When I broke up with my college sweetheart in 2005, I was living and working as a newspaper reporter in God’s crustiest dingleberry, Rockford, Ill. Rockford is one of those cities where people get married and start families at an age when they still need a co-signer to rent an Enterprise vehicle—not exactly fertile dating ground for a 20-something black professional. So immediately following that breakup, I turned to the internet to meet women who lived an hour southeast in Chicago.
I met a handful of women on Myspace before it was overrun by bots posing as strippers, and I signed up to Match for the first time. I’ve dated online since then, with the only protracted break being the five-and-a-half years I was with my former wife (whom I actually met on Match; believe the commercials when they tell you it sends some niggas over that broom). I was terrified to approach women in person until I was in my early 20s, but I’ve always been able to convey my personality through writing, so meeting people online was a good fit.
The stigma of online dating was different when I started—smartphones and dating apps weren’t yet a thing, and many women were understandably concerned that dating online would get them ax-murdered by some schmuck resembling the bad guy from Last Action Hero. In recent years, it’s become more widely accepted that regular people are seeking other regular people online instead of hoping that the love of their life finds them in the kumquat section of their local grocery store.
However, I learned quickly that we black folks have our own unique challenges through which to traverse in dating online. We encounter many of the same issues we do when dating while black “conventionally”—chief among them racism, limited options and self-haters who don’t want to date you because you resemble them. Plus, anecdotal information and conversations I’ve had with black men and women lead me to believe that we’re still a bit more skeptical about meeting a good partner online.
If you’re in that camp, allow me to disabuse you of the notion that online dating isn’t meant for “us”; it demands patience and time, but it’s a great method of proactivity for those of us who’d rather not wait for God to “place” someone in our lives.
It also helps to understand that not all online dating services are built equally for us, so I’m here to help. I’ve paid for and used several of the services designed for computers, as well as the more popular location-based smartphone apps. I live in Chicago—whose metropolitan area contains millions of black folks—and fired up the apps in black cities I visited recently (New York, Baltimore, D.C., Detroit). I rated the apps between 1 and 5 based on their ability to find you black love (or booty) if you reside in a black enclave, with 5 being your best bet and 1 meaning you’re probably better off giving the nigga with the S curl and kissy-lips neck tattoo that your auntie recommended from her job a shot.
(Note: This list is certainly not comprehensive because there are, like, 24,502, 850,462,404 online dating apps. Most of them have trash interfaces and not nearly enough users to matter.)
Still the gold standard. Match has been around the longest and has the biggest user base, so chances are the hapless bastard who’s tired of buying women watered-down amaretto sours at the bar will have acquiesced to one of Match’s three-month membership ads. Sending messages requires a paid membership, which tends to bring more serious people to the yard. If your city has a lot of black folks, you’ll find a lot of options on Match, and likely a good representation of your city: I created a search for black women ages 24 to 40 in Atlanta and fell in love about 27 times before I left the second page. Rating: 5
Similar to Match but with a few more bells and whistles to ostensibly get you closer to your boo thang; black folks play heavily on OKCupid. Unlike Match, however, you can message people for free, which means fielding a bunch of people who might not take it as seriously as you do. Paying members can, among other things, tailor their search to attractiveness, segmented into “average,” “above average” and “hot.” Placing the meter on “hot” definitely produced some bad sistas, but so did the “average” settings. Which is likely proof that “we” aren’t the ones rating our attractiveness. Rating: 4
Tinder came out after I met my wife-to-be, so I didn’t give it a spin until after my divorce. Sure enough, there’s no better place to rebound than a dating app whose reputation as a hookup shop precedes it. Even if you write, “I’m not here to hook up,” some dude will let you know in graphic detail what he wants to do with your feet. Of the location-based “swipe” apps, Tinder is the most popular, with about 50 million users, so if you live around black folks, you’ll find them here. Beware, though—I’ve never seen so many damn prevarications on a program that prides itself on pure superficiality. Do yourself a favor and research before a meet to make sure they aren’t trying to pass off pictures of themselves from George W.’s second term. Rating: 3
Plenty of Fish
PoF is the hood of online dating. It’s that gas station that sells the sticky buns you like but you won’t go to after a certain hour because of the risk of encountering some bullshit. If you don’t mind getting picked up in a teal 2003 Chevy Impala with a Sally Beauty Supply mirror duct-taped to the missing side-view mirror, this is your app. Like OKCupid, Plenty of Fish is free to use, except it’s that Popeyes biscuits-they-give-away-before-closing type of free. You can do better. Rating: 2
Y’know what … ? Fuck eHarmony. Several dating sites use psychology-based algorithms as part of their matchmaking process, but that’s eHarmony’s whole business. They’re like parents who arrange your marriage, but the only things they know about you are from an online survey you filled out. The one time I used eHarmony, I narrowed my search to black and Latina women and got precisely zero matches—in Chicago, a city where those demos combined is close to a million people. eHarmony is also the Chick-fil-A of dating sites—it refuses to open its virtual doors to you blaspheming gays or “strange” gender-nonbinary folks. On top of all that, it’s the most expensive mainstream dating site, at motherfucking $60 a month! Save your coins. Rating: 1
The swipe mechanics are the same as Tinder’s, but the woman has to initiate contact upon matching. In every city I visited, using Bumble produced the whitest results ever. It’s as if every woman who wears Uggs over leggings, outfits her Yorkie in a bubble vest during the winter and swears by pumpkin spice everything all descended on the same app. I met and dated exactly one black woman from Bumble, which felt like encountering a black person in downtown Eau Claire, Wis. Rating: 2
Coffee Meets Bagel
I was pleasantly surprised when giving this a whirl. I found more black folks on it than most other smartphone-based apps, and it’s not designed for hookups, like most of its competitors. You must pay for its premium features ($35 per month), and I’m not a fan of the corny nomenclature (“Meet your everything bagel,” etc.), but I see it growing to become a viable alternative to the Tinders of the world. Bonus points to the founding sisters for turning down a hypothetical $30 million for the app from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank. Rating: 3.5
Yeah, see … Happn is how people get robbed and shit. The app uses GPS to connect people based on their recent physical proximity to each other, identifying where they crossed paths on a map by a matter of feet. I saw very few black people on the app, and for good reason: We’re way too averse to submitting to Big Brother to that degree. Like I want my potential partner knowing out the gate how often I go to Buffalo Wild Wings. Rating: 1.5
Bruh. For the love of Jehoshaphat, keep away from Zoosk. If Plenty of Fish is the hood of online dating, Zoosk is the county jail cell on a Saturday night. Don’t try Zoosk. Trust me. You might as well light your $30 membership money on fire. If you wind up dating someone on Zoosk with warrants and a third nipple who will ask you to go dutch on a tall Starbucks latte, don’t say I didn’t fucking warn you. Zoosk is the online dating version of Gary, Ind. Don’t try Zoosk. Trust me. Rating: -42,452,346