Interracial Relationships Can Teach Us Some Tough Lessons
There are a number of cliches out there when it comes to dating and who we’re attracted to. When looking at two competing notions — opposites attract vs. birds of a feather flock together — research seems to prove that the latter is more accurate, and people tend to be attracted to those who resemble our parents or ourselves.
Armed with that knowledge, how do we explain the rise of interracial marriage in the U.S.? According to Mona Chalabi, British journalist, data expert, and contributor at The Guardian, changes in attitudes over the last few decades, in addition to migration patterns, the attainment of higher education, and sheer availability, could explain why a larger percentage of Americans are choosing partners outside of their own race.
RELATED: Best Interracial Dating Sites
If you’re someone who has stuck to what you know thus far in terms of dating, it’s safe to say there are quite a few things you might encounter the first time you branch out. If you do end up falling for someone who doesn’t look like you, you’re going to learn new things not just about another culture, but also about yourself. To prepare you for what might lie ahead, we spoke with some experts to help address five things you’ll likely need to be ready for as one half of an interracial couple.
1. Your Family and Friends May Not Support Your Relationship
As much as you love your partner, there may be family members, friends, or both who aren’t in love with the idea of you dating outside your race. Parents, especially, can have certain ideas about who their children will spend the rest of their lives with, and their thoughts can prove to be something of a roadblock in extreme cases.
“It’s not uncommon for friends or family members to be simply unbearable in and around an interracial relationship,” says Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist, couples therapist, and owner of Tribeca Therapy in Manhattan. “Trying to hold on too long to those friends or to work too hard to appease family members is very likely to cause strain on the relationship. If people take a side against your relationships and aren’t open to changing, heavy limits need to be set. On the flip side, when I work with interracial couples who are newly formed, I always hear about at least a few people in each individual’s life who surprised them. Be open to that: Give people a chance, and try not to predict how that will go.”
2. You May Need to Stand Up for Your Relationship by Educating Those Around You
People can say things that can be stupid, ignorant, or hurtful. When those people happen to be your friends and their inadvisable comments hurt your partner, you’ll be put in the uncomfortable position of doing something about it.
“Depending on the context and what feels right for them, research reveals that interracial couples have various ways they respond to people who have issues with interracial relationships,” says Holly Parker, a practicing psychologist and lecturer at Harvard University. “Some interracial couples choose to stand up to racism in a straightforward, productive way. Others decide to try to respond in a calm and cool manner, holding back from engaging in verbal attacks.
“There are other couples who slough off such comments and joke about it amongst themselves as a way to cope,” adds Parker. “And still others decide to focus on giving their loved ones space to come around to accepting their partner, hoping that over time, their loved ones’ feelings will change.”
3. You May Need to Communicate With Your Partner About Your Differing Backgrounds
Dealing with various holiday traditions, differing religious views, and how you look at life are challenges that almost every couple will face at some point. Everyone’s family is unique, after all. But when you’re talking about two people who come from entirely different backgrounds, those disparate views can be magnified that much more.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that interracial couples who’ve successfully navigated the issue of race often have the benefit of having built the infrastructure/capacity to talk about hard things — a leg up for all the hard things couples deal with,” says Lundquist.
“People who are white tend not to see themselves as racial beings because what it means to be white gets removed from the notion of race,” adds Parker.. “And because their racial identity and the racial implications of being white are often invisible to them, white partners are more likely to discount their black, brown, or Asian partner’s experience of prejudice and discrimination, and this has the potential to close down communication.”
Parker continues: “What’s important is that they listen carefully and keep in mind that at least some of their perspectives are likely informed by their own unique racial experiences.”
4. You May Receive Negative Comments
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of close-minded people out there, and some of them aren’t shy about letting you know their thoughts on your interracial relationship. Simply put, it’s best not to engage if a rude comment is thrown your way. People supplying such negativity are fueled by racism, bigotry, prejudice, and all of their equally distasteful cousins, and arguing with that kind of ignorance tends not to pan out the way you’d like.
“Most of the time, ignoring them is best because it’s hard to know whether it’s safe or not,” notes Lundquist. “Depending on the circumstances and environment, negative comments may be quite frequent and it would be exhausting to respond to all of them. With milder comments and where it feels safe to do so, simply saying ‘That’s pretty offensive’ or something to that effect is fine, but what’s most important is the needs of people in the relationship. It’s no one’s job when treated badly to teach people how to be decent.”
5. You May Be Accused of Hating Your Own Race
This situation comes up from time to time as some people may feel defensive if you decide to date outside your race, believing your actions to be indicative of some ill feelings toward your own kith and kin.
“If a family member or a friend shares their concern about what being in an interracial relationship means for how someone feels about their own race and they’re approaching the matter in a relatively calm manner without using derogatory language, a person may choose to engage in a discussion about this,” says Parker.
If you do decide to address it, Parker believes it is important to keep two meaningful points in mind. First, you should separate how someone feels toward one person (i.e., their partner) from how they feel about their own race, or any other race, as one point has no bearing on the other. You should also make it clear that an interracial relationship is about two people loving each other who happen to be from different racial backgrounds, not about disliking anyone else.
“People can fall in love with someone of another race and have a sense of pride and connectedness to their own racial and ethnic background at the same time,” she adds.
When it comes down to it, who you date is all about your happiness. If you find someone who never fails to make you smile, who gives a damn what anyone else thinks.
You Might Also Dig: