Interracial dating: It’s all the rage! But am I a closet imperialist?
Last year, a study by the Pew Research Center study revealed that one in seven marriages in the United States are interracial. Additionally, the study found that “the most common configuration of interracial couples is a white male and an Asian female.” The relationship advice website askmen.com adds that these unions “are as common in urban America as Starbucks outlets.”
These statistics alarm me and gladden me at the same time. Let’s begin with the “gladden” part. Starbucks is uber-trendy, and my friends can certainly attest to the fact that I like trendy things:
Specialty coffee drinks. Apple products. Hybrid cars. The Daily Show. Liberal guilt. Provide me with something quality in a shiny package and I’ll come running like a catnipped-spiked pussycat chasing a laser pointer.
But the stats also alarm me as they gnaw (yellow) feverishly at my anxious psyche: Why am I suddenly in love with an Asian woman? (I’ve never had close affections for any of my Asian female friends before, one of whom is my absolute best friend after my girlfriend.) What does our relationship say about my insecurities as a man? Am I merely looking to dominate the submissive, oriental, exotic Mulan? Am I following, subconsciously, in my father’s footsteps? After two marriages to Mormon women ended in divorce, he married first a Taiwanese woman and then a Chinese woman. (The latter jokingly insists his first Asian wife is actually Chinese.)
The alarm bells are also triggered by wracking guilt: As I mentioned, I had never been romantically interested in an Asian woman before. Ever. Period. And I feel bad about that. I mean, I’m essentially admitting to all iPinion readers that there was an entire CONTINENT of female cultural ancestry that I didn’t once in 31 years lust after. My dating pool had been chlorine-bleached white since I first began dating at the late age of 18. I had the occasional crush on a senorita. Liberal guilt is trendy and fun until the emphasis more consistently lands on the “guilt” part of the spectrum.
One more confession: I can never proclaim with 100 percent certainty that my complex feelings for my girlfriend are not entirely divorced from some of the issues I’ve mentioned above. I assume, for the most part, that they are mostly reactionary/paranoid fears, but I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of the id.
But as I continue into my second year of dating my gorgeous, intelligent, and assiduous Vietnamese significant other, I realize I can, in fact, declare with confidence that our love is something that transcends race.
It doesn’t transcend race, it binds it. It takes two dramatically disparate backgrounds and operates daily (and constantly) through cultural sharing, compromise, and increased appreciation of differences.
During our time together I have indeed witnessed the Asian stereotypes: Overbearing parents, near-obsessive perfectionism, blinged-out cell phone cases, and, yes, I’ll just go ahead and say it: atrocious driving skills.
During this same period Tawny has seen many of the white stereotypes: clinging to pharmaceutical drugs for mental illness without even attempting holistic changes in diet and meditation, love for family expressed in informal Facebook banter rather than elaborate family celebrations (usually revolving around an epic feast), Apple product addictions, and gluten-free specialty stores. (My Filipino best friend’s Caucasian hubby calls Whole Foods “Whole Paychecks.”)
Far more important, however, is our congruity. On our first few dates, Tawny and I didn’t notice our cultural differences in the slightest. In fact, I was more comfortable with this young Vietnamese woman than I had been with any previous date. Rather than awkward small-talk, we immediately hit it off. We watched a scary movie, dined at a sports bar, and then, still not tired of the other’s company, ran out to a grocery store to buy hot chocolate and a bag of giant marshmallows. We were friends before lovers, and good friends at that.
When I do reflect on our cultural discrepancies I consider the balance we provide one another. Tawny tells me I have helped her move beyond some of the self-disparagement that comes from growing up in a high-pressure Asian household. On a lighter note, she has also picked up a fondness for white sitcoms (30 Rock and Arrested Development are amongst her favorites), yuppie suburbs, and Italian food.
From Tawny I have gained a greater appreciation for my own family and a fiercer sense of loyalty to those most important in my life. Tawny talks to her mom daily, dotes on her kid sister, and treats her grandparents with strict respect. These are the types of things I need to improve on. She also got me to not only enjoy sushi but to crave it and her type-A organizational personality has brought significant order to my own life (did you know laundry can be hung in a closet?!)
At this point in our relationship Tawny and I can comfortably joke with each other about our racial differences. This is made easy by the fact that our interests are so similar (and are actually increasingly overlapping) that we don’t constantly notice the white/Asian dichotomy. We’re simply best friends and partners in this crazy thing called life.
That is until Tawny gets behind the steering wheel.