Intercultural Love Hack #108 – Movie Date Nights Can Help With Fights, Open Up Conversations

A few weeks ago, a fan wrote to me asking, “Do you and Jun ever fight?”  She mentioned fighting on occasion in her own intercultural relationship — her husband’s Chinese, she’s a non-Asian woman from a Western country — and sometimes it was not easy for her to resolve the tension because they had different ways of arguing. While she wanted to talk it out, he just stonewalled her.

She eyed my marriage with envy. While it’s true Jun and I don’t argue much these days (we’ve become“war buddies” united in our fight against injustice) like many couples, we’ve weathered our share of arguments early on in our relationship. (See Weathering Cross-Cultural Love in China and you’ll get what I mean.)

One thing I’ve never written about is that, in some ways, movies have helped us overcome fights and open up conversations, especially about cultural differences that could potentially cause a snag or too in a relationship. Call it my intercultural love hack, #108.

I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic comedies on TV and the big screen, which meant my husband and I would often watch them when we declared it a “movie night” (or “TV night”). In the early years of our relationship, we lived together in China, and at the time I was desperately missing my home country of America. Movies were a way for me to vicariously visit the US in the comfort of my own home, so I often chose titles set in America. And hey, it was great for both of us, since English is my native language and Jun’s second language.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in choosing these English-language romantic comedies from America, I was inadvertently schooling Jun in dating and relationship culture in the US.

See, Jun and I had met in China, and while he’d studied European-American culture in college, he’d never traveled or lived outside the country before we met. Meanwhile, my two years of living in China, plus previous relationships with Chinese guys, gave me a leg up that he didn’t have when it came to my culture. (I’m the first and only woman he has ever dated, so it’s not like he had other women, or even foreign women, to compare with me.)

But movies stepped in to fill the gap, in ways I never anticipated.

The thing that first caught his eye in American movies? Kissing in public. Name me a romantic comedy from the US and there’s a more than 90 percent chance the couple ends up locking lips among a crowd of people (often their friends or family), and probably a more than 50 percent chance that said crowd showers them with applause. It was fascinating to Jun because…well…that’s not how it’s done where he grew up, where people prefer to kiss in more private places and spaces. And so it opened up a whole conversation about public displays of affection, and differences between our respective countries and cultures.

But of course, all movies – even romantic comedies – thrive on tension and drama. Which means many, many films had couples arguing about all sorts of things. Even stuff that was eerily similar to things we might have been hashing out on our own.

Here’s the thing, though. When you see people fighting about something that you’ve encountered, but it’s in a movie, it gives you a certain distance to talk about it in a more nonjudgmental way. It’s not the two of you doing it, it’s the characters.

Not everything is about culture, either. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personality too. But either way, seeing it reflected on screen can provide an opening to talk, where you’re discussing the characters instead of fingering the other person.

It’s also really helpful if you can find examples that encompass each of your respective “argument styles”, because everyone has a different approach. Bonus if they portray the fights in a humorous way, so then the two of you can laugh at them (and hopefully, later on, yourselves).

But if Jun and I were dating now, chances are I’d get even more specific and skip straight to movies about interracial and intercultural couples. They have plenty of arguments to go around, and they’re even more familiar to our lives than your average rom-com. (See Movies with Chinese Men and Western Women in Love and 11 Critically Acclaimed AMWF Movies Worth Watching for some recommendations I’ve made on this blog.)

While watching a movie won’t magically solve all your intercultural marital woes, it could raise the kind of awareness — cultural and otherwise — that opens up possibilities for resolution and understanding.  Plus, it’s fun and who wouldn’t want an additional excuse to prop up their legs, bring out the popcorn and declare it a movie night?

So maybe that old cliche should be updated to, “The couple who watches movies together, stays together”?

What do you think? Have you found movies to be a beneficial way of encouraging mutual understanding across cultural or racial lines?

Interracial Divorce and Asian-White Couples: It’s Not What You Think

In the world of English-language WeChat official accounts, if there’s one topic guaranteed to get coverage, it’s interracial marriage – and divorce.

The other day, someone shared an article* with me about this very issue, which asserted that such marriages were “tricky”. The article backed up its premise of marital instability with a certain “cute, handy chart” from a Thought Catalog piece, which drew on data from the 2008 study “But Will It Last?”: Marital Instability Among Interracial and Same‐Race Couples referenced in a Wikipedia article about interracial marriage in the US.

