Friday, January 29, 2010

Dating and Race...the 20+ Questions Edition

Over at A Year of Online Dating, there's been a bit of a discussion going on about dating and race, originally inspired by the social experiment at Hi, My Name is Kia. On Kia's blog, she'd posted a link to an article written by OkCupid, an online dating site, about patterns of response based on race. Reading all these things had me thinking about the topic for days on end. I'd been toying with the idea of writing about attraction and race for awhile, but reading these various other accounts finally gave me the impetus to do it. I think it's a question that deserves to be discussed more, even though it's seen as a bit taboo. I was hoping the asexual viewpoint might be a potentially interesting one.

I guess when talking about race, a disclaimer is needed: I'm white, so my insights are going to be limited by my own experiences. I hope I don't bungle a discussion of race too badly-- but I feel like as long as we have the intent of an honest and respectful discussion, talking about race is probably a positive thing, even if it isn't possible for one person to see it from all angles. And another disclaimer: I'll be talking about data that no doubt has many sampling errors...something I know asexuals dislike (and I'm only half-kidding).

That aside, what OkCupid's article showed was that white men were the most "in demand" (they get the most messages, but respond less often) and that while 7% of white users thought interracial marriage was "a bad idea", 45% of white people in general-- and 54% of white women-- said they would strongly prefer to date someone of their own race. And white people were the group who were most disapproving of interracial marriage. Until reading this, I would have assumed that one compelling reason to marry someone of your own race might be to share a cultural background. However, I'm guessing that most randomly selected white people would share no cultural background whatsoever. One commenter on OkCupid had this to say:

As a nonwhite male, it doesn’t come as the slightest shock to me at all that white men get the most attention and respect from women of all nationalities and races. After all, the richest, most powerful nation in the world (and also the entertainment media capital of the world) is predominately white, and thus white males have become the symbol of strength, virtue, and status/celebrity all the world over.

And as your resident pop-culture interpreter I think there's some truth to that, although I don't think it's all that simple, either. For example, when people talk about the "Sexiest Men Alive", it's always white men that they're talking about, unless Denzel Washington is in the mix. Of course there are attractive people of every race. Maybe we notice this walking down the street, if we live in diverse areas. But the attractive people who are constantly in our face thanks to the media, and who we are told, again and again, are the most attractive people...they are almost always white people. We all know the media can affect how we see our own bodies, so how could it not affect the way we see others? Of course, again, not that simple, but still something to think about.

All that said, over the years, I've heard people say that they do, or don't, find various races of people attractive. I'm sure you've all heard the same thing. It seems like such a pervasive viewpoint that I wonder if the fact that I don't really understand it has to do with being asexual. What is it about me that puts me in the 46% of white women that would be willing to date someone of another race?

  • Is it because as an asexual, my dating pool is already so minute that to segment it further by race would be insane? And subconsciously I know this?
  • Does it have to do with my upbringing, the many places I've lived, or the friends I've had growing up?
  • If I was attracted to more people, would I only then start to notice trends based on race?
  • Is "who I'd be willing to date" a moot point anyway, considering that I've only ever been on two "real" dates?
I might as well just accept the fact that I'm the lord of rhetorical questions, and hit you with some more:
  • Is this discussion really about attraction (which to the best of my knowledge, seems to happen without rhyme or reason), or how people label it? What compels people to declare that they are (or are not) attracted to entire races? Is there a difference between noticing "Hey, I tend to only find Asian men attractive" and then checking only the "Asian" box when you're searching for people OkCupid?
It's also worth noting that who you you find attractive and who you're willing to date may be two very different things. On the OkCupid forums, I found a post from a white woman who was consistently attracted to Latino men to the exclusion of all other races, but decided to only date white men. Lolwhut? Yeah...I don't know.

The question thing...I went with it. But psych, I'm not done yet. So, do you guys think that asexuals are more likely to date outside their race, or to be willing to do so? How about white asexuals vs. asexuals of other races? And do we even know enough asexuals in romantic relationships to be able to answer the first question? I think I could say a lot more, but I'll hold off for now. I hope that nothing I said here offended anyone-- and do I get any awards, medals, etc. for being the first person on the internet to say that? Kidding...again, only sort of.

(PS-- As a mixed-race friend once told me, "No matter who I date, it's interracial dating". So there's another take on it...)


Anonymous said...

You bring up some really good points.
As you menntioned before, if you're only willing to date other asexuals (a wise decision, in my opinion), that narrows your choices. A lot.

So, let's say I'm looking to date a fellow asexual. My choices one, single heteroromantic asexual man I met three years ago, I've never met a single, male heteroromantic asexual my own age. So my choices are the non-existent asexual of a certain race, versus the other non-existent asexual of a different race.

