To left swipe or to right swipe, to like the profile or to “x” the profile. If you have been single and bored within the last year, you have probably downloaded at least one dating app. If you are a hopeless romantic like me, you’ve downloaded three. As I’ve spent the days swiping and tapping profiles and trying to figure out clever ways to make the first move on Bumble, I find dating apps to still be a space that I have trouble exploring. Part of the reason is definitely my lack of flirting skills and over six foot height requirement (I’m 6’1’’), but I believe that my race and ethnicity create a unique experience on these apps. Therefore, I think I speak for a lot of minority women when I say that dating apps can be a frustrating place to be because the reality is, your skin color, your hair type and all your ethnic features become a way bigger factor than they should be.
Growing up, minority girls (and boys) are inadvertently told that we are not the beauty standard. Whether it was the lack of representation on our television screens or the passive comments made by peers about the way we look, we are conditioned to believe that we would be more beautiful if we were, to put it blatantly, white. While many of us, including myself, are lucky to grow up in a supportive family or community to remind us that our features are beautiful just the way they are, it can be hard to stop intrusive thoughts about your appearance, especially when you are in an environment such as a dating app. Mostly everyone has a type, which is completely valid. However, socialization has caused the odds to be against us minority women, and the reality is, we don’t fit into a lot of people’s “type” or what they picture in their next partner. Whenever I’m swiping or liking profiles, there may be a certain guy that I’m attracted to or get excited about because I love the answers he puts in his little prompts/questions. I swipe right or like, but each time, there are little thoughts that go on in the back of my head: “What will he think when he sees my profile?” “Will he think I’m cute too?” “Am I his type?” “Does he ever consider girls with brown skin?” It doesn’t matter what the guy looks like, whether he has dark skin or light skin; these are questions that routinely go through my mind. I’ve learned to quickly throw the thoughts aside and not query on them. However, the longer you are on these dating apps, the more you realize that your ethnic background can immediately cast you out from potential matches even considering you.
Even when you match with someone and start to get past these thoughts, one message or one text can slap you back into a spiral. For example, many times I’ve gotten compliments such as “I love your skin tone” or “Your complexion is gorgeous.” On the surface, it is a very sweet compliment. At first, it does make me smile, but then I take a step back and start overthinking. Out of everything about me, why did they choose to compliment my skin color or tone? Is matching with or talking to me like a trophy or game to them? Sometimes, it feels like you aren’t going to be taken seriously. Online, you see so many people hyping up women of color, but it’s pretty easy to tell who genuinely means it and who is doing it for the clout. Of course, you have to take dating app conversations with a grain of salt, but it becomes harder in these environments to tell who actually wants to pursue you and who is just talking to you for their version of fun. The question “what are you?” is especially frustrating because people see it as harmless, and they are just curious, but also why does it matter, and why was it the first thing you asked me? It becomes normal for me and other women of color to feel discouraged when meeting new people.
Adding current events and social justice issues also brings a whole new layer to everything. I understand that nothing serious has to result from everyone I interact with on a dating app, but it’s important to me that the person I’m investing time in has similar values and a level of respect for all the injustices going on in the world. On top of that, I’ve found that current events can impact my activity on dating apps. For example, during late May and June 2020, I saw a significant decrease in the amount of matches and responses I was receiving in my messages. I remember my mom telling me that boys may be intimidated to match with or talk to a Black girl right now with the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests across the country. I will never know for sure if that was the reason behind my period of relative inactivity, but I truly think the current events during those months impacted it. There were a couple boys I talked to for an extended period of time, so I thought I could bring up the subject because it was an important matter to me. Each time, I received short responses like “oh yeah” or “yeah, it sucks.” Talking about these events and issues can be a sensitive topic, but to me, it’s ultimately part of my identity. Using the terms of the boys I met, “it sucks” when someone brushes off something that’s a big deal to you. I can imagine some of my AAPI girls are probably going through a similar experience at the moment, and my heart goes out to you all. I hope you are finding men who will have important conversations with you when the time is right.
While these dating apps have not given me a man, they have given me a journey for mental growth. Through these months on my dating app accounts, life has reinforced many important lessons to me. I can’t rely on someone else, especially a boy I’ve never met, for validation on how I look. Self-confidence is key. I know that I’m pretty the way I am, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of my skin, my hair or anything that marks me as African American. You can’t pursue a relationship unless you love yourself first. Also, don’t lower your standards for any man. My philosophy is that I’ve waited this long, and I can continue waiting a little longer in order to meet a boy that matches me on an emotional level. Sometimes, you have to remember no matter how perfectly floppy the hair is or how charming the dimples are, it’s not worth it if they aren’t going to understand parts of your life that are important to you.
To my other minority queens, remember that dating apps are for entertainment. Opening them should be fun, not stressful. If one boy fails, there is another one just a swipe or two away. And if you run out of options, just expand your distance radius by a mile or two. Happy swiping and tapping friends, here’s to finding the boys who appreciate us for everything we are.