3 Myths About Failed Interracial & Intercultural Relationships

(Photo by siti fatimah via Flickr.com)
(Photo by siti fatimah via Flickr.com)

“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 Wifeputs 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.

Did you enjoy this article?
Sign up now and receive an email whenever I publish new blog posts. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

27 Replies to “3 Myths About Failed Interracial & Intercultural Relationships”

  1. Great post as usual Jocelyn!

    A lot of people think they have the right to comment on other couples, but truth is they rarely actually know what goes on between two intimate people. Humans love to gossip (including myself sometimes!) but when it comes about stating hard truths about someone else’s marriage.. well we should definitely refrain ourselves.

    I notice most of the people commenting on interracial couples are the ones who have never been in such a relationship before. I think deep down a lot people are curious and fascinated by the idea of interracial dating, especially the ones who never experienced it. So it could also be a “sour grapes” kind of reaction.

  2. Love reading about this Jocelyn. I don’t think it has anything to do with race or culture, it’s the individual person. This can happen in any relationship, not just one where there is an intercultural mix.

  3. As you admit, there is evidence of higher divorce rates among interracial and intercultural marriages. Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me. I think such couples often face more challenges than people who come from the same race and background. While your relationship with Jon may be strong as ever, I have faced a lot of hardship in my own marriage and I do think much of it stems from the fact we are from different cultures and countries. Of course, every relationship is unique as is each person in the relationship. My experience can’t speak for yours, nor can yours for mine.

    I do think we (in cross-culturally relationships) have to be honest with ourselves about how much we are willing to compromise in order to have a harmonious relationship. Also, how good are we at communicating? Anyways, I think many of the challenges I have faced with my husband come down to these two issues: compromise and communication.

    With that aside, I fully agree that you love who you love. I also think that if a relationship doesn’t work, it’s usually due to a variety of factors. In most cases, we can’t just blame it on one issue.

    1. I do think it is very difficult to be in China for an intercultural relationship. Most other couples have formed oversees.In your case, culture would have played far more important role.

  4. Jocelyn, it seems like we were kind of in tune with each other today with regards to our posts. My husband and I came up with a list of things that can make a marriage work and believe it or not, most don’t have to do with being an interracial couple.

    Personally, I think love can’t be planned or there are no set guidelines. It just happens.

  5. This is a tough one, because the worst stressors in my relationship with my Chinese-American guy are HIS CHINESE PARENTS. If they think we should do something, they listen to no arguments to the contrary. They find it inconceivable that we would not do exactly what they say, whether it’s using an electric blanket in the frigid temperatures of Los Angeles, investing in real estate, or having a (boy) baby ASAP.

    And this is an issue I would not have with the parents of a white dude from a background like mine. We might have all kinds of other issues, though, and I’m not trading in Awesome Andy just because his parents make me nuts.

    We just have to make sure we maintain a distance of 3,000 miles from Andy’s parents for 11 months out of the year. 🙂

    1. I second that Autumn: distance is the key. Anything above 1000 km should be enough to make sure they don’t visit too often.

      Other than that.. I frankly just learned how to ignore them. My bf developed this ability to pretend to second his parents and then just do whatever he wants. That is an ability that has to be learned.

      They may find it inconceivable that you would not do exactly what they say: well let them be shocked and go ahead.

      For people like us a lot of times is a matter of principle: we have to argue, prove them wrong, have the last word. That is not the right strategy with unreasonable Chinese parents.

  6. We all have conscious or unconscious preferences, even within our own race and culture. I’m sure we can put together the stereotype of the kind of person we would or wouldn’t like to have a close relationship with–A NASCAR fan or an opera enthusiast, a high school drop-out or a college graduate, someone who likes to read or dance or play video games, an ambitious or kind or serious person. I suspect many of the items on the list would be much more important than race. My Chinese husband and I were married for almost thirty-one years. We had our disagreements, but they were seldom related to race and culture.

  7. I agree with Nicki Chen (line 1 -3).

    Race and culture have never played a part in my relationships. I favour quality over quantity on any day. I rather be in a short term, meaningful relationship than to be in a long term, relationship from hell. At least with the former, it would enable me to grow and develop.

