For Black Women, Dating Sucks. But That Doesn’t Mean We Should Settle

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I’ve been single for seven and a half years now and can attest to the ups and downs that come with my relationship status. At the end of 2023, as the new year approached, I reflected on the past 12 months and when the focus turned to my love life, I felt a wave of sadness. This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced these feelings but instead of allowing them to consume me, I decided to engage in some self-reflection. As the child of an absent and emotionally unavailable father, I had internalised a lot of negative beliefs and attitudes towards love. I believed it was something I actively had to seek out and that it couldn’t happen for a girl like me. If my father, the first man in my life, couldn’t show me love, then who else would?
With this mindset, I found myself in dissatisfactory dating situations and relationships with emotionally unavailable people. I ignored red flags because I didn’t want to be alone, choosing to see the potential in a person rather than who the person really was. It wasn’t until my last long-term relationship ended that I realised I hadn’t even given a second thought as to what I actually wanted in a partner. That didn’t matter at the time because I was more concerned with not being alone. Our union was proof that I was loveable so I ignored the red flags and tried my best to make things work.
Impatience is one of many struggles Black women face during the wait for love. In her 50-part viral TikTok series ‘Who TF Did I Marry’, storyteller Reesa Tessa talks about getting tired of waiting and just wanting it to be her turn. In the latest series of Love Is Blind, AD struggled to come to terms with Clay’s decision not to marry her so she questioned herself as a partner and a woman, and during the finale, she wondered through tears when it would be her turn to get married. Legendary singer Tina Turner also shared her struggles with the wait in her critically acclaimed documentary TINA where she talked about wanting someone to see the beauty in the woman she was. Fans of the sitcom Girlfriends will be familiar with the impulsive impatience of Joan Clayton. When she doesn’t settle down in the arbitrary timeframe she gives herself, she goes from one relationship to another, convincing herself she would get her happy ending — and that her happiness depended on a man. 

I was more concerned with not being alone. Our union was proof that I was loveable so I ignored the red flags and tried my best to make things work.

Kelle Salle
Black women have always had to be mindful of how we show up in the world and our desirability is no exception. Society has made us feel like we are hard to love and if these beliefs aren’t addressed collectively and individually mostly by encouraging Black women to express self-love in the ways they see fit, we can find ourselves settling instead of waiting for the love we deserve. For some people, impatience can lead to ignoring red flags in new partners. Shomi Williams, a Psychological Therapist and Founder of Lafiya Health, says that impatience actually makes it harder to date. “When impatient, it’s harder to assess and recognise what we want. We aren’t choosing a partner with our true desires and compatibility in mind but instead, we are choosing a partner in order to soothe our desire to have someone in our lives,” she says.
Although an e-Harmony survey found that 71% of men felt pressured to get into a relationship, compared to 58% of women, the latter tend to bear the brunt of societal pressure. Natalie Lue, author of The Joy of Saying No, podcaster and speaker, tells Unbothered that not having healthy relationship examples at home led to her feeling hungry for love. “I grew up in the era of the ‘women can have it all’ message and combined with stuff like my mother saying I needed a man for security, friends settling down and everyone asking me why I was still single, I felt pressured and looked for love in the wrong places.”

We aren’t choosing a partner with our true desires and compatibility in mind but instead, we are choosing a partner in order to soothe our desire to have someone in our lives

