Dating as a Black Gay Expatriate

I’m an American who’s been in Europe since October 2019 as a digital nomad, mainly in Stockholm, Sweden. This is after years of employment in a corporate environment as a graphic designer. Now as a freelance designer, writer, and podcast producer, I look for ways to promote international awareness.

One question I get is, “How is it dating in Europe?” My experience so far, at least with dating apps, is I don’t really notice a difference. As an introvert, someone most comfortable “spending time with just one or two people, rather than large groups or crowds (WebMD, 2020),” casual dating isn’t something I’m the most adept at doing. Single most of my adult life, I have experience in dating. But juggling dating partners isn’t something I’ve ever been skilled at doing.

Dating as a black person in Europe overshadowed being an American.

Because it’s my desire to settle in Sweden, my first few months back in the country, I looked for ways to make this a possibility. My friends in Stockholm encouraged me to get on the dating apps. There are attractive men in Sweden. But I wasn’t ready to devote energy to pursuing romantic or sexual exploits.

Based on the stories that close friends have shared with me, regardless of race or sexual orientation, dating can be a minefield of miscommunication and comically absurd scenarios. I have my own stories of “truth is stranger than fiction” experiences. Some that would make you double over in laughter. And others that would invite you to relive moments with me curled up in the fetal position, distraught, dazed, and confused.

Seven months passed before I was ready to try dating in Sweden. Dating as a black person in Europe overshadowed being an American. I’ve seen black individuals in most of the countries I’ve visited. And to find another black gay man I can form a healthy romantic connection with would be a dream. However, I knew the percentages of black men on dating apps in Stockholm would be small.

I’ve never been opposed to interracial dating. That being said, I don’t overlook the reality of how non-blacks may expect or perceive black men to be. And how these perceptions can influence how they interact with us. Especially in online interactions.

…my opinion is that fantasy largely fuels online dating.

My top concern with online dating has always been it can invite persons to reach out who are into the sexual fetishization of black men. In writer Jason Okundaye October 2020 GQ article, he says, “This is how white people objectify black men as more masculine and sexually potent than our white counterparts.” And also, “The size of our penises are obsessed over and apparently betray our monstrosity.” I agree with both statements.

Because we’re initially dealing with photos and well-crafted descriptions, my opinion is that fantasy largely fuels online dating. What story can I project onto this person’s profile? I think for many people race is a part of this fantasy. I’ve received interest from non-black men who’ve said things like, “I love black men and your beautiful chocolate skin.” This has never held my interest. To be honest, I feel queasy whenever I see it. One, because the statement overlooks the hours I spent curating my profile, so that my profession, favorite films, and daily life mantra sound as interesting as possible. And I would never think to say to a white man, “Oh, my God! I love white men and your beautiful vanilla skin!”

I do see color and other physical characteristics. And because I’ve grown up in western society, I know that I too need to acknowledge how race influences my perceptions of myself and those around me. Which includes racial hierarchy, the “system of stratification that is based on the belief that some racial groups are superior to other racial groups (Wikipedia).” But I don’t believe my attraction to a non-black man has ever been led by the color of his skin. Like with black men, it’s led by his height, his face, his body build, and that special something I see in his eyes.

In my time of wading through the sea of men I’ve seen online since starting to date in Europe, I’ve met three of them in person. Only one has moved beyond our initial meeting. At a café in Stockholm’s Södermalm district is where we met last May 2020, our connection started with a swipe right on a popular dating app. His friendly eyes were what first caught my attention, as I scanned his pleasantly handsome face complimented by a nicely shaped shaved head and reddish-brown mustache and beard.

Our conversation flowed easily as my new interest and I sat outside at one of the café’s small tables. Soaking up the sun’s rays on the crisp spring afternoon, my Swedish friend held me with his effortless sense of humor. But with me possibly leaving for England in a couple of months, and him mentioning upcoming travel plans, I didn’t see things going past what we were enjoying at the moment. And I was okay with it. For me, it was just nice to interact with someone.

I did leave for England in late July 2020. However, my friend remembered and reached out to me. And we remained in contact while I was away, seeing each other again upon my return to Stockholm in early November 2020. Since then, we’ve seen each other a few more times.

I do sense that my Swedish friend sees beneath the surface of my skin tone, to the smart, ambitious, humorous, and loyal person those dear know me to be. I’ve opened up a bit about my origins in Phoenix, Arizona. And I’ve shared about my years in Los Angeles, California, first as a struggling actor and later as a graphic designer.

For the first time in a long time, I’m open to being vulnerable with another person, to being more transparent. And with this man, I feel I’ve entered a sexual awakening. Something I know many tapped into long ago, without the aid of a stamped passport. I’m learning to allow my sexuality to travel from my mind to my body. I believe this is due to me looking at my trust issues, those planted during my formative years.

So, to answer the question of how is it dating in Europe? For me, it’s the same as it was in America. But today I’m honest about who I am, what I want, and where I would like to be. And I’m no longer minimizing the realities of race and racism, as they pertain to those who interact with me. Being black is but a part of who I am. However, I’m learning I don’t have to shy away from it if it feels emotionally safe for me to do so.

White and black are labels that categorize people. But they are generic monikers that don’t capture a person’s ethnic or socioeconomic background or their interests. I am a black American. I’m a creative introvert who loves the sound of honest-to-goodness laughter. I am me.

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Erick Taylor Woodby

Erick Taylor Woodby

Writer and host of “Our Black Gay Diaspora Podcast,” for black LGBTQ+ citizens to inspire and educate on who they are in their countries and professions.