Love at First Fright
We only met twice and we knew there was a spark. We were poles apart. I came from the Southern Hemisphere she came from the Northern Hemisphere. We came from two different cultures and two different religious backgrounds.
We shared the same interest intellectually, our taste in books were so similar. She loved baking, I loved cooking. We were totally opposed to racism in any shape or form and taught our kids to respect and learn about other cultures in the world. My children had many ethnic friends which to me seemed a healthy way to prepare them for life.
It was a short courtship which lasted over a year. I proposed to her over the phone while she was studying for her English degree at NUI Galway. A year later we got married at Westminster Town Hall in West London. We were so happy and so incredibly in love that I got my wedding vows mixed up.
I think I almost proposed to the registrar joke! joke!. I invited ten friends to my wedding reception, forty turned up with bowls of food and the aroma of delicious curry and fragrant rice is still etched in my memory to this day.
Talk about the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, there was still enough food to give our guests doggie bags to take home.Our wedding was not lavish by any standards, but our wedding day was magical and no money can ever buy those precious moments. Our friends and family members contributed to the happy occasion.
A year later we found a Catholic Church who would marry us much to the delight of my mother in law. When my children were baptised we raised them as Catholics. I have three grown-up adult children who are well adjusted individuals.
They also have partners from a different cultural background. My grandchildren are just too beautiful to describe. I come from a mixture of German, Dutch, Javanese and Indian heritage. I am actually working on my family tree at the moment which I will pass on to my children and their children.
I understand the dynamics of racial hatred only too well. Sixty-eight years ago I grew up in a racially divided society where mixed marriages were a criminal offence. I immigrated to London in the seventies. I had to adjust to witnessing mixed couples holding hands, no one blinked an eye.
Our marriage has withstood the test of time. In fact, it has flourished because we have always worked as a team, we have stuck by each other through thick and thin. Our spiritual belief has anchored us. We laughed with each other, shared pain and joy together. Love and respect for each other is the reason why our marriage is so strong.
I see beyond colour metaphorically speaking, it’s only skin deep. We have many friends who are married from diverse cultures. Speaking for myself my life has become enriched for marrying someone outside of my culture. Obtaining a degree in Sociology has given me a better understanding of culture, diversity, and beliefs.
I am very fortunate to have met and made close relationships with friends of various nationalities and ethnic groups. My life has become so enriched. I am very fortunate to have seen many countries and met so many lovely people along the way.
How to tell Your Family
Once socially frowned upon in some cultures, more and more people accept interracial dating and marriage as a non-issue these days. One factor that still inhibits interracial relationships is a fear that the family will react negatively and reject the relationship.
There are a lot of reasons for this fear, including prejudice and racism among your family members, ignorance about other cultures, or a fear of cultural incompatibility.
If you are worried about your family’s reaction to the news that you are dating someone outside your race, you may want to initiate a conversation to let them know and to reassure them about any concerns they may have. The type of conversation you have may differ depending on whether you live at home or if you are an independent adult.
Don’t make assumptions. You may know from experience that your family will not be supportive, but more often this is a “gray area” in families because it is not frequently discussed. Jumping to conclusions about their reactions might set you up to be overly defensive for no reason, or to be blindsided by a negative reaction.
- Your family may surprise you by accepting the relationship. On the other hand, some families can harbor secret biases and prejudices, and you may not realize it until you happen to be dating interracially, giving their true colors a chance to show through.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt while steeling yourself for the worst. Think about how you will react in all possible scenarios, including if they ask you to end the relationship.
Talk to Supportive Family
For example, if your parents are closed-minded, talk to your siblings first. If they agree with you, they can be supportive when you break it to the parents.
- If possible, recruit the support of older, well-trusted family members that your closed-minded family members respect. Maybe you have an older aunt or uncle that everyone reveres who is likely to support your relationship.
- Tell your supportive family members that you are in a relationship and you would like some advice or support in telling the rest of the family. Then, tell them your new partner is another race and you’re not sure how the rest of your family will react to the news.
Talk to your parents or other closed-minded family members.
You can choose if you want to make a big deal out of the conversation by telling them you need to talk about something important in advance, or if you would rather just bring it up more casually in conversation.
- Generally, making a big deal out of any topic puts people on the defensive by making them assume the worst beforehand. Since you want your parents to be open and accepting, casually bringing it up might yield better results.
- Try saying over dinner, “Hey, did you know I have a new boyfriend?” They are likely to ask questions about him, and you can find a way to drop in “He’s the first Asian guy I have dated.”
Try framing it as advice-seeking. Instead of dropping the news, frame it as you seeking advice from them, which flatters them and makes them feel that you value their opinion and is thus more likely to get them on your team.
- Try saying, “I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I have this new girlfriend, and I like her a lot. But I think sometimes people treat us differently because she’s white and I’m not. Have you ever dated someone outside our race?”
