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.
Changing a habit or two in the name of love can be expected. Making small lifestyle adjustments once you enter a relationship is also something considerably unavoidable. Packing up your entire life to move to another country? Now that’s quite a big commitment.
When Micah and Thomas met on Tinder four years ago, they never thought that changing postal codes was in their future. For Lystra and Tom, settling on the other side of the world after becoming co-workers in the Philippines was also something they never imagined — at least when they were still bonding over El Chupacabra’s fish and shrimp tacos during their first few dates. For Lorelie, a future life in France with Florent was something she didn’t expect when she joined her friends in a local bar for the World Cup 2014 viewing party.
But when love hits, it hits hard — no amount of cultural differences nor geographical boundaries can stop it. However, stereotypes and naysayers can still pose challenges. Here’s how these couples power through them.
Getting married in her early 20s was not something Micah expected when she swiped right on Thomas’ profile. Micah confessed that communication was a big struggle at first because were certain nuances in their native languages that led to misunderstandings. Thomas also serves in the U.S. Military, which meant having periods of not being together physically. But wedding bells still became the endgame for them. They were each other’s first and last interracial relationship.
Meanwhile, Lorelie confessed that Florent was not her type when they first met. But they crossed paths at such a “good time in their lives” because she was getting tired of casual dating and he just separated from a long time relationship. They knew they wanted something solid and steady. They even did a “coffee interview” where they exchanged notes about expectations, hobbies, and everything they needed to know about each other before labelling themselves a couple.
It wasn’t their first interracial relationship — Lorelie previously dated an Indian guy on and off for two years and Florent was engaged with an Indian girl when he was living in Nepal. The experience became a foundation for their expectations about dealing with cultural differences in a relationship. Of course, this didn’t make things 100 per cent easier, but it admittedly helped.
Meanwhile, Lystra and Tom’s shared background growing up in multi-cultural cities (Singapore and Madison, Wisconsin respectively) gave their relationship a nice push in its early stages. Lystra shared that their relationship felt so easy and they “never felt like there was a big cultural divide or difference” between them.
“Somehow, despite us growing up on opposite sides of the world, we have very similar values, beliefs, interests, and views of the world. And that was one of the things that really connected us in the beginning — that somehow despite Tom growing up in the U.S. Midwest and I in Asia, we both found that we have very similar childhood stories,” said Lystra. “There were a lot of ‘What? Me too!’ during our get-to-know-you phase.”
The case of the ‘brown girl dating a white man’
All three couples admitted to dealing with stereotypes that come with the “Asian girl dating a white man”.
“I do think that stereotypes — like ‘Success Story’ in the Philippines or ‘SPG’ in Singapore — can be effective in discouraging some unhealthy aspects of some bi-racial international relationships,” said Lystra.
In the earlier stages of her relationship with Tom, she kept on thinking if she fit that category, thinking that people might assume she’s only with him because she wants to move to the U.S.
“I was very happy with my life and career in the Philippines — if anything, it was a bigger risk of having to leave all that behind. But we met and my life plans expanded in ways I didn’t expect them to. And we’re both happy that at the end of the day, we chose each other and not to let stereotypes or what people might think of us get in the way of getting to know each other and growing together,” Lystra shared.
For Lorelie, it was a fellow Filipina commenting “she’s now free from poverty” when she mentioned she married a French guy that left her stunned. She didn’t react nor become defensive because her mind went blank when she heard the remark. In the end, the other person apologised upon noticing her reaction.
“The narrative of a brown girl being with a white man doesn't always have anything to do with money. On our trip together to Paris, we each bought our own tickets. When we got married, it was a small wedding because that's what we could afford back then,” said Lorelie.
As for Micah, people gossiping about her relationship was also a major struggle. It didn’t help that one of Thomas’ friends was scammed by a Filipino before. However, Thomas’ family made her feel accepted despite these issues, which then helped her have more confidence in their relationship.
Gossip, stereotyping, cultural differences — none of these stopped Micah and Thomas from tying the knot.
“In the beginning, there were a lot of hesitations for both of us and our families,” Micah said. “People kept asking us if we’re sure of our decisions with the differences in our values and backgrounds. But in the end, we got the blessing of our families.”
From small adjustments to big lifestyle leaps
One major adjustment Micah had to deal with, especially when they talked to their families about getting married, was having to call her in-laws using their first names rather than ‘mum and dad’. Micah said she wasn’t comfortable doing it at first since Filipinos are big on honorifics but has learnt to do so since that’s what Thomas’ parents prefer.
