Nine months now remain in the year my gynecologist gave me to find love before pursuing solo motherhood. There have been new sparks flying while a few old flames remain. These days, FaceTime chats, text conversations that last the entire work day and calls before I head to bed fill my calendar. On occasion, a socially distanced walk around Atlanta’s beltline and a trip to a local bakery make for the perfect Saturday. Quarantine almost made me forget how much I enjoy Southern explorations.
Yet the scarcity of actual, physical dates right now isn’t just because COVID is still real. It’s because I am afraid. A survivor of sexual assault, I know what it is like for a date to begin with hope and excitement only to end in terror and disbelief. And though I’ve worked through my trauma with an amazing therapist and can chart my healing and growth, the conditions of today’s dating scene trigger me all over again.
In December, 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields was found dead in her Bridgeport, Conn. home following a date with a man she met on Bumble. Though police ultimately ruled Lauren’s death an accident, it took them a month to open an investigation. Her family insists foul play was involved. The very same day, Bridgeport police were also notified of the death of 53-year-old Brenda Rawls. When Brenda’s family couldn’t get in touch with her for two days, they reached out to the man she was dating. He told her sister, “Brenda died on Sunday and the coroner picked her up.” While the mayor of Bridgeport said the detectives handling the case would face disciplinary action, no immediate investigation into Brenda’s death took place.
And just last month, 29 year-old Asia Maynard was found dead the day after she went on a date. Unbeknownst to her sister Tera Maynard at the time, when she called Kansas City police to report Asia missing, they already knew she was dead. When they finally delivered the news formally, Tera said the police told her family they believed Asia died of natural causes. Yet, there are reports that the man Asia saw the night before she was killed has been linked to several mysterious deaths.
The response of the Bridgeport and Kansas City police departments is not unlike the response of many other institutions when it comes to the safety of Black women. They just don’t care and, when forced to care, they do the bare minimum. In a world where everyone deserves to be loved, sisters do not feel safe in their quest to find it. Recently, BLK—the largest dating app for Black singles—conducted a survey that found that 78 percent of respondents don’t feel safe as Black women in America and 34 percent don’t feel safe on dating apps. Given that Black women experience all forms of violence at rates higher than their non-Black counterparts, this is not at all surprising.
But while we may not be surprised, it does make dating hard. It becomes especially difficult when you receive the call you never want to receive but too many Black women know all too well. Last week, my dear friend Lyvonne Briggs reached out to share she’d been the victim of sexual assault on a date. While I was grateful she was alive, my heart broke for my friend—a pastor, author and Emmy Award winner who uses her platform to nudge us out of the vestiges of purity culture and shame. It broke again when she went to explore her legal actions and was told it would not be considered date rape because she wasn’t drugged.
“There’s this idea of a boogeyman who’s going to jump out the alleyway and sexually assault you,” she told me when I spoke with her for this piece. “But that’s not what happens.” It was their third date. He wasn’t a stranger but someone she was getting to know who manipulated their growing relationship. I beamed with pride as she courageously shared her experience on social media, affirming that our desires for affection are valid and refusing to let them be diminished simply because someone is upset they can’t have their way with us.
I have nine months left in this year of pursuing love and the experiences of Lauren, Brenda, Asia, Lyvonne, myself and the countless Black women who have been harmed while searching for it frame my thoughts and actions. No doubt that’s true of so many single Black women. We want to find love and we want to be safe while doing it. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. It isn’t too much to ask. And yet, it unfortunately seems to be.
But what I do know is that, even as we navigate the dating scene with a bit of fear and apprehension, we’ve always got our girls. They’re the ones who approval or veto our final looks before we head out the door. They’re the ones who giggle and dream with us when everything about the date went right. And they’re the ones who rush to our side when everything about it goes wrong. In the beautiful uncertainty that is this love thing, our girls got us. And we’ve got them.
Story Credit: Candice Marie Benbow/thegrio
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/thegrio