Loving someone of a different culture is only an issue if you make it one. They will never walk in your shoes but you have to be open-minded enough to see the other’s perspective. You will never wear the other’s skin or experience the pain of their people but you can listen and learn. You’ll probably experience a few awkward family dinners at first, but when you love someone it’s all worth it.
Julie Ann Ensomo is a non-practicing Catholic Filipino and her husband is a Singaporean Muslim who happens to be an atheist. Julie Ann had been living in Singapore for five years before she met her husband so she had grown accustomed to the culture before they started dating, although it wasn’t easy.
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As a Filipino, she loves to eat pork but has learned to dull the craving over the years because Muslims do not eat pork. Occasionally, when they have to prepare for celebrations with her husband’sfamily and his Muslim relatives, they wear traditional clothing, eat Halal food, and partake in other Muslim traditions that she finds quite fun. Julie Ann is welcomed by her husband’s family and appreciates that they aren’t very strict about non-Muslim activities like celebrating Christmas.
She has noticed differences in the Singapore culture that she quite admires, observing that Singaporean people are more genuine in their feelings. If they don’t like you, you will know. They won’t smile in your face or bother with polite greetings in passing. “In a typical Filipino office, there's always some sort of camaraderie required but most of the time, it's quite toxic as you don't know if they're genuine friends or they're out to get you,” said Julie Ann. She gradually adapted the mindset of solely focusing on work at work and not worrying about making friends in the office.
The two come from contrasting family environments. Julie Ann comes from a home bursting with life. “I came from a dysfunctional family, people were always loud in our house, there's always drama everywhere and even if you're not looking for one, it always finds you - typhoon calamities, flooding’s, and horrendous traffic,” she said. Her husband, on the other hand, comes from small murmurs, peace. He grew up with a simple, might you say even boring at times, home according to Julie Ann which was very different for her. In the beginning, she struggled to see her husband's calm perspective. “I grew up with drama so subconsciously I was always instigating it but it came to a point where I got rid of that attitude and I'm more at peace now.” His mellow persona has rounded her chaotic edges allowing her to see his patient point of view for which she is eternally grateful.
She is free to be unapologetically herself in her relationship, never having to code-switch around her husband’s family or his culture. She receives occasionally rude comments from strangers mistaking her for the maid or nanny but she has grown to tune out the negativity.
Snezhina Piskova’s current intercultural relationship has presented her with both challenges and curiosities. She is Bulgarian and her boyfriend of eight months is Vietnamese. She met him in the Netherlands which has been his home for the past fifteen years, so he is fully immersed in the Dutch lifestyle. They both are curious about the other’s culture, mainly food! Piskova’s boyfriend indulges in Bulgarian food while she enjoys his Vietnamese creations, (but not the extremely spicy ones). Piskova has a disdain for the stench of her boyfriend’s food and how the furniture seems to absorb it. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, is blissfully unaware of the pungent smell of his cuisine. According to Piskova, if they ever move in together, he has to cook outside or air out the whole house.
She is always discovering little fascinating aspects of the Vietnamese culture and contrasting the ways she grew up with the way he did. The first time her boyfriend came to Bulgaria it reminded him of Vietnam.
Sometimes the two struggle to see the world from the eyes of the other; while he follows very firm values, she is laid back and easy going. She says his rigidness took some getting used to, it took him a lot longer to ask her to be his girlfriend than she would have liked (five whole months of dating!)
Piskova admits that they often code switch, acting one way when they are alone and another when around the other’s culture. She guesses it's because they are both trying to be respectful, apprehensive of one of their families frowning upon the other. She admits it's been tough introducing her boyfriend to her family. While his mother was kind to Piskova when they first met, her parents are another story. They are very conservative, always imagining their daughter with a White person. “They still have difficulty accepting him for who he is, despite his many good qualities that he demonstrates to them daily,” said Piskova. She believes that as their relationship blossoms and matures, so will her parents' acceptance of him.
Loving someone of a different culture or country creates so many gray areas. It’ll put you in situations in which you may not understand but you have to be willing to learn. Culture is important but shouldn’t act as a divider. If you ever have kids with someone half of each of your cultures will be passed onto them.
You may have never been racially profiled but your partner might experience it daily. You may not understand their clothes or traditions but you have to give them a chance and learn the meanings behind them. If you love someone their culture becomes a part of your life. Anything someone says or does to them should be as though it was done to you. If your partner is Black you should be standing up for Black Lives Matter, if your partner is Indigenous you should help protect their land and their people. Culture is part of who you are, you can't pick some parts of a person’s identity to love and not others.
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