Sunday, September 4, 2011

Questioning Dating Perferences



I think it is ok to choose or reject any sexual or romantic partner for literally ANY reason. If a person wants to only date within their own race or they want only partners with no bisexuality in their past, or no history of mental illness or addiction, they can pick based on any factors they want. Sexual choices are not a realm where “equal opportunity” needs to be applied.


This is from a commenter on a post about "deal breakers" from the feminist blog Feministe. It's the kind of statement that sounds really empowering to people, however, it's also something that needs further examination.

If you take a close look at dating preferences, they are gateways into the kinds of biases and prejudices that, when considered collectively, form the myriad of oppressions found in our society.

Having dated bisexual women in the past, as well as having bisexual male and female friends, I'm well aware of the social stigmas that bisexual folks suffer from. This, not only amongst heterosexuals, but also amongst the gay and lesbian community. Unfortunately, it's often the case that when people say they don't want to date someone who is interested in, or has a history of, dating across gender - they are operating from stereotypes and biases. They assume, for example, that bisexuality is just an excuse to be promiscuous. Or that it's about a person not being "mature enough" or "healthy enough" to "pick a side and stay there." These kinds of assumptions are really commonplace tropes that operate on an almost unconscious level for most people. Even hearing the word "bisexual" conjures up all kinds of deviant stuff. But beyond that, I believe one of the biggest stinging points of the narrative is the idea that bisexual folks can't commit, that they'd never be committed partners and thus should be rejected out of hand.

Dating within one's own race is, perhaps, more complicated. Race, itself, is such a muddy landscape. On the one hand, it's a fluid social construct with no inherent biological meaning or fixedness, which is contrary to how people tend to popularly understand it. On the other hand, as a social construct, race has a deep and cutting impact on nearly every aspect of human life. So, it's not surprising that it enters heavily into dating preferences, to the point where acceptance or rejection of someone might come down solely to race.

The problems with dating racial preferences are similar to problems I mentioned above with bisexuality. They tend to be unexamined, and they also tend to rely on stereotypes and biases. For example, I have heard college-educated white folks say things like "I don't date black people because we don't have anything in common." When you push a little on the "in common" part, what often comes up are comments about educational background and interests supposedly related to said educational background. And in bringing up educational background, there's also an implied assumption of intelligence difference occurring, taping into the old white supremacist intelligence narratives.

However, when it comes to race and dating preferences, it's much more than just about individual conscious or unconscious racism and stereotypes. An additional challenge, I believe, is that racial dating preferences tend to be strongly upheld and reinforced by one's family, friends, and even the community(s) a person lives in. In fact, sometimes people end up rejecting someone of a different racial background not because of their own preferences, but due to the social pressures of those around them. The fact that I am white played into the disintegration of a relationship I had last year with a woman from Burma. Her family simply couldn't believe that a white man would want to be a committed partner to an Asian woman. To them, white men were mostly sexually promiscuous and unfaithful. In addition, having spent many years living in Thailand, they probably witnessed enough "sexual tourism" and white male privilege around Asian women to create a lot of skepticism towards us in general. Yet, in my case, they were wrong. And both I and my former girlfriend suffered as a result.

I bring these two preference examples up not to suggest that everyone should be "open" to dating everyone. That's ridiculous. You should date who you find attractive and believe might be a good partner for you. However, in bringing up these two examples, I'm suggesting that it's worth really examining your dating preferences because some of them might be blocking you from finding a great partner. And furthermore, the world is crying out for more conscious people less given to easy biases and prejudice.

And you, actually, the list of preferences that could be re-examined is long. Here are some more that I think need to be given a closer look:

1. Body weight

2. Desiring "masculine" men or "feminine" women

3. Hair color - especially the whole "blonde" thing

4. Sexual organ size

5. Sound of someone's voice

6. Physical disabilities


Again, just so that no-one gets all wound in a bunch, this post isn't about shaming people into dating anyone and everyone, or trying to be attracted to people they aren't, for whatever reason, attracted to. It's about sparking curiosity about something that people often consider to be fairly fixed and personal - dating preferences. Which I'm arguing is neither fixed, nor entirely personal.

