"But I Can't Help Who I'm Attracted To!"

by Claire AH

“I can’t help who I’m attracted to!” is a line matchmakers hear all too often. Usually, it’s a defensive reaction when someone admits they aren’t interested in dating anyone with (insert skin colour here) and feel weird about it when gently called out.

I’ve been lucky enough to speak on panels and run workshops on “Intersectional Dating” (dating while being mindful of how race, gender, sexuality, ability, size, class, etc. play into the experience) and “I can’t help what I’m attracted to” line comes up again and again and again. While there is research showing that we look for certain similarities in a partner, these are more often based on culture/values than straight-up physical appearance.

People absolutely can and do have preferences, but they come from what we are told is attractive in the dominant culture and how we are socialized. (How many Asians were on Saved By The Bell? How many South Asians starred on 90210?) Socialization can’t be undone with a snap of our fingers, but we can certainly cultivate the awareness and critical thought to at least know why we feel the way we do and allow for a little more flexibility in our dating habits.

Honestly, I don't accept clients who won't be open-minded in revising their whites-only policy. I also ask people to explain to me why they only want to date certain ethnicities and not others. (The exception being when people of colour don’t want to date white people. It’s not my place to talk about that.) I'll ask the five whys (like an annoying child - Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?) and help them along when they come to the "I don't know..." "Because it's just what I want“ is not an answer. If we come up against even positive stereotypes (perceptions of subservience, sensuality, masculinity, and so on), I am all too happy to unpack them. This definitely isn’t a mean-spirited situation. I just want people to try and to want to try to do better.

This is not necessarily a popular way of being a matchmaker, but I also know that almost every client wants someone who is open-minded. It’s consistently one of the top traits people say they want in a partner. I don’t consider being really set in your racial preferences and unwilling to discuss or investigate them open-mindedness, so it’s a litmus test to see if they’d be a good match for others. It’s also about being willing to engage in the process of identifying what has worked about their dating habits thus far and what might not be best serving them.

The way I see it, it is way harder (and mostly ill-advised) to try to let go of your values or the things you want out of a relationship/life. It’s a lot easier to at least be open to meeting someone who looks a little different than you envisioned.

We love this recent article by fellow dating coach Erika Ettin. It breaks down the unique frustration of working with people who won't be open-minded and wind up doubling down on narrow racial dating preferences.