In particular, the statistics on Asian Male/White Female (AMWF) couples appeared rather alarming. Based on data from the 2008 study, AMWF marriages had a 59 percent greater chance of ending in divorce.

Whoa.

Granted, this wasn’t as high as the divorce rate for marriages between Black men and White women, deemed 200 percent more likely to split. But it also didn’t compare favorably with White Male/Asian Female (WMAF) marriages, with only a 4 percent likelihood of divorce.

So was the data illustrated in the “cute, handy chart” right about interracial marriages of Asian men and White women? Are our relationships really that vulnerable to divorce?

The short answer is, not necessarily.

Driven by curiosity, I headed over to the very Wikipedia article the Thought Catalog piece referenced to look at the section on marital instability among interracial and same-race couples.

Yes, there was the data from the 2008 study.

But — and this is a BIG but — there was also data from the 2009 study Marital Dissolution Among Interracial Couples which painted a completely different picture of the situation in Asian-White marriages compared with White-White marriages.

In this 2009 study, Asian-White marriages were the least likely interracial pairing to result in divorce, with even lower divorce rates than White-White marriages.

Or, as the authors of the 2009 study put it, “Mixed marriages involving Blacks were the least stable followed by Hispanics, whereas mixed marriages involving Asians were even more stable than endogamous White marriages.”

I was stunned.

The new data from the 2009 study in the Wikipedia page.

Why did the author of the Thought Catalog article and subsequent “cute, handy chart” ignore the 2009 data?

Well, it’s true the data wasn’t in Wikipedia when he was working on his article. (See screenshots of the page for Feb 13, 2014 and July 14, 2014 as proof.) But seeing as the 2009 study was already published and available in 2014, you can’t blame this on a Wikipedia omission alone.

And while we could sit around and ponder why the author of the Thought Catalog failed to do his due diligence on the subject of interracial divorce, I feel that his “cute, handy charts” (which probably should be renamed “cute, misleading charts”) are symbolic of our human tendency to want black and white answers, even when the reality isn’t so clear cut and conclusive.

It’s worth noting this from the 2015 study Same-Race and Interracial Asian-White Couples: Relational and Social Contexts and Relationship Outcomes, which references both the 2008 study by Bratter and King, and the 2009 study by Zhang and Van Hook (emphasis added):

Research on the outcomes of interracial relationships is inconclusive, with some evidence showing that Asian-White relationships are at less risk for relationship dissolution. Some research on interracial romantic relationships has found that interracial relationships involving Whites and Asians do not necessarily have worse outcomes than their same-race counterparts (Gaines & Agnew, 2003; Gaines et ah, 1999; Troy et al., 2006), challenging the long held notion of relationship dysfunction among interracial couples (Bratter & Eschbach, 2006; Bratter & King, 2008; Eeckhaut, Lievens, Van de Putte, & Lusyne, 2011; Heaton, 2002; Zhang & Van Hook, 2009).

In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions about interracial divorce rates — or worse, enshrine them in potentially deceptive charts — including when it comes to Asian-White couples.

If you asked me what graphical illustration I’d use to represent the outcomes of interracial marriages, I’d say this is more on target:

When it comes to interracial marriages and divorce, we need more people asking the right questions — and less people coming to simplistic conclusions.

What do you think?

P.S.: The data above come from studies on interracial couples in the US. Still, for anyone wondering about interracial marriages and divorce in China, there doesn’t appear to be enough evidence to conclude, as people often do, that divorce is necessarily more likely.

For example, consider this quote from the 2013 study The Rise of Chinese-Foreign Marriage in Mainland China (1979-2010) (emphasis added):

As Figure 3 below shows, the number of divorces registered between mainland Chinese citizens and foreign nationals rose from around 80 couples in 1979 to over 1,000 couples in 2000. That figure increased to over 3,000 couples in 2003, before skyrocketing to nearly 9,500 couples in 2008. It then decreased to around 5,700 couples in 2010.

This decline is consistent with the fall in the number of Chinese-foreign marriages registered in mainland China starting in the early 2000s. The PRC’s Ministry of Civil Affairs began to disaggregate Chinese-foreign divorce statistics in 2005, by including separate figures for those involving ‘waiguoren’. Unsurprisingly, given the higher proportion of other categories of Chinese-foreign marriage until recently, most divorces relate to the ‘Chinese’ categories of Chinese-foreign marriage.

In other words, the divorce rate appears consistent with the rate of Chinese-foreign marriages registered in China, and the authors believe that many of these divorces are still between people of the same race and ethnicity.

