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January 17, 2008

Online Dating: what does race, class, sexual oriention, and age have to do with happily ever after?

Online Dating: what does race, class, sexual oriention, and age have to do with happily ever after?

I wish I had written this when I was still laughing. Humor can help us heal. I would like humor to be part of this blog entry, but I’ve stopped laughing. My recent relationship experience has moved me from humor to disappointment to sadness to confusion to loneliness to denial to writing. I want to write angry so I can have closure and recuperate. Ha!

I think this blog entry is a safe place to be angry. I think it is also a place to feel part of an understanding community, a place to not feel so alone. I hope you will comment on this blog entry if you, too, as a woman of color, find relationships to be troubling, taking too much time and energy from the work we need to do, and never the happily ever after that some of our friends have been lucky enough to enjoy (I want to hear those stories too). What does race and class and age and sexual orientation have to do with our relationship woes?

Have you ever ventured into the online dating phenomena? Were you lonely enough to take a risk? Did you put your profile, your photograph online? Did you, with great expectation, write to and meet the maybe next love of your life? Did someone write to you? Did you know the two of you had little in common, but you felt good that someone actually wrote to you? Were there signs that said run and run fast, but you chose to tell yourself, well, but,s/he is interested in me? Are there signs, clues along the way that we have missed because we have been desirous for too long of someone to love/someone to love us?

Yes, I have women of color friends who have met their current partners online and they are very happy and I am very happy for them (but, did you ever notice how when your friends are happy you don’t see them as often). Are they the exception, rather than the rule? Do the newspapers and magazines ever print articles about the dates from the dark side?

Is my inability to attract and keep a good person in my life the fact that, as online date #1 said, I am a racist, sexist bigot? He a fan of Freud, who, from what I could understand of his philosophizing, basically believed it's women's fault they are raped; and he who enjoyed pornography, but tried to justify it and keep me at bay by saying he only viewed it when he wasn’t in a relationship. I was foolish enough to argue with him for too long before I decided, as always, I don’t want to try to educate them. Foolish, and, yes, ashamed. How long do we linger because either evil is well hidden, or we pretend not to see it. Here, #1 is getting less than a paragraph of my time.

But, was he right? Am I too race, class, and gender conscious? Am I unrelenting, uncompromising? Unwilling to accept racism or sexism for the sake of love? YES. I can compromise a football game, a hike in the woods (as long as I don’t see a worm) —I can give a person some leeway as I expect them to give me the same. But, I can’t ever be with a misogynist, racist, homophobe. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes me awhile to notice what I don’t want to see, or if I do notice, I often spend too much time pretending / hoping I’m not really noticing what I know to be true.

Online date #2 (we met once for lunch): a man of color who reads and writes poetry. He went back to school in his thirties, earned a graduate degree (so did I). My friends were suspicious--which prompted me to ask #2 if he had ever been in prison. Yes, he had shot someone. I only got the truth by asking question after question. He said he never lied to me. Is omission of truth lying? I wanted to be with this man who had elevated himself from what was probably a horrific or at least complicated childhood, as many of us have had, but are we ever able to lose who we once were? His means of controlling his past behaviors seemed also to be his way of trying to control the behaviors of others. Online #2 and #3 were both recovering alcholics. Both were slow to acknowledge it. Is it important? As a woman of color who grew up passing for white, grew up believing marriage to a white man and children were the future I must strive for, can I ever truly be a colorful woman loving only women? Can I ever love anyone or let anyone love me? Am I too judgmental, too unwilling to take a chance? My friend says I close doors too quickly. I think, I don’t close them quick enough.

Girlfriends ask, why aren’t you searching for a relationship with another woman? I searched. Online, in my age category (on a particular day on a particular site) there were three women. All wanted white woman (or maybe it was two out of three)--including the woman who was taking classes in Eastern spirituality. (Not to say there aren’t men online who only want white women and/or who want younger women—or only want women of color!—we all want what we want.)

