OWN reality dating show Ready to Love is back for its sixth season of helping sexy Black singles in the search to find true love. After hooking up couples (to varied results) across the country, host Nephew Tommy is once again trying his hand at matchmaking in a city that doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation for dating: Miami. While watching the latest stop on Ready to Love’s speed dating tour, a question came to mind that just couldn’t shake: where is the best place in the United States for Black people to find Black love?
If you’re not familiar, Ready to Love is a reality series that, similarly to shows like Bachelor in Paradise, Love Island, and Too Hot to Handle, gathers singles for a guided social experiment and forces them to take a stab at a more unconventional dating method. Under the mentorship and watchful eye of comedian Nephew Tommy, the dating hopefuls engage in a rigorous courtship process that eliminates contestants week after week, leaving only a few couples left standing at the very end. The show has made stops in Atlanta, Houston, Washington D.C., Potomac, and now in Miami, and each city’s cast has been uniquely different from the last.
Ready to Love is great entertainment — we’ve been waiting for a reality show project that won’t exclude Black people, specifically Black women, from desirability and being chosen — but its success rate from city to city leaves much to be desired. People are connecting with each other romantically, but true to the trajectory of most reality dating series, they’re not coming out on the other side with sustainable long term relationships. We could chalk the ineffectiveness of the series up to the pressures of dating on camera, but the dating culture in each city could also be to blame. Every city has its own unique dating culture, complete with its own pros and cons, but as Twitter so eloquently points out every second of the day, the dating pool has pee in it right now — some corners of it more than others.
Having (thankfully) been off these mean streets for some months now and having lived in only three different cities as a single adult (Houston, Austin, and New York City), I can’t speak for everyone when it comes to the state of Dating While Black in this country, but I do know that there are some places where seeking Black love as a Black person is a lot harder than others. So, to get a better idea of what it’s like to date while Black right now, I did a public survey asking my friends and followers on Instagram where they’d had the most success dating as Black people in this country.
If you live along the east coast, you’re in luck: the streets are saying that there’s a lot of love to go around on this end of the U.S., specifically in metropolitan cities like Washington D.C. and New York City. As an NYC resident who’s lived in Brooklyn for six years and has experienced mostly situationships and hookups (yes, I do go to therapy twice a month), I can’t say that I’ve had the best luck here. Not because of a lack of prospects; it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that NYC has one of the largest and best looking selection of dating prospects right now. There are a lot of people to date here! The problem? There are a lot of people to date here! You feel like you’ve found someone worth finally hanging up your jersey for, and they’re thinking they can add you to their growing roster. We’re always looking for something better here, for someone better, and as a result, the NYC dating game can feel like a never-ending cycle of butterflies, time-wasting, and mutual ghosting. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Per my survey, the nation’s Capitol has a much better reputation when it comes to dating, whether seriously or even just for fun. Otherwise known as Chocolate City, D.C.'s near 45% Black population makes it a great spot to meet and connect with other Black people, many of whom are successful professionals working across industries like politics, healthcare, higher education, and hospitality. These prospects, which also include singles from the greater DMV area, are connecting all over the city’s various hangout spots. In addition to its arts and culture scene, D.C.’s world-famous nightlife and bottomless brunches on U Street mean that love could often be just a mimosa (or 10) away. Additionally, it is also home to one of the most revered HBCUs in the country, ensuring that generations of young Black students will find community and love amongst each other, even if it’s only ‘till graduation.
Several responses also highlight Atlanta as fertile ground for Black dating, particularly for Black queer people. The combination of the city’s large Black population and its LGBTQ-friendly environment makes Atlanta a perfect space to find sparks as a Black queer people. NYC was also named as a good place to meet other people in the queer community, so the ATL-to-NYC (and vice-versa) pipeline is very real and very effective. “New York City is really cute for the gworls,” one friend told me on Instagram. “Most queer folks actually met their boo here! I’m trying to find someone, maybe get a brownstone together, and then move to Atlanta to put some roots down.” If you’re looking to find safe haven amongst fellow queer folks in an increasingly homophobic climate, you might have to add these two stops to your “must-visit” list.
A city that’s not the most welcoming for anyone dating while Black? Los Angeles, California. Overwhelmingly, people identified the City of Angels as one of the most difficult cities to date in, especially if you’re Black — even more so if you’re a Black woman. We already know that the entertainment industry in Hollywood is notoriously colorist and fatphobic, but it’s not just television and film that’s ignoring us. In a 2021 YouTube video, popular influencer and L.A. native Ten Ways to Wear It got real about living in a city where looks are everything and where there is, like it or not, a “right” way to look.