  8. I found culture plays a big role in interracial relationships. Even if you are a Chinese American born and raised in the US, your cultural capital is different from a white girl. It is much easier to overlook those differences if you are more assimilated. But I know they exist in a deeper level. Those differences can cause difficulties. But if you are really into someone, you will overcome and learn from each other. Those differences add a dimension to your relationship you might not face with someone similar to your cultural background.
    In the end, it is what you have gained counts. If you find someone beautiful and kind, it really does not matter because it is such a small price to pay for someone you loves/loved. I think it is fair.

    1. Thank you Dan. This was beautifully said. Reading the other comments, I was starting to wonder if I was the only one who finds that culture plays a significant role in some of the challenges I face in my relationship.

  9. Thanks. There are some advantages of being 1.5 generation. 🙂

    @R Zhao
    Not everyone has to confront those differences like you do every day.

  10. @R Zhao

    I agree with you, I think race and Culture does play a part in any interracial relationship whether it’s coming internally from the 2 people involved or externally from other people being involved.

    Some of these differences aren’t “in your face” such as being confronted by a racist grandfather. Things such as deciding where to live ( which country) how to raise children, who is raising the children (is the mother the main child rarer), the roles of men and women in the household/outside of the household, how you see each other, how you talk to each other etc can have a major significance in any relationship.

    Only when you go through each life experience and come out the other end “successfully” (well at leat together as a whole united unit ) can you say that race and culture doesn’t play a part in “our relationship”. However if someone has to change to “ keep the peace” or if you have the attitude “it really doesn’t matter” because “we have each other and our love will get us through” or “he/she/they will change and see it’s the best way ” then you could be in for a shock.

    1. @MM

      You said a lot of what I was thinking. I didn’t really want to go there and sound like I was getting on a high horse. But marriage is a long road and we don’t really know how we are going to get through all our different experiences until we actually get through them.

      Earlier in my relationship with my husband, I probably could have said that cultural differences didn’t play much of a role in our relationship. There were some difficulties due to the language barrier, but other than that any real troubles were due to personality/temperment.

      Since we got custody of my husband’s daughter, started a business (that eventually failed), and had a child together, a whole other side of our relationship was revealed. We have very different ideas of how to run a business and rear children and I would say they are primarily due to culture. Chinese people and Americans generally have very different approaches to these things.

      And why is this even a bad thing? Why can’t we admit that sometimes it is hard? I understand not wanting to hear your relationship is doomed because it’s cross-cultural/race, but it seems strange to me to claim that cultural issues don’t or can’t crop up.

  11. I agree with Marghini, most people saying things like that are just curious or just like to talk because they’ve never experienced it. I don’t think these are really myths just because they haven’t happened to you. I dated a few Korean guys who all broke my heart before I met my fiance (who is Korean) and I definitely told myself never to date another one, but look what happened. I didn’t say I wouldn’t date Asian men, but I felt that the power structure most Koreans grow up with wouldn’t work because I didn’t want to be a submissive younger woman. I’m glad I didn’t stick to my word because a great thing came out of it, but at the time I was just heartbroken and wanted to console myself.

    Lots of people ask me about my relationship but mostly none of it is about us being AMWF. Most of it is about us working together as two different human beings to come together as a couple to find understanding. People are just curious. Let them be. Not everyone is going to respond the way you think they should, but they don’t have the experiences you have. You also don’t know their whole story, so although it’s easy to say, “Everyone is judging our relationship!” I think it’s good to step back and realize that our confidence and our lives don’t hinge on other people’s expectations or concerns.

  12. If you are a AMWF couple down south (places such as Nashville, Charleston, Birmingham or even Dallas) racism is so bad that there is a high chance you may not only get divorced but may even end up shot dead…There are one million Dylan Roofs to take his place. Check it out…higher AMWF divorce rates in Nashville or Charleston than say in Seattle or even LA!

  13. The real reason for AMWF rarity is present in follow youtube interview.


    Now you understand why there are more black men/white women couples. Let us face it. Women of low IQ only follow their impulse instead of future orientation. White women with Asian males tend to be type of strong future orientation/high IQ/high income types. Trying to date working class, middle class women is wrong approach.

    David’s focus on racism for relationship issue is missing the main target.

    Size matters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

gifts to china Booking.com