatever it takes to get a baby.  So, what does she do? When she and David finish doing the do, she secretly scoops the used condom up off the bedroom floor, takes it to the bathroom and uses a turkey baster to extract the sperm, puts it into a plastic container, and stashes it in the box of baking soda she keeps in the freezer.  This was a WTF moment for me.  Is it really that serious that you have to go around stealing sperm from old boyfriends?  That’s some trifling sh*t right there and shows that her judgment is clearly all the way off.

I’ve had fans of both Scandal and BMJ tell me that the characters are flawed and messy for a reason — because “real” people are flawed and messy.  Um…  *side eye*  So, these arguments actually bring me to my next thought: REAL people are flawed. A fictional character, which both Olivia and Mary Jane are, (Hellooooo?!  Is anyone home?) can be written any way we want them to be written. Since there aren’t a ton of black women on prime time TV, it would be nice if the ones we DO see weren’t all falling apart at the seams, which is what the mainstream thinks of us anyway and now here we go perpetuating that mess.

After I went all the way in on the show, I’ll leave you with this final thought.  To me, “BMJ” was another disappointing show in its representation of black women.  The pilot was great, but the season premier took Mary Jane in a direction I wasn’t expecting. It was like having a great first date and then on the second date the dude farts at the table, flirts with the waitress, and stiffs on the tip… but, believe it or not, after all that, I’m still willing to go on a third date.  It was only the first episode, so I’ll watch to see where she ultimately ends up.  I just hope her final destination is a therapist’s couch or a confessional.  She needs Jesus.