Complicated? Interesting? Challenging? Fun? I believe all those words apply when it comes to dating in general, not just to dating someone of a different race. When you decide to date someone outside your racial or ethnic background it may just up the ante a little bit. I’m so glad that today it is much easier to date anyone you want to. Some cultures may still frown on dating outside their own race and still encourage arranged marriages, but for the most part, it is easier to cross the boundary lines of race and culture these days.
I was very close to someone who’s mother was Irish and father was African-American. He stated that growing up in the 1980’s was hard at times. He would talk about not fitting in at school and getting made fun of because his skin was so light, yet he looked African-American. He would talk about how hard it was for his Irish grandfather to accept his African-American father when his parents first got together in the mid 70’s. His grandfather finally came around after his older sister was born. Most interracial couples had to face a lot of opposition from both sides of the family to be together. Today, it is more common place to see bi-racial people and it isn’t very shocking to know their parents are from two different races. Our own president is bi-racial. In fact, I think interracial couples create some very beautiful babies. I’m encouraged to see many students at my university dating people from different races. I think it opens our minds to possibilities and being more accepting of people no matter where they come from.
I have also realized from my experiences with interracial couples that their problems are mostly the same as couples who date within their own race. My husband is Italian and I’m of German decent. We noticed right away that even though both of our families are mostly blue-collar, they were very different in how they relate to one another. Steve’s family is more welcoming and friendly, as well as more physically affectionate with one another. My family is a little more stoic and will ask you what you want to drink when you walk in the door, no hugs allowed. Even though we are the same race and no one makes comments that we look different, we do experience differences in our family and cultural backgrounds that make for some interesting conversations sometimes.
I think it is great to celebrate our differences, but also appreciate how alike we still are in so many ways. My bi-racial friend and I were a lot alike even though we came from very different backgrounds. Our personalities were alike and we had a lot of the same interests. We didn’t have to be the same race to have common ground. However, it was interesting to learn about the different experiences he had growing up compared to me. I also learn a lot and enjoy counseling people from other races. Some people would think I couldn’t relate to a person of a different race, and I’m not the best counselor for everyone, but usually race has nothing to do with it. When it comes to life and relationships, we all tend to go through the same ups and downs. In the hundreds of people I’ve counseled over the years from various backgrounds, races, cultures and even age, I have always been able to find at least one thing in common with every single one.
When I’ve worked with interracial couples, I have found what is important to pay attention to is mutual respect for each other. Respecting the fact that it may take more time to break the news of your relationship to your families. I also think it is important to remember that not all family members may be open to the idea. Many of us have people in our family that are very old school. They may take some time to come around. I encourage my students to not be offended by their own or their partner’s family members who may not be so willing to accept the relationship. Instead, I tell them to be an example to them of how strong an interracial relationship can be. You may face some opposition from strangers in public as well. Some people live in a world of fear and ignorance. They don’t like change and feel threatened by something they don’t understand. Don’t let others define the relationship for you. Just because other people may have a problem with it, doesn’t mean you must have one. Every couple has differences that they have to face. You can celebrate or fear them. It is up to you make that choice in the long run.
You can’t choose who you fall in love with or are attracted to. As long as the person loves you and treats you well, that is all that really matters. You may come up against some unique challenges at times but there are many people who have gone before you who can help you through it. A great book on interracial dating and marriage is Kissing Outside The Lines by Diane Farr. It is listed on my Great Books on Sex and Relationships Page along with other great reads.