Unpacking Self-Love: How Online Dating Can Be a Form of Self-care
I have never thought of myself as a “nice” person. This may be the result of growing up as a chubby, smart-alecky first-born child to Nigerian immigrants, but I always found it much more satisfying to disarm people with my wit and intelligence rather than a smile. I’ve lost count of the number of times a person that I now consider a close friend told me that they were positive I hated them when we first met. I wouldn’t say I have resting bitch face. It would best be described as “I could care less” face. And though this served me well when trying to navigate my formative school years, I quickly found out that this attitude wasn’t a winning formula when it came to dating. Growing up in a Nigerian household, it was understood that dating was something that was to be explored after graduating—from college. In a lot of ways, the internet served as the battleground for a lot of the dating mishaps and lessons I have learned. It seems so quaint now but finding someone in an AOL chatroom and starting a conversation that didn’t immediately devolve into a request for cybersex was akin to going to the mall and giving your number to a cute guy.
Social media platforms have become useful tools in connecting people around the world and, for the most part, people realize that meaningful relationships can be fostered and nurtured through these apps; yet that empathy seems to stop short when it comes to online dating. When you take into consideration that studies routinely show that Black women are rated the least desirable among other races and ethnicities across dating apps, it becomes clearer why online dating is still viewed as taboo in Black communities; especially within the insular Nigerian community. As a Nigerian-American woman, it is not uncommon for my mother to randomly send me a text with a picture of some stranger and a link to his Facebook page with the hope that I will magically fall in love with this Nigerian, Christian doctor. By the way, they are ALWAYS Nigerian, Christian and most definitely a doctor; with the rare engineer thrown in for good measure. Yet when I have broached the subject of using dating apps to my mom it has only been met with confusion and distaste. She believes a “pretty girl like me” doesn’t need to resort to a dating app.
It is starting to dissipate, especially amongst the younger millennial and Gen Z generations, however, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding online dating. I have come to understand the ways in which this stigma can affect the way you see yourself and your relationship with others. In fact, I was recently having a conversation with my best friends and we were doing that fun game where we go through our entire dating history and reminisce on our past experiences. As I started to recall my exes, it dawned on me that in the 14 years I have been dating, every single one of my relationships was with someone I met online. Perhaps more harrowing is the fact that the person I called my best friend wasn’t privy to any of this as I had made up an IRL origin story for all of the guys I ever told her about. Although we joked about it and I was given props for my imaginative storytelling, I have been thinking about the conversation since and have gone on this sort of journey to try to parse out why I have spent all these years lying about the reality of my online dating experiences.
I started to think about some of the taboos surrounding online dating and how internalizing them metastasized into shame within me. I am sure this is not unique to me. If you go to most dating sites or apps you’ll run across a few profiles with the line, “If anyone asks how we met, just lie and say _______.” Even if it seems like an innocuous little light lie, it lends credence to the idea that admitting to meeting someone online is embarrassing or pathetic. I pride myself on being a confident self-assured woman that has always forged my own path and tried to stay above the fray of societal expectations and opinions but even I wasn’t impervious to the notion that I have to “resort” to dating online. I have come to realize that notion is silly and it ignored the complexities and nuances that come with dating in our current climate. Though it comes with some perils, I have come to realize the role online dating has played in boosting my confidence and at times, served as a nice escape from trying to meet people IRL. I’ve read articles from (usually) white thin women complaining about how the volume of messages in their inbox can be a bit overwhelming, but this Black thicc girl loves the attention, especially when society is constantly telling me I’m not enough or too much.