I knew what I wanted, or at least what I was supposed to want, and I thought I was clear with my intentions when it came to dating. No matter how different the guy appeared on the surface, the results were consistently too similar for it to be a matter of happenstance. Of course I did all the self-reflective stuff — ate, prayed, loved, started seeing a therapist on a weekly basis.
I mean I was the quintessential Black Woman on her journey to self-rediscovery. Sure, I had developed some great communication skills, learned a lot about compromise and partnership, and even more about realistic partner expectations. And in being realistic about my partner expectations, I had to acknowledge that my dating pool needed a major revamp. I had exclusively dated Black men up to that point, finding commonality in the fact that we were both Black and both American-born, but my perception of marriage and relationships had undoubtedly been shaped by my West African father and my American Baby-Boomer Uncles.
I was expecting the men I was dating to mimic a culture and generation that they had no real relation to. In reality, we have just as much growing and evolving to do as our male counterparts do when it comes to relationships and long-term commitment. Ultimately, I learned that I was. One day my therapist forced me to make a list of the things I wanted in a husband. And as we reviewed my list, one thing became clear, and that was that I had no business dating Black American men. Initially, I felt bad. Almost like I was turning my back on them if I agreed with these findings.
Surely, I could mold a potential mate into the guy I wanted, right? If I wanted to make it work despite what the evidence stated, I could.
This partly explains why U. Both white and black Americans have plenty of potential partners within their own groups. Asians, on the other hand, make up only about 4 percent of the U. And they are the group most likely to marry out. Nearly 31 percent of Asians marrying in had a non-Asian spouse, about the same percentage as in This demographic change has other effects: Foreign-born Asians are less likely to marry out than U. For the same reasons, intermarriage by Hispanics has declined since About one-quarter of Hispanic men and women married non-Hispanics in But the Pew report already documented a recent uptick in intermarriage among Hispanics and Asians, as immigration has slowed and the proportion of Hispanics and Asians who were born in the United States has grown.
Will the more tolerant attitudes people express toward intermarriage be matched by actual intermarriage rates? There are many reasons to expect continued increases in intermarriage in coming decades. One prime reason is that the population is becoming increasingly diverse—culturally, ethnically, and racially. Americans reaching marriage age over the next two decades are probably the most racially diverse generation ever, and it will be surprising if they do not intermarry more often than previous generations.
About 44 percent of the population under age 18 in was Hispanic, black, Asian, or another non-white group, compared with about 35 percent of the total U.
In addition, more Americans have personal experience with intermarriages involving their families, friends, and work colleagues, which lends a normalcy to these unions. Even after being told the actual ratio on campus 2. Just look around a college campus and you see female after female after female. And if you look around you see two males in a room full of females or just anywhere you go. You can see that. Or especially in certain professions.
One issue that arose in the focus groups was about competition between women on campus for the attention of the men. One older woman aged 22—25 remarked that younger women, particularly freshman, may feel the pressure more than the upper classmen. She remembered her freshman year and noted:. My freshman year like everybody was wearing heels. Like changing outfits throughout the day.
In addition to the gender ratio imbalance impacting perceptions of mate availability, participants expressed concerns about the suitability or acceptability of available mates. Many of the older participants, both men and women, indicated that although mates are available, men and women are focused on different aspects of dating. For example, a few participants in the older groups indicated that men were available to date and that there were plenty to choose from, but they were perceived to be unacceptable men to date.
Initially, the conversation was around superficial attributes like physical appearance; however, as the conversation progressed, more sincere concern about compatibility was expressed. One older woman participant noted:. Like, at least have a job and at least have your own means of transportation.
And, you know, be doing something with yourself. Students were asked to talk about the impact, if any, the ratio of men to women on campus had on relationships. Two topics of robust discussion were the high prevalence of casual relationships and lowered expectations for committed relationships.
Many of the men in the focus groups supported the perception that they were not interested in commitment at this point in their lives. One younger man expressed his views that the overwhelming majority of relationships on campus would be considered casual or hooking up relationships. One younger woman said:. Settling was operationalized by a few women as wanting committed relationships, but accepting other relationships e.
The ground rules are already set. One younger man expressed that the temptation of being on a campus dominated by women complicated committed relationships:. I think a large majority of that has to do with the fact that you know men are the minority here.
Although not explicitly addressed in the focus group questions, the topic of power was brought up by participants in all the groups. Power was seen as an important factor in the development of sexual attitudes, types of relationship involvement casual vs. Participants volunteered their views of how the gender ratio imbalance was indicative of a power imbalance that impacted dating and sexual behavior.
I think that power and sex are kind of the same. Some of participants indicated that because a higher number of women are available on campus, men, in general, hold more power in the relationship. Two participants elaborated on this belief by saying:. Like they make it a competition like you know she over there doing other things that you need to be doing.
Power dynamics within certain types of relationships were discussed and distinctions between committed and casual relationships were found. The general perception among men in both the younger and older groups was that as a younger man you have more power because women are trying to form committed relationships with you, and they have not reached a level of professional success yet.
Once women reach a certain level of professional success, the dynamics often change. Syed and Mitchell note that most research on emerging adulthood has been conducted with college students who attend large, 4-year, research-based institutions and has not explored the diversity of college students. Our findings present needed information about African American emerging adults attending an HBCU and their dating experiences by examining mate availability and relationship involvement, and their connection to sexual decision making and behavior.
