Dating as a Senegalese-American Woman

Reading Time: 7 mins

Preface: this will be clunky. There’s just so much to be said!

Ladies, I’m going to start this post off with a question: have you ever talked to your parents about dating? Like at what age would you be allowed to have a boyfriend? What were the boundaries once you did start dating? When you first fell in love, or your first heartbreak, or who or what was off limits?

Let me guess, the answer to all of those questions for a majority of us is THE CONVERSATION NEVER HAPPENED and if it did, it was very short and off-target.

Let me ask you a different set of questions: were you expected to bring home the perfect guy as soon as you graduated college? Are your parents pressuring you now that you’re over 25yo and unmarried? Do all conversation roads somehow lead to the fact that you’re still single, if you are, or that you need to have kids, if you haven’t already, or shoot, have more if you “only” have one or two?

I find it interesting that we go from being seen as little girls and seldom have in-depth conversations with our Senegalese parents, namely our moms, to being expected to have it all figured out almost overnight.

Okay, one last question: has your mom ever talked to you about sex? Even after marriage, I bet the answer is no and if she did, I bet it was very passive and awkward.

Our dear parents/moms – they’ve always wanted what’s best for us, even in their blatant obliviousness to what the dating scene in America offers today. Contrary to what they might think, yes, their daughters are dating before marriage. And get this, they’re dating non-Senegalese men too (gasp)!

Today’s topic: Dating as a Senegalese-American Woman

The reality is we’re dating and we’re dating actively. Meaning when one relationship doesn’t work out, we are learning lessons and we aren’t afraid to try again. And we’re not afraid to wait as long as it takes to figure our shit out. I mean, we’re getting our asses kicked yet we keep at it! We’re all trying to learn about ourselves, our preferences, our boundaries, our deal-breakers, our turn-ons and turn-offs (yes, I said it). We’re taking control of who our partners will be, experimenting, and meticulously taking notes along the way. Our poor mothers don’t even know that we each have a “type.”

Okay, but more seriously though, the phenomenon of dating as Senegalese-American women is very real. The days of our parents picking a spouse for us are over. The days of marrying our cousins are [starting to be] long gone (there are still those of us who deal with this pressure). The days of not knowing and loving your partner – because they say jigeen dou beug, day miin (loosely translated to “a woman doesn’t love, she gets acclimated”) – are truly over. Or at least they should be.

This is probably a good place to interject with the Islamic disclaimer. I did a simple Google search on dating in Islam and will summarize my findings here. Courtship is allowed in Islam, meaning “dating” within specific boundaries to prevent Zina, or fornication. Dating in the modern sense is not allowed – e.g. you cannot be alone with your partner, no kissing, no touching, etc. – you get the picture. That’s the short version; if you’re looking for the long version, consult your local Imam 🙂

Getting back to the topic…growing up in America, there are a lof things we see as the norm and to be frank, dating is one of them. As people are generally getting married later in life, it’s hard to remain single up until the point you’re ready to marry. And quite frankly, dangerous. Some of us are not marrying until our late twenties and you can imagine how many lessons missed and opportunities not harnessed there are in that scenario. In the past, your spouse “could” be selected for you and everything work out “just fine.” There were families ties, traditions, and rules to be upheld. The thought of even straying from the boundaries our parents placed were slim to none, especially when you take into account the geographical limitations of women rarely living away from home. A typical scenario in Senegal might look like this: young girl grows up alongside her parents, may or may not finish school, is set up with a close or distant family member as soon as they deem her ready to marry. She may or may not go back to school depending on how her husband feels about that but you can bet your life that her life will take a complete turn as she transitions from youthfulness to the “cours des grands” (big leagues).

Well, today, that narrative is different. A typical scenario in the US may look like this: a young Senegalese-American woman grows up having dreams of who she wants to be, focusing on finding genuine friendships, and building a life around her. Her husband may not come into that picture until laterrrrr down the line and he certainly won’t be the center of her life’s attention. And that’s not to say that she values marriage or loves her partner any less. It’s just that that’s not at the forefront of her desires – or value as a woman. That’s also not to say that young girls in Senegal do not have big dreams. It’s just that the societal pressures weigh differently in those two contexts and the dreams of young girls in Senegal are often cut short to fulfill the ultimate destiny of being a good wife. Wouldn’t you too succumb to that gigantic pressure that corners you at every turn you take?

So you can imagine the Senegalese-American women dating scene: experimental, trial-and-error, and very fluid. Yes, we’re dating within and outside of our race/culture/ethnicity and we’re having a blast doing it. Do we get stung along the way, YES! But nonetheless, we’re much more free to explore our options and come to our own conclusions and to be honest, I love that. Even when things don’t work out, it’s reassuring knowing that you played a part in what happened to you. Proportionately , it’s disheartening to feel like life happened to you and you had no say – you were just a victim.

And that’s the root of this conversation. Women are no longer victims of bad marriages that they were forced into. They’re active participants in their own love lives – by dating and figuring out for themselves what they want and don’t want. I would call that amazing progress.

Growing up in a traditional Senegalese household, this was my understanding of dating: I was sort of allowed to after a certain, undisclosed age, but only at a surface level. I wasn’t expected to never have a boyfriend but the how was strictly under control. I was supposed to stay pure, have lots of dignity, and never falter, all the way to the point until I found my husband – or he found me as they would say. I wasn’t allowed to let them see any sign of niak fay da (lack of a backbone) in my face and God forbid I disobey Allah in the process (which was a whole contraction in and of itself based on the summary I provided earlier). Let me tell you right now that that’s not how my experience went. And based on responses from the lovely ladies who responded to my Instagram prompt, the story is the same for many. We faltered, made mistakes, got our hearts broken, and looked “niak fayda” on more than one occasion. And that’s okay! We’re human beings and we’re experiencing normalcy.

I strongly encourage dating responsibility, and sometimes otherwise, to truly learn about ourselves and our partners. In a perfect world, we would be able to blindly follow the advice of our parents and hope it all works out. Unfortunately, we are not in a perfect world so better safe than sorry.

Remember when I said we’re getting our asses kicked? Well, it’s Dating Horror Stories Time!

I asked my Instagram Senegalese-American female followers to share some dating stories with me and here are some samplers:

Story 1: “I love Senegalese men, but I also detest part of their mindsets when it comes to women.”

Story 2: “Dating is annoying. A majority of men are too headstrong/difficult. They ooze toxic masculinity.”

Story 3: It’s complicated. Ni**as be looking for a come up, not a girlfriend or a wife.”

Story 6: “Dating a Senegalese man is hard and complicated. And Senegalese men in American are a different breed!”

There you have it! Looks like we’re all getting a piece of the pie!

Devil’s Advocate (but not really): Marrying early protects women

This is going to be short. I always think about how many Senegalese women did everything right and still ended up getting played! Sorry to be so blunt but damn ! Like our moms tried to demonstrate the right way of doing things and I personally still see so many missed opportunities and heartbreaks! So I don’t know about you, but I am in favor of dating and figuring out what will work and what won’t work. Even with the horror stories, the ladies I talked to would rather get played, because we all do – more to come on that in another post – and eventually find our Prince Charming than be stuck with the choices of others. For those of us that are Muslim, we’d love to be courted and do things the right way…as soon as the Muslim men around us start adhering to that definition. Culture dominates in the dating scene in Senegalese society unfortunately so we’re left to fend for ourselves so we don’t end up in broken marriages, sleeping next to the enemy.

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