* I’ve intentionally chosen not to link to the WeChat article I referenced, but if you absolutely must see it for yourself, search for the official account for HiTouch艾达旗 and check their articles in the past few weeks.

What Loving v. Virginia Means to Me, 50 Years On

As a white American woman married to a Chinese man, June 12 is not just another summer day. It’s Loving Day, a day commemorating the landmark US Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia that finally struck down anti-miscegenation laws, granting interracial couples the legal right to marry.

But this year marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia – and there’s nothing like a major anniversary to encourage reflection on this watershed court case. A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals a sharp increase in interracial marriages in the 50 years since the decision (see also this report by NPR). That’s great news. Meanwhile, the 2016 film Loving reignited our interest and fascination with the historic case, even garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

So what about me? What does Loving v. Virginia mean to me?

You might think, since I’m in an interracial marriage, the answer is obvious: the right to love and marry anyone, regardless of race. Of course, I must acknowledge this. Without Loving v. Virginia, the United States would never have recognized my marriage to Jun as lawful.

But Loving v. Virginia means a lot more to me than just the right to love.

It means courage. The courage to move forward with what you know is right in your heart, even if the law isn’t on your side just yet. The courage to battle that injustice, all the way to the nation’s highest court.

It means determination. The determination to fight injustice, even if it means waiting years (or nearly a decade) for the relief you know you deserve.

It means sacrifice. The sacrifice that comes from two people so committed to staying together that you’re willing to risk jail time and penalties, and even willing to move far away from family just to remain a couple.

While interracial couples in America and the world over honor Richard and Mildred Loving, the historic Supreme Court decision bearing their name is only the beginning.

There is still so much injustice in our world, and there are still reasons for interracial couples to seek redress through the US Court system. I should know, because my husband and I are currently doing just that. When I look back on the day we first filed our lawsuit, in light of this upcoming anniversary of Loving Day, I remember that Richard and Mildred Loving made it possible for Jun and I to fight this unfathomable injustice together, as a legitimate couple. Their indomitable spirit and determination inspire me every day.

They proved there’s enormous power in Loving, together.

What does Loving v. Virginia mean to you?

Guest Post: Odd Questions I’ve Heard About My Interracial Love

Anyone who has ever dated outside their race will relate to this wonderful guest post by Chi, who blogs at Talking of Chinese.

Do you have a guest post you’d like to see featured on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to have your words published here.
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The vast majority of people (whether consciously or unconsciously) date and marry within their own race.

According to Wikipedia, 97% of married white men and women in America are married to another white person, 89% of married black men and women are married to another black person and 91% of married Asian men and women are married to another Asian person.

If you happen to be in the less than 4% (according to Wikipedia only 3.9% of married couples in the US in 2008 were interracial couples – this is a big increase from less than 1% in 1990 but still an extremely low percentage) you are almost certain to get a question or comment about your interracial relationship at some point.

Both my fiance and I are Australian. I was born in Australia to anglo parents, he was born in China to Chinese parents.

While most people I’ve encountered don’t (at least openly) say anything about us being an interracial couple, I have encountered curiosity from both westerners and Asians as well as a few rare comments that are at least misguided if not racist.

The most common question I have gotten from Asians is a surprised “but how did you meet/get together with a Chinese guy?” while I’ve had both Asians and white people ask if I am “attracted to Asians”.

The first question stems mostly from curiosity, I think. While it’s fairly common to see white men with Asian women it is far more rare to see Asian men with white women (although I am happy to see it does seem to be getting more common).

The first question is also easy to answer – we were flatmates, we didn’t get along at all at first but slowly became friends and eventually fell in love.

The second question I honestly find bizarre. Imagine you asked that of a white person who was dating another white person “so, you are attracted to white people?”

No, I am not attracted to white people, or Asians, or black people or any race.

I am attracted to the man I am with because of WHO he is not what race he is.

I am attracted to him because he is strong but also prepared to show true vulnerability with me (something I have found to be incredibly rare).

I am attracted to him because he takes responsibility (for himself, for his decisions, for his family). He doesn’t expect anything from anyone.

I am attracted to him because he has an adventurous spirit and finds ways things can be done rather than putting them in the too hard basket.

I am attracted to him because he doesn’t shy away from things that are difficult, he faces challenges as they come up.

I am attracted to him because he knows what he wants and is prepared to work hard for it.

I am attracted to him because he prioritises what’s important to him and doesn’t let other things or other people run his life.

I am attracted to him because he’s upfront, he doesn’t manipulate or play games.

