Dating While Black And Orange

Dear Susan Patton: Finding love at Princeton isn’t as easy when you’re not the typical Princetonian.

When I read Susan A. Patton’s letter to the Daily Princetonian published on March 29, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” I wasn’t particularly surprised by what she had to say. The idea of acquiring an MRS degree while at school isn’t exactly a new one; my mother had given similar, albeit more tactful, advice when I was in college. What did surprise me was that no one, in all of the various reaction pieces, pointed out that while “the universe of women” her sons could marry is “limitless,” the dating and marriage prospects at Princeton for those of us who are not visibly Princetonian, namely heteronormative, cis-gendered, and white, aren’t quite as great.

As an African-American woman, I found myself in a very small minority at Princeton in 2006. I remember sitting in the student center my freshman year with a group of friends, discussing our dating prospects. We had heard a rumor that 95% of Princeton alumni marry other Princeton alumni (this is definitely a rumor — no one at Princeton keeps track of this), and we thought about our future husbands, somewhere on campus.

Having also been told that our “stock” would never be higher after freshman year (someone said something about being “fresh meat,” which was disturbing in and of itself), we lamented our lack of dating options. We had come up with a rough estimate of how many men were available as potential husbands in our class year in a very crude “flowchart” — and it showed how dismal our prospects were as minority women.

This chart, now long-lost, accounted for the already taken men and the fact that we never saw our male engineering friends unless they took a break from studying (ditto for the student-athletes). We also accounted for the young men we knew weren’t interested in monogamy or, y’know, consent (statistic alert: 1 in 4 college girls will be sexually assaulted — more than likely by someone they know!), and recognized the ones who weren’t interested in women, period.

And we ultimately had to acknowledge that the majority just aren’t at all interested in black girls.

Finding a date in the general Princeton population who was genuinely interested in me as a person, not just in feeding some sort of jungle-fever fantasy, was difficult. I can count on one hand the number of non-black men who approached me, and I only need one finger to let you know how that went overall. Spoiler alert: That finger ain’t for countin’. Dating “in the race” proved difficult as well. The ratio of black women to black men when I was at Princeton was approximately 3:1. Not exactly inspiring odds.

Despite this, I made a good effort, dating when I could and getting to know my classmates. After all, though I wanted a relationship, I still was at Princeton primarily for a world-class education. For various reasons, my romantic relationships fizzled, often turning into friendships that I am grateful to still have today.

After graduating, I found that Patton was right about one thing: There are a lot of men who are intimidated by a Princeton degree. My friends and I called disclosing our alma mater “dropping the P-bomb,” and I used it as a litmus test. If I got any sort of resistance (my favorite response was “I wish I could date a girl like you” — uh, I thought that was what we were trying to do here, bro!), then I probably was not going to have a good time dating that person.

I met my current boyfriend (and future spouse) far away from Nassau Street. We went to high school together and reconnected when I moved back to my hometown in 2010. He’s not a Princetonian, but guess what? He’s intelligent, ambitious, kind, charming, caring, supportive, and most importantly, neither intimidated by nor dismissive of my Princeton heritage.

He respects the large influence that Princeton has had on my life and accepts that I will probably always be a little bit elitist (I may or may not have sternly told him that “good girlfriends don’t let their boyfriends apply to Harvard Business School”), and we ultimately know that what’s important is not our schooling, but our character.

I could have let Princeton define me, my relationship, my entire life, but instead, I incorporated Princeton as only a chapter in my story. It took time and distance from Old Nassau to come to the conclusion that I am more than my Princeton pedigree, and I’m a better, more well-rounded person for that revelation.

In response to the Patton letter, Princeton President Shirley Tilghman gave me yet another reason to love her when she remarked, “Princeton is an educational institution. It’s not a marriage bureau. The purpose of a Princeton education is not to find a spouse; the purpose is to prepare yourself for a meaningful life.”

So screw the odds and throw away the charts.

You have one job in college: Graduate and make a life for yourself. That’s technically two jobs, but hey, I majored in literature, not math.

A version of this essay originally appeared on Brittney Winters’ blog.

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