I grew up in a Habesha home where dating isn’t encouraged. In fact, it’s pretty much banned.
“Focus on your studies!”
“Boys? What about them? Focus on school!”
“You are nothing without education! Go back to your books!”
Before you say anything, yes, I know that I don’t have to be in a relationship. I know that I don’t need a man.
And I definitely know that I always have to put my dreams first.
I live and breathe those facts. I am a young woman who wants to achieve a lot in life and doesn’t let anyone get in the way of those goals.
Yet I can’t help the fact that I catch feelings, just like everyone else.
I’m not talking about the “two-minutes of drooling as you stare and then moving on with your life” kind of feeling you get when seeing someone cute at the store.
I’m talking about the kind of feelings that make you want to be with them all the time and appreciate every little thing about them. It doesn’t make me feel like I need a man or a relationship. It makes me want to be in a relationship with this guy that I have feelings for.
But the freedom to date isn’t a choice my family gives me.
In Ethiopian families, (or, at least, in mine) girls aren’t really pushed to find a date for school events like homecoming, banquet, or prom. Parents like it better when we’re studying or preparing for college. Throughout high school, my mom never asked me who was taking me or who I was taking to school events. She left it at, “Have fun with your friends and don’t stay out late!”
It wasn’t until around senior year I did the unspeakable: “Mom, is it okay for me to date?”
I know, how could I? Why ask such a risky question? Did I want to get myself killed?!?
For a few months, I had been slowly leading up to the conversation because I knew that it could get ugly. And it did.
My mother started to go on and on about how education is important, getting into college, getting multiple degrees, getting a job, being successful, making a lot of money, and how, because of all that, I needed to stay away from boys.
I’m an honors student. I’m able to handle being in many clubs and activities at a time. I’m able to juggle school, family, church, and whatever else I’m going through. I’m overall a pretty good kid, so you can understand why I’m annoyed with my mom’s excuses.
I then asked, “Okay then, when can I date?”
She sighed, “Wait until after college.”
As I stare at her, a thousand screams echo inside of me.
I understand that I’m the big socially awkward Black girl that almost no one ever finds interest in (making me the one who has to make the nerve wracking moves).
But does she believe I can’t leave my books for at least one date? My mom must really have faith that my looks will keep people away from me.
I then asked her about the guys in my family, along with the guy friends who were dating or had dated before. Her response was completely different. She was calm and basically treated them like their age. When I brought myself up again, she said that my situation was different and mentioned again about the importance of education.
After that, she forced us to change the conversation.
I don’t know which annoyed me most: the overused excuses or the double standard.
It’s not just being banned from dating, it’s even the possibility of having guy friends. Heaven forbid, I have a guy friend that leads to my developing a crush on one of them. When going to parties, I’m asked if guys will be there. When a guy friend invites me out to hang out, it’s a rule that my girl friends must come along.
Even when I’m standing next to a guy, I get judgmental stares.
So, my cousin Danny can be friends with girls, Samuel can have a relationship with someone he’s been talking to, and Abel can go out with as many girls as he wants.
Yet all of the Nardos’, Lydia’s, and Rahel’s out there can’t even hug a guy without getting the “remember education, forget the boys” talk? What kind of misogynistic mess is this?
And it’s interesting how they push the “education, no boys” agenda since some relatives would rather see me married with kids after I go through years of school. Other relatives would rather have me get my degree, but not participate in conversations or be a leader.
So avoid boys, focus on education, and end up not using my educated mind?
The funny thing is that later on, aunties, grandmas, uncles, and cousins will be asking me about my love life.
You want to know if I’ve been talking anyone after shaming me and pushing me to not do what you’re asking me about?
Choose one thing you prefer or, better yet, I will.
I choose to be focused on my goals while also being free enough to have meaningful platonic and romantic relationships. Something I’m allowed to do and is possible to balance as I go through college and towards my career.
Mom, please understand that your daughter isn’t some child that can easily be distracted. I am the strong, opinionated, passionate, determined young woman you raised.
Please have some faith in me.