I am attracted to him because he is great at solving problems, an excellent traveller and can fix things.

Most of all I am attracted to him because we get each other on a level I find hard to explain – I haven’t felt this in any other relationship (even one that lasted for years).

Also, I think he’s pretty cute and his snuggles are second to none 🙂

Chi (her real name, no exotic background, pronounced Chai, like the tea) is engaged to a man who was born in China and grew up in Argentina before immigrating to Australia. Chi writes about her experiences (mostly her struggles trying to learn Mandarin) at www.talkingofchinese.com. —–

Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

What a Trump Presidency Means for Interracial Couples

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Stunned and shocked. That about sums up my reaction to the election this past Tuesday. Well, when the United States of America elects a xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, homophobic narcissist (see if you can say that five times fast), I don’t know how else you can feel about it.

I don’t normally discuss politics. This isn’t a political blog and I’ve always felt content to keep my political leanings off these pages. But this election is different. Trump stands as an affront to things that matter to those of us in interracial relationships – especially those that cross borders. He has denigrated people of color. He is against immigration and immigrants. He was endorsed by white supremacist groups. He is a misogynist who has admitted to sexually assaulting women.

That’s a lot to swallow. I know.

I could talk about how and why this happened in 2016 (cue the #ThisIs2016 hashtag), but I think there are far better reflections on that elsewhere. (See also this post from fellow blogger Autumn regarding the election.)

Instead, I feel it’s worth considering the question on many people’s minds. What does this mean for interracial couples and their allies?

I don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into the future and imagine what a Trump Presidency will do to America. But I do know the next four years are going to be really tough to witness. That feeling of dread still hasn’t left me since I learned the election results.

At the same time, I have a lot of experience processing personally catastrophic events.

A university completely screwed my husband and his future – and by association, screwed me too – in the most reprehensible and unimaginable way. In the wake of this, I seriously considered committing suicide for the first time in my life. Yes, suicide. The university had wrongfully robbed my husband of his career and future, everything we had hoped for together. Was there anything else worth living for?

It took at least a week before I could push through all of the devastation, before I could see a path forward. My husband and I ultimately decided we were not content to just accept what happened. We would take action. We would fight this injustice. Why? Because we knew deep in our hearts that what happened was wrong. Because we were determined to never give up on our dreams.

This positive momentum of this decision uplifted me. Even though this wasn’t what I had expected to work on in late 2013 and beyond, this decision gave me something to live for. We rallied together and, over the years, our optimism and hard work paid off in unexpected ways (such as gaining the support of leaders in the American psychology field). We’ve never been closer to justice than now, even though it took us over three years to get here.

I’ve learned the value of standing up for yourself and what you believe in, even when things look dreadful.

Here’s what I hope the Trump Presidency means for interracial couples. Let this election be your rallying cry to stand up for your beliefs. To champion and protect the rights of everyone, including people of color, immigrants, women, and the LGBT community. I know it’s a total cliché, but we really do have more power than we imagine. Believe in yourself and remember that your voice matters more than ever.

I know it’s not going to be easy, because I’ve been there. You’ll need some time to process this all. And chances are, you’ll need something like meditation, exercise, therapy, chocolate, or, in my case, an evening with Ang Lee’s version of Sense and Sensibility (seriously, that movie never fails to calm me down).

But once you’re done, come see me. Because we’ve got some work to do.

Interview with Kelli Estes on Her Novel “The Girl Who Wrote in Silk”

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Some books are so captivating that I even cherish the memories of scrolling through the pages with my e-reader in hand. The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes is that kind of book.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli EstesI’m surrounded by bookish friends and bloggers who get really excited whenever they hear about interracial love stories (especially AMWF pairings) and this was one of those books everyone seemed to be talking about the summer of 2015.

I finally got my hands on a copy from the library sometime in August, which is coincidentally one of the most dreadful months weather-wise in Hangzhou. It’s so humid you feel like you’re wrapped up in a steaming wet towel wherever you walk. Normally it’s a month that doesn’t register much in my mind, as I usually spend most of it shut up indoors with the A/C cranked on high.

But I vividly remember the August days when I read The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, as though the book itself provided a much-needed vacation from the oppressive heat. Granted, the novel takes place in the gorgeous San Juan Islands (which allowed me to imagine myself into this refreshingly cool summer destination), but it’s much more than just the setting.

