Taboo: Relationships that cross cultures
It is not a choice many of us have to make when coming to Washington University: love or an education? Most likely, you spent the month of April pondering Princeton Review rankings and the allure of Tempur-Pedic beds. But one member of the class of 2017 was presented with just that predicament.
Though he preferred to remain anonymous, he did share his story. While at boarding school during his junior and senior years of high school, he became seriously involved with a Caucasian girl, knowing that his Indian parents would not approve of the relationship. When his parents discovered the seriousness of the relationship during the spring of his senior year, he was given a choice: break up with her and attend Wash. U. or be sent to live in India, where he might be allowed to attend community college. While the decision to end his relationship was extremely painful for him, he felt he had to choose the better education for the good of his own future.
We might like to think that whom we choose to date is entirely our own choice, but for some, parents still exert significant influence. Culture, be it based in religion, region or race, also presents a serious dividing line when it comes to the opinions of many parents.
For this anonymous member of the freshman class, his parents’ reaction to his relationship, which he described as “seething,” was enough to end his relationship altogether.
“I chose to come to Wash. U. because I value my education over a high school relationship,” he said.
College can seem like a utopia where the barriers presented by the plethora of -isms have been broken down, but serious relationships seem to linger in the domain outside the campus bubble.
While a 2010 study done by the Pew Research Center states that roughly 60 percent of Americans say it would “be fine with them” if a member of their family married someone of a different race, practice doesn’t always reflect this attitude. Only 8 percent of existing American marriages are interracial or interethnic today while 14.6 percent of new marriages were as of 2008.
The Pew Research Center’s data supports the idea that native-born Americans are more likely to marry outside their race than are immigrants. For many immigrant groups, this statistic reflects their desire to keep in touch with their native culture.
Freshman Nisha Patel described the reason behind her family’s expectation that she marry someone of Indian heritage like herself.
“The reason they want me to marry [an] Indian is because the culture is really hard to sustain outside of Indian people, especially because it has so much to do with the language and the religion,” Patel said. “You kind of have to be from India to have the religion and the language.”
But that didn’t stop two of her aunts from marrying outside the Indian culture. While her uncles have now been accepted by the members of her extended family, according to Patel, the road wasn’t easy.
“I have two aunts who married Muslims, and it was a big thing in my family. I thought it was really stupid that people cared, but I [realized] that I want approval [of my family,]” Patel said.
This gets to the root of the issue for many students in the Wash. U. community. While they might not be bothered personally by dating or marrying someone outside their cultural group, they know that on some level it would make the relationship with their families more difficult.
“I know that they tell me that if I married someone who wasn’t Indian, they would just want me to be happy, but at the same time, they’re pretty clear that they don’t want me to marry outside of India,” Patel said. “I find myself more inclined to like Indian people because I don’t see a possibility of a future with non-Indian people.”
The anonymous freshman student felt similarly.
“I think it’s just the way that they were raised and the culture they were grew up in—they expect me to share that same culture, whether I agree with it and see the point in it or not,” he said.
While not dealing with expectations as explicit as these, a sophomore found herself in a relationship with someone whose religious background didn’t mesh well with her boisterous Irish family’s values. Her mother did not approve. The student laughingly noted that drinking and swearing are integral to her family’s culture, which made it hard for her now-ex-boyfriend to relate easily to them.
“It wasn’t so much that my mom didn’t like him because he was religious, more because of the way it made him act,” she said. “It was little things: he was afraid of germs and he didn’t swear. Just things like that that didn’t fit in with how I was raised.”
It was this strained dynamic led her mother to question the relationship. And though she didn’t make any ultimatums, her mother did make her disapproval known, which caused the student to re-evaluate.
“It always bothered me because I know my mom is a really great judge of character. So the fact that she didn’t like him made me think there was something wrong,” she said.
But even after the relationship ended, the opinions didn’t stop coming in from her family.
“My bubbe said to me, ‘Now, you should go to Hillel House and get yourself a real boyfriend,’” the sophomore said with a laugh.
But that’s exactly what upset the parents of another anonymous student. Described by their daughter as “very conservative Christians,” they disapprove of her dating someone who doesn’t share their beliefs. The student explained their thinking: “If I start dating someone in college, it could potentially be so serious that I would marry the person,” she said, “and the cultural difference and the religious difference between Judaism and Christianity when it comes to marriage and raising children could cause a divide.”
Frustrated by her parents’ refusal to accept the relationship, the student told her parents she was no longer dating her boyfriend, though the two have, in fact, stayed together. This has been a source of both frustration and pain for her.
“If he was Christian, they would be head-over-heels for him,” the student said. “It’s just upsetting to me that something like [religion] would even affect [their opinion].”
Editor’s note: a previous version of this article was posted with the name of a person who requested anonymity printed. That name has since been removed.