So, what do you think? Do you feel preferences are entirely personal? Have you had experiences that made you reconsider a previous preference?





17 comments:

  1. I think a lot of these preferences are about lifestyle and cultural attributes. For instance, there can be a cultural divide among different races, and that cultural divide can translate into different lifestyles. If someone is overweight or disabled, it would be a lifestyle challenge for someone who is active. Hair color (unless we're talking about electric blue, which could mean a different lifestyle), eye color, or similar, as far as preferences are concerned, is just being picky and probably having issues. Femininity and masculinity, as well as the sound of someone's voice, could be biological.

    Personally, I have some biases that people might think are ridiculous. I don't date cops or firefighters. In my experience, they have all been right-wing conservatives. I'm also less likely to date someone who lives in the suburbs (of my town, anyway, this doesn't always apply in other cities) because my experience is that suburban guys are really lame. I also went on a few dates with someone with a hearing aid and might not do that again because I got really tired of repeating myself and clearing up misunderstandings.

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  2. @ 36andsingle: do you genuinely find that suburban guys have great difficulty in walking? It's hard to tell, since you're also negative about people with other disabilities as potential dates, but I would think it statistically unlikely. I do hope you weren't using an ableist slur!

    Also, overweight does not imply less active - there are top-class athletes in a variety of sports who qualify as overweight or even obese, by the usual BMI measurements, after all.

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  3. Snowdrop is correct about the BMI measurement issue with athletes. Also, I've known a number of folks who were either thin or average weight, and yet were totally inactive.

    The hair color thing was really pointing at the way in which society upholds blondes - both women and men - as the highest standard of beauty. Which I personally can't relate to - having almost never been attracted to blonde women.

    I will say that my experience with suburbanites isn't much better overall. Although here in the Twin Cities, it's more the people from the second and third ring suburbs who I find difficult to relate to.

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  4. Nathan, I believe everyone involved in dating should be more honest--at the outset. Men keep getting stuck with fat first (and last) dates from online dating sites since the terms "height & weight proportionate" and "athletic" can't be trusted when used online. If you're fat, chubby, chunky, full-figured, whatever...just admit it! And that goes for guys too! Then people who prefer fat dates will come to you! (No, I'm not joking: Look in the mirror & just admit it. We know Mommy loves you just as you are...maybe some chick will too! lol)

    Second, if you've been honest, then you won't have a problem cutting someone loose if he/she isn't honest. Make it quick & as painless as possible. Don't screw the person one time. Yes, we know men will screw women they don't like, just for the hell of it. Admit to there "not being any chemistry here" finish out the date with a warm handshake & thanks.

    About blonds--yeah, they attract attention just as black people attract attention in Iceland! (Rarity attracts!)Hair color is the silliest reason I could think of for rejecting or accepting a date...Geez, isn't what's in the head more important than what's on the head?? Right you are--let's loosen up on that one!

    Race: Nope, disagree with you--people are either attracted to other races or they aren't, and if a white woman doesn't rule them out, all she'll have is black men soliciting her.

    Bisexuality: Might be some religious qualms, dunno. That's a personal choice.

    Masculine & Feminine types: Very desirable for dating--a lot more leeway seems to be given in marital partners. That is, when choosing a life mate, common values and compatibility win out.

    The other 3 things you mentioned (Organ size, disabilities, and voice) Those characteristics may indeed be deal breakers for many people. You want to permanently put up with something you don't like that your partner can't change?

    After writing all this stuff I'm thinking: Just date a lot & be open minded. Maybe you'll get someone. Probably not, since everyone is looking for pro-athletes & beach volly ball babes. To men I recommend, stop pretending to be interested in your woman & actually BE interested. Same with women. It's charming. Expect nothing & be delighted with what you get... Hmmm. Bye for now,
    I am Helden

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  5. Helden,

    I would say that all of the things I listed, including race and sexuality, could be simply about personal preference. And none of these preferences can automatically be linked to bias and prejudice.

    However, it's also the case that bias and prejudice might play a role. Sometimes a very strong one.

    Furthermore, family, peer groups, and cultural norms and biases create narratives that we take on without really thinking about it.

    That's the biggest issue for me - that so many people who are struggling in dating seem unwilling to look at the things that guide their choices.

