"I could never date a woman who isn't Dominican," my friend began. Even a Puerto Rican, seemingly close in cultural traditions, was out of the question.
Just months prior to our conversation, he'd tried dating a Jamaican girl and said the differences were too much to bear. Judging by his recant of their short-lived love story, if one can even call it that, the two were polar opposites -- but I doubt race was the sole culprit of their dismantlement. Sure, they preferred different music, different food, different traditions and different forms of entertainment, but the real issue was that they were on separate pages, both unwilling to compromise. Alas, the two parted ways.
As my friend concluded his bitter story, I found myself mentally reciting some of what I'd heard over the years, the voices of others expressing the same idea -- that when dating, it's best to stick to one's race.
After being single for something like two years, I found myself saying, among other things, I want to be with a worldly man. By this, I wasn't hinting towards materialism, but rather using worldly to describe an open-minded, knowledgeable man, a man whose mindset far surpassed anything I'd ever known, anything -- in other words -- I'd ever been exposed to.
When I uttered this statement, I had no particular man in sight. I hadn't visualized his features, much less his race. I had put out the intent, while simultaneously focusing on becoming better. This time around, I wasn't wasting energy on determining the details or micromanaging the possibilities. With time, however, I slowly began to understand that in order to have the kind of relationship I wanted to have -- as opposed to the immature one I had been a part of years prior -- something, and likely not just me, had to change.
Over time, I've learned that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Whether we like them or not, for the most part, they hold true. I noticed this, not just with my ex-boyfriend, but in the men he surrounded himself (and therefore me) with. I'd heard men say things like: "If she's with me, I don't want her getting too friendly with my friends." "A woman's purpose is to have children." "I can't be with a woman who doesn't cook." That narrow-mindedness mixed in with the will to control is typical of Hispanic men. And like a typical Hispanic woman raised around those types of remarks, I internalized what I'd heard, became resentful and coped by getting loud. In short, I, too, matched a stereotype.
Thankfully, though difficult at the time, the relationship I was in came to an abrupt, but overdue ending. And as a single woman, I found myself questioning plenty of what I'd once assumed. I found myself wondering whether a healthy relationship was even possible. Growing up, I'd never seen one up close -- not unless movies count.
When I argued that yes, it is possible to be with someone who loves you, respects you and treats you as an equal, I was met with skepticism and bounded viewpoints. That's when it dawned on me that, yes, I had to change, I had to become better by working on my rough edges and toning down that pent-up frustration I was so used to, but what also needed to desperately change was my location.
As I explored a world outside of my own, that world you're introduced to when you surround yourself with people who are on a similar path as you, that world that envelops you as you focus on living a grander life and decide to spend time with others who also choose optimism, I realized that there was, in fact, a much richer world outside of the one I'd grown up in.
Being raised in The Bronx, I felt like an oddball. How was it that so many were satisfied with so little when they could strive for so much more? Why wasn't anyone striving for more? Was I the weird one for wanting a better life? Expanding my horizons led me to uncover that in order to live the life I've envisioned, I must also leave behind my upbringing and therefore a portion of my culture.
Sure, Latinas are predominantly loud and that's emphasized with humor, but I'm no longer that Latina; I've chosen not to be. I want to become a successful businesswoman, and if I continue to adhere to the undesirable yet often accurate stereotypes of my culture, I'll be as limited as those I've been surrounded by most of my life.
While perhaps choosing someone within your race can eliminate a layer of complications, I don't think it's a goal any of us should intentionally set out for. After all, when you expand your horizons, you're more likely to surround yourself with an array of different, enriching individuals. And I dare say that's often what it takes to meet a worldly man.