A roundtable of experiences, reflections, and hot takes regarding interracial dating (Part 1).
Hot Pot is a weekly thing where we gather around a topic that happens to be on our minds, talking to each other and readers alike. If you’ve got a take of your own, you should join us in the comments below.
This week: interracial dating, generally. This is part 1 of a multi-part series, and includes takes by Roaming Through Life, Quiet Warrior, and Lavalamp. (See the following link for Part 2 and Part 3).
- Roaming Through Life
I distinctly remember as a young child mentally grappling with the concept of “soulmates” and finding it incredibly depressing…for mathematical reasons. There were roughly 6 billion people in the world, 2 billion of which were in India or China (Note: none of the statistics in this post have been verified. This is all from the mind of a very precocious 8 year old.). If I have ONE soulmate, the odds of me finding that ONE person in 6 billion were quite low. Statistically, he was most likely living on a farm in rural China (or surviving communism in Russia, or wandering the mountains of South America), NOT sitting in my math class with me learning about the probability of finding 1 in 6 billion. It’s not that I didn’t believe in soulmates, it’s that I thought the odds were stacked against me to ever actually find that person.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized something really important though: if soulmates are real (which is a topic for another post), mine is probably not farming in southern India right now. Mine might have been in my math class, or at my job, or may be a friend of a friend that I’ll meet at a party some day. Why? Because inherently, my life partner has to be someone I have stuff in common with.
I read a book once that said you’ll run across your partner (I’m dropping the word soulmate) when you stop looking and just start doing all the things you want to do – because your partner will like to do those things too. While not always true in practice (I’m all for utilizing apps for modern dating), I think the point is this: while I actually think it would be pretty cool to have grown up in Siberia, I didn’t, and so I can get over my fear that my life partner is hiding out there, because we wouldn’t have much in common.
Life partners often come from similar backgrounds, because this allows them to relate and understand each other. They don’t necessarily have to have grown up in the same area, or be socioeconomically or racially the same – although these things often occur too. But there’s some level on which they connect and approach the world similarly; and how we approach the world is largely influenced by our backgrounds.
I say all this to say, for me, interracial dating is hard. It’s not the equivalent of a Chicago girl dating someone from Siberia, but it’s going to be harder to have stuff in common. My race has influenced so much about my world view, in ways a non-black person will just never get. I’ve seen some very evolved interracial couples. I know it’s possible to have a successful interracial relationship. But interracial dating comes with a unique set of challenges that will likely have to be countered by some phenomenon specific to the individual relationship.
- Quiet Warrior
I have so many thoughts about this. Personally, I am open to it. Interestingly, I have an older brother who has only dated white girls (we’re black/children of African immigrants) and a younger sister who is only interested in black/African men. I’m the wildcard lol. Practically, I think as a professional black woman, you have to be open, because demographics aren’t really in our favor (I would love to hear from the other black women in the group on whether they think this is true). But the recent election has given me a lot of pause. Well, I had concerns before and the election kind of confirmed them. Anti-blackness/anti-POC sentiment is so pervasive in our culture. So even if someone loves me personally/are attracted to me personally, that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold anti-black views (I have a pretty recent example). Or that I can trust them to care about injustice towards minorities. And families are another issue. It’s funny to me how many people have casually told me that their parents (white, immigrant) would not let them bring home a black partner. My brother’s ex-girlfriend’s parents wouldn’t meet him because he was black. I don’t know if I want to deal with that. Soo…I don’t know. I’m open but he and his family would have to be seriously vetted.
Relationships are such wonderful living things. They breathe, they grow, they wither and die. And like others have written here, relationships are work. A ton of work. They require us to have learned what we can from prior ones, to have left maximal baggage behind (as much our struggles allow us to), to meet this new person with an open and curious mind, to not superimpose ghosts of past lovers onto this bright new face. And that’s all before the 2nd date. I find it curious that I have only dated men outside my culture and ethnicity. All are of different backgrounds – White Anglo-Saxon, Asian-American, European, African-American, Caribbean and my soulmate (we’re using the word!) who is Middle Eastern. This is at direct odds with my culture. My background has only examples of arranged marriage to others within a narrowly defined caste of people. My mother met my father a grand total of three times before marrying him. She tells me that she saw kindness in my father’s eyes and that was enough for her. I think about my own journey. In any given dinner date, my head was swirling with thoughts about my own culture, making sense of the hyphenated term Indian-American, not belonging to my mother land, losing my native language, striking out on my own, images of fantasy boyfriends from Bollywood movies (shoutout to DDLJ!), how some men are intimidated by my medical career, why I chose soup for dinner when I’m sure to spill on myself. It’s a miracle we even see the person in front of us with all this going on. All this to say, culture and race differences creep into relationships. At least for me. If the guy is not a doofus (like the idiot who called me ‘exotic’), then I’m mostly oblivious to culture and race stuff till later. And later, it gets very interesting.
So I’m a first generation immigrant. My defining life experience is to feel like “the other”. Despite being in the US for about 20 years, I’m not quite sure I fit in here. But then again, I don’t fit in anywhere else, certainly not in my homeland and not with other Indian-Americans. In short, I’m too white for India, too brown for the US and not brown enough for the Indian-American community. It’s not a stretch that I find myself in relationships with others who have been similarly displaced. This is how I understand my dating style. When I met my partner, I was at a strange place in my life. I had done a lot of internal work to understand why I find myself in relationships with relatively unavailable men (Answer: abandonment issues, weird childhood). I made a lot of strides. So when I met S, I left behind any flutters of “Will he like me?” or “Should I flirt more?” I tried to see him clearly. Our first date was magical. It was coffee for 5 hours. He spoke about his family background, how he helped reshape their bonds with each other after his parents’ divorce and how he’s pulled together a community for himself of close friends of all different backgrounds. On our 3rd date, he said “All I want is to have a little family, throw barbecues in the backyard, invite all my close friends, enjoy everyone’s company and maybe do some gardening”. He was like Martha goddamn Stewart and I said, sign me up mister!
As is inevitable, our cultures clashed. My parents were terrified of him being Middle Eastern (him, a SoCal lawyer, all-round California boy). They forbade us from seeing each other and used all the guilt-tripping in the world to drive us apart. When I felt very much excommunicated from my family and community, I thought about Martha Stewart. Yeah yeah, I know she did bad stuff and went to jail. But hear me out. S and I remember Martha on weekend morning TV, well-dressed, very chipper, discussing table settings and making stew. In her, we both see an education in how to make a home for ourselves. And as displaced people, our aim is to find home. That’s our common culture. And our differences are many. I am Hindu, he is agnostic. I go to the temple occasionally, speak in my native language to my parents, watch Bollywood movies, read scripture before bedtime and do secret choreography in my bedroom to famous Hindi songs. He doesn’t do any of those things. He will never be Indian and I don’t need him to be. I probably won’t learn Arabic, won’t spend hours thinking about how Atkinson engines work, won’t Macgyver curtain dressings for our home, won’t get giddy about table settings. But I love all these things about him. And I am a witness. I give him space to be himself, to explore his own background and various subcultures he identifies with. I marvel in these things with him. Do we lose out on experiences that come from sharing a culture? Probably. Will we keep running into cultural clash issues? Hell yeah. Is it worth it (let me work it, I put my thing down flip it and reverse it)? YES!!!
Imma leave you all with a Khalil Gibran quote which captures my relationship with S – “Let there be spaces in your togetherness…Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls”. And as we build a life traveling between our respective shores, from our home to yours, Happy New Year!