‘Hahaha you idiot!’
Ok…correct tones of sarcasm, clearly teasing, jovial, light-hearted…the perfect and most natural way to address your beautiful, sexy Vietnamese boyfriend when he’s just told you he dropped his phone on his face. Right?
But here’s the thing – with interracial relationships EVERYTHING can be misunderstood. Now don’t get me wrong I’m no relationship guru. I can give you dating tips, advice, talk about my own problems in relationships and give you some top reasons to keep trying…
But at the end of the day I’m just another incomprehensible woman dating an incomprehensible man. All relationships are hard. Misunderstandings are common, men and women just aren’t the same.
And interracial relationships are even harder. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever escape that love hate thing we’ve got going on, if we’ll ever understand each other properly.
Imagine all the typical problems of a regular couple and add a language barrier, cultural differences, situational disparity and complete lack of any sort of background connections. Tough huh? Yep!
But for now, back to dropping phones on faces…Honestly, we all do it.
We’ve all had that moment when lying down, phone above our noses, texting…don’t tell me you’ve never dropped your phone on your face. Or I guess if you’ve legitimately never ever committed such a crime agains’t coordination please comment below! You’re weird.
But what’s weirder is the fact that such an innocent response, such a jovial, cute 3 words as ‘haha you idiot’ could be misconstrued so badly as it was that day. The day my boyfriend dropped his phone on his gorgeous face.
You see, relationship problems just seem so much more frequent between interracial couples. It’s a thing. I’ve found that I need advice, support, tips and reasons to persevere too many times during my wonderful 8 months with N…and I love him from the bottom of my heart. Relationships are just tough.
And so I decided to compile a list of my top 3 pieces of relationship advice for interracial couples here. Keeping it all in one place. Expect challenges, reasons to keep fighting, and tips for how to do it! Have fun.
You see, no matter how well my boyfriend can speak my language he will never feel it like a native speaker.
For him ‘idiot’ meant something close to ‘fool’ but without any suggestion of humour. He felt that I was looking down on him, commenting on his lack of phone holding genius and questioning his credibility as a man with a phone of his own. And from there escalated all manner of linguistic confusion!
Had we not experienced similar confusions before and adjusted accordingly, the whole incident would have eventually exploded into one of those full-blown arguments where you both forget what the problem was in the first place.
Like all successful couples we adjusted. But the question is – how did we adjust? Let me give you some dating advice straight from an interracial veteran…
- Step one is forced distance – you both need time to get some perspective. This is a tough tip and I know it’s hard in the heat of the moment but the best idea is to be heated on your own for a bit, since then the heat will most likely dissipate rather than escalate. So! Take my advice and be objective now, when you’re not angry, and create a policy where with EVERY argument you agree a 3 hour silence after which said argument can proceed if you still want it to.
- Next, think clearly about what happened and why it was a problem. This is true for every argument with anyone really! Its more of a general relationship tip than a piece of dating advice. Try to write down, draw or otherwise record as much as you can about how you felt, how you feel now, and what you guys could do to fix it. Still don’t talk – maintain the forced silence! Just think…
- Finally, meet up. This must be face to face since it’s so hard to misunderstand AGAIN via texting…believe me I know. Meet, sit with each other, and discuss what happened like the two mature and beautifully connected adults you are.
Language is hard but it can also be funny! N and I have so many inside jokes simply because neither of us can communicate properly in the other person’s language…and thus, another interracial dating tip: learn his/her language too! Even if you’re absolutely awful at it, it shows that you care…and they will definitely find it super cute.
Interracial dating tip no.2: Culture
If you’re American and he’s Swiss this is likely to be less of a problem…but for us, N and I, Vietnamese and Australian, it’s absolutely bizarre! As a Westerner here, I just stand out a lot. Let me give you an example.
It’s dinner time and we’re sitting down on the floor to eat. Obvious number one cultural clash is sitting on the floor! But this wasn’t so weird for me: my parents are avid picnic goers and packed lunch eaters so my whole life has been suspiciously devoid of a constant table.
No, the clash came after.
We had prepared some delicious fish stuff, rice, a vegetable soup thingy, and the indispensable bowl of fish sauce and chilli (a must have at N and Z dinners).
We were seated opposite each other on the floor in my room each with a bowl and pair of chopsticks. Note my lack of Vietnamese culinary knowledge.
