A few years ago, a friend of mine began a long-distance romance with a woman who was living then in Los Angeles. They met through friends, though they'd never actually seen each other in person: Gary got Susan's number and called her up. They exchanged pictures online, chatted on the phone for hours and days and months, until finally, Gary got up the nerve and went to visit her. It was a dangerous, risky move and one that would ultimately prove fruitless, not because he didn't have a good time with Susan, but because of how he perceived himself when he was with her. As an independent, creative and ambitious guy, Gary thought of himself as innovative and smart, someone with a liberal, open mind. But when it came to Susan-when it came right down to it-he couldn't muster the necessary comfort that would've brought his relationship to the next level.
Returning to New York upset and confused, he questioned his motivations, his essence. When he called me, I told him what I'd told him months before-that he wasn't quite ready for this type of relationship. It was true that he found Susan charming and sweet and kind, so different from the girls he usually chose. This was a departure for him, and in it, Gary found the courage to continue to see Susan, even though their sex had been lukewarm and awkward, even though he knew that in his heart of hearts he'd never be able to commit to a black woman.
While interracial dating is no longer the taboo topic it once was, Gary's situation is still more common-and tragic-than not. In our country and across the world, we are divided by difference, in social, economic and educational status, in our varied backgrounds. Sometimes, these differences lead to incredible passions; sometimes, they split us apart. The way we grow up says a lot about whom we choose as our lovers, yet the way we grow ourselves up says a lot more about how likely it is that we'll find the most compatible partner. And isn't that what we're really after, the best fit possible? If we're honest with ourselves, really honest, that is, it shouldn't matter what size, shape or color our soul mate comes in. What should matter-and what usually does not-is how this other person makes us feel, how he or she treats us, and vice versa, rather than how the world will judge us for our feelings-a good person is a good person, right?
As portrayed by the media, interracial dating seems to have come a long way. In the last fifty or so years, we've seen a progression of movies, like the now-stilted and out-of-date "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," in 1957, and it's current remake, a comedy, "Guess Who," in 2004. Though each film is dedicated to the exposition and breakdown of cross-cultural bias, it is only the original, with Sidney Poitier, Kate Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy, that helped catapult the issue of black-on-white romance into the forefront of American thought and foster a dialogue where none before existed.
This dialogue is still necessary, more so now than ever, so that people like my friend Gary, who simply couldn't face telling his family about Susan, might think more carefully the next time he gets involved with a woman of color. If love is blind, he asked me on the phone, just after he ended things with her, then why can't it be color blind, too?
It can, I told him, but not until we all drop the pretense of race.
"She's the nicest, sweetest girl I ever met," he said, regretfully.
"But not enough," I said.
"No, not enough," he said.
"And if she were white?" I said.
"Then we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said. "I'd probably already be married with kids."
So, five years later, guess who's still alone?