“Oh, I knew it would never work out…”
It’s a familiar phrase we’ve all heard time and again applied to relationships that failed. He wasn’t good enough for her. She couldn’t commit to anyone. They were always arguing.
But what if someone says this ONLY because it was an interracial and intercultural relationship?
Yes, when you choose to date outside the lines, even your breakup attracts a level of scrutiny that nobody should have to endure during this painful time.
What are some of the myths about failed interracial and intercultural relationships? Here are three major ones:
Myth #1: Racial and/or cultural differences mainly caused your breakup
Back when I started dating Chinese men years ago in China, I didn’t just encounter surprised looks from fellow foreigners; I also learned that many foreigners assumed it could never work out. Why? Because they believed the cultural differences were too great and would eventually bust our relationship.
Just substitute “racial differences” for “cultural differences” – that’s what you’ll hear back places like the US (and other Western countries) for relationships like mine.
Can race or culture play a role when interracial and intercultural relationships fail? Yes, sometimes. Race might get in the way if, say, your girlfriend’s racist grandpa won’t leave you alone about the fact that you’re Chinese. And I’ve met many a yangxifu (foreign wife of a Chinese man) griping about how their in-laws or even husbands don’t agree with them on how to raise the kids (sometimes, to the point of a divorce).
But it’s wrong to assume that race and/or culture is always the culprit for a breakup or divorce.
Sometimes, it’s just an issue of personality. After all, I’ve met so many yangxifu here in China – and every one of their husbands (and relationships) is unique and different. I think Susan Blumberg-Kason – author of the terrific memoir Good Chinese Wife – puts it perfectly in this interview about her book:
I wanted to show how people sometimes justify their relationship problems as cultural differences when they are involved with someone from another country. This happens with people from all over the world and isn’t unique to Asia by any means. What I’ve learned is that when something doesn’t sit well with someone, it doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t matter if this issue stems from a cultural difference or a personality one. Respect is crucial for a successful relationship.
Myth #2: You’ll never want to date someone else like your ex
Years ago when I first came to China, I fell fiercely in love with a Zhengzhou native who quickly became my steady boyfriend. I had never fallen so hopelessly in love with a man like this and I was completely charmed by him – from his rugged James Dean good looks to the romantic way he would wine and dine me out on the town. (For the first time in my life, I even pondered the prospect of marriage with him.)
Well, it all came crashing down on me months later when, while he studied abroad in Europe, we broke up. I wept for days over what I had secretly dubbed my first real adult love, asking myself again and again how this could have happened?
But not once did I ever say to myself, “I’ll never date Chinese men or Asian men again.”
You know, that wasn’t even the last time a Chinese guy would stomp all over my heart. I’ve had enough heartbreaking experiences to make one heck of a dramatic romance novel and then some. Still deep down I loved China so much and believed I would find a husband here. And sure enough, I did.
While I’m sure there will always be people who swear off dating someone from a certain race, culture or country, don’t assume it’s a given.
Myth #3: Your failed relationship proves why people shouldn’t date “outside the lines”
Remember the scandal a few years ago with Li Yang (the founder of Crazy English) and Kim Lee, where she posted the dramatic and frighteningly graphic photos of her bruised face on Chinese social media, putting a very public face to domestic violence. It was such a big story even the international news covered it, along with the divorce proceedings.
Yet I’m sure some folks read that story and concluded something like this: “Good god, why did she marry that Chinese man? She should have known it would never work.”
Yes, Kim Lee and Li Yang, a cautionary tale of why you should never date people outside the racial/cultural lines.
You could arguably say the same about Susan Blumberg-Kason’s memoir Good Chinese Wife, the heart-wrenching tale of her own personal “love affair with China gone wrong.”
But is it fair to come to these conclusions? Personally, I don’t think so.
It’s always a foregone conclusion that when people get together, a certain percentage of them will eventually break up or divorce. It happens all around the world. I’ve seen it happen in the yangxifu community in China over the years too (including this very public divorce).
While I’ve come across articles reporting divorce rates as higher among interracial and intercultural couples, I’ve also met many Western women who found their happily-ever-after with a guy from China. (John and I have passed the 10-year mark in our marriage and I still love him just as much as when we first met.)
Divorce or breakup doesn’t have to be the obvious conclusion to an intercultural or interracial relationship. So why should anyone use a broken up or divorced couple to represent every intercultural or interracial relationship?
Meanwhile, those people who do break up or divorce have enough trouble to deal with – heartache, stress and, in the case of divorce, all sorts of unpleasant legal issues that will keep you up late at night. The last thing they need is someone holding them up as a “bad example” or another “I told you so!”
As I often say on this blog, love just happens – and sometimes, it happens to create an interracial or intercultural couple.
Whether you’re happily coupled up, contemplating a split, already apart, or hoping to land your perfect partner, here’s hoping for a little less judgment and a little more understanding in the world for all of our messy, imperfect but ultimately beautiful lives.