Kelli has woven together the lives of Inara and Mei Lien – two women separated by over 100 years, but bound together by an embroidered silk sleeve with secrets of its own – into an enchanting story filled with love, courage and humanity. There’s interracial love in the past and present (Inara catches the eye of a handsome young Chinese American professor in her quest to understand the story behind that silk sleeve; Mei Lien falls for Joseph, a man whose kindness and generosity seem as endless as the oceans that surround their island). The story spotlights atrocities against the Chinese in America, exposing history that never should have been forgotten. And did I mention it’s all so beautifully written, a real page-turner that will keep you engaged from the beginning to the end?

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk even made the USA Today Bestseller’s List in December 2015. Wow.

I’m thrilled and honored to interview Kelli Estes about her debut novel The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.

Kelli EstesHere’s Kelli Estes’ bio from Goodreads:

Kelli Estes grew up in the apple country of Eastern Washington before attending Arizona State University where she learned she’d be happiest living near the water, so she moved to Seattle after graduation. Today she lives in a Seattle suburb with her husband and two sons. When not writing, Kelli loves volunteering at her kids’ schools, reading (of course!), traveling (or playing tourist in Seattle), dining out, exercising (because of all the dining), and learning about health and nutrition.

You can follow Kelli at her website www.kelliestes.com, on her Facebook page, and Twitter. Her debut novel The Girl Who Wrote in Silk is available at Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

In this interview, I asked Kelli about everything from how she approached her research to what it felt like to learn her book was a USA Today Bestseller:

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You’ve written before that you knew nothing about Chinese culture prior to beginning this book, and yet your book does a good job of portraying Chinese culture. How did you approach your research to ensure your portrayal was as authentic as possible?

You’re right, before this book I knew very little about Chinese culture. When the idea for The Girl Who Wrote in Silk came to me, I really wanted to write the story, but I was completely overwhelmed with the belief that I wasn’t qualified to write it. I’m not Chinese, I don’t have any Chinese family members, I’ve never studied Chinese culture, etc. And yet, I realized that this story needed to be written because so few people knew about the anti-Chinese riots and ethnic cleansing through all Western states in the last half of the nineteenth century. No one else was writing the story, so it was up to me. I started my research by reading everything I could get my hands on…from non-fiction books on Chinese traditions, symbolism, and customs, to all kinds of fiction books with a Chinese protagonist to help me get into the point-of-view of my Chinese character. In Seattle there is a museum called the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and they were a wealth of information for me in both their exhibits and their archives. The Wing Luke also happened to host a dinner I attended that was presented by a food and cultural anthropologist discussing and sharing food eaten by “Chinese settlers in the 1880’s.” Basically, I soaked up as much knowledge and culture as I could until I felt confident enough to write.

You were first inspired to write this story in part because of a horrifying account of a smuggler in the San Juan Islands who killed his illegal Chinese passengers rather than risk getting caught with them. And in the process of researching the novel, you went on to discover more of the darker side of American history. What surprised or shocked you most in the process of researching the story?

So much of what I learned about how Chinese people were treated shocked me, but probably what stands out the most was that other victimized cultures at the time (Native Americans, Irish immigrants, etc.) were sometimes the perpetrators of violence against Chinese. I would have liked to think that these groups would feel compassion toward one another and aid one another, but the reality is that the nation was so filled with an “Us against them” mentality, that very little compassion existed. We’ve learned some in the years since, but our nation still has a long way to go in this regard.

Your story features two cross-cultural/interracial relationships — Inara and Daniel in the present, and Mei Lien and Joseph in the past. Which couple was your favorite to write and why?

If you asked me which time period was my favorite to write I would answer the historical because I loved being able to sprinkle in the bits of information I learned in my research and I loved bringing the period to life. When you ask which was my favorite couple, however, it’s more difficult to answer. I loved Mei Lien and Joseph because Joseph’s love for Mei Lien did not see their differences that others couldn’t see past. I loved that he gave up the life he thought he wanted for a life with Mei Lien. However, when I think about Inara and Daniel, I also love them. Their cultural differences weren’t an issue at all, which I hope reflects interracial couples of today and certainly reflects my own belief that at the heart and soul level, we are all the same. When taking a look at both couples together, I loved showing that in this area, at least, our nation has grown and matured. Most of us can see that love is what matters; not skin color, eye color, speech patterns, or even gender.

Your novel uses scenes from the present and the past to tell the story. Was it challenging weaving these two storylines together?

