Black People Meet connects African-Americans looking for love. JDate facilitates dating between Jewish people. Our Time allows the over-50 set to find partners of a similar age. But no one’s checking IDs at the door.
It turns out that hundreds of users on Black People Meet are not actually black. A considerable chunk of JDate members aren’t in the tribe. And on Our Time, 585kidd, who lists his age as 19, is one of many who are a long way from 50. “Ages [sic] does not bother me as long as we love each other,” he writes on his profile.
In fact, a quick search on nearly any targeted dating site reveals poachers—people who use these sites to find a partner of a certain demographic to which they themselves do not belong. BBPeopleMeet.com, a website for plus-size people, has a sizable portion of lean lovers. And not everyone on TallFriends.com is over 6 feet. Many of these websites attract people who are looking, quite literally, for their significant “other.”
Take Benjamin Hagar, 23, a white man who’s interested in dating only black women—a difficult pairing, given that he lives in Saranac Lake, N.Y., where only 1.5 percent of the population is black.
“Meeting a nice black woman around my age in this area has about the same chances of success as throwing a rock from Times Square and having it land on the moon,” he said.
As the number of seemingly insular dating sites—from SeaCaptainDate.com (“find your first mate”) to BikerKiss.com (“two wheels, two hearts, one road”)—continues to climb, so does the number of interlopers. Though many of these dating sites neither encourage nor forbid trespassing, some have tacitly welcomed outsiders. JDate, for instance, has added new options to its profiles: “willing to convert,” and even “not willing to convert.”
Outsiders on sites such as Black People Meet are more conspicuous, but this hasn’t kept them away.
“I find African-American women take care of themselves, dress better and treat their men better,” said David Dargie, 58, a white store manager from Vermont who has a dating profile on Black People Meet. “I just find them more attractive. Some men like blondes, some like brunettes—I like black people.”
Stereotypes, such as the notion that a Jew will have strong family values or an Asian will be highly educated, are “very enduring” despite “tons of disconfirming evidence,” said Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at the University of California-Irvine, who focuses on ethnic minorities, interracial marriage, and multiracial identity.
“Even a complimentary stereotype can be damaging,” Lee said. “It seems like it might be flattering, but what they’re doing is putting that person into a box and hoping that they conform to their image of what a Jewish person is, or what a black person is, based on preconceived notions.”
Members of minority groups often prefer to stick together. Though the proportion of interracial marriages, according to Pew Research, was at an all-time high in 2012—8.4 percent—that still means more than 90 percent of marriages are intra-racial. People may search for love within the community to preserve their culture or because it’s simply more comfortable to be with a partner of the same background. They may not take kindly to gatecrashers.
“Some people see my photo, and they send me a message saying, ‘Get the hell off this website. This is a black people website. What the hell are you doing on it? Blah blah blah,’” Dargie said. “I understand where they’re coming from.” But he’s not taking down his profile; in fact, he said he is “very busy” speaking to interested women from the site.
Internet user Jellyfrog48, a member of a dating site for single parents, was similarly perplexed when she received an email from a member of the site who has no children. Uncertain whether to respond to his entreaty, she sought advice from the Internet forum Babycentre.
“Weird?” she asked. “Or am I overly suspicious?”
Responses from fellow parents on the chatroom included the cautious (“Keep your guard up a bit”), the explanatory (“He may not be able to have children”), and the obvious (“Of course, this is the Internet”).
This kind of poaching has been happening at least since the beginning of JDate, the self-proclaimed “premier Jewish singles community online,” that launched more than 15 years ago.
Paul and Tanya Zimmerman met on JDate in the late ’90s.
Paul Zimmerman, 56, a property manager from Los Angeles, joined JDate in its early days. One of the first emails he got was a shocker. She was very honest, he said. She introduced herself from the get-go as Asian—and Catholic.
The message was from Tanya Tran, 49, a Vietnam-born property manager. “I had a Jewish boyfriend before I met Paul,” she explained recently. “We broke up, but I wanted to date a Jewish man, so I went to JDate.”
Six months after their first date, Tran and Zimmerman got engaged. They have been married for 13 years.
“Jewish culture is very similar to Asian culture,” said Tanya, whose last name is now Zimmerman. “We value family and education.” She has since converted to Judaism.
Sexual or romantic desire for a person of another ethnic background is deeply embedded in race-obsessed American culture, said Jodie Kliman, a psychologist and family therapist at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology who focuses on the effects of class, race, and culture on family life.
It may be subconsciously related to power play, based on historical notions of an older man’s dominance or a black woman’s submissiveness. It may be driven by a yearning to have a different life than one’s childhood—to have a lively Jewish family if you grew up with emotionally aloof parents, for example.
“We have to look at the extent to which the other is exoticized by the dominant group,” Kliman said. But for many people there’s simply “something exciting about breaking the rules.” And this is an age of self-definition and blurred boundaries, after all.
“It’s not about where you come from,” said Paul Zimmerman. “It’s about the values you have. It’s what you can become.”
A version of this post was previously published on Columbia News Service.