This past spring my dating life as a happily single queer cis Black man was featured on an hour-long video project by Baesline News. Yet, true to human form, my own dating life is sorted.
In my search for romance I have become a specialist at building and dismantling connections. Often, friends will ask me to clue them in on the best date spots and cuddle-friendly activities knowing, because I am a Libra, I have done thorough research on the locations sure to offer space for open communication that fits the style of any date’s love language.
I’ve learned that dating, for the most part, involves a patient wait for serendipity or the elusive and perfect match. It requires chance and, yes, it also requires failure. To keep it real, I’ve had a strong tradition of ghosting on seemingly good pragmatic matches while choosing toxic partners. I guess you can say I am a date survivor aka a victim of courting aka a master of ghosting aka an expert at avoiding undateable folk. I’ve learned from my mistakes and have tried to make better decisions.
My outlook on dating has always been about fun and possibility. I see every encounter as a chance to engage another’s life experiences, explore new places, see new art or enjoy a new cuisine. This is an outlook that has enabled me to remain responsible for all the experiences I have had and be optimistic with each new meet up. As a Xennial (older millennial), with a history of relationships that have lasted a few months to several years, I am often engaged in conversations with millenials about dating behavior. As they say, the most complicated students are often the most effective teachers. In short, my advice is to do whatever works for you and your date, but below are some comprehensive do’s and don’ts. Tips for 2018 and beyond based on my experiences.
Don’t date for the Gram. I love people who dream vividly and out loud. Yet, there is something woefully unattractive about meeting someone who has already picked out their wedding dress, named our future children and or created a hybrid last name for me based on their name and mine. I also think it’s a mess when I meet folks whose foremost desire is to be the new power couple on IG or who date me based on the prospect of our couple’s picture getting the most likes on Facebook. Uhm…no! These are superficial aspects of a relationship that can be easy to imagine but have very little bearing on the health of a connection. When courting or planning to date spend more time engaging an individual for their distinct characteristics than designing a connection based on the attributes the world says you should acquire.
Don’t limit the time and place of your connection. Respecting others’ boundaries is essential but why not try opening up your own in some ways. In my experience, I have always been open to talking to someone else who found me interesting. The worst that can happen is that I reject them and the best that can happen is that we become friends or more. Often when talking with other millennials they find it annoying or creepy to engage folks in public or on certain social media platforms yet these are likely the places where you may find love. Be open to the infinite array of places or instances a connection can birth itself.
I also find it complicated to meet folks whose foremost desire is to be the new power couple on IG or who date me based on the prospect of our couple’s picture getting the most likes on Facebook.
Don’t ask ‘Who is Paying?’ The “who’s paying” conversation needs to die in 2018. Go in with the mindset that if you participated in the date than you should expect to pay for yourself. If you enjoyed your time than why not make the gesture to pay for your date as well. Listen, Libras love beautiful environments and nice things, but I have learned what’s most important when dating is discovering what is beautiful, or not, about my date. That being said, I have become really comfortable with the simple things: getting coffee, taking a walk in a park or anything else that is cheap, free and does not consume a lot of time. For me, I choose to offer a date idea that does not burden the other person’s wallet/pocketbook or time—one that will also allow us time to focus on one another. At the end of our date, who is paying should not be the most vital decision we should have to make.
Don’t pathologize folk. When asked for advice, I am also aware of how deeply social media currently impacts how we see one another. Though we all inhabit the same planet, may reside in the same country, and are part of a united global culture, we are individuals. Each of us have our own experiences, thoughts and abilities through which we can make unique contributions. In other words, don’t label another a hoe, a liar, a cheater, et cetera because of what you may have heard or what you assume to be true about their character. Instead, be prepared to show up as your unique self and be open to experience people as they show up for you in their own exceptional ways. And if you need a humility check, just remember: to some ex-dates you might be a low-down piece of trash but in the mind of another you might be their one and only true love.
Do invest in your healing. When I think about the impact of the #MeToo movement, I remember that 2017 has been both a trying and liberating year for so many. Healing is what we need. I do not believe any person can ever be perfect, but I do believe that we can travel along a path of healing: a place where scars might remain but the wounds are closed. Given the experiences of people of color, of LGBTQ folk and of millenials living in uncertain times, it is safe to assume we all have some healing to do from childhood trauma(s), professional stresses, negative sexual or dating encounters and from relationships. In 2018, let’s invest more in this healing process. Let’s find ways to get that healing work in before finding our next date. And when you do date, try making the act of engaging another person part of an exercise in healing: be open, honest, vulnerable and self-reflective. This type of processing can make all of our dates healthier and generative experiences.
Do define and maintain your boundaries. It is important to have fun and it is vital to maintain your boundaries. My advice is to be as open as you can be without compromising the things you know to be true to who you are. More importantly do not compromise your safety or that of another. You want to touch? Ask permission. Not open to being a top? Don’t date that bottom. Using labels like “tops” and “bottoms” trigger you? Be open about that. You have an allergic reaction every time you enter the Bronx? Don’t go. It is also okay to be vulnerable enough to discuss boundaries with a date before and even during. Communicate your limits and allow your date to communicate their limits.
Show up with a readiness to improvise and co-create in a shared experience that should include laughter, learning or whatever else you desire.
Do be open to growth. If you are meeting someone who has shown up as their unique self then be prepared for some confusion, imperfection or even awkwardness. Take the time to enjoy the space between what you know about someone versus who they actually are. Be open to growing in that understanding, this is what makes an actual connection.
Do have fun! There is not much else to say here, but I will stress that having fun is not your date’s responsibility. Creating fun in the moment of a date is up to us as individuals. Show up with a readiness to improvise and co-create in a shared experience that should include laughter, learning or whatever else you desire. Do not depend on your date to make the experience fun. Bring the fun with you.
Bryan Epps, a Newark native, is an innovative community and institution builder.