It wasn’t as challenging as you might think. I wrote the entire historical story first. Then I wrote the whole contemporary story. When it was time I wove the two stories together in a way that made the most sense to me. My agent then suggested we weave in a slightly different way…and then my editors suggested yet another way. So, in a way, I guess it did get a little challenging trying to figure out the best way to weave (i.e. should we “see” the event happening in the historical story before the contemporary characters discover it in their research or vice versa?). I think how we landed was the best way and it took several people to get there!

In the novel, there’s a stunning silk sleeve embroidered with a story that ties the past and present together. How did you decide to have a story hidden within that embroidered silk sleeve?

I chose a silk sleeve because my plotting partner, Carol, showed me a framed and embroidered silk sleeve she had purchased as a souvenir in China. I thought it was beautiful and unique so I started researching Chinese embroidery. I fell in love with the artistry and meaning revealed through the symbols on the embroideries. They seemed to me to be communicating something that I would never truly know without intensive research into symbolism, fables, and cultural beliefs. I loved that.

Your novel landed on the USA Today Bestsellers list in December 2015. How did you respond to the news that The Girl Who Wrote in Silk has been so well-received among readers?

I still can’t believe it! This is a dream come true that I truly didn’t think could happen with my debut novel. My first response was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude because so many people had a hand in making this happen: my agent, editors, publicist, marketing team, sales team, everyone at Sourcebooks; all the independent bookstore owners who voted for my book so that it appeared on the Indie Next list, which directly led to readers learning about my book who otherwise wouldn’t have. And then there are the booksellers who read my story and hand sold it to customers; readers who wrote reviews online and told their friends about the book; other authors who told their readers about my story… Truly, so many people had a hand in this achievement and I am so grateful for each and every one.

What do you hope people gain from reading your novel?

I hope people find the story entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope they think about racial issues and how racism is still very much a problem, which I hope leads them to thinking how they might individually make a difference in their own community. I hope readers learn that there are fascinating stories in our history that still impact us today. Most of all, I hope my novel helps readers look at the people around them and see not the color of their skin nor their cultural trappings, but a fellow human with the need for love, joy, and connection.

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Thanks so much to Kelli Estes for this interview! You can follow Kelli at her website www.kelliestes.com, on her Facebook page, and Twitter. Her debut novel The Girl Who Wrote in Silk is available at Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

People Who Feel Like They Own the Opposite Sex of Their Race and Culture

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This photo of a marriage registration in Beijing was taken two days before the woman was stabbed to death by a Chinese man who hated Americans. I wondered, did he mean “American men” by that, and was he another example of someone who thinks they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture?

It’s funny how things in life mysteriously collide – that two seemingly unrelated events I’ve heard about recently actually have something in common. Specifically, the concept of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race or culture.

The first is the stabbing murder of an innocent Chinese woman in Beijing just married to a French man, a confirmed hate crime prompting my recent post, Is Beijing Becoming Dangerous for Couples of Foreign Men and Chinese Women?

In the discussion in the comments section, I noticed that people started linking this murder to the idea of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race/culture. See this comment from A. Madhavan:

I can’t help but notice the deep misogyny in this murder – many times when we date out of our race/nationality, men of our race will try to “claim” us and shame us for dating/marrying outside of it. As if we are pieces of property and only belong to them. I have seen this happen with white men to white women; black men to black women; Indian men to Indian woman – how dare a [sic] we women marry outside her race and have complete autonomy over our decisions? It is threatening to A LOT of people…

And this comment from R Zhao:

This sometimes happens in America, too. It happened to me when I was dating a black American man. I was accused by a small group of black women (who I didn’t know) of “taking one of theirs.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think there is a lot of frustration. Black women face a lot of discrimination while dating and have a significant smaller dating pool than white women do because of cross-race dating preferences. This happens to Asian men as well.

To be sure, there is a shortage of women here in China because of the gender imbalance, leading to a growing population of unmarried bachelors in China’s countryside known as “bare branches”. According to this article from Tea Leaf Nation, “an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Chinese men — a population nearly the size of Texas — will be unable to find a mate within the next seven years.” Personally, I’ve even heard Chinese men who lament that China is “exporting” far too many of its women overseas.

The Shanghaiist confirms in a recent story that the Sanlitun killer “said he ‘hated Americans’ before attacking Chinese-French couple in Beijing,” specifically asking the woman’s husband if he was an American before stabbing him and his wife. And while it’s never explicitly stated, I can’t help but wonder, does this man represent the anger and frustration of millions who feel a certain entitlement to Chinese women over foreigners because of the shrinking dating pool?

