When does preference become offensive?
Why are preferences so important when it comes to modern dating? A lot of people seem to know what they want in a partner but how many of these wants are free from unconscious bias?
When Pelumi – a 28-year-old queer man – decided to move back to Nigeria in 2017, he knew he was leaving a life of freedom behind. For all he knew, the chances of another man coming up to him at a bar were pretty slim, no thanks to the 2014 SSMPA which criminalizes sexual relationships between members of the same sex. Despite being constricted to some of the underground hookup/dating apps available to members of his community, Pelumi was happy to leave the racism that had permeated the dating scene in Philadelphia. One thing he didn’t know, however, was that “preference” was in no way unique to the land of the brave and free.
“’ I am not into fat people’ he told me. “For a split second, I was shocked. I hadn’t been called fat since I was bullied in secondary school. I knew I wasn’t ‘skinny skinny’, but I just felt people had realized how rude that word is and stopped using it”, Pelumi tells Love Matters Naija.
Stories like Pelumi’s are not alien, neither are they unique to the queer community as Alexis, a 30-year old cishet woman living in Lagos would later confirm to me, saying, “I can’t count how many times I’ve been with guys who would say things like ‘We can fuck, but I can’t marry you. I need to marry a light-skinned girl’, imagine hearing that from an educated man in 2020?”
Preferences when it comes to dating or sex have become an ambivalent topic among people of the 21st century. For the longest time, no one cared – or maybe they just didn’t care enough to speak about it – but now, living in a generation more attuned with social consciousness, important questions surrounding why we have the preferences that we do, has become a salient part of a general discourse around human interaction. While a majority of the world struggles with racial divides that have seeped into a dating scene that threads the line between racism and fetishization, for Nigerians, preferences also exist even though we are more similar than we are different. From body size to complexion and sometimes economic and social standing, the phrase “He/She/They are not my type” gets thrown around in the dating scene a lot.
The Complexity of Preferences
In the Structural Dimensions of Romantic Preferences, writer, Russell Robinson, opines that while we believe our preferences to be innate, thus unexplainable, chances are, they have been informed by external forces, making them unoriginal – changeable. “We tend to think our preferences are natural and fixed when, in fact, they may be more plastic and susceptible to structural influences than we imagine.”
Preferences are complicated, but the truth is, oftentimes than not, they are also offensive and unrealistic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “liking what you like”, but the truth is, have you examined the root cause of this benign feeling? Probably not.
For most people who wouldn’t date outside their ethnic or religious groups, they rely on the excuse that “it’s just too complicated” but some of these people will jump at the chance of dating African Americans or members of the white community. The bias, in this case, lies in their ideas of what people from selected ethnic or religious groups are like, and for them, it’s not worth it. The same thing goes for classism in relationships and the fear that your spouse might become dependent (which could honestly happen if we are keeping it 100 – still doesn’t excuse the classism though).
Physical appearance from size to complexion and height is probably the most discriminated factor in the dating pool. From short guys who get overlooked because they are not “man enough” to dark-skinned women who get bottom-barrel treatment because they aren’t “pretty enough”, the list is endless. This discrimination is reflective of the society we live in and the information we consume. Think about it, how many times do we see short, dark-skinned, or fat bodies highlighted in the media as #RelationshipGoals? Very often than not, we are bombarded with images of ideal couples in ads, annoying YouTube couple videos, and celebrity culture, and truthfully, they do not look like all of us. Sadly, the visual information we take in, subconsciously affects our choices, whether we’d like to admit them or not.
We have spent a lot of time drawing up boxes to be checked when it comes to dating because we are on the hunt for the “ideal partner”. Sometimes, without getting to know people, we hastily bring out our list and make our decision on the spot.
Unfortunately, most of us look at our preferences as some sort of gold standard. So when we consider outgrowing any of our preferences, we resist. Isn’t that settling? And we’re not supposed to settle!
Pelumi remembers not being able to eat for days after his experience. And while the other party might have viewed his words as a harmless preference, it negatively affected and fed an already existing case of body dysmorphia,
Preferences are like wishlists, there’s nothing wrong with having one. However, it’s imperative to crosscheck your wishlist and understand why you have selected the items there. But most importantly, we need to be willing to look beyond this list and outgrow them when necessary.