Rewriting the Dating Rules: 5 Love Lessons for the Modern Black Woman

by Marissa Nelson

As a relationship therapist in Washington, D.C. I work with the driven, successful people who pride themselves on their ability to make things happen in their careers and in their lives. But I have heard from countless single clients who have experienced the hurt of dating and looking for love, only to repeatedly find themselves back at square one—and still single. It can be quite baffling when they are able to achieve success in all other areas of life, but a steady healthy relationship alludes them.

If you know you’re a great catch, but are wondering why you still find yourself single, it may be time to rewrite your own rules on dating. Here are five updated "rules" for black women who are struggling to find that lifelong love.

Rule #1: Resist the urge to control everything.

While control is helpful and sometimes even necessary at work, it can be counterproductive when dating. There’s nothing wrong with having standards, but many singles focus too much on their checklists, or the itch to plan and predict whether a person is long-term material based on one or two dates. When you use control to keep your heart protected, you shoot down anything moving that doesn’t meet the criteria in your head. Being too strategic and controlling can destroy closeness and trust between you and your potential partner.

Rule #2: Don’t mistake sexual attraction for relationship chemistry.

Your loins may be ablaze, but don’t confuse that fire with relationship potential. It’s easy to get lost in the fantasy of lust and attraction, but it’s important to not let that cloud your judgment. Real chemistry is experienced when a person sees you, understands you and allows you to show up as your complete self. Focus on the reality of who the person is and how they treat you. Assess their intentions, values, and morals. Do they gel with yours? If not, keep it moving, no matter how fine the wrapping is.

Rule #3: Assess and OWN your own sexual motives.

Do you find that many of your romantic relationships turn sexual quickly and then fizzle out? Do you live by a 90 day waiting period before sex? It’s important to understand what sexual energy you’re putting out there in order to find a partner you can be completely vulnerable with on every level – including sexually.

So take stock of your own sexual attitudes and beliefs. Do you engage in sex to convey that you are really into your potential mate? Or do you pull out all the stops in the bedroom and use sex to prove that you are worthy of deeper love and connection? Most singles incorporate sexuality as a form of self-value, and to validate attractiveness and desirability, so it’s important to understand the function it serves in your life, and whether it brings love interests closer to you or pushes them away.

Rule #4: Avoid one-sided "situation-ships." 

I see many of my single clients pulling away by not investing completely, or by overcompensating - both instances breed one-sided situations. Budding romances and relationships are all about balance, so if you are always the one to make the plans, initiate contact and go the extra mile time after time with no reciprocity, you create an environment where the person doesn’t step up to the plate and take the initiative. On the contrary, if you’re always on the receiving end, and you never initiate, ask yourself what’s really going on.

Remember, you never have to stay for scraps. You shouldn’t have to convince someone to be with you, or pull a rabbit out of a hat to prove you’re worthy of being their one and only. A person that wants to be with you is going to put in the time, effort and care that’s required to nurture this connection with you. Hold on to your sense of self and stand in your own spirit. When you do that, you have the discernment to know when someone is not meeting your needs and when it’s time to walk away.

Rule #5: Hold yourself accountable.

You have to be accountable for your own emotional baggage. I am a firm believer that until you learn the lesson, it will continue to repeat itself over and over again in your life. Unless you have the awareness of who you are, what you always do, and what you bring to the table in relationships, you will rinse and repeat the same old patterns and invite the same types of people and situations into your life.

That means you may need to look at the really painful stuff in your past, examine the ways in which you contributed to the demise of previous relationships, and then determine the growth areas within yourself you need to work on. The goal is to understand yourself in order to get the love you deserve, because no new love can fill those places within you until you feel whole first.

Photo: Shutterstock

Marissa Nelson is a licensed graduate marriage and family therapist specializing in individual, couples and sex therapy. She is the author of the forthcoming book, I’m So Hot, Smart and Nice – Why Am I Still Single? She is also the owner of XoXo Therapy, where she specializes in romantic relationships and serves as a private practitioner for a broad spectrum of clients in the greater Washington, D.C. area. You can find her on Twitter (@xoxotherapy) or visit her website:

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