Shomi Williams, Psychological Therapist
When Lisa* turned 30, she started to worry about whether she’d be able to have a family. “Other adults start talking about the possibility of your eggs “drying up” and you start to panic,” she says. “I stayed in a relationship with someone who wanted different things because of these pressures and expectations. I even suspected that he wasn’t completely over his past relationship, which was a few months before we met.”
The struggle Black women face during the wait for love is also exacerbated by the historically complex relationship most of us have had with expressing our emotions. Breaking free from outdated stereotypes such as the strong Black woman trope has afforded us the grace to embrace our feelings and process them with ease. Maria* processed her feelings through therapy, meditation, journaling and spending time alone. “I realised that having low confidence and being detached from my needs is what led me to seek emotionally unavailable partners.” 
Familial relationships can also exacerbate Black women’s struggles. Some Black women have grown up in environments where there has been a strong emphasis on domestication and education and when these women come of age, they are ill prepared for the dating and relationship experiences they may face. “I spent my childhood and early adulthood trying to make my family proud through work and academic achievements and when it came to relationships, I was just expected to find someone and get married,” says Maria.
The expectation to find love as soon as you become an adult is something most Black women can relate to. I  have been asked countless times, “When will you marry?” or ”Aren’t you getting married?” Aside from the annoying external pressure, Black women can also be subjected to internal pressure that can make it easy to operate from a place of fear and doubt. “Even though we had talked about what we [both] wanted, I realised that my then-boyfriend never actually made things official,” Lisa says.  “He said he would but he never did. After eight months I got tired of waiting and ignoring the red flags, so I ended things.”
Dionne, a creative copywriter and entrepreneur,  had doubts about meeting the right person after some difficult dating experiences and admits that she was just looking to fill a void. “I dated a guy who ghosted me after a lovely night away. I later learned that he’d lied about being single. After this I knew it was time for me to reprogram my mind by letting go of the expectations I’d created and learning how to function in all areas in my life,” she says.
Lue, the author of The Joy of Saying No, was in a toxic relationship but stayed because of fear of being alone. She says she realised she was operating from a place of fear after her partner at the time went into a rage because she was speaking to her male colleagues. “I was tired of defending him. One minute he was berating me and the next, I was having a panic attack,” she shares. “He put me on the train and left me to find my way home. Whenever he tried to apologise, I’d find myself experiencing the same panic attack sensations and this is what made me realise how much I’d been going against myself, so I ended the relationship.”

While romantic love is great and normal to desire, it shouldn’t be seen as a statement of one’s worth. Your goodness has nothing to do with your relationship status.

The dating landscape for Black women in 2024 is unpredictable, but in the midst of it all, it’s clear that there is a shift happening. We are finally centring our relationships with ourselves and refusing to settle for less during the wait for love. According to a 2019 Pew Research analysis, Black women in the United States were the demographic most likely to be unmarried. Most of us are highly educated and least likely to date outside our race. To add to that, we are unwilling to settle due to the level of independence we have gained which has given us the freedom to live full lives. The lives single Black women lead have provided us with a newfound appreciation for the sacredness of commitment. We don’t want ‘anybody’, we want the person who is right for us and that’s perfectly ok.
On the other hand, this data has furthered the false narrative that we are undesirable.“The negative stereotypes and underrepresentation of Black women being portrayed as subjects of love means that many Black women feel disenfranchised in dating, Williams says. “As a result, many Black women can struggle with a sense of self-worth and may even lower their standards to improve their chances of being loved.” 
Whenever I find myself struggling during the wait for love, I remind myself of what love looks like for me. In a world where there’s so much emphasis on one’s relationship status, it’s easy to be oblivious to the presence of love in all its other forms. Williams says that because of society’s hyperfocus on romantic love, some women can overlook all the beauty that is already present in their lives in its absence. “While romantic love is great and normal to desire, it shouldn’t be seen as a statement of one’s worth. Your goodness has nothing to do with your relationship status. After all, Hitler was in a relationship and Tracee Ellis Ross is single.” Williams is joking (kind of), but the point is clear: being in a relationship doesn't make you a better person.
For Black women who have been single for a while, the difficulties that come with navigating an unpredictable dating scene will undoubtedly impact our self-worth. When this happens, we owe it to ourselves to be honest about these struggles while remembering that the absence of romantic love in our lives does not mean we are not worthy of its receipt. We also need to remember that romantic love isn’t the be-all and end-all. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting romance in our lives, we need to give just as much attention to the relationship we have with ourselves. Love is a choice. We choose to love others in the same way we choose to love ourselves, so don’t relinquish the essence of who you are and be kind to yourself while you wait for a love that is worthy of you.
*Lisa and Maria’s names have been changed for privacy
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