I Didn’t Date for 18 Months – Now I’m Back (with a Plan)

Photographed by Olivia Joan.
“It’s lit. Big crowd, open bar, good music and art!”
I stared at the text from my friend. I had asked for an update on the event she was heading to and there it was in the most titillating of ways.  
But I was tired. A day of errand-running and multiple weeks of visitor-hosting had placed my will to be out at odds with my desire to be inside. Preferably with a heavy pour of wine, shameful amounts of cheese, and a 90s sitcom lulling me to sleep. As I checked in with myself, I realized that the only reason I would be leaving my apartment would be in hopes of meeting the soulmate of a man who lived rent-free in my fantasies… but unfortunately hadn’t shown up in my real life.
This sort of rallying – or pushing oneself to leave home despite feeling lethargic or lazy – is a hallmark of life post-pandemic (no, it’s not over but we sure are acting like it is, so go with it). That bitch named COVID stole 18 months of our lives. For over a year, the only viable meet-cute seemed to be in the message page of a dating app. So, what are we going to do now? Squander away our hard-earned outside time?
On that particular night, yes. A Different World won. Squander away.
But as I watched the Hillman crew, I decided that my quest for romantic run-ins and real love were not contingent on accepting every invitation I received to leave my apartment. I am not Shonda Rhimes and this is not my year of yes.  
But what did it encompass? Did I need to start memorizing Ciara’s prayer? Perhaps start spending more time in sports bars or hardwood stores? Resign myself to going on tragic Bumble date after tragic Bumble date? 
As a single Black woman, dating has often felt… heavy. Having crossed over the 30s line, I feel like I’ve been dropped into a game of dodgeball. But instead of curtailing balls thrown by spirited 10-year-olds, I’m darting questions from nosey aunties; slinking away from “I’ll be your wing woman” volunteers; cleverly jumping over date requests from jobless men— right before tripping over my own damn biological clock. While the pandemic may have given some of us a momentary pause on dating pressure, the return of outside privileges has meant that many of us once again feel a sense of intensity and urgency to make up for lost time and, ultimately, to find love.  
But what if instead of feeling pressure, I saw the pandemic as the reset I needed? Like all my wayward electronics, perhaps I needed to shut down, take some time away from dating to re-enter the game more prepared? What if now is the moment to reboot my love life? 
Excited by the challenge, I paused Whitley’s nasally cries to call on the help of my community. I wanted to move beyond cookie-cutter advice that rarely considered the nuances of dating as a Black woman and create a new guidance system that would allow me to start dating with intention and joy. To help, I spoke to other women who have seen success but who have also felt bombarded by depressing marriage statistics, disrespected by the same men we tirelessly support, and accosted or fetishized by the patriarchy at large. Others who knew that dating as a Black woman isn’t just heavy because we decide it should be. It’s heavy because every part of societal conditioning has made it so
Given how heavy my quest for love was feeling, my first guideline for rebooting my love life was a no-brainer. 
1) Move towards ease. 
Black women are accustomed to effort. We effort to do well in school. We effort to get ahead at work. And far too often, we effort to make relationships work. 
In the past, my desire for long term partnership has made it easy to go beyond compromise and shift into selfless sacrifice. I’ve entertained men for too long because I felt like finding a decent man to entertain was challenging in itself. 
When we work off the belief that there are “so few options out there,” we start to apply the persistence and hard work we dole out at work to our relationships. Yes, long-lasting relationships take work. However, forcing someone to text you? Not feeling excited being in the company of a new person? Feeling a lack of psychological safety to bring up issues? Those are relationship red flags. 
I no longer care to glamorize exerting unreciprocated effort for the sake of partnership.  
But, seeking ease doesn’t mean I’d throw my expectations out the window. However, I certainly needed to reconsider them.
2) Challenge Your List
“I met my husband through my best friend who saw him working at a pharmacy. She went up to him and told him she had a homegirl he should meet. While he’s handsome and smart, he was nothing like the men I was used to dating. If I had been insistent on finding a reformed street guy, I would’ve never even looked his way. If I had been adamant that I would meet my husband on my own at a bar or while walking down the street – I would’ve never even gone on our first date. Trying something new is what got me down the aisle.” Wendy Danner, Atlanta
After being in a relationship Jason*, I decided I needed someone who had a “good job.”
