I find people completely fascinating—basically, I would love to sit everyone down and hear their life story. This has led to me date a wide variety of people—from a guy with a neck tattoo and a carpet cleaning business, to a high-strung finance bro, to an awkward computer programmer. I am also an equal opportunity dater: about half of the people I’ve dated are not white (and a number of those who are come from other countries). I don’t have any kind of specific preference or actively seek out multicultural people, it’s just what has arisen from my experiences in our diverse world.
I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white lady from suburban Whitesville, and I realize this does not put me in the best position to talk about race (for another perspective, see Jazmine’s article). Needless to say, my various relationships have opened my eyes to many things. They have been difficult at times: when I miss a cultural nuance, my boyfriend gets frustrated and tired of explaining, or when I feel like I don’t fit in. But, overall, I feel lucky to have been close to such interesting and unique people, and to get to see the world from a different perspective. Here are the things I’ve found helpful to keep an interracial relationship healthy:
1. The vast majority of the time, it’s just the same as dating any other human.
And why wouldn’t it be? You probably have many more things in common than not. You learn about their quirks, accept their past history, are attracted to each other, and build something together.
2. Everyone is more than their race.
Stereotypes are bullshit. People are individuals and it’s foolish to assume you know their motivations or struggles without hearing it from them. For example, I have a friend who is ethnically Asian, but grew up in Mexico and more strongly relates to the culture there (native speakers always do a double take when he starts speaking Spanish, and often give each other a look like, “Oh shit, did we say anything bad in front of him?”). Also, the importance attached to an ethnic identity can vary greatly. Just like you have that one Jewish friend who still eats bacon, I have one friend who doesn’t even want to acknowledge the Asian part of her heritage, and another who travels back to Taiwan every year to reconnect.
3. White Privilege is a very real thing.
I never realized how many breaks I get as a white person until I started dating outside my race. I’ve been stopped by the police for no reason three times in my life (to check IDs, to “make sure I wasn’t drinking and driving,” and while walking to my car after a soccer game). I was with a black man every time.
4. Love can’t conquer everything.
There was a couple in college who dated a year and a half (or, in college terms, seven eternities) until they finally broke up because he was Jewish and she wasn’t. This confused young, idealistic me. Didn’t he know she wasn’t Jewish before they started dating? Weren’t they together because they were in love, and didn’t that have priority? If something is such an integral part of your identify that you must share it in order to have children together, or it would not be possible to combine families, sometimes it is not possible to make a relationship with different cultures work. Imagine the reverse: being in a relationship where you couldn’t share Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, The Superbowl, brunch, or basic cultural things like a high-five or eye contact. It can be done, but for some it’s just too much of who they are to give up (and that’s OK).
5. Pressure to date within race is real.
Most parents are pretty happy when they meet me, but I have DEFINITELY also heard, “She’s nice, but when are you going to settle down with a nice black/Muslim/Spanish-speaking girl?” This is very frustrating when the disparity is something you can’t change, and it can wear on the relationship if the parents are hoping for something else.
6. Racism is more subtle.
I’m happy to say I have never received dirty looks, been talked to, or faced discrimination on the street for being an interracial couple. However, there are other ways people express their displeasure: “Really? You date Asian guys? Why?” (This has happened a couple of times on dates—pretty much the fastest way to ensure I unexpectedly have to go home early.) When I said I was meeting up with my friend Mohammad, I was asked, “Don’t you have any friends named, like, John?” My friends also act like it’s the Second Coming if I’m dating a white guy, which is strange because about half the people I’ve dated were white. There are lots of little examples like these that bother me. Wouldn’t it be weirder to not date about 40% of the population?
7. A word about anatomical stereotypes:
I know that’s why some of you really came to read this article. There are outliers to every stereotype, and that’s all I’m going to say in public. You may have seen a graph on the Internet regarding this, it has largely been deemed unscientific and racist.
8. Being a secret sucks even more than you would think.
I have a (Muslim, Pakistani) friend who dated a (Christian, Korean) girl for four years without either of their parents knowing. FOUR YEARS. They even lived together, and he would just hide his stuff and get out of dodge whenever her parents came to visit. I guess for some people this is a necessary thing, but, as someone who has been kept secret, it’s very stressful. My father gave me a talk on how any boyfriend should be proud of me and want to show me off. Your partner can be on edge, inexplicably unreachable, and difficult to schedule with. Plus, remember that this shows a pattern of being deceitful to people they love, and could mean your partner is not going to stand up to your future in-laws. Would not recommend.
9. There is so much to learn.
People have so many different traditions, and that is fascinating to me. I remember discussing family dinners with my Asian friend when she asked me, completely genuinely, “So…what do white people eat with all their meals if not rice? Bread?” I’m much more knowledgable about certain issues, foods, and can throw around a few foreign curse words because of things I’ve learned from relationships. But on the other hand…there is SO MUCH to learn. I had a boyfriend who was Indian, Muslim, and spoke Urdu and Arabic. When he was explaining how he felt when Modi was elected Prime Minister, I felt like if we were going to really be together I would have to take history, religion, and language classes. As with anything, try to be included in things that are important in their life so you can better understand them as a person.
10. Don’t be a dick.
I wish this could go without saying but seriously, be respectful of other cultures. My Mexican friend had a boyfriend who would make fun of her when she pronounced Spanish words, you know, the way they are supposed to be pronounced. My Asian friend slaved to make this really amazing meal, and her boyfriend took one look and called it, “Ew-y.” Try to keep an open mind and don’t insult food, languages, traditions, anything that’s important to your partner or their family. Observe the “little brother rule” (it’s OK if I insult something important to me, but if you do, you’re dead meat).
11. Strong communication and self-awareness is essential.
This is true of any relationship but more so when there are unspoken rules. Unfortunately I can’t magically understand all of your life experiences once we start dating, so I will try to understand where you’re coming from, but I can’t if you don’t explain it to me. Also, your partner needs to have an awareness of what to explain in advance, root causes of issues, and whether or not they can truly have a future with someone of a different culture.
12. You will inevitably fuck up and say/do something inappropriate at some point.
I’m sure I have already offended someone with this list. It happens, and I’m truly sorry if I am being insensitive in some way. One of my more memorable relationship fuck ups was when I lived in Italy. I learned a hand gesture that seemed to mean, “Get outta here.” I used it with my students, my boyfriend’s family, etc. until one day someone asked me in response, “Perché mi mandi a fanculo?” Turns out the gesture actually meant, “Fuck off.” Hopefully your partner will patiently and lovingly explain how you were in the wrong. Be open, understanding, respectful, and learn from it.
I’m not trying to say that interracial dating is always harder than any other relationship—in fact, a lot of these lessons could be pretty good guidelines for any relationship. However, the nuances of culture can certainly add difficulty and for some, the obstacles will be too great to overcome. Even if it can’t last forever, any relationship can be illuminating and, hopefully, fun along the way! Cupid’s arrow has no bias, and with enough communication, understanding, and luck, you will be able to forge a beautiful relationship together.
What’s your experience with interracial dating? Tweet @litdarling or comment below—I’d love to hear your story!
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