I constantly find myself laughing off questions about marriage and finding these frequent interrogations about my love life amusing. The truth is, while I have dated here and there over the last three and a half years, I’ve been more or less single since I returned to my sunny Caribbean isle after studying in the UK.
The irony is that during my time in the UK it took me quite a while to adjust to the dating scene, mostly because of the stark cultural differences. While there were various men who captured my interest, I always felt something was missing. It took me quite some time to realize that I actually missed the familiarity of men from my home country. I missed their unique sense of humour, especially the jokes and teasing dished out in our local dialect. I longed for someone I could connect with over particular shared experiences and interests. But more than that, I missed the comfort of dating that came with unspoken cultural understandings and nuances.
Despite that longing, now that I am comfortably back home, I have found it difficult to connect deeply with anyone I’ve dated. Recently, I was speaking to an African friend I met during my studies, and we spoke extensively about the reasons why I believe I am single at a time that I imagined would be the prime of my romantic life. We came to some interesting conclusions after comparing our experiences with dating as black women in the UK, compared to dating within our respective home countries and cultures. They are pretty much the same conclusions I came to after speaking to two of my close female friends who also studied in the UK. While I will not pretend to speak for all women, and while I am aware that I may be making some unfair generalizations, I believe there is something to be said for how startling the similarities are in the experiences my friends and I have had since graduating.
The harsh reality is that I eventually feel very underwhelmed by many of the men that I interact with. It is a realization that many of my friends have also experienced after returning home from studies abroad. While they may initially excite me in one way or another, in time I realize that I want more… and I want a man who wants more for himself. Don’t get me wrong, I love the men of my homeland and if we’re being frank, they almost always show you a good time. But when that euphoria fades, I find myself wanting someone who isn’t simply content with working any available steady 9 to 5 and having a good time on the weekend. I also find myself longing to engage in the types of debates I enjoyed with men I dated while in the UK. It may seem unkind of me to say this, but I feel like the majority of the men I now encounter have a worldview that doesn’t stretch far beyond the beautiful hills and valleys of our island. In fairness to them, I try to remind myself that I was not always as open-minded as I am now, having experienced a very different way of life.
Another significant dating hurdle I’ve observed since returning home is the realization that many men still have very antiquated ideas about women. Socially constructed gender roles are largely upheld in many Caribbean countries and it has severe implications for how men perceive and treat the women they are romantically involved with. In my experience, many men eventually appear either intimidated or uncomfortable by some of the very same attributes which initially attracted them to me. More often than not, it’s directly related to their own insecurities, their limited concept of what their ‘masculinity’ represents, and what it means in relation to what they think my ‘femininity’ should look like.
In the beginning, many men are drawn to how open I am about my sexuality. They convince me and themselves that a sexually liberated woman excites them. That is until it is no longer pleasing to their male ego. When my sexuality begins to intimidate them they often begin to exhibit irrationally jealous or possessive behaviour. That’s when I have unkind labels hurled at me simply because they feel emasculated in some way.
Similarly, men often applaud my ambition in the early days. They exhibit some level of support or admiration when I speak about my academic and career goals. But in my experience that support wanes when they begin to feel small in the shadow of my ambitions. It slowly dissipates when they realize that my priorities involve experiencing the world and all it has to offer, not being the stay at home wife and mother that many of them dream of, even though they hate to admit it.
Even as I share these observations, I recognize that I cannot hold this against the average man I encounter at home. I acknowledge that I have had the privilege of travelling and being exposed to things that many are not fortunate enough to experience. I also remind myself that many of the men I dated in the UK had these and other privileges.
I often jokingly respond to questions about marriage by affirming that I will find my husband when I soon return to the UK to pursue my masters. Yet, lately it feels less and less like a joke. Lately, I am more inclined to believe that there may be some truth to this. However, the potential tinge of excitement is usually overshadowed by my memories of the complaints I had when attempting to date outside of my own culture and country. These musings, coupled with the reality of my dating experiences both at home and abroad have left me with the unanswered question- is home really where the heart is?
Written by Amanie Mathurin