Obviously, this is an incredibly complicated and potentially delicate issue, depending on who you are and whether you’re one of the folks facing a more limited dating pool simply because of your race and/or culture.

What’s your take on this? What do you think about the idea of people who think they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture? Is it ever justified? Sound off in the comments.

UPDATE: I’ve edited this post because that some of the content was inappropriate and insensitive towards the Jewish community. I made some poor choices in what I had written and failed to consider how my words might actually come across to readers (including the individuals I had specifically mentioned in this post). I want to apologize for this mistake.

Thank you to those people who were courageous enough to reach out to me to point out the errors in the original content. I wanted to append this apology to let you know I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in the importance of being sensitive about how groups of people are portrayed on this blog, as well as what should and should not be quoted in posts. 

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?

Yikes.

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.

Exactly!

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!”

Ugh.

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.

3 Challenging Things About Meeting the Parents for People in Intercultural/Interracial Relationships

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When John first told his parents about me, here’s what his father said: “You can be friends with foreign women but not date them.”

Anxious doesn’t even start to describe the way I felt after John said this to me. And, believe me, I had reason to worry. My previous relationship with a Chinese guy ended in an ugly breakup simply because he could never take me home to meet the parents. He said his mom and dad would never accept having a foreign woman in the family. Ever.

Yikes!

Growing up in a very white, very middle class suburb of Midwestern America did nothing to prepare me for surviving meeting the parents in China. It’s the complete opposite from the casual way I used to shake hands and chat with a white guy’s mom and dad back in America, even on the first date! How was I supposed to know that meeting the parents in China was as serious as an engagement announcement, a promise of wedding bells in the near future? For that matter, how could I have ever guessed on the many other cultural pitfalls on the pathway to becoming the foreign wife of a Chinese man?

Here are four things that I’ve found challenging about meeting the parents and family in intercultural and international relationships:

1. When the Family Doesn’t Want You to Date

When your boyfriend’s father says you should be friends but not date, it’s the polar opposite of getting that ever-coveted family blessing. And even if your boyfriend smiles and reassures you it’s not a big deal (like John did), in your mind you’re envisioning all of the future family feuding over your relationship. And, quite possibly, a breakup on the horizon.

Sigh.

Yes, it’s a huge headache and then some. Still, John and I survived it, all because he insisted on staying by my side. (Never thought I would say this, but thank goodness for John’s stubbornness!) We’re living proof that you can indeed overcome this, provided you and your partner are totally committed to the relationship. Just realize you might be in for a very bumpy ride if the parents initially say “no” – the kind that could make the movie “Meet the Parents” look like kindergarten stuff.

2. When Relatives Say Totally Inappropriate Things About Your Relationship

Back in May, I ran a guest post from the blogger behind Big Asian Package, a Chinese American guy who shared his crushing experience meeting the family of his white girlfriend:

“Are you happy about those secrets?” said a voice from beside me.

“What? I’m sorry?” I said. It was my girlfriend’s grandpa.

“The nuclear secrets. I know you came here to steal from us,” said her grandpa,

“I go to school…” I say, protesting.

“You’re Chinese, I know you are,” he says quietly, triumphantly, like he’s got me checkmated.

“Yes,” I say, now seriously confused, not quite believing what I’m hearing.

Oh my. There’s nothing like a racist comment or two from grandpa to turn meeting the family into one of the most chilling experiences you’ll ever have.

Sometimes it’s not even a direct attack, but an assumption based on stereotypes or prejudice. Like how I’ve heard some relatives praise John for being great at computers (because, of course, all Chinese are that way….). If only they knew that my husband calls on me for all things computer and tech-related. (I’m the one who just set up his new smartphone!)

People have even expressed concern about the fact that John and I have a bilingual relationship, and have cautioned us against speaking one language too much over another. (Insert image of me banging my head on a wall.)

What makes this super-hard is the fact that you’re often related to the people in question. You’re not exactly going to win points with family by calling grandpa a racist.

That doesn’t mean you always have to let these things go. Over the years, I’ve had some really thoughtful conversations with family about racism and prejudice. John and I have educated relatives about what modern racism actually looks like (it’s not what you think it is) and, in the process, become even closer as a family. Who’d have thought you could bond over stuff like this?

3. When the Family Gets Confused by Your Relationship

Yocelyn of My Chinese Boyfriend voiced another issue with meeting the parents:

I don’t think our families could comprehend our relationship at first. They were too confused by it. 😛

What happens if parents aren’t in opposition to you, but they just don’t understand why you would want to be with this person?

