The Color of Love
By Erika Peyton
I’m sitting in my Los Angeles apartment trying to articulate my thoughts on love and it’s all feeling very Carrie Bradshaw. Instead of an old Macbook and a blonde staring out of her Manhattan window, picture a biracial 24-year-old woman staring at the blinking cursor in her iPhone notes section on a Friday night.
I’m single, if you haven’t already guessed. My rent is too high, my social calendar is too full and my history with love is a jumbled mess of “situationships” that never blossomed into anything more.
Much like Carrie Bradshaw, I work at one of the most well-known publishing companies, in advertising. I played sports all my life, culminating in a D1 NCAA collegiate career. I’ve situation-shipped with the men (let’s use that term loosely) that you see on your Sunday night silver screens and even engineers turned rocket scientists.
It’s safe to say that being my wing woman at a bar is a game of Russian roulette. The suspense is high, as my wing woman and I try to figure out who might catch my eye. I’ve never truly had a type, besides emotionally unavailable, but I digress.
You see, my romantic situation isn’t like Carrie Bradshaw’s. Carrie had to figure out if she would fall for the flashy, yet noncommittal Mr. Big or the lovably average Aidan. I usually don’t have to choose between men at those particular opposite ends of a spectrum. Ambition and stability are absolute tentpoles in my relationship checklist. My love spectrum is a bit more black and white. Literally.
Since I was about 15-years-old, I’ve worried about whether or not I was supposed to marry a white or black man. I can sense the eyebrows raising. Let me break this down for you.
My mother is white and my father is black. My brother primarily dates white women. I grew up around an abundance of white people. In high school, my “crush list” by senior year was full of four white boys and a Filipino. Do you see a pattern here? My bubble was so vanilla that I actually thought getting texted, “Ur actually pretty cute for a black girl,” was a compliment.
I was tall, my curves weren’t particularly developed and I had no idea how to do my hair and makeup until senior year. It’s easy to understand the lack of interest reciprocated by said crush list.
Let’s fast forward to college. The glow up was real y’all, and men and women (you read that right) took notice. I was basking in the ambiance and capitalizing on the duality of dating white men and black men for the first time.
I’ve maintained a rapid fire text log with one of my best friends, Monique, throughout my entire love life. We’ve often discuss and differences that I’ve noticed between dating black men and those whom she would call, “pink penises.”
After years of thought, I realized something. I had been able to categorize every man I dated in two ways. I dated some men who came to know me through a lens of intrigue, and I dated others who came to know me through a lens of expectation.
More often than not, the white guys I dated were intrigued by me. Let’s not get it twisted. I will never, not ever, fall for a pale man who outwardly expresses his love for light skin, chocolate, ebony (we’ve heard them all) women.
When I say that these guys were intrigued by me, I mean that our differences were exciting to them in ways that sometimes placed me on a pedestal that I was afraid to fall from. I anticipated their desires. I often tried to play it cool, in ways that admitted that I was uncomfortable with them measuring my truth. Not once did any white guy I dated see me with my hair wrapped in a bonnet at night. I dumbed down my racially influenced political views so that they would feel comfortable. When I’d see them with other girls, I’d instantly worry about if my hair looked puffy or if my thighs would suddenly look undesirable. Nine times out of ten, I ruined things before they could even begin. I got so worked up over their interest in my differences, that I started to question the beauty of characteristics that had always just been normal to me.
On the flip side, the black guys I dated seemed to have expectations of me. Our similarities provided room for criticism. Around friends they’d crack jokes about how I spoke like a valley girl, didn’t have enough black friends, or even had, “nappy hair for a lightskin.” It was altogether exhausting at times, but as a girl who didn’t have many black male friends, I appreciated their approval.
When the jokes were over, they were often affectionate and tuned in. Whether they were an athlete, a photographer, a journalist or a student, there was a deep rooted passion they intended to cultivate. I admired that. They reminded me of the calmly confident black men I grew up with. I was, and still am inspired by ambitious men of all ethnicities. But with their emboldened ambitions, often came patterns of behavior that neglected my best interest. They craved attention for their talents, but showed little interest in mine. At my majority white university, many of the talented black men were sought after. They had access to anyone. After a while, I had no energy to prove that I was worthy enough to men who valued clout over companionship.
Throughout college, I started to feel like the girl who was a stepping stone for boys who wanted to be men. I was interesting enough to date or even sleep with, but somehow unworthy of becoming the exception to their struggles with commitment.
I carried insecurities from those experiences with me into my post-undergrad love life. I busied myself with one or two people who I could speak to regularly, or make appointments with. You know the kind. I focused on my seedling of a career and I assumed one day some gorgeous man who had it all figured out would walk up to me and let me know that he was the one. Right?
Adulting can be lonely. Dating is hard. Letting your guard down is a process. But it’s one that can be achieved.
My journey to peace with “single-dom” started with lots of emotional breakdowns. I leaned on friends crying, if not ranting about how unfair it felt to always be alone. I felt sorry for myself long enough, that I finally pulled it together to actually believe how successful, smart and personable I am. I looked back in journal entries, childhood memories and even looked at current emotional triggers to recognize a worry that had been weighing on me all this time.
Though it’s uncomfortable and awkward to admit, I realized that over time I began to resent the position that my blended family had seemingly put me in. I didn’t realize that I felt pressure to figure out the future ethnic makeup of my family at such a young age. As I said, my father married my beautiful white mother. My brother is most likely going to marry a white woman, and here I was, one of the few black women that I knew, trying to figure out how to not only love myself but figure out what legacy I wanted to leave behind.
If I marry white, would I let down my father’s side? But if I marry black, am I ready to navigate a world that’s bound to be different from my upbringing? Do I have to think about these things at all?
The truth of the matter is that there’s no right answer in love. Who I end up falling in love with will likely come out of the blue. Harnessing fear and apprehension about the makeup of my future family would only hold me back from opening my eyes to love. My insecurities no longer lie in a state of resentment. They’re lingering somewhere in the midst of self-acceptance. Loving myself, knowing my own values and finding comfort in my blended cultures are aspects of adulthood that have become my main focus.
Carrie might have found her Mr. Big, but I’m finding myself.