This gender imbalance appeared to influence the development and maintenance of romantic and sexual relationships for the participants. In terms of mate availability, women saw themselves as having fewer options for dating on campus, and this contributed to the perception of competition among women. This is in concert with the Fisher and Cox findings that women compete for the attention of men by using traits, abilities, and behaviors deemed desirable by the men.
The women in our study used strategies such as dressing a certain way and agreeing to engage in certain types of relationships desirable by men e. The issue of acceptability versus availability of mates was discussed during the focus groups. Taken together, these challenges can have deleterious consequences for sexual decision making and behavior among women.
As a result of the gender ratio imbalance, women were more likely to accept undesirable behaviors from men in exchange for relationship engagement. The shortage of available men increased the bargaining position of men, and women were often competing for men they may not have otherwise paid attention to.
Women who will go to great lengths to compete with other women may find themselves engaging in risky sexual behavior such as concurrent partnerships and unprotected sexual intercourse. Two of the three tenets, sexual division of power and cathexis, were evident in the responses given by students. The sexual division of power posits that a disparity in power between men and women facilitates the perception by women that they have little control over sexual decision making and behaviors. An imbalance in power dynamics emerged as a contributing factor to the type of relationship students were involved in, and the types of behavior they engaged in.
Both men and women felt men had more power in casual relationships which were thought to be the most prevalent on campus because, numerically, they were in greater demand. Being in limited supply provided men with the power to define the type of relationships they engaged in with women. This inequity of power also resulted in women having lowered expectations for commitment and fidelity by men. Previous research indicates that patterns of commitment and monogamy are individualized concepts, but generally vary by gender and developmental stage Towner, In our study, commitment or being in a committed relationship was equated with monogamy among women and older men in the focus groups but not among younger men.
Moore and Rosenthal as cited in Towner, reported that young men, especially young African American men, were infrequently monogamous, yet expected monogamy from their partners. Both commitment and monogamy are multifaceted concepts and require more exploration among emerging adults. Both men and women in our study acknowledge the conditional power that men hold when they are in greater demand. The men were aware of statistics that indicate African American women are outpacing African American men in education and income. However, there was a realization, and acknowledgment, that this perceived or actual power they have on campus may fade as they age.
Cathexis refers to the norms that govern appropriate behavior and attachment. The sexual community on HBCU campuses are much like the broader African American communities in that the gender ratio imbalance intensifies power imbalances within relationships that may manifest in women feeling less able to negotiate safer sex e.
These lack of alternatives i. Although participation in dating and relationship experiences are a natural part of the college experience for students, we must keep in mind that the development of attitudes, expectations, and behaviors are carried with them throughout adulthood. While the students in our study seemed to be aware of the gender ratio imbalance and power dynamics, and how it can impact sexual decision making and behavior, it is not clear how much forethought about these decisions and behavior is taking place.
It is important to make sure our young people understand that dating and forming relationships is important; however, the development of positive self-esteem and self-worth, standards, goals, and aspirations are just as important. The romantic experiences of emerging adults help shape the perception and approach to adult relationships Simons et al. Helping students understand the costs and benefits, both immediate and long term, of their choices and behaviors will help facilitate healthier sexual decisions and subsequent behavior. In a recent review of sexual health among HBCU students, Younge, Corneille, Lyde, and Cannady report that few studies provide lived experiences of HBCU students as it relates to relationship and sociocultural factors.
While the focus of this article is on African American emerging adults on an HBCU campus, the issues discussed among our students might be transferrable to other college populations. If women are outnumbering men on college campuses, in general, then more women are likely to encounter some of the same issues around mate selection, relationship involvement, and sexual decision making described here. This study provides information on a population not often represented in the literature on relationships—African American college students attending an HBCU.
Future research should examine the complexity of African American college student dating relationships to identify factors associated with sexual decision-making practices to inform potential interventions. This may have provided additional insight into whether some of the beliefs about relationships were already shaped prior to coming to college or developed on campus. Future studies should examine attitudes, values, and norms from a social—ecological perspective to allow more insight into the dynamic relationships among various personal and environmental factors contributing to dating behavior of these young adults.
Students were not required to report whether or not they were currently involved with someone outside of the campus. Based on the gender ratio imbalance and perceptions of acceptability, some women may choose to date those outside of the campus environment. For instance, do differences exist between public and private institutions? Are there differences in dating attitudes on campuses that experience a severe gender ratio imbalance versus those that do not?
Shulman and Connolly note that the romantic lives of emerging adults reflect a general pattern of unpredictability in commitment and are often characterized by involvement in unstable relationships e. The same authors posit that during the emerging adulthood stage, particularly as a college student, there are a number of simultaneous demands and serious dilemmas that young people have to cope with and resolve.
The desire to form and maintain relationships, of any kind, is one of these dilemmas. Emerging adults may be ready psychologically to engage in committed relationships, but may not have the financial or emotional resources required to sustain a serious relationship.
More studies, quantitative and qualitative, are needed to examine this stage of development among African American college students on the campuses of both HBCUs and PWIs. This will provide much needed data and insight on this population and help researchers and practitioners identify differences as well as similarities that will aid in appropriate and effective program development on college campuses. Hall is an associate professor in psychological sciences at Winston—Salem State University.
Her research interests include HIV prevention and intervention with African Americans, focusing on cultural influences. Her research interests include the examination of psychosocial factors that affect health inequalities among African Americans. Her research interests include the relationship between stress, hypertension, and obesity.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Author manuscript; available in PMC Dec Hall , 1 Anna K. Lee , 2 and Daphne D. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article.