I Think Dating While Racially Ambiguous Is Giving me a Complex

In the past two years, I have not gone two weeks without being asked about my ethnicity in a social setting.
Publish date:
September 17, 2012

As several xojaners have expressed lately, my dating life also has primarily been characterized by my ethnicity. I could read 100 different articles about the many issues regarding race and dating and they would each be uniquely interesting. But while some women have expressed how their racial identity has affected their dating life, it is my lack of racial identity that defines mine. My issue/blessing/conundrum is that I am, allegedly, racially ambiguous.

Growing up, I never really had considered my ethnicity as part of my identity. Amongst my different groups of friends and acquaintances, it never was a topic of conversation.

Now that I am a young, single woman, I am acutely aware of it. Upon turning 21, I was excited to join the bar scene after two uneventful years at my small, tame university. I learned quickly that my appearance was a point of fascination, confusion and sometimes even offense amongst members of the male sex. Since that first bar encounter when a seemingly interested guy inquired about my race, I have gone from being carefree about it to completely insecure. I solely attribute this change in attitude to the fact that in the past two years, I have not gone two weeks without being asked about my ethnicity in a social setting.

Some guys make an attempt to disguise their curiosity with a compliment: “Where do you get your beautiful skin color from?” while many others just got with a blunt, “What are you?” My favorite is when a guy tells me that he likes the fact that I am “ethnic looking.” Really? Isn’t everyone ethnic looking?

The worst part about it is that the majority of these guys are attempting to hit on me by making me feel like I am some unknown species in an exotic zoo.

Once, upon my refusal to answer his questions, a guy proceeded to name just about every country on the planet in attempts to get me to fess up. I cringed after writing that sentence because it highlights how my experiences have caused my brain to think that “fess up” is the appropriate choice of words to describe the situation. Logically, I know that I have not committed any crimes but there is obviously some level of undeserved shame present in my head.

I never developed a consistent response to these questions and comments, but I often combat them with sarcasm, humor and even straight dishonesty. I just cannot seem to grasp the fact that people actually find it acceptable to inquire about someone’s racial background upon meeting them.

People who don’t know me very well occasionally have dropped racial slurs without realizing that I am actually part of that minority. The Worst Date in the World Award goes to the guy who took me out once and upon learning about my ethnicity, bailed in the middle of the date and left me without a ride home. I don’t make any attempts to hide it but I definitely don’t make a habit of going around saying, “Oh by the way, in case you weren’t aware, I am actually [ethnic group to which I belong].” Maybe I should to prevent situations like that?

These interactions have affected my dating life profoundly. Lately, I find it hard to interact with someone new without becoming preoccupied with the idea that they might possibly be trying to fulfill some exotic fantasy or might regret getting involved if when they discover my racial background. The rational side of me knows that there are many people in the world who don’t care or don’t even think about race, but my experiences involving this issue are preventing me from developing meaningful relationships with others.

Moving forward, I am just trying to keep a positive outlook on things. I am trying to learn to appreciate the fact that if a guy asks, he has obviously made the effort to come talk to me and maybe I should just cut him some slack for not knowing what else to say. But I’ll probably still throw in a few sarcastic comments, just so he gets the picture.