The Ethics of Discrimination in Dating

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Yesterday, while hanging out on social media as I do, I saw a conversation about height-ism in dating play out that I’m all too familiar with. Let me set the stage for you: A man comes across a woman on a dating app who specifies that she is not interested in dating any men who are shorter than 6 feet tall. Man then states (rightly) that if he were to put a similar criteria on his profile but about women’s waist size, he’d be excoriated.

It got me thinking about the ethics of height-ism in dating, discrimination in dating in general, and whether any of it is actually ethical. First, what exactly am I referring to when I say “discrimination”? Let’s use a simple definition then:

Discrimination:  disadvantageous treatment or consideration

I wanted to use a definition that isn’t explicitly tied to race for a lot of reasons, mainly because I want us to think of discrimination as broadly as possible. Let me pose some questions about the ethics of discrimination in dating:

  1. When someone says that they discriminate against x when they date, whatever that variable is, is it wrong?
  2. What if they don’t explicitly say that they discriminate, but you have observed that they discriminate in dating?
  3. More importantly, should anyone’s dating discrimination or preferences bother you?

What do I think? For starters, no, I don’t think it’s wrong when people discriminate in their own dating lives. I’ve met plenty of people who say that they would never date a person of a specific race, from all walks of life. I’ve met people who wouldn’t date someone based on their profession, height, weight, the size of their genitals, and countless other things. In fact, chances are good that you do some amount of discrimination in your dating life. The most common forms of discrimination in dating are usually around race, weight, height, religion, age, and income level. Age? Yes, age. Every single dating app has age filters, and if you’re dating online you’re using them. Oh wait, did you not think of that as discrimination? Weird.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Most people as I’ve mentioned in some of my other writing, think of themselves as good people and “good people” have a hard time reconciling that they might also be bad. Western society, for the most part believes that discrimination is bad, because we tend to think of social discrimination when we think of discrimination, so a lot of “good people” with very clear discriminatory dating patterns don’t think of them as discriminating. I know a lot of wonderful people who would never date someone who isn’t their race, religion, taller/shorter than them, a certain body type,etc. They might not explicitly say that they would never date someone because they discriminate, but it’s still true. Besides weight discrimination, one of the most common form of discrimination in dating has to be race discrimination. It’s either loudly and proudly vocalized by some people, or most people do it without explicitly stating that they discriminate based on race. If you’re thinking this can’t be the case, try to think of your own dating habits. Would you say that most of the people you date are either the same race or could they all pass for the same race? Is the color hue of everyone you’ve dated basically the same? What about your friends, do you see a lot of racial variation in who they date? Here’s where, if you’re sensitive about race and you feel especially sensitive when a person of color brings up race because you think it implies that you’re a racist, you might be getting defensive. That’s fine, tension leads to growth. I don’t think that discrimination in dating, of any kind, is inherently bad on an individual level. I think racial discrimination in general is bad, but when it comes to romantic pairings, I don’t know if I want to say it’s always bad. It’s short-sighted and small-minded, but I don’t think when, for example, a Chinese man says he wants to date a Chinese woman it’s inherently bad. It’s not right to discriminate in who you date, but it’s not wrong either.

Seriously though, you could make the argument here that what I’m describing as discrimination is really just preference, and my question would then be: Is saying you prefer specific races, or religions, or whatever else somehow better than saying you discriminate? If someone said “I don’t find any white people attractive because of discrimination” or “I’d rather not date any white people because I don’t find them attractive because of preference” is either one of those somehow a morally superior stance? If it makes you feel better, feel free to substitute “prefers” for “discriminates”.

Which leads me to my last question, should any one individual’s dating discrimination or preferences bother you? I would say, yes or no, depending on your answer to this question: Can you say, without a doubt, that you do not discriminate in any way, when you date? That’s your answer. If you’re worried about height-ism in dating, can you say for sure that you don’t discriminate based on body type? What about religion? What about their income? Personally, I know that I discriminate in dating, and it’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but because of this I don’t rush to judge someone because of their vocalized or not vocalized discriminatory dating practices. I feel like it’d be hypocritical, but that’s just me. How can I judge one person for saying they don’t want to date outside their race when I give a pass when someone says they don’t want to date outside their religion? How can I judge someone for saying they don’t want to date someone who is obese when I don’t raise an eyebrow when someone tells me they would never date someone taller than them?

Now, I’m not saying discrimination gets a pass, I’m talking specifically about discriminating in your own personal dating life. It’s one thing to say “All of these people from this religion are bad people” and it’s another to say “I’m a Christian and want to marry a Christian”. You can discriminate in how you date, and that’s separate from social discrimination. I’m not saying it’s okay to discriminate based on height, weight, race, income, age, gender, sexual orientation, education, or whatever else, but I won’t begrudge you if you do.

It’s not wrong to say “You know what I call men below 6ft? Friends” but it also doesn’t mean you’re good people for saying that either. Discriminating on an individual level isn’t inherently good or bad. The motivation behind it can be, but if you say that you only want to date people who look, act, earn, or live a certain way, I won’t say you’re wrong. You’re not wrong, but you might be an asshole.

Good Luck Out There.

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of Discrimination in Dating

  1. I am totally an asshole then. I “prefer” to date guys of a certain height, but to be honest, it’s not really a choice I’ve come to. It’s my innate attraction that draws me to this height. When I try to go against that, it never ends well for me or the shorty I’m dating. I wish it weren’t this way, because it makes my dating pool very shallow, and I’d rather be swimming in the deep end – where the guys are standing on the bottom and their heads are still above water. But to call it discrimination? I don’t know about that. I don’t think shorter guys are bad people, or that they are a lesser species, or that they are less deserving, or that they aren’t afforded equal advantages, except that they probably won’t be dating me – and I’m sure that’s not the standard to which they hold their personal worth. It’s not like I wouldn’t elect a short guy, or that I’d run away from a short man in a dark alley, or tell my kids not to play at the short family’s house. Is it discrimination because I prefer to use a shampoo for wavy hair instead of the one for red heads? Of course not. I also don’t think it’s discrimination if a guy is attracted to women with big boobs – as long as he isn’t judging her mental prowess or ability to do a job on it. Attraction is physical, preference is personal, and wanting to date someone with a certain set of values can be really important to some people. But who knows, you might find THE ONE in a person you’d least expect, but chances are your craziness about them will outshine your previous expectations. You should really only date who you’re drawn to, even if that leaves certain people out of your dating options. He might be a great guy with an awesome personality, but nobody wants to be with someone who isn’t wildly attracted to them. And if you want a tall partner, then I say keep your standards and your men up there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you left this comment! I think it really shows the difference in how people view preference vs. discrimination. I think we both agree that each individual is allowed to date anyone they want to, using any criteria that they want to, and that’s okay. I think where we differ is my use of discrimination as a word to describe it. Maybe “Partiality” is a better way to describe it, or preference. Anyway, you’re definitely not an asshole 😀


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