Maybe you could have a blog entry about how asexuals actually meet other asexuals that they date. Interview some asexual couples and ask them how they hooked up. I've been on AVEN, but never encountered a potential date there. Do asexuals get together on OKCupid? Has this ever happened?

Sorry--didn't mean to hijack your post. I just don't feel qualified to answer your questions, based on my own situation.


heidi said...

Love, love, love this topic. My dad was born in 1930 in Louisiana - oddly enough, it's not "racism" that he was raised with, but his grandmother forbade him from playing with the "Yankee" boys across the street. He took it pretty well when I dated guys from MI and whatnot, though.

Right, your point about attraction... I grew up in a fairly diverse area but just kind of assumed that as a pale-skinned, blue-eyed brunette, I'd end up with someone who looked about the same (like my folks). Yet I managed to have a brain-crush on 3 guys of other race/nationalities (African American, Indian and Asian) because they were brainy, trusty, friendly and overall awesome. Wish I'd kept in touch.

By the time I ended up dating I was in college and it was 99% white guys on campus (small school)... so I dated a few of them. Immediately after college I'd totally fallen for my best friend (interracial) but we never dated; I just thought he was the brainiestly attractive nerdgeekfriend on the planet and that actually did lead to some brain-sexy physicality. Confusing, but fun. My mom is still bummed that I didn't marry him because she liked his last name (I kept my own name once married, and would have done the same for him).

Anyway, I never had any idea who I'd end up with; race doesn't bother me so much as strong dialects. But I did end up marrying a male redhead, and he's incredibly brainsexy and trusty and cuddly. So I'm pretty sure race didn't have anything to do with it; gender barely made sense (turns out most of my friends thought I was bi - I just snuggled with everyone). Meh.


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

I think the asexuals who only allow themselves to date asexuals are in so small a pool that they'd dismiss their racial dating priorities. There have been some comments on AVEN that asexuality is a white identity. I don't think that's true, but, if we had all the data, I wouldn't be surprised if there were proportionally a lot more white people, so what I said above would be especially true for people of other ethnicities.

Personally, I am physically attracted to a set of attributes that are difficult to find in any race other than Europeans and Southern Asians, medium-length fine hair, the right amount of cheekbone, large eyes, thin noses (which, as I wrote about on my blog very recently, is an attraction formed entirely from my experiences of an all-white school and all-white movies), but I wouldn't particularly try to date people I find physically attractive (which I suppose is part of my asexuality), so I'd date people of any race.

Ily said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

SarahT.-- Hijack away. I've met dozens of asexuals at this point, but out of those, very few were people who were around my age and interested in dating women. (And after that, you have to be compatible in some other ways, of course!) I've never actually met an ace-ace couple. I know a few ace-ace couples have met on AVEN, however, AVEN doesn't seem to be a place where people seek out romance. I've been an active member there for 4+ years, obviously I've never gained a romantic relationship from there (though I've gained lots of other things). I think there is a strong, dare I say extreme, element of chance in these ace-ace relationships. I've heard of 1 or 2 couples who just met other asexuals randomly out in the world. But that's 1 or 2 couples EVER that we know of. I like your idea for a post, but I doubt I'd be able to find any information that could be *repeatable* for the rest of us. I don't know of 2 asexuals meeting through OkCupid, although I think some asexuals might have dated people of other orientations from there.

heidi said...

I've met a few fairly asexual folks (oddly enough, white males), but never dated them because they weren't up for it. For a while I thought the hubby was ace because he was so well mannered (not crazy flirtatious), respectful, etc. But we're now in a sexual relationship - I'm still trying to figure out how the ace in me fits into the picture though.

Ily said...

Heidi--Yay, thank you!

SM--as far as whiteness and asexuality go, it's interesting you mention it, since I've been thinking of writing a post that will, hopefully, respond to that statement. Of course, since no one has any data on asexuals and race, we can only *that's* stopped me before. ;-) I'd be interested in hearing other thoughts on the topic, too.

Personally, I don't have some policy where I only date asexuals...I don't really date as it is. I'd much rather be single than in a relationship where I was constantly having to negotiate sex with a non-asexual partner. Of course, if I ever encounter another non-asexual person I'd be interested in dating, I'll cross that river when I come to it.

I guess it's also worth mentioning somewhere that no matter what someone looks like physically, personality trumps everything to me. If I find someone attractive and later discover they're a total asshat, they become ugly to me. Not exactly sure how that works, but hey.

edgeofeverywhere said...

