“I was terrified. I’m in my 30s. I’m single.”
For Faye Tillery, Founder of Black Expat Love Connection, her recent foray into the nomadic expat life was met with an unexpected emotion. “I was terrified. I’m in my 30s. I’m single. If I ever want to be married, I’m demolishing the possibility by choosing this lifestyle. But I think whatever is for you, it’s going to find you no matter where in the world you are. Whatever is for me, is going to be mine.”
Ms. Tillery recently moved from Los Angeles, California in the United States to Medellin, Colombia where she is living as an expat and entrepreneur. “The reason I started this journey was that my mother passed away,” she shared, “I realized this is what I wanted. I had loved travel for years, and I felt like I didn’t have anything back home. So I figured why not live out my passion. I don’t have to go somewhere and be alone. I can make friends. I can fall in love. I can live a normal life.”
That is one of the several reasons why she created Black Expat Love Connection, a company’s whose singular mission is to bring expats together online and in person as a conduit to connecting life partners and soulmates.
After moving to Colombia, she noticed a few things. She became a go-to person for the Colombian lifestyle for inquisitive travelers, which included always being asked about the dating scene. She observed the difficulty black expats had in dating local Colombians, due to the cultural differences. Coupled with the idea that always being on the go for work and travel makes it, “pretty tough to build lasting relationships which is the downside to the expat lifestyle,” she felt black expats should start dating other black expats in more transparent ways.
“This isn’t the type of woman that is supposed to be partnered.”
Latrese Williams, Founder of Sisters Who Travel and Date, was motivated by a life altering event as well. “In 2015, I had a miscarriage, and I went through a bad breakup. After that, I just started traveling. The things I wanted in life were not in Chicago.”
While Ms. Tillery initially felt her possibilities of romantic companionship and love were limited due to her expat life, Ms. Williams felt her chances were significantly better once traveling internationally and eventually relocating to Rome. After her miscarriage and breakup, she traveled solo first to Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden. She initially felt lonely and decided on a whim to use the dating app Tinder. She immediately met a man from Mozambique living in Oslo. They connected, and he also connected her to a friend in Sweden whom she enjoyed dinner with.
“The thing I discovered was that first of all; I’m a bigger, dark skin black woman from America. Everything on TV says I was just wrong. This is not the type of look that men find attractive. This isn’t the type of woman that is supposed to be partnered. So when I got to Europe and I’m in Oslo and Stockholm, and my dating life is blowing up, I felt every bit of Beyonce. There was so much attention when there had been none.”
Using dating apps and genuine friendliness, she began meeting people everywhere while exploring Copenhagen and Vienna. So many people were eager to show off their cities. They wanted to talk to her, having never spoken to an African American woman before. And even if there wasn’t always a romantic chemistry, Ms. Williams found herself engaging in interesting conversations. She and her companions would have a great drink, share stories, laugh and have a fun time. “I met some spectacular guys. I really enjoyed myself,” she shared.
Ms. Williams would share her dating adventures in social travel groups which resonated with other American women. The American men, however, were not as receptive to her stories.
“In the United States, [black women] are often perceived as having too little value by the entirety of the country. And often within our own race. I know too many black women who have a nonexistent dating and sex life. It’s not that they want to. It’s one thing if you take a vow of celibacy. It’s entirely different when it’s forced upon you. These are beautiful, intelligent, wonderful, charming women who aren’t able to date,” she shared, “I really wanted to create a forum where I could talk about my experience, and other women could talk about theirs without judgment. That’s one of the things I’m attempting to foster.”
With that desire, Ms. Williams created “Sisters Who Travel and Date” a private online social group with over 3000 members, all women, who share their dating and travel adventures. Their tag line? “Sisters are conquering the world, one man and one country at a time!” Ms. Williams forum offers women a place to vent, receive advice, discuss topics related to travel, sex and meeting men in exotic places, as well as a platform for freely expressing themselves.
“I’m in Rome, and I date men from Germany, the Caribbean, and Africa.”