Lystra and Tom share the same experience. Tom calls Lystra’s mum “Tita” (aunt) and her older brother “Kuya” (older brother) and uses “po” (a language filler meant to indicate formality and respect) whenever he’s talking to her family.
Meanwhile, Thomas learnt how to use a dipper, which is an essential bathing and cleaning tool in every Filipino household. They also practice removing outdoor footwear before entering the house, which is a common Asian custom.
There are also Christmas traditions. Filipinos celebrate the holidays as soon as the -ber months start, which is not the case in the U.S. Micah said that her in-laws were fascinated when she told them about it. She’s also grateful for today’s technology because whenever she feels homesick, a quick call to her family puts her at ease. Meanwhile, Thomas loves bringing her to the Filipino grocery store whenever he senses that she’s missing home.
Despite the quirks, Micah said that “compromise is key” and at the end of the day, they never let their differences get in the way of their relationship.
Food is another aspect they need adjusting to. While Tom loves Filipino cuisine (“He requests for beef tapa and garlic rice when he’s in a Filipino-breakfast mood”, said Lystra), he can’t deal with Sinigang, which is one of Lystra’s favourites so Lystra cooks an entire pot for herself and eats it throughout the week whenever she has a hankering for it. Tom is also of Norwegian descent so Lystra learnt how to cook Lutefisk and Lefsa from his aunt who likes making these dishes. This is part of a family tradition meant to remember their grandparents by. “But I’ll always wish Jollibee is more accessible to me. We have to drive three hours to Chicago for the nearest Jollibee,” Lystra shared.
When it comes to occasions, Lystra said Tom’s “having a blast” sharing American traditions and festivities with her such as Fourth Of July and Thanksgiving, which are not celebrated in Asia.
Thinking about how much their relationship has evolved, Lystra said: “It reflects a great truth about the world, that no matter how different we may think we are from each other, or how different our environments are growing up, if you hold the same values and openness about the world with someone else, you’ll find that you’re not that different.”
Meanwhile, cultural differences were a lot more glaring for Lorelie and Florent in the beginning. Filipino culture doesn’t quite intersect with French culture, unlike other Western cultures. One of the biggest things that irked Florent around the time they were living in the Philippines was ‘Filipino time’ which is the idea that being ‘fashionably late’ is acceptable.
A custom he was okay about adapting to, though, was doing the “mano” (the manner of greeting someone older by touching one’s forehead on the back of the elder’s hand) to show respect. Florent admitted that he wasn’t comfortable doing it especially to people he wasn’t well-acquainted with but he was more than happy to do it for Lorelie’s parents.
On Lorelie’s end, it was learning that the French like to “complain a lot” which made her realise, jokingly, “why the French revolution happened.” Meanwhile, Florent got a bigger sense of appreciation and optimism when it came to small struggles, which is so present in Filipino culture, after living with her in the Philippines.
Lorelie also shared: “Looking back, it was gender roles in both our cultures that played a part in our early misunderstandings. French culture is all about equality between men and women, whereas Filipino culture still holds double standards. In France, most of the things are 50-50 which means splitting your restaurant bill in half but women can expect the men to wash the dishes and clean the house as often as they do. In the Philippines, it is mostly the men who have to pay most of the time but women are expected to do most of the domestic chores.”
For Lystra, continuously viewing things (or people) as “different” becomes “thorns in a relationship”. That’s why being open to look at things through the lens of the other person is be a must. However, she reminded: “At the end of the day, remember that you should still be firm in your core values and beliefs. You shouldn’t need to feel like you have to compromise your entire values system just to stay with someone. At the end of the day, if you’re struggling to understand each other and it’s becoming a constant thing, maybe it’s not right for you, and it’s also okay to let go.”
Lorelie backed this up, saying “relationships are hard work” and that happy couples exist because they pour in the effort to get that kind of happiness. It’s also bonding and sharing experiences together while allowing the other person to grow and prosper on their own.
Florent added, “Communication is one thing that can always be improved and when it does, it benefits everybody.”
Micah and Thomas, meanwhile, remind everyone that whether you’re in an interracial relationship or not, listening to naysayers or gossipers instead of talking things out will not make things work. Make your expectations known, meet in the middle, and communicate, and everything will fall into place.