Interesting topic! I have no idea if asexuals are different than sexuals in this regard. Personally, I am attracted to "indie/hipster" type guys who look like they'd be creative and into the same things I am, and it's a mostly white subculture, so these guys are usually the same race as me, but not always.

heidi said...

@ edge - random tangent, but the comment reminded me about a goth/hardcore concert that I went to in south Texas; there were 3 non-hispanics in attendance and I was one of them. It was kind of confusing to me because growing up in Houston, goths tended to be white and so sun-deprived that they were nearly translucent. It was a great wakeup call to see that goth subculture trends weren't just for day-glow white people. /ramble

Julio said...

Well... I'll resume everything to be as clear as is possible.

- Passion is a sexual process.
- A "romantic" relationship is merely a relationship with passion.
- A relationship without passion would be a friendship called by other name.
- Usually people identify cuddle = erotic = romantic relationship. But we all know that it is not true. Affection is a simple form of communication. with it we can say "I like you" or even "lets have sex all night long".
- It is possible to have a affective relationship without transform it in a romantic one.

About the race issue...

Get 3 people, 1 is a woman and 2 are are man. The woman must to chose a man... but she can't hear/see/smell/touch/or anything...

Just keep showing to this woman every "piece" of these men... one by one... let's see what will influence her choice.


I think that romantic relationships are based in interests, I must to have something to offer FURTHER myself.

p.s.: in the last case think about amnesia :)

Angel said...

I've once made an experiment like that,too...On (doesn't exist anymore): First I used a cartoon as my avatar (no comments on my songs), then I used a pic of me but with blue contacts (I immediately got nice comments) and finally I used a pic of me where I wore heavy classic make-up (like red lipstick) which got the most responses. Anyway, that was just out of curiosity to see if people would comment my songs or at least have a listen.
Responding to your post...
Latinos are no race, btw..they are a cultural group, most Latinos are mixed, still some are amerindian,some european and some african(when it comes to race).
Well, I'm mixed...nonetheless, I'd say most people date on status, whereas others may date purely based on aesthetics. This two conditions can fixate you on race.
When it comes to asexuals and dating..I have no idea. Without data about that. But I guess, it could be possible since there aren't that many out there it seems and secondly not all are attracted to aesthetics.
I myself would date someone who's mentally and aesthetically pleasing to me....I wouldn't care for race. Still I'd be more inclined to date someone from the American continents since I've perceived them to be much more open and friendly then e.g.people from Europe. But that isn't really race but culture ....(btw, I don't date nor do I seek them out, but if this were the's hypothetical).
But as far as I know, there are "what's your race" threads on AVEN, nonetheless, you'd had to take into account which economic abilities, how much time, which kind of work, ...etc. people of other races have to even answer those polls. So would still be speculation.

Kim said...

I think a lot of it has to do with class status. Even though two white people might be of different religions or cultures, in America they would still be likely to have the same cues (clothing, speech patterns, etc.) for class status. I live in the south-eastern U.S., and I've noticed that different ethnic groups tend to have different status symbols. Thus, what signifies higher economic status to a black person might signify a lower economic status to a white person. Granted, I haven't exactly done any research, but it seems plausible.

Ily said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts everyone, keep 'em coming. It's true that at least in the US, race tends to roughly correspond to class (you might actually see a future post related to this topic) and also to your "scene". Although as Heidi is saying, what race(s) tend to predominate in certain classes and scenes vary in different regions. Again, I can only speak for the US here.

Related to all this, there's a pretty awesome song called "The Only Black Guy At the Indie-Rock Show" which interested parties can listen to here:

It's funny because I've always *really* wanted to be part of a scene, but whenever I go to an event where one scene predominates, I think it's weird that everyone looks the same, and feel like my appearance is being scrutinized (whether it is or not).

grasexuality said...

Hmm, I'm not so sure about status and scene roughly correlating with race. I mean to some extent it may be true, but it's way overblown. Goth, as someone mentioned above, certainly does not consist of all white people, although that's the popular stereotype. For some reason there's this idea that you CAN'T be goth if you're African American, I guess because the popular image of gothness is vampirically pale skin. I know several people in the goth community whose mantra is "So goth I was born Black" because of this perception.

Likewise... One of my closest friends is a black asexual guy living in Japan. Because MTV is apparently the only exposure they have to African Americans, they constantly assume that he likes hip hop, Michael Jackson, rap, etc. He said once that someone actually apologized to him about Michael Jackson's death. Which was quite offensive to him, because they just assumed that he cared about Michael Jackson for no apparent reason; he doesn't like any of that stuff, he likes rock music.