Someone asked, am I hanging out where the lesbians are? Where are they? I went to the Metro and Lucy’s when they were open, but most of the women were young--I am soon to be sixty years old. I do not deny my bisexuality (though others may think I am not). But, it’s complicated. I go to bars to dance, but not very often. Also, I am a girlie girl and like other girlie girls who do girlie things like shop, and….okay, I’ve written myself into a corner here and I need to write myself out. Apologies. What I’m trying to say is I don’t want to date a woman/or a man who is into kayaking, camping, etc. I’m still in a corner. Identity is complicated. I don’t want to go kayaking, or camping. I’m just saying, I just happened to notice all the men and women online who like the outdoors. I’m just saying, I’m not one of them.

And, yes, I’ve dated people of color; sometimes the trauma we live with/have lived with makes for traumatic relationships. There is much more that needs to be written about this.

Online #3. A hunter. He thought that because I was a feminist I would be against hunting. I’m not, though I’m against guns! Was this an early sign that he was already looking for an escape, that he didn’t want me to take the relationship too seriously?

What I didn’t want was a long distance relationship (been there, done that), but even though #3 traveled, he managed to see me once a week or once every two weeks which worked for me. What I liked about the relationship was it wasn’t one of those heart pounding love at first sight affairs. It was about companionship, about an intimate dialogue of similar and dis-similar interests, and, well, read between the lines.

Three months into the relationship, and I am trying to keep this short, not in real time, I was invited to vacation with #3. I said, yes. We talked for two hours a day planning the vacation, both excited to see each other again. We drove three hours from the airport to our destination being chatty, chatty, chatty. We had a lovely and relaxing three days. On the fourth day, the ex-girlfriend calls. A day after I arrive home, I know the ex-girlfriend is not an ex, but is and has been the girlfriend for the last eight years except for the time #3 was caught cheating on her before with a woman younger than his daughter (and who knows how many times he wasn’t caught cheating).

This story doesn’t deserve too much of our time. However, when I say there were no signs, I mean I didn’t notice any signs. For Christmas he gave me a beautiful silver necklace and earrings. They were ravens. (#1 had also given me a bird necklace.) I am a Chinese Blackbird; I am intriqued by birds. Did I question the description that came with the jewelry-- The raven, the “trickster? the “Big Man.? / “His antics were often motivated by greed, and he loved to tease, to cheat, to woo and to trick??

Ladies, flashbacks keep erupting in my mind. Early on, Mr. Raven said he had only met in person one other woman online, and she was black. Was he seeking woman of color because he thinks we are _________? And what about the fact that I am open and honest about loving women? Is this a turn on for men, not an acceptance. Do women loving women make men angry? Do they want to get back at us by hurting us? Did the fact that I am poor suggest to him that he could buy me? Even though his (ex) girlfriend said, in so many words, that he was needful of a sugar mama; he, when I said I had no money to offer to pay for dinner or a vacation, replied that he was old fashioned and please don’t mention it again, so I didn’t. And what about the interest he had with my poem, “China Doll?? Was that a sign too? A challenge to him to make me eat my words? Did he ever like me?

China Doll

I am not a China doll. I am not a Geisha slut. I am not. Oriental. Exotic. Eastern. Fantasy. I’m not. I wear my mandarin collar, my frog closures for me. Because I can. Because I am. I wear my silk, my brocade. I am beautiful. Delicate. Okay, some stereotypes were me. Silent. Passive. Accommodating. Were me. Exotic. Were me. Were me.

What am I really trying to say here? I am a bad person? No. I’m trying to say as important as trust is to relationships, sometimes I shouldn’t have been so trusting.

Or, am I really trying to say my identity is too complex and I might as well stop believing anyone can love all of who I am? Should I be happily ever after with someone who likes my appearance, but not my writing? My writing, but not my children? My children, but not my sexuality? My sexuality, but not my sense of humor?


