The microscope is still on the landscape of black women’s romantic relationships, but at least the zoom function isn’t on. Since national media broke the false news that we’re desperate, unwanted, and destined to be eternally single a few years ago, we’ve taken matters into our own hands, broadening our horizons when it comes to men and even giving in to our own outlandish standards we’ve set for them.

In all the talk about securing a commitment from a man, marrying him and birthing his babies, we have yet to begin at the starting point: dating. A friend initiated a fiery debate about dating recently, insisting that black women shouldn’t date more than one man at one time. She lessens her chances of commitment because no man is going to deal with a woman who’s spending time with other men, especially if she’s sleeping with him. When I gave my rebuttal that dating doesn’t equate to sex, he shot back that “perception is reality.” Oh.

Before you reach through your computer screen to strangle the messenger, let’s address the most important issue first. What is dating exactly?

It seems that everyone acts (and feels) according to their own contrived definition. Some believe that dating involves outings together specifically for the purpose of getting to know each other. To others, it means two people have sex on a consistent basis. When a person says they used to “date” someone, what do they really mean? The old faithful, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, defines dating as going out with someone in whom one is romantically or sexually interested.” Wikipedia calls it a “form of courtship, and may include any social activity undertaken by, typically, two persons with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse. …”

Aha! The latter definition implies that you assess suitability before you engage in an intimate relationship. Apparently, some of us have had the game all wrong.

Assuming we all do actually date according to that definition, why can’t black women go out with a number of guys at one time without judgment? It’s perfectly normal for our white counterparts to go out with a different guy daily until they find the one they like the most, and they aren’t shunned. In fact, they’re encouraged to do so.

Jessica Massa, author of The Gaggle, says women should get a “gaggle of men” to figure out what and who we want. Her website, which is being praised by mainstream media and critics, defines a gaggle as “the select group of guys in your life – many of whom you are not explicitly romantically involved with – who play different roles, fulfill different needs, and help you to figure out who you are, what you want, and what kind of relationship you ultimately desire.” There’s the Ex-Boyfriend Who Is Still Around (we all have one, right?), the Boyfriend Prospect, the Accessory and so on.

Whether you agree with the “gaggle” idea or not, the fact that it’s now a mainstream school of thought suggests that dating several men is acceptable, especially for white women.

Thinking about my friend’s views on women dating multiple men, I wonder a few things. Would we be seen as whores if we were to date even a 1/3 of the “gaggle”? Are we black women expected to limit ourselves in dating for fear that we won’t be accepted by a prospective suitor, forced to “put all of our eggs in one basket”? That’s absurd and unfair, and yes, I’m well aware of the infamous double standard between men and women. To add insult to injury though, there seems to be an unspoken double standard between black women and white women imposed by black men. I think Jay summed it up best when he asked, “Can I live?”

Regardless of perception or judgment, many of us are doing it already. For those who prefer to date a gaggle of men, it’s probably good advice to be up front with your dates and even discuss what each of you define as dating to save hurt feelings and egos. Dating should be fun (so they say). And if he doesn’t like your approach, you could simply not give a damn and keep it moving. Life is about choices, right?

Do you think there’s a double standard between black and white women in dating?

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