This February, we prove that love knows no bounds as we chat with interracial couples about how they met, overcame cultural differences and deal with stigmas about borderless relationships.
Meeting someone you’d want to spend the rest of your life with is one of the best things about love. It’s having that absolute feeling that you’re ready to accept this person for who they are, willingly overcoming any differences you have as two people born and bred from different backgrounds.
However, while it’s already challenging for most couples to deal with such differences, individuals who find love in someone whose culture and beliefs differ from them may be a different ball game. Does being in a culturally diverse country such as Malaysia — where the mix of the population consists of Bumiputera (Malays, Orang Asli or of Southeast Asian roots), Chinese, and Indian — help couples of different races? Or are there still struggles and societal expectations to be addressed?
Two interracial couples from Malaysia — Shameetha and Ahmad (Indian and Iranian) and Maisie and Joel (Chinese and Indian) — share their experiences.
Making the match
Shameetha got Ahmad’s number through a friend when they reserved a table at a bar he was managing. Ahmad greeted Shameetha when she and her friend arrived at the venue after their brief communication on the phone. But instead of ending at a simple exchange done out of courtesy, they got to chatting and hit it off right away. The two have been together for five years since.
Meanwhile, Maisie and Joel attended the same church. It took a year before they started talking to each other, and another year before they started dating. Two years after, Joel proposed and now the two are happily married. In total, they’ve been together for more than six years (and counting)!
Adjustments based on culture, beliefs, and upbringing
Both couples shared that being with their current partners is not the first time they got into an interracial relationship. In a way, the racial diversity in the country poses this inevitability. It also somehow helps ease you into an interracial romantic relationship as well, should you choose to be in one.
“I've been living in Malaysia for eight years before I met Shameetha,” said Ahmad. “What's funny is, my circle of friends happened to be Indian so adapting to her culture was not difficult. And she didn't have any adjustment either. Adjustments only happened when we moved in together.”
Shameetha playfully rebutted this, saying, “The only thing we needed work on is he doesn’t eat using his hands. Indians use hands for everything but until now he can’t adapt so I gave up on teaching him.”
Humour aside, though, of course, relationships are not without kinks. For Maisie and Joel, while being ‘together’ didn’t become an issue, contrasting values was something they definitely had to cope with.
“His parents are more conservative and stricter than mine. He even had a curfew,” Maisie said.
During their dating stage, Joel’s parents were very involved with their time spent together. They also contributed a lot when it came to Joel’s decisions. This level of involvement seems to be normal for Indian parents and has caused tons of inquiries on the internet, as well as cultural studies.
Maisie, on the other hand, grew up with more freedom about her choices. Thankfully, it didn’t cause any major rifts in their relationship. Such intervention from Joel’s parents also stopped after they got married and started their own family.
Earning the approval of their loved ones
The trend of interracial unions in Malaysia continue to rise, according to Malaysia’s Department of Statistics, because modern families in Malaysia are more open to the idea compared to previous generations. Both couples’ friends and family are this way.
Shameetha’s family has always been supportive of interracial marriages, with her sister being in one, so her relationship with Ahmad was well-received since the start. Maisie and Joel, meanwhile, sought the approval of their families and friends before they even started dating, as well as before they decided to get married. They were even dubbed the “Oreo couple” by one of their friends, a fond nickname that has stuck with them ever since.
Each couple shared that even with the lack of opposition, knowing that their loved ones and close friends are supportive of the relationship was still of utmost importance. This is because it is a decision that will significantly affect their lives both as individuals and as a united couple bridging two circles.
Powering through differences that arise along the way
Both couples admitted that as with any relationship, certain issues still pop up from time to time.
With this, Shameetha said: “The goal is not to win [the argument] but to maintain and strengthen the relationship. And if a problem occurs, always remember it's both of you against the problem. Ahmad also always says that putting yourself in the shoes of your partner helps you widen your perspective about the current issue.”
On instances when arguments circle back to their differences in values and upbringing, Maisie also imparted some words of wisdom.
“Take time to adjust and figure out if there are any deeper issues such as baggage from previous relationships or from family background before talking it out with your partner. Decide if it's a big issue where it involves families or if it's just between you and your partner. Celebrate the little things — milestones you can look back on and see how far you've grown.”
It’s quite comforting to know that interracial couples in Malaysia, if our interviewees are to be the gauge, are now thriving with the changing mindset that comes with a culturally diverse country. Circumstances are far from perfect (as with any relationship), but it’s a trend we’d love to see more of in the future, hopefully along with the rest of the world.