    Also, the idea that black men are gonna flock to any white woman who doesn't rule them out just isn't true.

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  6. Snowdrop: I have nothing against people with disabilities. But I would not date one. It's not my thing, and I think that's OK. Why lie? It's not their fault and it's a crappy deal for them. I am sympathetic, just not attracted.

    I wouldn't ask for someone's BMI nor would I guess a person't BMI. When I say overweight, I mean overweight, not just a few extra lbs or not toned. That's what I hate about the weight question -- it's relative! I would go out with someone who had a few extra lbs and was active over someone who was naturally thin but inactive.

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  7. 36andsingle: There are as many disabilities out there as days of the year (if not many more) -- how can you categorically say you're not attracted to someone with any of them? There are many that are invisible and/or completely mitigated with medication or treatment, so you might not even know someone had a disability!

    Also, I suspect that when you say "overweight," you mean "obese," as a few extra pounds of fat or muscle shows up as an overweight BMI, which incidentally has the lowest mortality rate, and is therefore "healthier" than either someone of "normal" weight or an "obese" weight.

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  8. Helden: "I believe everyone involved in dating should be more honest--at the outset. Men keep getting stuck with fat first (and last) dates from online dating sites"

    And women keep getting stuck with guys who lie about their height, which isn't important to me, but often is to taller women (and to the guys themselves since they feel more insecure around a woman taller than they are).

    But I have to take issue with "athletic," since "athletic" means "athletic." I'm overweight, but I've worked out with a trainer for a couple of years, and am in training with a local women's sports team. So some guys like how buff and active I am, and others think I weigh too much. It's a challenge when you're trying to be honest, because no matter what you do, some will object...

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  9. @ 36andsingle:

    My complaint was about your use of the term "lame" as a pejorative. I really don't find that to be an okay use of language, any more than using "gay" to mean "bad" is.

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  10. Vigorously nodding my head in agreement with SnowdropExplodes.

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  11. It might be really interesting to do some writing on the kinds of commonplace phrases that appear in discussions about dating and relationships, which are also pejorative or derogatory. I'm guessing many people don't know the background story on "lame," for example, and there are plenty of similar others that come to mind as I sit here.

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  12. Lame:
    1. crippled or physically disabled, especially in the foot or leg so as to limp or walk with difficulty.
    2. impaired or disabled through defect or injury: a lame arm.
    3. weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory; clumsy: a lame excuse.
    4. Slang . out of touch with modern fads or trends; unsophisticated.

    I meant number 4. I should have used the word "boring" or "unsophisticated". It was a quick comment, I didn't edit it for content, and I only use the word "lame" as in the above-referenced number 4. I've never in my life referred to a human as "lame" in any other sense of the word.

    And, by disabled, I mean the obviously disabled. If it was not obvious, I probably wouldn't know about it until I was already dating the person. If it affected the relationship negatively, I would end it, if it didn't, then I wouldn't.

    Oh, and I wouldn't date someone whose penis did not work. Which is a disability. More power to those who would though!

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  13. I suspect some of the bias regarding bi-sexuality comes from awareness about the "Down Low" lifestyle.

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  14. @ 36andsingle:

    Definitions 3 and 4 are using "lame" as a derogatory term, and are discriminatory language against people with disabilities. Just because you can find the N-word in the dictionary, doesn't mean it's okay to use it. If you found the derogatory usage of "gay" to mean "boring or uncool" (as opposed to "homosexual") in a dictionary, would you be comfortable using that, too? Or would you understand that as homophobic and discriminatory language? While we're at it, the same principle goes for people with mental disabilities and the term "retarded", too.

    You're quite right when you say, 'I should have used the word "boring" or "unsophisticated".' All I would ask is that you remember to do so in future. That's the whole point of my making an issue out of it.

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  15. Snowdrop Explodes . . .

    I don't worry much about it. I just don't. I don't care if someone is black, gay, disabled, retarded . . . because these things just "are" and by tiptoeing around words, I think that just makes being black, gay, disabled, retarded, etc. a bad thing, instead of just a thing.

    They are just words and as long as you're not using the words to hurt, I don't think it's a big deal. That may be where we differ and that's OK.

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