Unlike Faye Tillery, who intentionally matches black expats to other black expats, Latrese Williams, took a different approach. “It’s easier to date expats because of the language. The culture is different too, but I’m learning to navigate that successfully. Being somewhere where another language is the first language can be frustrating. So you find yourself spending time with expats because it’s easier. However, I didn’t leave the United States to spend a lot of time with other Americans. So I date people from other places. “Everyone has what makes the most sense for them. For my personal happiness, I enjoy those types of interactions significantly less from American men. I’m in Rome, and I date men from Germany, the Caribbean, and Africa.”
Ms. Tillery and Ms. Williams appear to have relocated internationally for similar reasons. A major life event occurred, and both were interested in a better quality of life, and a new adventure or personal challenge.
According to the 2016 Expat Insider InterNations Survey, these reasons are among the most popular. This annual survey, now in its third year of publication surveyed 14,272 expatriates representing 174 nationalities living in 191 different countries or overseas territories. 49% surveyed were women and 51% men. 63% of the expats listed themselves as in a relationship and 37% listed themselves as single.
A few key findings highlighted in their “Relationship and Gender” section:
- More men than women are in a committed relationship
- More women than men have a partner of another nationality
- 16% of expats are in long-distance relationship
- The majority of expats in a relationship around the globe are with a partner of another nationality.
- Women are more likely than men to be in a relationship with someone from another country: 58% female vs. 52% male
“I wasn’t just looking for a regular black girl.”
Thus Damon Jones, an African American man, born in Louisiana, raised overseas, was an avid traveler when he met his wife, a native New Yorker who was living in Costa Rica. Their first date took place in the US while she was visiting. Their second date took place in Nicaragua. They eventually married at Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa and now they have settled in Nicaragua living as an expat, black American married couple.
Before meeting his wife, Mr. Jones dated sparingly. His role in the travel industry kept him on flights, and occasionally he dated both expats and locals. “I had an interest in people who had an interest in travel. That’s how my wife and I ended up getting together,” Mr. Jones stated. “I hope our story can bring people together more. We didn’t plan it that way more. At least from my perspective. Growing up, I had a real worldly view. My parents worked in the oil industry. I grew up in the Middle East. I had a more open interest…I wasn’t just looking for a regular black girl. I was just open to people from anywhere in the diaspora. When I met my wife, the biggest push for me was she was already an expat. She was already doing it, and she was in an amazing place. That really brought me in. And she’s an amazing person and that all tied it together and we really had great chemistry.”
After three and a half years of living as expats and dating, Damon and his wife tied the knot of December 21, 2016, in Cape Town, South Africa. They wanted their wedding to take place around their birthdays. His is on December 15th, and her’s is on December 24th. Therefore the Solstice of December 21 was the perfect day. “Our whole thing was about turning the world upside down or turning the world right side up, more so. Taking our [American] winter and making it summer [In South Africa] and tying it in on the longest day of the year but on the opposite of the equator,” he shared.
“I know you have a girl in every port.”
But how does an expat find love like this? Or even merely a date? Ms. Tillery, Ms. Williams and Mr. Jones each had a perspective.
Faye Tillery: In every country, there are groups of expats that get together. So even if you aren’t looking, there are groups for that in most countries and cities. It’s not easy to date as an expat, but if you want to do it, there’s a way to do it. Keep your options open. Even though dating locals can be a challenge, it could work. Talk to people. Be friendly. Being resourceful to people. That’s the number one thing for me. Being helpful and resourceful.
Latrese Williams: You just have to be open in general to being in another country. Be open to the newness of the experience. Try Happen, Tinder, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Badoo. When you’re only in Barcelona for three days, and you put that you’re there for three days and ‘show me your city,’ men who typically might not have a sense of urgency, have a sense of urgency. They know ‘if I want to see this woman, I have to call her now and take her out now.’ This creates a catalyst for them to be men of action and you get to be pursued. When you’re by yourself, just talk to people, say hello. The app, Meetup is great too. You don’t have to go see the Vatican. Go to other types of events. InterNations also. It’s basically professional expats.
