Family & Relationships: For women of color, dating events offer the safe space they don't always find online

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  • Women of color told Insider they face stereotypes, hypersexualization, and racism in online dating.
  • Black women specifically report feeling unsafe on dating apps.
  • Dating events offer some women of color a safe space to date while being themselves.

When Jada Draffin, a 27-year-old assistant director at a university, attended a speed dating event in New York City, she was pleasantly surprised with how relaxed she felt meeting other singles. "It kind of felt like a safe space and I didn't have to worry about race even coming up in the conversation," she told Insider. Draffin is biracial (Black and white) and says she's often been fetishized by non-Black men on dating apps. After stumbling upon WeMetIRL on TikTok, a curated NYC-based speed dating event focused on people of color, Draffin saw an opportunity to avoid the microaggressions she so often faced online.

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According to "The Dating Divide," a book that explores race and preference in the era of dating apps, "Black men and women feel walled off by the demonized and hyper-sexualized images absorbed by non-Black daters." White supremacy and westernized media play a large role in projecting Black women as undesirable, which may then negatively impact their experience with dating online.

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Joy Pate, a therapist based in Long Beach, California, says the most common issue she sees among her Black woman clients who use dating apps is being fetishized. "They'll get weird comments about something related to their appearance, like their hair or their skin color or the shape of their body, which really signals that the connection is not authentic. It's a way to objectify someone," Pate said.

'They don't want me to be with them in public'

As a plus-sized, biracial woman, Draffin's experience mimics Pate's findings. "There are some men that I've encountered that will sexualize my size, but only behind closed doors. They don't want me to be with them in public, so people won't know that they're actually into someone that's above a size 12," she said. But at a dating event, Draffin says she is able to bring her full self to the table and dodge men who wouldn't approach her in a public setting.

Yesenia Ramos, a 28-year-old social worker in Newark, New Jersey, faces a different kind of aggression on dating apps — stereotypes. "People will ask me if I want children immediately, am I looking to get married, or if I'm crazy because I'm Spanish," she said, noting these are common stereotypes placed on Hispanic women. So, in September, she tried another approach and attended a dating event that was specifically popular for attracting people of color, but found herself most interested in an Italian man.

Ultimately, Ramos said the experience at the dating event helped her recognize how dating apps can encourage people to have a narrow-minded perspective — similar to the one that was sometimes projected onto her. "I was shocked because there were people there that I would probably never approach or never talk to if I saw them on an app. But because I was able to see their personality and their body language toward me, it opened my eyes to other cultures," she said.

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Stereotyping on dating apps is also an issue Pate sees with her clients, and plays into why she believes women of color, especially Black women, are gravitating toward dating events. "I've had women tell me that they've been asked if they can twerk by a non-Black person and just other really silly questions that are obviously based in stereotypes or what that other person thinks a person of their race should be doing, whether that's a specific body shape or something related to the culture," Pate said.

Feeling unsafe on dating apps

"I think women of color think a little more than others about people's intentions when dating," Ramos said. When you combine stereotypes, aggressions, and sexual harassment from total strangers online, it is no surprise that many women of color report feeling unsafe on dating apps.

According to a survey hosted by BLK, the largest dating app for Black singles, 29 percent of women respondents said they don't feel safe dating on mainstream dating apps. Meeting at an event that is specifically geared toward dating, with other people in attendance, offers women of color a safe space they can't always find online.

While men of color report being subjected to stereotypes and oversexualization on dating apps by women, many do not see safety as an issue. "A lot of cis hetero men, regardless of how attractive they are, seldom receive compliments from women; this is true in person and over dating apps. Since these gestures are hard to come by, when they do come around, they tend to make our day rather than make us uncomfortable," said David Victor, a 25-year-old senior consultant in New York City who uses dating apps and has attended a dating event.

Attending a dating event requires an additional level of effort and intention that is different from dating apps, like getting dressed and showing up to a place as opposed to the ease of swiping on a phone. "There's a bigger chance that the men showing up to an event are actually serious about finding a partner versus someone who's conveniently just scrolling around on an app for the purpose of hooking up," Pate said, noting that dating events offer a lot more transparency in being able to see and feel a connection with a person.

"You can read the person's body language and kind of see how they're saying things, and you can feel if they're connected authentically and genuinely to you. On apps, there's a lot more people hiding behind their phone and saying things that they typically wouldn't, or being a person that they typically wouldn't be. It's a little harder to hide that in person sometimes."

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No strings + no stress = the chill AF dating experience your love life needs rn.If you’re currently braving the dating app trenches, then it may seem like everyone on Bumble or Hinge is looking for either a one-night stand or a lifelong partner to cling to till death do them part, The Notebook-style. While this may lead you to believe everyone is bringing an all-or-nothing energy to dating these days, more people are interested in going on casual dates than you might think. A 2019 Pew Research survey found that 36 percent of adults in the U.S. were either open to finding casual dates or solely wanted to date casually.

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