My time with Marcus informed me that having a good job wasn’t enough. My person would need to be fiercely passionate about his career.
But Jason also helped me appreciate a man with humor. And Marcus taught me to love a man who is amazing at planning dates. Sprinkle in liking Nate, dating Mike and being in a situationship with Kevin— and I wound up seeking a sign-compatible partner, deciding I could never again deal with an untidy dude, and wanting a tall, tatted family man with a strong jawline and intense eyes.
What in the Frankenstein-partner-creation was I thinking?! 
The more you date, the more you chisel a sculpture of your dream person. Contrast serves a purpose, but when we believe we know exactly who will serve our highest and greatest needs — we miss the other amazing people who show up in our lives. 
I realized that instead of focusing on who I wanted, I would become more intentional about what I sought to have. 
3) Establish intentions
“I first had to be clear about what I wanted. Did I want to be in a long-term relationship? Did I want to be married? Did I simply want to date cool people? The decision of what I want has influenced who I date and how I show up in those relationships.” – Raushanah Morgan, Memphis
Prior to the pandemic, I was saying yes to dates from most of my half-decent Hinge matches. People I swiped right on for superficial reasons. Looking back, I was dating to date; not dating to establish a connection. And certainly not dating to enter into a fulfilling partnership.
As I start dating again, I want to remember that I have both a long-term intention of marriage and a shorter-term intention of simply connecting to good human beings. And to remember that just because a person may want the same thing I want, it’s both of our jobs to determine if we want that thing from one another. 
All the while, I am vowing to remove the noise and trust my internal guidance system.
4) Remove the noise
“I realized that in past relationships I was sharing too much with friends and family. It’s good to get advice but you have to be smart about it. What’s a problem for you for like a week, stays with friends and family for far longer. So, as I stepped into my current relationship, I chose to stop allowing what people thought about who I was dating to influence my love life. That meant that, at first, I didn’t even tell that many people about my boyfriend. It was an intentional decision.” – Erica Frazier, Los Angeles
One thing a group of women is not short on is opinions. I know to not step into my group chats unless I’m ready for questions and loving — yet straightforward — feedback. So, while it’s fun to share juicy details about my love life with the world, I must keep in mind that my world is opinionated. If I’m not firm about how I feel about who I’m dating or what that person has done or not done, I’m resting the opinions of others on shaky ground. 
Rebooting my dating life now means that I will never hold the opinions of others above my own. That may mean I’m that girl who withholds details about her bomb sex life, the annoying things her man does in the morning, or something I’m still deciding is a dealbreaker. This may even mean I’m that person who winds up on your IG page engaged after never sharing a picture of her boyfriend. 
Then again, I may throw out all the ‘play it cool’ rules because I’d be moving from an internal compass that, unfortunately, doesn’t give you much advanced warning on how it desires to flex. What I do know is that throughout the process, I must trust my intuition and remain committed to myself. 
5) Become the person you want to date
“As I started entertaining new people, I had to ask myself, ‘Do I like him or am I just lonely?’ If it was the latter, he had to go.” – Anonymous, Chicago
Long before Ciara’s Prayer made the rounds on Still Over It, Nicole Ari Parker responded to the requests from fans to share the prayer she used to manifest Boris. In the conversation Nicole had with God, she was prompted to ask herself, “If [this dream man] enters the room RIGHT now… are you perfect for him?”
As a growth-minded individual, I typically tense up at advice like this. I’m confident that there are far less aware, woke or spiritually-grounded folks who have successfully found love without becoming their “best selves.” So, for three years, I ignored Nicole (or God’s) sage advice. But as I started to rethink my approach to dating, I realized the gold of focusing on oneself.
The truth is, love has found people in many creative ways. On hospital beds. In airport bars. At run club meet ups and basketball games. While I will not make a habit of turning down invites for good music and free booze, I am aware that far less social people than I have happened upon a relationship. So, ahead of the dates that await, I can have fun in the places that call me, doing the things that interest me. 
Because, regardless of who I’m sharing a drink with at 8 p.m. or who is in my bed at 2 a.m. – I am on the hook to continue pouring into myself. To pursue the things that light me up. To seek the company of souls who feel like home. To endlessly tinker with my curiosities and make time for my passions. As I date other people, I must never stop dating myself. 
And maybe then – with intention and joy leading the way – I will connect with my own Dwayne Wayne. 
* Names have been changed for confidentiality

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