Stay calm. If your parents challenge you or question why you are dating outside your race, your goal is to show them that you are mature and can handle whatever negativity they might dish out.
After all, if you pursue this relationship, you are likely to encounter bias out there in the world, since many people have issues with interracial dating and marriage. Show your family you are mature enough to deal with the difficulties of a real relationship.
- If a family member reacts in anger, starts yelling, or becomes overly emotional, stay calm, but don’t continue the conversation. People are incapable of thinking rationally or really hearing you out if they become too emotional.
- Let them know you will revisit the topic when they are not upset and you can talk about it calmly.
Realize that you do not need your family’s approval.
When you’ve moved out of the house and are supporting yourself as an adult, you can make relationship choices that your family disapproves of with less concern for their feelings on the matter.
- However, even though you don’t live at home, there can still be negative consequences if your family is not accepting. For example, they may make comments about you behind your back, treat your partner unkindly at family get-togethers, or in more extreme cases, cut you off entirely or disinherit any potential children of the relationship.
- On the other hand, they may need some time to adjust to the news, but eventually come around and treat your partner with love and respect.
Choose your approach.
If you are not living at home, you have the luxury of putting off telling your family if you want to. You can choose to make a point to tell your family sooner rather than later, or you can let them find out when it comes up naturally (for example, on Facebook or during the holidays).
- If you think they are likely to overreact in a negative way, telling them upfront can spare your partner some embarrassment if they say or do something unkind.
- Otherwise, letting them find out on their own has a lot of benefits: if your relationship is not serious, it prevents unneeded drama. It also sends the message that the racial issue is not a big deal to you, and thus not worth mentioning.
Talk to a Close Family Member
As with any important news about your life, your closest family members (like your parents or siblings) might be hurt if they find out from someone more distant like your second-cousin-once-removed.
- Depending on the type of relationship you have, how often you see each other, and their anticipated reaction, it is probably best not to make a big deal of your news. Don’t email and say “We need to talk,” which will cause them to expect something negative and prepare for the worst. Instead, drop the news in casually when you are having a normal catching-up conversation on the phone or over lunch.
Be positive. When you are discussing what’s new in your life, mention your relationship. Be upbeat, and let your happiness come through. Your family members love you and want you to be happy, so when they see how happy you are with your partner, they will hopefully be happy for you too.
- Say something happy but upfront, and try to include the racial element in a way that is casual but matter-of-fact: “I’m dating Mark. He’s such an amazing guy and we have so much in common. We met at the gym, and we’ve gone out a few times, and I really like him. I want you to meet him sometime soon. He’s the first Asian guy I’ve dated and he’s so handsome!”
Educate Yourself about Racism, Prejudice, and Bigotry.
It is important to know why your family members might have racially biased ideas, and how those ideas might affect their views of your relationships.
- Your family members may have racial prejudices they are not even aware of, and if you accuse them of racism, they may become defensive. Often racial prejudice and bias is something we are taught from the time we are children, and it becomes such a natural part of life that we don’t realize when we are acting or thinking in unfair ways.
- Whether your family is a member of the racial minority or majority might make a difference in how they respond to news that you are dating interracially. Keep in mind the historic relationships between your own race and your partner’s to help you understand why your family might react the way they do.
Educate your family.
Older family members or those who have had little education or contact with diverse groups of people are often rather old fashioned in their mindsets, and sometimes this manifests in prejudices and biases against other races. You can help educate these family members so that they are more tolerant and loving toward people who are different from them.
- Talk about race at home. The first step in educating others is to talk about race, disparities, and injustices when you see them. A lot of people have been raised to believe in a “color-blind” society where race is not a factor in what happens in people’s lives. But in reality race matters, and people are still treated unfairly based on the color of their skin. Talking openly about race is the first step to helping other people, especially members of the racial majority, understand when racial disparities are taking place.
- Share news articles, books, web articles, or anecdotes about everyday occurrences. If you read an article that teaches you something, share it. If your partner faces discrimination because of race, tell your family. Post about it on Facebook. Talk about it over dinner. Don’t be afraid to get involved in conversations.
Be direct but kind. Speak up if your family members make racist remarks or jokes. You don’t have to yell or call your family member names to let them know that they have done or said something that is offensive.
- Talk to the person in private if possible, and let them know why you found the joke or comment offensive.
Cut off a persistent racist. If a family member is unkind to your partner because of racial issues or persists in making offensive comments or jokes even if you have asked them to stop, you might have to consider whether you want to continue your relationship with that family member.
Let the family member know their behavior is unacceptable and you will not tolerate it. Especially if you have children by your interracial relationship, you must consider their emotional and mental well-being and not allow racist family members to antagonize them. – Acknowledgments Trudi Griffin, LPC Licensed Professional Counselor