In every encounter, with each new beginning, there are cues that humans use to tip them off about the person in front of them.

The furtive smile. The involuntary frown. The sarcasm. The way she looks when talking about her hobbies. The way he looks when talking about his career plans.

The sum of the subtleties come to a whole, where we judge – consciously or unconsciously – whether to continue the relationship.

And we make informed decisions because we were thorough in gathering the necessary information.

If only that were true.

What more than likely happens is that we see an outfit, an uttered phrase – “shawty” is one I’m well familiar with – or the slightest display of ignorance to make a snap decision about the person we’re engaging.

His smile reminded me of ex-boyfriend Mike so he prolly sneaky too.

She doesn’t like to read and I remembered Keisha didn’t like to either.

He dresses more preppy than I’m used to…I need some edge.

He got dreds, he prolly one of those “blame Whitey” conscious brothas.

She parties too much…can never stay in.

OK, well that last one is a telltale. The other ones are ill-sighted conclusions arrived at all the time. The intriguing part about this scenario lies in its universal application. People hate being put in a box, but knowingly or unknowingly do it to others. We say we have preferences, but it often turns out to be little more than surface generalizing.

There’s an old-age wisdom that places value on things that come naturally to us. If something comes easily for people, then is it a fixed reality?

In the context of relationships, is generalizing unavoidable?

Many people would respond to that question by positing that socialization makes people lump others and stereotype, which originate when an abnormally large group does something similar.

If people perceive a group, say young Black males, as having an affinity for rap and tattoos, then these people will likely think young Black males like rap and tattoos.

If we see a certain president constantly getting pilloried on a certain news channel, then we are likely to perceive everybody who is affiliated with this certain news channel to be anti-president.

Even Sarah Palin can see what I’m getting at with this. Every Black politician working for Fox News aren’t “Uncle Toms” nor is every White person from rural Virginia sheltered rednecks.

We, us, Black folks should know better than most the full effects of generalizing. Yet, or because of it, we tend to perform that task rather easily.

Generalizations are often activated to free up cognitive resources for other tasks, which makes it essential. In situations where quick decisions are required, it can save your life or make your path a lot easier. On the other hand, stereotypes can be ruinous, leading to self-fulfilling prophesies that perpetuates their existence.

Many relationships function like this. For example, a Black man sees a Black woman from an area or with an accent that reminds him of something he doesn’t like and the relationship ends before it begins. That same guy will come across a woman of another culture, treat her better because “she is different.”

His expectations are different, so he will take a different approach with this woman, and even deal and give a lot more because he expects a favorable outcome.

He would say that he prefers “this type,” but aren’t generalizations necessary to establish a certain type? If so, then what’s so bad about it?

It’s nothing wrong if I don’t like a certain book. Some books grab me more than others. The issue is when I assume a book can’t be groundbreaking because it has a certain cover or was found in a certain area of the store.

And right now, tons of books shelves are collecting dust because too many establish “preferences” based on lazy conclusions.

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  • The examples you use make me think this article is much more about associations than preferences or generalizations. As we enter into new relationships, we are always trying to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes we made in previous ones – first and foremost, the mistake of choosing the wrong person to trust.

    So we make associations – “Boyfriend X was like this, so I won’t go near a man like that,” “Girlfirend Y always did that so I won’t date a girl who does that.” The real problem with this way of thinking, though we all do it, is that it’s based in fear and love can’t grow and thrive in a fearful place. We can always find associations and comparisons between previous attachments and potential ones. And if you’re always looking for the person you can’t make a negative association to, eventually you’ll run out of people. Better to put fear and associations (and generalizations) aside, take people as they come, and discover how love grows.

  • jay

    there is a fine line between preferences and standards

    1. he drinks too much – every day he buys a bottle of hennessy is a VALID standard.

    but,

    2. he drinks and I don’t date men who drink is unreasonable in MY opinion (a unreasonable preference) BUT someone else thinks it is very important.

    Who am I to knock what the next person finds important.

    this is a debate that will always continue.. we are human..we like what we like.. and who is anyone to say that is unreasonable.