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Why I Judge My Dates on Their Musical Tastes

Don't judge me.
Illustration by Ben Ruby

The music taste of the person I date matters to me. I'm already aware of how pretentious that sounds but it's coming less so from a place or snobbery and more of self-preservation of my mental state. Whether we admit it or not, we all have our very own slightly ridiculous and often unreasonable dealbreakers; the things our friends roll their eyes about and ask "so I guess he wore sandals?" (I also fucking hate feet. Sue me.) Mine is directly tied to not only the kind of music my dating prospects listen to, but how willing they are to accept what I like and be as eager to discover new shit as I am. Just kidding. I want him to accept my tastes as superior. I am openly admitting that men who primarily listen to Future and Fetty Wap tend to irk my spirit and that I assume I would likely have very little in common with someone who listens to Opeth religiously.


But as a woman who has been referring to Pusha T as my life coach since I was 14, I know it's not a foolproof thought process either. When tabling prospects to friends who are largely sick of my romantic self-sabotage, they usually have no idea why I place a "frivolous" limit like music on my dating pool. "He listens to Soulja Boy. Like, on purpose," I've reasoned with a friend before. "And he doesn't know who Little Brother is." I mean, I stopped interacting with someone for admitting they had never heard of Rick James prior to the Dave Chappelle skit. Do I know it's extra? Yes. Do I care? No, but I also know it's a method that has holes in it.

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I feel like the kind of music you listen to most of the time serves as a pretty accurate peak into some key personality traits; since our evolving tastes are actually much more of a social function than we think. Our tastes act as a way to make sense of the shit we value; the things that move us and the things that make us tick. Especially when looking at lyrical content, the relatability of seeing pieces of ourselves in an artist, song or project is a part of what draws us closer to them than all the other shit that's out there. It's what attracts some people to The Roots and others to Drake. People have long made connections between musical tastes and intelligence, even going so far as conducting an entire study based on SAT scores and Facebook page likes. The study isn't without its glaring biases: it places obviously Black genres like soca, rap and R&B on the "less intelligent" end of the spectrum and links brightness with acts like U2 and Bob Dylan—artists who bore me to tears, and I happen to consider myself sharp as shit. Shade aside, the notion that music and the way you see the world are correlated is something I've always thought.


Dating around other commonalities is seen as pretty normal, from environmentalists to extreme sports enthusiasts; but there's something about mentioning the musical tastes of your dates that sets off eye-rolling alarm bells for most people. People have been meeting and falling in love at shows and music festivals forever, and just like there are websites for gaming, comic and anime fans and people who hate themselves, you can also find platforms and apps that connect you with users based on the genres and artists they specify on their profiles. is one app that lets you create a whole profile based on the music you like—letting you enter your favourites, what you've listened to recently and the best concerts you've been to. Even popular dating apps like Tinder and Bumble let you sync with your Spotify account to make it easier to sift through profiles based on the artists they listen to most. It might not be a guaranteed way to find your soulmate, but it can make for some pretty awesome and effortless conversation.

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I got to a point where I tried expanding my horizons, i.e: not allowing myself to be turned off by the things my friends insist are insignificant. After a few conversations with this one guy that I would have normally written off much earlier, I decided I was perhaps being too harsh and to focus on some of his more positive attributes. He seemed normal enough at first but in the time I spent in his car, I was inundated with a barrage of outdated and shitty music (Otis Redding was the one saving grace). "What do you mainly listen to, other than this?" I asked, trying to make conversation. How I'd fucking regret that. "Well," he started. "It's usually this and my own music." With a quick change of the disc in the stereo, he started playing me his latest project. So not only did he have terrible taste but he was also an aspiring rapper who, I would later learn, was 38 and not 27 like he told me at first. My eyes widened and darted around the car, because my life is a fucking sitcom. I was now in the position of having to lie to this person about his own music and the sudden tumble my interest in him took. "Honestly, I don't like any of these new rappers," he said. "They're not talking about anything good. I don't know who any of these guys are after like, 2008." That was our only date.

As much as some of my sensibilities lean towards older hip-hop (with dancehall, house, soca, afrobeats, older funk/soul and alt-R&B in the mix), I cringe at the thought of considering myself a rap purist in any way. Any interaction I've had with a man trapped in the perpetual loop of "real hip-hop" has been someone who is immediately dismissive of newer trends and artists in addition to being painfully preachy. I love Illmatic as much as the next person, but to ignore the artistic merit and impact of To Pimp A Butterfly so we can pretend it's 1996 forever gets tiresome. Certain attitudes you have in one facet of life bleed into other ones, so it doesn't surprise me when I see that spillover with something as personal and almost primal as our attraction to certain kinds of art.

For me, it also comes down to a willingness to be open to new sounds just as I am—with limits, of course. Personally, I'll give anything with a poppin' ass bassline a chance. That passion to want to learn, discover and appreciate things they've never heard before is something I find endearing as hell. A man's ability to introduce me to music I'm unfamiliar with but knows I'll love is one of those hidden cheat codes that can change the way I see them entirely. Show me Anne-Marie, Ray Blk & Dave East so I can love you.

Smell might be the strongest sense tied to memory, but I want to be able to associate music with whoever I have goo-goo eyes for at the time. And the song can't be shit.

Follow Sajae Elder on Twitter.