Four years ago, when I left the U.S. for the Netherlands, I was excited to start a new life. A new city. A new language. A new degree. A new business. And a new man.
Except that last one was a joke. Most of my plans are falling into place. But if there is one area of life in the Netherlands that I still struggle to navigate, it’s dating. And I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried.
When I was living in the U.S., I only dated one type of man: intelligent, progressive, and Black. So naturally, I hoped to attract similar types in Amsterdam. When I mentioned my dating preferences to some of my new Black girlfriends in the city, they laughed out loud. I was being unrealistic.
Since I had seen some attractive types in passing, I wondered why my expectations of dating one of them were unreasonable. “The guys you’re describing typically date white women. They probably won’t even notice you,” a friend explained. “You’ll have more luck with white Dutch men. They love Black women.” Another popular recommendation I received was to “import” someone from another country — an expat for an expat.
I thought this must be nonsense. With so many educated Black men walking around, I surely could find some relationship potential among them.
I held onto that faith for a couple of years, while, for the most part, I walked down the street feeling remarkably invisible. Not to say I welcome street harassment. But damn, can a sister get a “good morning” after she’s put on her cutest dress? And the few times I did catch the eye of an attractive man, it usually turned out he was reaching for the yogurt or something else in the supermarket aisle behind me.
My shyness could have been working against me. Because, as countless locals explained, men don’t approach women in the Netherlands. Women are usually more aggressive. And since attractive Black men fall into so many women’s preferences, they can afford to ignore whomever they please. It’s a reversal of power with which I’m not comfortable.
This isn’t to say I haven’t dated any Black men in the Netherlands. One guy I went out with a few times had been in Amsterdam since he was a teenager. I thought we hit it off. But immediately after we kissed, he said, “Wow, you’re the first Black woman I’ve dated.” I just…I can’t.
More recently, I’ve accepted that the early advice I received could be true. Perhaps I was doing myself a disservice by sticking with the type of man I could date in New York or Oakland. So I signed up for online dating. And I (virtually) approached a few white men. If I was going to go for it, I was going to do it like a local.
My first date with a Dutch guy was — let’s just say, challenging. He wasn’t my physical type. But he was super tall, as Dutch men tend to be, a history buff, and studying something in graduate school. And I could tell he was smitten. However, somehow the conversation turned political (definitely my fault). And we discussed the racist Dutch holiday tradition of blackface known as Zwarte Piet (translation: Black Peter).
“Since you’re colored, you probably see it differently,” he explained. “It’s not meant to be racist.” He went on to discuss a number of “colored” people in his classes who have expressed a similar distaste for the beloved blackface character. But he just couldn’t understand why “colored” people were so unreasonable in their arguments against it.
I could pretend to remember the rest of the conversation. But I think I blacked out.
On my way home, I pondered my future in the Netherlands. If the men I like aren’t interested in me, and if the men who like me refer to me as “colored” and fanaticize about blackface, my dating potential looks pretty bleak.
This isn’t to say I won’t keep trying. But now I’m also looking into options for importing a man who fits my type. Is there an app for that?
Dana Saxon is the Founder & Executive Director of Ancestors unKnown. Born in Philadelphia, Saxon is now based on The Hague, Netherlands. Twitter: @dp_saxon
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