“A lot of people in [L.A.] are colorists, and they don’t even know it,” she explained. “The culture here has an ugly underbelly of colorism, valuing lighter skin looser curls. The truth is — and y’all don’t want to hear this — that folks will sleep with a dark-skinned girl, but when it comes to [committing to] them or even just treating them well, they’re not trying to do that. They have their preference, and it’s just not you.”
The ease or difficulty of dating while Black in America is compounded by the increasing utilization of dating apps across the country. While it would be great to organically meet someone at your local Trader Joe’s while reaching for the same pack of mandarin chicken in the frozen food aisle, that’s a pretty rare occurrence (and you should definitely write that meet-cute into a movie script if it happens to you). In reality, a large number of singles have pivoted, willingly or grudgingly, to dating apps to help them scope out the scene. BLK, a Match.com platform that launched in 2017, is one of those apps, doing the Lord’s work by focusing intentionally on the pursuit of Black love and, more recently, Black community. As dating apps become more ubiquitous in culture, the app has been making moves to transform into more of a community platform that allows for both romantic and platonic connection via Discord-like livestreams and group chat features.
BLK marketing and brand chief Jonathan Kirkland was able to further illuminate the state of Dating While Black across America through data consensually collected from BLK users. Though BLK is among the newer contenders in the dating app industry, it’s seen significant growth over the years, and is at 7.8 million downloads since it first launched, meaning that the search for Black love is on the rise. 84% of its users are between the ages of 18 and 34, a healthy mix of Gen Z and millennials, and they’re spread out all over the country. BLK’s in-house research showed that although NYC and L.A. are its top two download hot spots, a number of different cities are also developing Black dating hubs to keep an eye out for — and some of them may surprise you. Spoiler alert: the South got somethin’ to say!
“NYC, Chicago, Philly, L.A., D.C., Miami, Detroit, and Baltimore are among BLK’s top 10 download cities,” Kirkland shares proudly in an interview over Zoom. “But our top 25 tells a different story. Data from new registrations from last year versus this year shows 25% growth in Memphis, Orlando, Detroit, Charlotte, Dallas, and Houston. Jacksonville, Florida also stands out; it’s had a 33% growth year over year as far as BLK registrations.”
What could be driving the unexpected increase in these cities? A variety of factors. First, an important possible cause of increased downloads in BLK and other dating apps is the pandemic and its undeniable effects on modern dating as we know it. In the before-times, meeting someone was as simple as brunch with the girls or a night on the town; a good-looking stranger buys you a drink, you click instantly, and perhaps you are making out (or more) by the end of the night. But in a world in which a seemingly never-ending pandemic has made simply going out to a lounge more dangerous, forget kissing strangers at the function — you have to be more mindful and purposeful about how you navigate the dating scene. As a result, people are resorting to finding new ways to meet each other, and dating apps bring the options to their fingertips without the risk of exposure.
“All the dating apps saw above trend usage and registrations, so we were nervous that when outside got back ‘open,’ we’d see a dip,” says Kirkland. “We haven't seen that, and it's been over a year.” Even with restrictions lifted, dating apps are still leading the charge.
Increased downloads of dating apps like BLK can also be accredited to the economic fallout of the last three years that caused folks to have to physically move around. The pandemic hit a lot of us hard, and many people sought reprieve and respite from rapidly rising rents by simply moving elsewhere — some to new, less-costly cities, some back to their childhood bedrooms in their hometowns. As the health crisis shuttered many of us in our homes, we were also able to pivot to remote working, which also gave us the freedom to relocate out of our own volition and explore new areas for the first time.
Knowing where and when to use dating apps in these new cities is of utmost importance. Going on dates in your hometown during the holidays is always going to be a more fruitful endeavor than dating during the off-season. And while the NYC dating scene is unmatched in the summertime, you’ll face a totally different experience when swiping left or right in the dead of winter. (Go ahead and prepare your 15- pound weighted blanket and space heater if you happen to miss the cuffing season deadline out here. You’ve been warned.) If you want to be successful in dating no matter where you are, you have to be aware of the nuance of your space and move accordingly.
So, what does all of this research say about the state of Dating While Black in this country? The negative takeaway (as if you needed more reasons to be stressed about modern dating) is that it is a challenge, more so now than it has been in the last decade, and it probably won’t get any easier any time soon. The older we get, the more tiring it is to try to find the one. But you knew that already.
Hope is not lost, however. On the brighter side, these stats also means that if you’re looking for love, you’re not alone on the journey. And you have options! Dating apps like BLK are helping to facilitate love connections — for a lifetime or just for right now — and bring people to your awareness that you might not have been able to engage with otherwise. And if the fish ain’t biting in your side of the pond, there are millions of others in the sea. (Okay, maybe not in L.A.) You just have to know where to fish.