Question: I don’t know if you address this sort of thing or even answer questions related to interracial and intercultural dating but I thought I’d ask anyway. I’m 34, never married, medical doctor currently working and living in East Africa. I met an African woman (also medical doctor) and have fallen deeply in love. I know she loves me back. I also have permission from her family to date her (this was something very new for me). But after going through the formalities, I see the value in it, and to be honest, I think it’s so cool. There is a dignity to our dating relationship that was missing in my dating relationships. As the relationship gets more serious, I’m noticing more and more cultural differences and beginning to worry that this might not work out. Obviously some interracial and intercultural couples make it work. Are there any tips you can offer? Asante Sana.
Yangki’s Answer: You sure know how to go right into an East African woman’s heart – speak to her in Swahili!
My belief on all things love is that anything can work if you are both willing to work at it together. That said, dating and relationships in general are challenging, dating out of your own culture has unique challenges most people dating within their own culture don’t have to deal with.
I can give you hundreds of tips (some very specific to her specific East African culture) but I’ll just list a few tips that in my opinion are essential.
1. Be honest about your different views about different things
As you rightly pointed out, there are cultural differences, these differences are real and won’t disappear because you pretend they don’t exist or don’t talk about them. Acknowledge your cultural differences and deal with them directly, honestly and respectfully.
2. Get to know each other as individuals
Remember first and foremost that you’re two individuals attracted to and in love with each other. Don’t let your cultural differences define you or your relationship. Instead take time and effort to get to know each other as unique individuals and build on your similarities. And when you have disagreements, don’t automatically assume that it’s because of “cultural differences”. Some disagreements are about differences in personalities, priorities, goals, etc.
3. Learn as much as you can about each other’s cultures
Approach cultural differences with an attitude of no one culture is better than the other and learn as much as you can about your partner’s culture. You have a better chance of having a meaningful discussion and finding reasonable compromises on problematic areas if you demonstrate a deeper understanding and appreciation of where the other is coming from.
4. Leave room for cultural faux pas (on both sides)
Every culture has its intricacies, nuances and particular workings that may not be obvious to someone not of that culture. Don’t assume anything. If you feel unsure about something, ask in a direct, respectful way. Be willing to forgive and be patient enough to try to explain to each other how to navigate the other’s cultural workings.
5. Surround yourselves with a supportive social network
There will be people who’ll have opinions about your interracial/intercultural relationship and some of those opinions will be against your relationship. There is nothing you can do about that. Seek social support and advice from family, friends and other interracial/intercultural couples who have your best interest at heart.
6. Work together and always have each other’s back
The challenges you face in East Africa as an interracial/intercultural couple are very different from those you’ll face as an interracial couple in Europe. Make a commitment to each other to always deal with these challenges together, as a couple. When you’re secure in your relationship, the opinions of others don’t matter.
7. Celebrate your love and relationship
Make a deliberate effort to celebrate the richness, uniqueness and flavour each of your individual cultures brings to the relationship. Better yet, take from each culture what appeals to both of you and make a culture of your own!
8. Treat the other how you’d want to be treated
The best tip, in my opinion is, despite all the cultural differences, when it comes down to a 1-on-1 relationship, always remember that people from any culture and from any part of the world are just human beings. You can’t go wrong with treating another as you’d like to be treated.