Hi Dae and Nikkita,
I’m a 35-year-old woman of color (just barely) living in Seattle. I recently escaped a long, controlling relationship. He was jealous and more committed to other people’s interest than what was best for us. We broke up not long after he was accused of sexual assault. I was alone and a little desperate to forget all that had happened, so I went for the easy rebound—a cocky tinder fling that didn’t last for more than a few days.
I am currently seeing a few people. I’ve been on many dates over the past six months and find myself dating lots of white women—two in particular.
The first is an established hard-hitter, but not a very good listener. Not much unlike my last long-term partner. The second listens when I talk, but doesn’t really understand where I am coming from. I have to explain so much to her all of the time. I don’t love either of them, but my options are limited. All relationships take work, right? I’m not sure which one is best for me, but ending up with one of them is inevitable. Being alone is not an option. I have to choose. … And I might have to make a choice before you can even answer this letter.
So, what should I do? And what if I made the wrong choice?
You are correct. All relationships take work, but some require more work than others. You aren’t the first person to find yourself in this predicament. In fact, we have all been here before. It seems we haven’t learned our lesson. So, here we are again.
I am sure this choice has been a daunting one. It should be. One of these women will be in your life for at least the next four years. Her decisions, lifestyle, friends, family, and business associates will impact you in imaginable and unimaginable ways.
You say that one of the women is a lot like your last long-term partner; which means you already know what dating her is like. It is understandable that, even if your last relationship wasn’t that good for you, you feel a sense of comfort in the known possibilities (even if they aren’t good for you).
She sounds like a real business women, maybe even a little corporate. You need to remember where she works, who she works with, and who she works for will always be a higher priority than you. You are a little fish in her big pond.
She will struggle to get to the root of the deep inequities that exist between you. You will have to remind her to listen and follow through on her commitments with you. Stand up for yourself. The sooner you do this the better. The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be. She will become more elusive and less available to talk over time. You will have to demand that she learn to be accountable to the greater common good of your human dignity. Otherwise you will be swept away by the interest of her business partners.
No doubt she will try to be with you. Let’s face it. She needs you around but cannot have you in her way. While you are a small fish in her big pond she knows you know how to make a big splash. So she will try to act cool and sort of make friends with your friends. You will say “at least she is trying,” but remember, while “trying” does count for something, you deserve someone who does more than try.
In the end, this relationship will likely be exhausting for you. You will have to constantly fight her for what you need. Sometimes you will even have to protest.
The second woman sounds like a new experience for you. She listens when you talk and that feels nice. But still it can be hard to be in a relationship with someone who does not understand where you are coming from—even when they listen to you. These sorts of relationships are often full of long days and even longer nights of talking and crying and hashing out how the relationship can work better to prevent harm to anyone. I am sure she is very well-intended, but intention and impact are not the same thing. She can have good intentions, and still do serious harm. You will need to remind her of this.
She probably feels different than your other partners. Maybe even a bit unpredictable for you. You don’t know what to expect. Each time you have one of those late-night “determine the relationship” talks you walk away feeling heard but unsure if she is going to be able to follow through on what she says. She wants to treat you well, but sometimes she is just so blinded by her own privilege.
She says she cares about the small fish and really wants the big pond to be the place where you both belong. She knows plenty of the right things to say, but doesn’t always know how to make them a reality. She is going to need your help—lots of help—to make this vision a reality.
While the two options feel very different, one thing remains the same: You will have to put in a lot of work to get what you need either way you go. You will have to help them both see that when each individual in the relationship is doing better, the relationship as a whole is doing better. This does not seem to come naturally to either of them. Privilege, but especially white privilege and wealth, are blinding. Things will only be equitable in your relationship if you push her towards equity.
Now is not the time to go with the flow. Do not fall into your old patterns. Use your voice. Do not be afraid to yell to be heard (if you have to). Always remember the power you hold in this relationship. She, both of them honestly, would be nothing without you. No matter whom you end up with remember: You chose her. She needs you and she knows it.