It’s one of America’s greatest paradoxes that no matter how diverse we become, the discomfort people feel when talking about race is never appeased. In most parts of the country, you will see countless mixed-race couples and yet, the complicated nature of our country’s sordid racial past means many people still have that initial knee-jerk reaction to seeing an interracial couple. Love may not know color, but society sure does.
I’m not going to lie, sometimes it kills me that we actually have verbiage like “interracial relationships”; it just seems so trite and unnecessary. Still, the reality of the society that we live in is we still have to use the term to differentiate relationships. Ultimately,those who have experienced them know that being a different race from your partner doesn’t necessarily make for more difficult relationships, and yet, there are undeniably unique, complicated challenges.
And while we may like to make jokes about the hardest parts of being in an interracial relationship, just 50 years ago, the law banned us from even considering one. Today’s society may be more tolerant, but tolerant doesn’t spell easy. Here are just a few of the very real and unexpected issues that you will have to deal with when you’re in an interracial relationship.
1. Other interracial couples.
This is probably one of the most surprising revelations, but interacting with other interracial couples can sometimes be a negative experience. Often, other couples project their realities (and insecurities) onto you. It’s not necessarily that you expect other people in interracial relationships to share some kind of special camaraderie with you, although that may be the case. It’s just that you naturally assume that they will understand why you don’t want your relationship to be viewed through the lens of some pretty interesting (and sometimes completely absurd) assumptions.
Much like dealing with any other couple, you’ll find yourself simply having to keep your own relationship struggles to yourself. Just because your friends or other couples can’t get past their issues, don’t let it leak into your own partnership.
2. Your relationship is automatically very political.
One of my favorite quotes from author George Orwell is, “All issues are political issues.” And indeed, we can talk about almost anything in a political sense, including the dynamics of any relationship. But nobody falls in love (or at least I hope nobody falls in love) to make a political statement. Still, people will assume a great deal about you and your significant other’s politics and viewpoints without even asking you. And almost as a form of defense, you will have a set of prepared responses to deal with the same tired questions about your relationship that sometimes reads like a news conference.
3. Realizing that, even with all other things being equal (social class, education, etc.), you will always see some things differently.
Obviously, the only data we have to form our opinions on the world are our experiences. And race, like it or not, is a part of that experience. Being in an interracial relationship means that there are some instances that you simply cannot share with your significant other as far as lived experiences go. I’m talking about that feeling of being followed in a store and knowing it’s because of your race. Or small comments that you know were digs at your ethnicity. Depending on what their identity is and what yours is, no matter how hard they may empathize, they simply cannot fully comprehend. And that is just really hard, no matter how used to it you may get.
In some ways, this is a good thing because you get to see the world through their eyes. You learn from them and they learn from you. But understand that your partner will never know your world like you do and that’s ok.
4. People who will fetishize your interracial relationship.
As a Black woman, you may have already been dealing with distinguishing between people who are into you as a fetish, and people who are into you, period. But as your relationship goes on, you’ll often come across people who are creepily fascinated by it. To the point where they want a step-by-step guide on how to be in such a relationship of their own.
It shouldn’t be so hard to believe , but a lot of people in interracial relationships didn’t necessarily make being in one, a goal. Mostly, you meet people, you enjoy their company, you go from there. Either way, it’s sometimes laughable (and sometimes a bore) if you’re in an interracial relationship to come across people who fetishize it like some sort of exotic experience.
5. Constantly having to remind yourself (and your significant other), that your racial differences are not the cause of any underlying issues.
In interracial relationships, it’s very easy to default to the belief that ALL of the issues that you might face, or any unresolved problems, will almost always be about race. In the heat of the moment, you’ll often find yourself exhausted at the prospect of confronting those differences of culture and experience and, worse, assuming they are the root of the issue. However, it’s important to know that sometimes racial or cultural differences have nothing to do with whatever challenge you might be facing. This is true even when you acknowledge that the differences are important. The reality is, just like any relationship, there are whole host of reasons you will have to deal with, and work through. So this might be the only time I’ll ever say this, but don’t make everything about race.
That being said, for your relationship to work, you can’t ever make race the elephant in the room that you don’t talk about. You HAVE to talk about it. Because ultimately, many other people around you will too.