Anyway. I guess I might be the odd one out here because at least aesthetically speaking, I do tend to find Asian men (typically Japanese) attractive at a much, much higher ratio than men of any other race. This pattern doesn't hold true for women, however. I suspect I am just drawn to more delicate, feminine features in both men and women, and Asian men tend to have those features more often than white men. The Japanese have a few different terms for the different kinds of faces, like "nekogao" (cat face) and "inugao" (dog face) for example. I'll typically always go for nekogao.

But that's mainly just to look at. As far as dating goes, aesthetic attraction is certainly not the be-all and end-all, but it does play some kind of significant role in attracting me to people, although I don't know how significant. And it's not all about the face, either, as I also tend to be attracted to people's voices. It's kind of a multi-layered thing, really. I will date people I'm not aesthetically attracted to, but I do have a fairly strong sense of aesthetics which does influence my level of interest in other people. After all, if I'm likely to spend time staring at a person for a while or enjoying the tenor of their voice, I'm more likely to get to know their personality (although if the personality sucks that's an immediate turn-off that's way more powerful than the aesthetics).

Ily said...

I agree, it's part stereotype, but I would guess that those might influence people's thinking, too. I don't know anything about the goth subculture, I'll admit that. But if someone has the idea that goths are all white people, and they only want to date goths, then they might find themselves rejecting some perfectly cool goths of other races. The stereotype might be working just as hard as the reality in that case.

And now I'm curious as to what a "catface" and a "dogface" would look like...

If anyone's interested, there's also a good movie called "Medicine for Melancholy" (I talked about this on Katie's blog) that deals with race, "scene" and dating in San Francisco.

Raymo.E-J said... end racial inequality we must first account for "race" and racism.

A++ for this post :P

Shawn Landis, Philadelphia Asexual Examiner said...

Not sure I agree that the disclaimer is necessary. Why is it that if you're white, it's assumed you're not qualified to talk about racial issues?

Ily said...

It's true, everyone has some race or other, so it's not that I think any of us aren't qualified to talk about race. What I was trying to get at was that when I talk about race, it's perhaps the only time when I'm speaking as part of the hegemonical group. Does that influence what I have to say? Maybe. When white people talk about race, I do think it's important to acknowledge white privilege; what I believe is one of the most famous articles on the topic is here, if anyone's interested:

Anonymous said...

I'm an Asian American female (Japanese), and contrary to the popular "white male worshipping Asian female" stereotype, I actually strongly prefer East Asian men. However, when it comes to women, I seem to have no racial preference. I grew up in an area that was 98% white, so I don't know what sparked my deep attraction towards Asian males. I'm guessing that it's because I tend to find certain East Asian features, such as almond-shaped eyes and dark straight hair, very attractive on men. In addition, I tend to find men and women in the "indie/hipster" subculture way more attractive than those in other subcultures (although I do admit that some punk guys are irresistable), which I think has partially to do with me liking indie rock and having many hipster friends. However, it seems to me that most hipsters are either black or white (yes, black hipsters do exist, and in large numbers), even though my friend recently introduced me to a really cute Eurasian guy! So yes, I do have racial preference. I actually believe that many people have racial preference when it comes to dating, asexual or not.

Julie said...

Ily: Yours is probably one of the best ace blogs out there. It's perfectly and smartly written :)

Now, down to your questions... as per my asexual experience, I can tell you race has nothing to do with who I fall for (as I only experience romantic attraction, not sexual attraction, I guess I can equate attraction with falling in love and/or considering someone as date material.)

So, let's see. In the list there's been a couple of mixed latinos, a couple of white latinos, one Middle Eastern (though this infatuation lasted one afternoon), one white european and a couple of mixed europeans. No blacks. No East Asians.

If asked, I would probably say I would date anyone regardless of race, but in reality I would feel weird to date somebody of the two last aforementioned ethnicities. Why? Well... because I've never had a close friend that was East Asian or black, my age and available to bond with in the first place! Not because I wouldn't like to have one, but because of where and how I was raised and where I have lived.

Of course, this just means I have to make more friends, and it would be a nice thing to do, but now, psycologically, I can't consider black men as dating material, simply because I don't have enough previous experience with black men, and thus the whole thing would feel strange. Same with East Asians. Sounds silly, and a terrible segmented way of thinking, but it's how I feel, and to be honest, the question itself is terrible and segmented (why does it matter what race is the person you can picture sharing your life with?).

As a bonus, I am mixed latina and I am madly in love with a white european. We are close friends. If he were black or asian, I would probably be as madly in love as I am.

Dating said...

Interesting topic! I have no idea if asexuals are different than sexuals in this regard.