I finally decided that, in order to have a better chance at successful dating experiences, I had to become the chooser.

-Tracey Onyenacho

by Tracey Onyenacho

I have only been on four dates in my entire life. The amount of rejections I have received when asking men out are countless. In the past, I did what I have always done and chalked the lack of interest up to the way I positioned myself in the dating field. Often, my techniques included expressing interest by not being “too forward” and dropping flirty hints whenever possible in conversation. My style of dress was very feminine, with me intentionally choosing tight, form-fitting clothing with plenty of cleavage rather than the loose pants and cozy hoodies I felt most comfortable in.

When presenting myself as a dating prospect, my checklist took into account the many expectations that men place on women to be seen as attractive. From references in popular media to talks with family and friends, it was made clear that one of the top expectations was that women would/could not make the first move. Showing nonverbal interest was better and “appropriate,” as asking someone out was considered being pushy and too assertive for a woman. Apparently, the choice was not and could never be up to me. As women, we can only accept or deny the dates offered to us by the men who “choose” us.

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But when Black women are left to wait to be chosen, we often end up waiting for quite some time. Our chances of receiving a dating offers were demonstrated in a 2014 OKCupid study which found that Black women were seen as the least attractive women among straight users. Even when dating apps allows for women to initiate the conversation with a romantic prospect, the direction of the connection seems to still be ultimately is controlled by men.

I haven’t found research on Black women’s chances of securing dates when asking in person, but there is certainly tons of material with unsolicited advice and suggestions on what Black women can do to be seen as more attractive to/for men. This gendered and racialized deficit in the straight dating market makes it difficult for Black women who are interested in men to engage in their romantic expression with partners at all, but especially partners of their preference.

After a long time of waiting to be chosen, I finally decided that, in order to have a better chance at successful dating experiences, I had to become the chooser. By making the first move, Black women can take the disadvantaged role we’ve been handed and potentially turn it into an empowered one. This entails stepping into what is considered a more “masculine” identity or role of being assertive in a way that is traditionally only reserved for men. However, I have noticed, when asking men out on dates, that they often become extremely uncomfortable at the thought of having been “chosen” by a woman. Their shock that I would even consider “being so bold” usually led to them rejecting my request.

Even with the unsuccessful results, I enjoyed being asking men out. It allowed me to push aside the excuse that my inability to take charge of my dating life was the reason for my lack of dates. Becoming the chooser in my own narrative meant exposing people’s misogynoir and their investment in systems that position societal hierarchies as more important than human needs and desires, especially those of Black women. Love is a human need, but desire is still political, and it seems that romantic love especially can only be accessed by those with certain privileges and societal permissions.

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Whether Black women play the role of the chosen or the chooser, oppression reels its head to suppress their romantic desires unless they conform to heteronormative, patriarchal, capitalistic, and often white supremacist standards. Black women are even conditioned to mother both our children and our lovers. We face tangible consequences from society’s accepted view of our Blackness as an object of damnation or hypersexuality. We have to constantly prove our worth to the world through our work ethic and willingness to perform labor for everyone else. Even when I step into the role of the chooser in my dating endeavors, that reclamation of power still requires me to ask permission for my humanity to be seen and to be understood as worthy of love.

While the rejections have become commonplace now, I still have hope that romantic love can be present in my life. Even so, I know that I will have to wait a while before I meet someone who makes active liberation from these oppressive standards a lifetime goal of theirs, and who will not be offended at my audacity to step outside of gendered and racialized expectations of desire and propriety. Black women deserve romantic love and we deserve to be able to make choices to be able to experience it in our own terms.