More and more our cultures are mingling– melding, merging and blending. The metaphorical “melting pot” has gone beyond a handful of burgeoning “new lands” who received the tired, poor and huddled masses, who in turn created pockets of their own in ethnic neighborhoods; to inter-familial mixing and multicultural blends and new breeds. Many countries like the US have become so mixed that one has to order a DNA test to dissect their blood heritage; which could in fact vastly differ from their cultural one.
And while all of this good in so many ways, culture should never be a casual matter when picking a significant other. By “culture” I specifically mean those aspects of upbringing that shape us as individuals. For example, I am many generations American (mostly Welsh and Irish by blood although I find this trivial as none of us knew any traditions) and inherently Midwestern working-class by my upbringing. I was (and now am again) a straight-shooting outdoorsy girl who grew up believing hard work and thrift was more important than just about anything. My family was loyal and close– but not in the hugging, lovey dovey vein. Most of my lot had a vague notion of God, and a few even became Bible thumpers (which no one minded as they did not impose). Our lives were managed by the simplest of rules: “Keep your shit straight.” And this was my culture– who I was and more and more becoming as I closed in on adulthood…that is, until I went rogue (which I’ll get into in a bit.)
Back in the late 70’s when I was teen, marrying someone from a slightly different culture was common enough but intermingling with another race much less so. And, as a young person naive and uneducated as I was, I thought there was absolutely nothing problematic inter-racial dating and marriage beyond what other people thought and the trouble it might bring in terms of racist reactions. It never crossed my mind that two people from completely different backgrounds might struggle in ways that two people from the same general circumstances might not. Love conquers all no?
Well no…not exactly. Culture matters. Culture beyond music, art, dress and food is very important when considering a mate. I almost want to say, it is of the utmost importance, and it is completely beyond blood and race. It is about our system of values, beliefs and communications styles…all that is beyond the surface stuff that takes time and often study to fully grasp. You could be Asian and I could be Caucasian and could have polar-opposite upbringings– or we could have nearly identical experiences. This isn’t about our DNA.
When I say I went “rogue” I mean specifically that at sixteen I made a crazy decision to opt out of my “so-called” culture thinking my middle-of-nowhere blue-collar life was too non-descript (boring) and latched on to an exotic place half-way around the world. Without much study, only knowing the surface really, I decided that I wanted to become a Japanese wife and live in Japan. Pretty crazy? You betcha.
If you are under 35 or so and reading this you might be thinking, “Why crazy? What’s wrong with an American girl marring a Japanese guy?” Well nothing really, except for the fact that I hadn’t done my homework. I had visited Japan just once on a cultural exchange where I had seen the exotic traditions, the technology and the cute consumer goods. Mesmerized by all the good, fun things Japan has to offer I made a rash decision; and you know how us Mid-westerners are…we stubbornly stick to our decisions.
Well, as it turns out I married a Japanese man at 18– the first one who assured me that I’d have the most Japanese of Japanese lives. Little did I know. Oh how little. I cannot tell you here just how terrible wrong things went as I realized that we couldn’t have more different cores– cores that were in fact largely culturally derived vs. personal traits.
Retrospect is one thing I’ve gained out of all of this. And from this perspective I’d like to offer a bit of advice to anyone considering dating/marrying outside of their culture; that is before you get too close to anyone who differs situationally in any way such as to have developed significantly different values, beliefs and ways of communicating etc. Look below the surface and really examine their core through the lens of culture without bowing down to the exotic, different-ness that can be interesting and attractive in its new-ness to you.
For this work/study, I suggest you first take a look at the diagram below paying particular attention to the bottom half the “Non-visible Aspects of Culture” and answer the ten questions listed below.
- Think of all of the cultural groups that have influenced and shaped you. These could be regional, religious, socioeconomic, familial etc. What do you appreciate about your culture? (In particular think of aspects that are below the surface of the cultural iceberg.)
- If you are dreaming of/planning to live abroad with your love interest (LI hereafter), are these things you admire might exist to a lesser degree. Is that okay with you long-term?
- Does your LI express an appreciation for your culture in a general? And do they express an appreciation for their own? It is important to have a balance. If they are too eager to dis either this should be examined further as there is good and bad everywhere.
- Are either of you expressing a desire to “escape” your own circumstances thinking the grass his greener in the other’s country?
- Have either of you expressed that you don’t like women/men in your own country and strictly prefer to date outside of your own culture– perhaps even targeting a specific ethnic group?
- Do they appreciate the same key aspects that are important to you?
- Does your LI display cultural tendencies that are problematic for you?
- Are gender roles significantly different in his/her culture? Have you discussed this with your LI?
- Have you explored books/academic papers on the anthropological and psychological dimensions of the culture and people? (If not you should.)
- If you were to live in the other culture, could you see certain aspects over time begin to grate on you after the honeymoon phase of living abroad is over? After all, even if you mate is a match, there will be a lot of folks around you that will quite possibly be very different in how they communicate, handle their emotions and such.
As I’ve gone on a bit long here, I’ll stop with the lecture. If any of you reading this have answers to the above questions I’d love to hear them! If this doesn’t apply to you, think of offering this list to a friend or young person who talks about wanting to be someplace other with someone “very other.” It might be of value to them. I wish someone could have positively influenced be to do a bit more research…but then again, more than 35 years ago information was sorely lacking.
Thank you for reading! For those who want to know more about what can happen when one blindly marries outside of one’s culture, pick up“The Six-Foot Bonsai” available through Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.