Lessons in cross cultural dating

If you haven’t had a chance to read my last article, A white girl’s lens on why culture matters, I suggest you go back and read that one first. I couldn’t speak into cross cultural dating until I had first processed and shared my own process of culture learning.

I didn’t get a chance to explicitly share at the end of that article how the process of humbling myself and asking, “Will you introduce me or teach me about this?” is a journey that I’m still on everyday. Only by God’s help and guidance can I step forward in faith on a journey of learning, especially in moments where I feel uncertain, overwhelmed, and afraid of the unknown.

And more so now that I’m in a dating relationship with someone who grew up in a very different country than me.

It feels strange to not share about such a huge part of my life on this blog, and so I’m been praying and waiting about how to do this for a while now. But in sharing my experience so far, I want you to know that I’m no dating expert. Neither, a culture expert.

I grew up in a pretty white, conservative city north of Toronto (Barrie in central Ontario), and while B was technically born in Canada he really was raised and grew up in Hong Kong.

I sort of alluded to it in my previous post, but it wasn’t until exactly a year before we started dating that I started to even begin to learn about Asian culture (and not just HK/Cantonese culture, but ALL Asian culture). So I have a lot of catch up to do - or just a lot of humble learning? But it’s been good. And it’s fun to share some of that learning process here.

I tried to write in a way that’s not ultra specific to either of the cultures we come from, but generically so that it the principles could be more applicable.

So, here are three lessons in cross-cultural dating that I’ve experienced so far:

1. I will always be me, and he will always be him.

I realized the importance of this even as we considered dating. Cultural differences are well, differences. And they aren’t always easy. Often we long for the other person to be just like us because it’s comfortable and easy. In relationships, especially as you move towards marriage, there are things you absolutely need to agree and be the same in.

Pursuing spiritual and emotional unity even with large differences in culture is possible and important to strive for. But at the end of all things, to the day I die, I will always be “me”. The white girl from a British family who grew up in Barrie. And he needs to be okay with that and celebrate it. I can eat Chinese food, learn the language (eek so hard!), and even live in Asia, but I will never be Chinese, or Cantonese. Will there be many moments where it would be much easier if I was Chinese? Yes. Will there be moments where it would be much easier if he was from my culture? Yes.

I’m not advocating that cross cultural dating is preferred or the best way. It is challenging. Dating and marrying someone from the same background as you is so much easier in many ways. But there’s an important acceptance in who God has created us to be that needs to happen. We navigated that before deciding to date, but have had to live it out and accept each other again and again.

I do believe that if God has brought us together (or you in your circumstance), he will help us navigate those differences. Not with bitterness or enduring frustration, but as a joy to experience and work through.

2. All people and families have their own “culture” regardless of race or upbringing.

B is the only Asian guy I’ve dated, but I have dated white guys before. “White” isn’t even a culture, nor is “Asian”. What helped me navigate the experiences of dating and getting to know someone, was realizing that no matter where the person is from, or even if they grew up in the same little town as you with the same cultural heritage - each family has their own “culture”.

Each family has their own unwritten expectations and norms. A rhythm that you have spent years learning to jive with. When one family’s rhythm does not mesh with the other persons, there are decisions and navigating that needs to happen.

In some ways my lifestyle, passions, values and priorities match better with B and his family norms, than other guys I’ve dated who may look more like me. In other ways, some of his family norms are totally different from mine. I guess that’s part of the adventure?

Experiencing differences in culture and family have little to do with where a person is from and more so because they are a different person who grew up in a unique family environment.

3. There are moments where I need to surrender my cultural preference or “norm” to serve and honour his. And vice versa.

This has been the biggest lesson for me personally. One funny example involved sashimi. For some reason food is SO important to B and his expression of his culture. He has a deep, deep love for sashimi (raw salmon), and he wanted me to share in it. He needed me to try and and deeply hoped I would enjoy it.

But I refused. It didn’t appeal to me at all. And one lesson that I heard my whole life growing up was: don’t eat raw meat. Eating raw meat makes you very sick. Raw chicken, pork, and beef. Even though I was sure eating sashimi wouldn’t make me sick like eating raw chicken would, it just felt icky. My culture said “don’t eat raw meat”. His culture said “eat raw fish”. We were on opposite ends of the spectrum, but it was my negative attitude that really hurt him. It was my unwillingness to try.

I realized it was a moment when I needed to surrender my “norm” to try his, to serve and honour him. So I ate sashimi in a poke bowl. And it wasn’t as bad as I thought! In fact I preferred it in a sushi roll. I didn’t like raw tuna though. Just my willingness to try and eat something that was so important to him - that was 80% of what he needed from me. Me actually liking it, well he doesn’t have much control over that - and often neither do I.

It’s the same with him. He so often chooses to surrender his cultural preference or “normal” to serve and honour what’s important or comfortable for me, out of love and respect.  

So there we go:

There are unique challenges and also joys in being intimately known by someone very different from you.

Are you dating someone from a different culture? What are some lessons that you’ve been learning? Or questions? Let’s chat!