My sister said that we’ve all cheated, everyone cheats--and at our age we all have herstory/history. She asked me if #3 breaks up with his girlfriend, would I see him again. I hadn’t considered that possibility. But then, I admit, I considered it for a few minutes—he was a nice guy before I knew about all the lies. I believed he truly liked everything about me.

Okay, I am no longer considering it. Women continue to hurt not only themselves, but each other. When will we stop?

I have friends who continue to look for a partner online. Why should we stop looking for someone to love, someone to love us? But, are we too impetuous? Have we lost faith in serendipity (I met someone at a gas station, two weeks later I was getting him out of detox).

Thank goodness I have girlfriends who hug me, who cry with me, who laugh with me, who love me, who understand--well, will we ever understand--who have experienced the complexity of how being a woman of color affects our chances of being in a healthy relationship--of being happy ever after.

Also, Thank goodness, I am a writer--we can all be writers. We can write until we feel safe again, feel confident again, feel we can love again, feel someone can love us.

For now, I must keep writing.

Sherry Quan Lee

Sun Yung Shin January/February Events

Hey everyone,

Happy new year if I haven't seen you yet in '08!

I wanted to update all of you on my upcoming local Twin Cities poetry readings.

I'll be reading all new work, and all readings are free and open to the public.

Thanks! Cheers,


Sunday 1/20 5 p.m. @ Magers & Quinn with other winners of the What Light contest / Mnartists.org / Walker Art Center / McKnight.

Friday 1/25 7 p.m. @ The Loft with Korean American poet Lee Herrick from Fresno, California (with his debut collection This Many Miles From Desire) and local Lao writer Bryan Thao Worra. It's a freakishly unusual all-Asian-Adoptee lineup--all of us with first books in '07!

Thursday 2/14 7 p.m. @ Patrick's Cabaret -- I'm hosting two stellar U of M MFA students / Korean American poets Katie Leo, also a playwright and performer, & Arlene Kim / for the monthly Writers of Color Reading Series through SASE/Intermedia Arts. Co-sponsored by Patrick's Cabaret.

Thursday 2/21 7 p.m. solo for the 14th Annual Fireside Reading Series through the Friends of the Library @ the Hamline Midway Branch Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Avenue, St. Paul. There will be coffee, cookies and cider, provided by Ginkgo Coffeehouse. Supported by Micawber's Books.

Tuesday 2/26 @ 7 p.m. with Korean American superstar-poet Ed Bok Lee in conjunction with the visit of Korean Studies scholar David McCann from Harvard University. Sponsored by the Consortium for the Study of the Asias at the University of Minnesota.

January 2, 2008

Writers of Color Reading Series
>Thursday, January 10, 2008
>7:00 PM at Patrick's Cabaret
>3010 Minnehaha Ave, Minneapolis
>Hosted by Sun Yung Shin
>Free and open to the public
>SHANNON GIBNEY's poetry has appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, Wicked
>Alice and the Bellingham Review, and is forthcoming in PMS. You can
>find her nonfiction in Essence Magazine and Outsiders Within (South End
>Press, 2006). Gibney was awarded a 2005 Bush Artist Fellowship and the
>2002 Hurston/Wright Award in fiction. Her short fiction is forthcoming
>in Tea Party, and has appeared in Brilliant Corners. She is a 2002
>graduate of Indiana University's MFA program in fiction, and also holds
>an MA in 20th Century African American literature from that
>institution. Currently, she is at at work on a novel that chronicles
>the journeys of 19 th century African Americans who colonized Liberia,
>and BROWN ON BROWN, an anthology of essays on building coalition
>between communities of color. Find out more at shannongibney.net
>CHRISTY NaMEE ERICKSON was born in the year of the Ox to a shopgirl in
>Korea. She was raised in Alaska and went to school in St. Paul. She
>tries to be good, but not very hard.
>This Carol Connolly Reading is co-sponsored by Patrick's Cabaret.
>For more information, call (612) 871-4444 or visit
>www.intermediaarts.org .

>½Å ¼± ¿µ Sun Yung Shin