I’ve only ever experienced this with other expats – people totally mystified by how a white American woman would even think of dating Chinese men in China. Let me tell you, it already hurts even when someone you’re not related to suddenly thinks it’s weird to date this amazing person you’re deeply in love with. I can only imagine the pain you’d feel when people who you’re stuck with by marriage or blood think this way about your relationship.

Love just happens between two people for good reasons. Why can’t the people we care about understand why we love someone as well?

Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will always understand us 100 percent of the time, including relatives. Which means that some of us will get the questions and odd looks from family when we decide to date “outside the box”, so to speak.

I don’t know that I can say anything to make a situation like this better. I’d like to hope that things will get better for you with time, and chances are they will, but who really knows?

Still, whatever challenges you face with the family, remember that you’re not alone. There are lots of people out there in interracial, intercultural and (like in my case) international relationships who have survived all sorts of familial scrutiny. People like me, who have lived to tell the tale – and will be happy to listen to your stories, nodding as we say, “Yes, I’ve been there and I’m here for you too.”

Why I’m tired of hearing “you’ll have a hard life” about interracial relationships

Not long ago, a white friend of mine moved back to America with her Chinese husband. They were happy with their decision to return to America, but it also meant living with her parents for a period of time. Which wasn’t easy…and lead to some uncomfortable conversations. She confessed that her mother (who she said wasn’t the most pleasant person to begin with) wasn’t thrilled that she hadn’t chosen an “easier life.”

In other words, the fact that this friend had chosen to marry a Chinese man – instead of, say, one of the white guys she used to date at university.

Ugh. I shuddered just thinking about it.

Obviously, her mom is not the supportive type. But the thing is, “you’ll have a hard life” (and all of its many variations) is something that many interracial/intercultural couples have to hear. Loving versus Virginia may have paved the way for legal interracial marriage in the US, but it sure didn’t stop people from telling you how “tough” it’s going to be.

Here’s why I’m tired of hearing this:

1. So what if it’s “tough”?

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Given the fact that interracial coupling was illegal for a really long time in the US (and, I would imagine, many other countries around the world), there’s no doubt that we’ve had to fight for the right to love who we want to.

Even now, we’re still fighting. From white supremacist hate groups who would frown upon my marriage to the continued discrimination against people of color (including people like my husband), it’s not always an easy ride when you date and marry differently.

Yeah, we get it. It can be tough. So what?

There will always be haters when you’re dating or marrying outside the box. It’s part of the package deal – and believe me, we already know.

2. It can be racist

(photo by Loving Earth via Flickr.com)
(photo by Loving Earth via Flickr.com)

Okay, I know that’s a loaded statement (I suppose anything becomes a loaded statement when you throw in the “R” word). But think about it. If you’re wishing that your white daughter didn’t marry outside of her race (and, for that matter, culture and country), that’s like saying that she should only date and marry white guys. Because, after all, life is so much easier when you’ve got the full benefit of white privilege, right? (Never mind that white privilege IS the problem, folks.)

Yeah, SO not cool.

3. Marrying within your race doesn’t guarantee an easy life

Just because you're white and you marry a white guy does not mean you're going to become the next picture-perfect William and Kate (Photo by geraldstolk via Flickr.com)
Just because you’re white and you marry a white guy does not mean you’re going to become the next picture-perfect William and Kate (Photo by geraldstolk via Flickr.com)

I grew up in a mostly white suburb of Cleveland, which exposed me to ALL kinds of white folks – and taught me that there are plenty of losers, scumbags and lunatics within my own race.

I know that marrying white doesn’t guarantee you some romantic Prince Charming who will sweep you off your feet for the rest of your life. I’ve seen marriages between lots of white people that have ended in utter disaster and ruin – including the folks who seemed to “have it all” (the money, the luxury cars, the beachfront property).

When two people from the same race happen to marry, they don’t necessarily have special “insurance” against a divorce or devastation. Crap can happen to any couple out there.

4. It ignores the fact that love just happens

As I wrote a while back, I never intended to marry a Chinese man. I had actually dated a steady stream of mainly white guys before I moved to China – where I was eventually swept off my feet by an extraordinary young guy from Hangzhou. I didn’t think about whether it would be harder with him…I just knew I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Period.

Sometimes love just happens – in the most unlikely and unexpected ways. Instead of worrying about how “tough” it might be, shouldn’t we be celebrating that two people have come together to share one of the most beautiful things in life?

What do you think?