There’s something on the back of my mind since a couple of months now, and I wanted to share some of my personal advices about it here.
I’m currently dating Hitomi, a lovely Japanese man I met last year while I was traveling in Japan. Although I didn’t have many boyfriends in my life (Hitomi is my third, and very hopefully the last), he is not my first experience in intercultural dating.
Recently, I thought a lot about cultures and personalities, and how the “culture factor” can affect an intercultural relationship.
But first of all, what is “culture”?
Anthropologists define culture as being the characteristics of a group of people with a particular language, religion, social habits, arts and music.
So what happens when we meet someone who isn’t from the same country as us, and who does something we’re totally not used to?
Answer: we think “Ah, that must be in their culture!”.
People who date outside of their ethnicity are probably open-minded about this and already know that some of their significant other’s reactions are going to be different from theirs. Those differences can be funny, weird, or sometimes offensive — especially if it plays on our own values and lifestyle. But most of the time, it’s understandable, and everyone grows from being in an intercultural relationship, because we learn that our ways of doing things isn’t by default the best ones. It’s just a question of perspective.
[For more about it, check out my post about Asian stereotypes in the West]
Needless to say, trying to understand your partner’s culture in an interracial relationship is very important.
But, there is a trap.
When we love someone, we tend to excuse a lot of their behaviors that we don’t like. It’s a normal reaction; everybody does it. Phrases like “Love is blind” are a popular way to demonstrate that. However, the problem with intercultural relationships is that the possibility of excusing something you don’t like about the person you love is made easier with the “culture factor”. I personally can’t count how many times I’ve thought “This is just because it’s his culture, I should try to understand him” with my previous boyfriend (who was African) to excuse a harsh behavior directed toward me. When really, it was just the relationship in itself that was crappy. His culture had nothing to do with it. I’m sure not all Africans are as harsh and sensitive as he was. It was just him, and his personnality and character, that didn’t fit with mines at all.
Somehow, acting crazy with Hitomi suits me a whole lot more
If you are currently dating someone who is not from the same country as you, or if you plan to do so, please don’t do the same mistakes as I did. If someone treats you badly, there’s no excuse for it; leave them. If you ever thought “If he was *insert your nationality*, I would have broken up with him already”, then by all means, do so. Life is too short to stay with someone who is not suitable for you. Don’t wait until it becomes harder to leave — don’t wait until you’re married and having children with that person.
Everybody has qualities and flaws, and a love relationship is just a matter of being able to live with the flaws of your significant other for the rest of your life. If all you want to do is to change the person you “love”, then it’s not going to work. If the bad sides of your relationship are too strong compared to the good sides, it’s not the time to excuse it by the fact that you don’t share the same culture. Just break up.
I went from a relationship where I was fighting all the time, to my current relationship where I can’t remember the last time we fought. Hitomi and I of course had arguments, since it’s normal in any relationship. But fighting, insulting, being violent (psychologically or physically) and never knowing if your relationship will last is not normal. Even with the culture factor.
Don’t fool yourself. Learn when to accept, to make concessions, and to stand for yourself.
There was actually many times when I wondered if certain aspects of Hitomi were because of his character, or just because it’s his culture. I might never know — but I think it’s a bit both at the same time. I don’t use the culture to excuse behaviors I don’t agree with anymore. When I don’t like something Hitomi did, I tell him — and when he doesn’t like something I did, he tells me. Regardless of our own cultures.
In my opinion, cultural differences are not what’s important in an intercultural relationship; similarities are. Find someone who will suit you and will put the same amount of effort you do for the couple, keeping it in balance at all times. It’s the only way to achieve a healthy relationship.