#DatingWhileHaitian: First Dates & Doubts

A version of this piece originally appeared on Anacaona’s Daughters

I sit in bed in my comfortable sweats, listening to Emeline Michel on my headphones, recalling the events of my date the previous night, a first date. I hate first dates. First dates are clumsy. A night full of forced giggles hiding the insecurities screaming in my head, an outfit that I finally settled on after changing at least 7 times, awkward anecdotes hoping I sound impressive but not braggy. I smile recalling the sweeter moments of the night, furrow my brow considering what I should have said and done differently, avoid thinking maybe he didn’t enjoy my company, and grimace at the ridiculousness of it all.

 “chak moun bezwen yon moun…” Emeline sings, everybody needs someone. 

Dating is awkward. One interaction ends, and when you feel ready, you pick yourself up and try to start a new one. I stumble through it, hoping for at least a good story to tell, wondering what could I have done to prepare myself for this phase of my 20’s. What could I have told myself as a teenager to get me ready to sit across the table from a handsome stranger at a restaurant one day, hoping to eventually build something? 

“Gen yon bagay ki di ou, ke’w antre nan lavi’m pou’w rete…”  Something tells you they’ve come into your life to stay, Emeline sings with confidence. How can she be so sure of herself?

Nobody ever actually taught me how to date, and sometimes I feel like I missed a class that everyone else took. In my upbringing as a girl in Haiti, romance was something I read about in books. Teenage love was a Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen film where the girls travel to a random city in Europe, and just so happen to meet two cute boys in their age ranges that they end up kissing in the last scene. Male interaction was smiling at boys across the aisle at church on Sunday morning, whispered conversations in youth group meetings, passed notes in the classroom about who you would like to take you to the school banquet. What phase did I miss that would have educated me on how to deal with the number first dates would do on my self-esteem? Nobody equipped me for the moments of doubting my desirability; the moments in romance that precede the feeling of pa gen manti nan sa. 

“Se yon jan mwen santi’m, yon gwo feeling ki anvayi’m cheri…pa gen manti nan sa.” …It’s just an inkling, a feeling that overcomes me. There’s no doubt about this. Pa gen manti nan sa. No doubt about this

My 16 year-old cousin visited me for a week recently. I wish there was some kind of wisdom I could share with her. I’m not sure what this wisdom would sound like. Something like: “Baby cousin, Haitian parents expect you to stay far away from boys in your childhood and teenage years, but as soon as you hit 23, they’ll expect you to be in a healthy loving relationship that is headed towards marriage. So, get ready, but don’t freak out.” No, that can’t be it. I watched her, her beautiful face, flawless skin, almond shaped eyes, dangerous womanly curves that she knows not the power of, and a “promise to wait until marriage” ring on her finger. Love is something she will do as an adult when she’s old enough for it; when she’s my age. And I realized, in these beginning stages of dating, I become just as clueless and vulnerable as she is, as if I’ve never been through this before.  I am once again that girl who watched American teen romance movies with terribly synced French voice overs, pretending to identify. Feigning graceful womanhood as I await my feeling of Pa Gen Manti Nan Sa.

Pa Gen Manti nan sa…

Maybe there really isn’t anything that prepares someone for this. Maybe underneath her grace and poise, and before her overwhelming assurance, Emeline too melted on the inside, as I do every time.

I lie back in my bed, turn up the volume, and sing along “Pa gen manti nan sa…” My iPhone flashes with a notification of a new text message: a request for a 2nd date…



Nathalie Cerin

Nathalie Cerin is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, blogger and graduate student in Multicultural Education. She likes to think of herself as the class clown all grown up. Nathalie has a deep passion for Haiti and the arts, especially wherever these two topics converge. She is the editor for Woy Magazine.

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