Damon Jones: When I was traveling, and people would see my photos, and all the things I was doing, they would just be like, ‘I know you have a girl in every port.’ Because I’m an outgoing person, I would meet people, and it was never my point to just hook up. I wanted to meet interesting people, and I would just talk to people. Just to get their perspectives on stuff. Talking to people is a real push to go towards dating. Not just talking to someone at a club but in a cool environment. Like a cafe. ‘Tell me about…’ one of the things I used to ask whenever I would travel somewhere. I would try to find the most interesting looking local person, and I would ask them, ‘If it’s your day off, what would you do. I’m here visiting.’ And that’s how I ended up finding the coolest things to do in interesting places. I would get answers that wouldn’t be in a pamphlet or travel guide. More than a few times, people would say, ‘I’m not doing anything, let’s go. I’ll show you.’ A few times it turned into a date.
“I want black women to be happy.”
From the politics of why they left to the subtleties of cultural differences in places like Rome and Colombia, Faye Tillery and Latrese Williams discussed their motivation for personal happiness and community engagement. They both highlighted that it’s important to do the self-work long before dating others. Ms. Tillery addresses this area of personal development by offering “Love Coach Services, ” and Ms. Williams addresses this by fostering group discussions and retreats that encourage camaraderie and personal disclosures.
The overall message regarding love and dating as an expat centered around openness. It is a given that many people want to experience companionship, connection, and marriage, however whether locally or internationally it can prove to be a daunting task. Allowing oneself to trust the experience, go with the flow and being vulnerable with strangers gives room for unexpected experiences.
Faye Tillery, the hopeful romantic, Latrese Williams, the satisfied adventurer and Damon Jones, the blissful husband each shared parting thoughts.
Faye admitted that dating could be a scary but if people let their guard down and take a chance on love, they might be surprised. Joining social groups like Black Expat Love Connections can help the process too as according to Faye, “The people on the site are really great partners. I know we have found something special. We are very new, but I know there’s something really special here.”
Latrese kept it pretty simple and realistic. “You just gotta be open minded. If a black woman sincerely wants to have quality, consistent experiences with men that are interested in them, that want to be with them, then they just have to be more open. It means to be open geographically. Being open to relocation. We are in the day of glitch fares and airplanes and megabuses. Geography should never be a reason for people not to be together. I want black women to be happy. I want us to have as much joy as everybody else. I would encourage us to be creative and open to different kinds of relationships and take it as it comes. A lot of women screw up. They put so much pressure on their ideal and no energy on anything else. Then you meet the ideal and self-sabotage it. Life is less stressful if you’re open to all the men. Even if you want to marry a certain type, you can still date others. Dating is a skill, and you have to practice. It won’t happen sitting on your couch. You actually have to get out there and do it.”
Damon’s sentiments echoed with Latrese’s. “If I go back to my friends, they had these bad relationships, and they were scorned for whatever reason. They didn’t want to talk to certain people based on perception. ‘This person doesn’t do this, so I don’t want to talk to them.’ I think to throw up so many walls, in the beginning, is such a bad idea. That’s locking you out from somebody before even giving them a chance. So for someone who’s dating, you have to be more open. Look for interesting people. I talk to people all the time for no reason. I just talk to people.”
Faye is now approaching six months in Colombia building her black expat dating company. Latrese is approaching six months of full-time living in Rome while dating and being doted on simply for being herself. And Damon has now experienced five months of marital bliss in Nicaragua.
For those exploring dating, romance, and love abroad, using hope, openness and a bit of perspective, anything truly is possible. Damon Jones had one last encouraging thought essential for sharing. “A lot of people may not realize how fascinating they are. You may be a really cool person, but you think of yourself as normal. When you really think about it, you are an interesting person. Just on your originality. You’re different than the next person. Sometimes it takes you coming out of your environment to see that. That’s why travel is awesome. It opens your perspective.”