I’m an American, who’s been mostly in Europe since October 2019 as a digital nomad, mainly in Stockholm, Sweden. This is after years of employment as a graphic designer at a Los Angeles-based investment banking firm. Now, as a freelance designer, writer, and podcast host and producer for Our Black Gay Diaspora Podcast, I look for ways to promote awareness of Black LGBTQ+ citizens throughout the world.
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 with multiple partners isn’t something I’m the most adept at doing.
… similar to the United States, assumptions about being Black in Europe may adversely influence one’s perceptions and expectations.
Because of my desire to settle in Sweden, my first few months back in the country, I was focused solely on making this a possibility. Despite friends in Stockholm suggesting I get on dating apps. There are attractive men in Sweden. But I wasn’t ready to devote energy to pursuing romantic or sexual exploits.
Regardless of race or sexual orientation, dating can be a minefield of miscommunication and comically absurd scenarios. I definitely have my own stories of “truth is stranger than fiction” experiences. Some that would make you double over in laughter. And others with evenings curled up in the fetal position, distraught, dazed, and confused.
Seven months passed before I began dating in Sweden. Similar to the United States, assumptions about being Black in Europe may adversely influence one’s perceptions and expectations. And impact how non-blacks interact with us. I don’t disapprove of interracial dating. But I’m cautious. There are Black citizens in most of the European countries I’ve visited. But populations are smaller than most major U.S. cities. Thus, finding another Black gay man with whom to form a healthy romantic connection may be a challenge. Their numbers on dating apps in cities like Stockholm are negligible.
… my opinion is that fantasy largely fuels online dating.
Another concern I have with online dating is that it can attract persons interested in the sexual fetishization of Black men. Jason Okundaye’s October 2020 GQ article states that “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.”
Because we’re dealing initially 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? For some, racial stereotypes are 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!” I’m not sure how one’s supposed to respond to a declaration like this. Plus, the statement overlooks the hours I spent curating my profile, so that my profession, favorite films, and daily life mantras 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 see color and other physical characteristics. And because I’ve grown up in a Eurocentric society, I know I need to acknowledge how racism 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).” However, I don’t believe the color of their skin has ever led my perception of attractive non-black men. Like with Black men, it’s his face, his build, his height, and that special something I see in his eyes.
In my time wading through the sea of men on dating apps in Europe, I’ve only met three of them in person. Only one moving beyond an initial meeting. It was at a café in Stockholm’s Södermalm district in late May 2020, our connection beginning 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 we 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 my interest with his sense of humor. But with me 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 arrived in London, England, in late July 2020. My new friend remembered and reached out to see how I was settling in. That touched me. We remained in contact while I was in the UK, video chatting 2–3 days per week. I enjoyed our conversations, and how they progressed into us discovering our shared interests. So I looked forward to seeing him again upon my return to Stockholm in early November 2020.
I believe my Swedish friend saw beneath the surface of my skin tone, to the person those close know me to be. I continued to open up about my origins in Phoenix, Arizona. And also 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 couple of years, I was open to being vulnerable with another man, to becoming more transparent. With him, I experienced a new sexual awakening. Something I know many tapped into years before, without the aid of a stamped passport. I learned to allow my sexuality to travel from my mind to my body. The experience motivated me to return to looking at my trust issues, many put in place during my formative years.
So, to answer the question of how is it dating in Europe? For me, it’s the same as it is in America. The difference today is I’m honest about who I am, what I want, and where I would like to be. I no longer minimize the realities of racism and how it can also filter into my dating life. Being Black is but a part of who I am. That being said, I no longer shy away from discussing race, as long as I feel I’m in an emotionally safe space to do so.
White and Black labels categorize people. But they are generic monikers. They actually don’t really 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.