Online Dating, Attraction, and Race

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I haven’t spent much time discussing race in dating. For one, it hasn’t been a big issue in my single life or in my work as a dating expert. Which is not surprising, considering that I’m white, and race is a more salient issue for minorities. For another, race is a huge topic, one that’s difficult to address in even a series of articles.

But after taking a gander over to OkCupid’s blog again and seeing that they’ve done an interesting (and telling) series of analyses examining race and online dating, I thought I would bring it up.

For myself, I mostly dated white guys during my single years, not because I had an issue dating minorities, but because the world I inhabited was comprised primarily of white men. This changed when I began dating online and men of other ethnicities contacted me. Yes, I went out with men of color, and I’m glad I did.

I’m not telling you anything new by stating that race is an issue in our culture and that the world can look very, very different when you’re a minority. This is just as true in dating. And OkCupid, in their own special way, analyzed their data in 2009 to examine preferences in terms of race.

scores2009

 

These numbers reflect how users feel, in terms of interest and attraction, toward any given race group in comparison to the average person. So positive numbers indicate more interest than average, and negative numbers indicate less interest than average. A few things are clear from these charts, as summarized by OkCupid:

Men
– non-black men applied a penalty to black women
– black men showed little racial preference either way

Women
– all women preferred men of their own race
– but they otherwise penalized both Asian and black men

When they re-examined their data in 2014, little had changed. Moreover, while the majority people say they’re open to dating people of other ethnicities, the data show they often don’t.

So what does this mean? The answer to such a question would require no less than series of books, but I’ll put out a few comments here:

  • Attraction isn’t just biological. It’s cultural, too. For example, societies where food is scarce tend to find chunkiness attractive, as it indicates having something valuable (i.e. plenty of food). By contrast, our society of plenty (even excess) places high value on thinness. Asian women do better online than Asian men because they fit into our culture’s idea of attractiveness more than Asian men do. (I don’t get this, as I think Asian men are hot, but whatever).
  • Stereotypes are difficult to shed. Black men have more success online than black women, partially because they’re more open to dating outside their race, but also perhaps because media stereotypes of black women tend to portray them as difficult, making them less likely to attract white men.
  • Humans are racist. Yes, I said humans are racist. They are. Of course, there are different levels of racism. There’s a difference between being a little afraid to date someone outside your race because they’re different from you, and being a bigot. Humans are naturally fearful of what’s different, at least until they get accustomed to it, and that’s part of our wiring. Bigotry, on the other hand, is taught.
  • Degrees of difference. Adding on to the previous point, that we’re more hesitant to date what’s “different,” we’re more likely to avoid that which is “more different.” For example, when compared to white women, black women are “more different” than Latina or Asian women in terms of physical appearance and (perceived) behavior, at least in this culture.

 

The Good News

These data come from on online dating site. And while such data can tell us a lot about people’s dating behavior, online dating does have some difficulties that can put certain groups at a disadvantage. Why is this? Because when you’re sorting through literally thousands of profiles, human nature is such that you’ll become choosier when deciding who you will and will not contact.

Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to get past certain hurdles when dating conventionally, rather than online. In person, a man or woman has a chance to know you as a person, rather than as a race, a stereotype, a set of numbers, a height, a weight, or a picture. In other words, Asian men and black women will have better results dating conventionally, where others can know the real you.

The other good news is that the average person is willing to date outside their race as long as the barriers to meeting (whether physical or psychological) can be overcome. Dating online removed the physical barriers for me, allowing me to expand my dating pool. Getting over the psychological barriers is more challenging, but can be a great adventure.

 

I’ve always said that you never, ever know what package love will come in. Keep an open mind when it comes to race, as with anything else. And remember, when dating online, be especially openminded: it’s just a meet-and-greet, not a commitment of any kind.

 

Resources

Christie’s Books (Amazon)

Christie’s Books (iBooks)

OkCupid’s Blog