This, I suppose, is a cultural difference. But N finds it endearing and thrives off the fact that he can cook deliciously and I will be wowed every time. He’s a brilliant cook! No, this wasn’t the clash either…
The clash, which actually ended as a quirk given our careful employment of the argument management strategy mentioned above, was the way we ate. It was a cultural problem. For me, an English-born and Australian-raised young lady from quite a wealthy family with very nice ideas of how to eat properly, it is normal and right to put your food down between mouthfuls.
It is good to ask questions, keep up a steady conversation and drink lots of water between pieces of food. You should wait for your eating comrade to take more before you take more, and if you finish first you should wait at table (or floor) unobtrusively for said comrade to finish in his own time. Right?!
But ok I get that not everyone from the West eats like me – and N certainly doesn’t!
For N it is normal and well-mannered to keep silent during a meal and focus on enjoying the food. His grandparents are very traditional and they taught him to leave drinking until after eating, to take more when you would like it (albeit politely), and once you’ve finished eating get up, clear your plates and go away.
For him it is natural to go about your business elsewhere until the last person has finished eating, and then go back to help with the clearing up.
This is just a simple example of a cultural clash and for us it seems to have been the only one of any real significance. Let’s be honest culture plays a huge part in who we are. I remember marvelling at the earthy beauty and laughter of women in India, being amazed at their manners (or lack thereof), and developing a simple hatred of all Asian cops.
I know for many interracial couples that cultural things like living together, romantic contact (ahem), religion, dress, etc have all been problems. So how do we deal with relationship problems founded on something so deep-set as culture? What tips could I possibly give you for this?
The only dating advice I can give you here is to be flexible.
I choose to wear long clothes and cover my shoulders because I love him, but he respects my love of shorts and insists that I simply wear what I want: the result is a balanced, adult arrangement where we both simply pay more attention to our clothes and make sure we are dressed appropriately for each occasion. For example…I’m meeting his mother – I do not wear my shorts and spaghetti straps.
Both people should give a little and take a little. The best interracial relationship advice I can give you, one novice to another, is to be realistic – you’re from different places.
Don’t fight it or worry about it, embrace it. Learn about their culture: why do they have that religion? Why is it so important to dress that way? And have them learn about yours – this is a unique and very exciting part of your relationship! Love it. Love him. Love yourself. Love.
Interracial dating tip no.3: Circumstance
Let me ask you a question: can your significant other dream the same dreams as you even if they wanted to?
Top tip: if they don’t want to dream the same dreams as you maybe consider how likely it is that your lives will line up…but back to my question: what if he/she simply cant?
N and I both want to travel.
I obviously am already, but the question always remains as to where I will go next and when…and will he come too. I’ll be honest: I don’t want to leave him. He is so important in my life, a bit like a leg or a hip.
I’d fall over without him.
And to be honest I wouldn’t want to try to get back up – what would be the point?
The thing is that given his poor farming background, the visa requirements of his government, his lack of passport and his lack of high-salary vocation, N just can’t be as free as me as spontaneously as me. His is a world of crazy traffic, inescapable heat, and thinking outside the box sometimes when life is tougher than you or I could imagine…
So now for the interracial challenge: what to do when he/she simply can’t do the same things as you? Advice?
Do you pay for them? No. N refuses this actually, even if I insist that I’m being selfish since I’d die without him. In our relationship we are equals and, given the social stigma about intercultural relationships here in Vietnam, we both hate it if we owe each other even 50c. (Top tip: in all relationships you should be equals. If you’re not, take my advice and try to figure out why.)
So…if your partner just can’t join your dreams do you change said dreams? Do you downsize? No! No no no. You must keep dreaming big and be honest with him/her about said dreams.
Be sensitive: remember that they won’t take it the same way as your best-friend from home who could realistically join you. N has in the past been very hurt when I talk about where I want to go next, believing that he doesn’t matter to me – that I’d just up and go whenever and leave him here.
Be careful! Make it clear that dreams are dreams, that your partner is your reality, and that you want to make your dreams work with his/her dreams.
So now for the dating solution: be patient.
If he/she wants what you want it’s now just a matter of waiting until it is possible. Waiting, working, planning, trying and allowing life to happen…which is what I am now doing.
So there you have it. 3 top tips for how and why to keep trying when your interracial relationship seems to have more problems than perks. Dating across cultures can be so hard, it can be love hate, and the only advice I can give you is be patient, be realistic, and if you love each other…persevere!
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