Growing up as a British Indian in London, I’d never even thought about the color of someone’s skin when it came to dating. Then I met my partner: a “cute but farmy Canadian guy” (a quote from a Facebook message I sent to a friend at the time). I always thought he’d have a hard time navigating my South Asian customs, but it’s also been a learning experience for me to adjust to his white Canadian—and specifically Prairie—ways.
After five years with him, here are some of the most important things I’ve learnt from being in an interracial relationship.
Advocacy is key.
“Why do Punjabis sound angry all the time?”
“Your family is from Kenya? Are they still swinging from the trees?”
“Did they tie their turbans too tight?”
“Do you have maple syrup with everything?”
“Does your family play the banjo on the front porch?”
“We’re getting white-girl wasted—well, apart from you, Naina.”
These are just some of the phrases my partner and I have heard from extended family and friends over the years, and none of them are acceptable. What we’ve both learnt is that not being racist is not enough. Being anti-racist, advocating for change, and calling others in is what makes us both feel supported in our relationship as an interracial couple. As a white male, my partner never dismisses or makes excuses for my experiences with racism. Sure, there have definitely been times where we’ve looked at each other like deer in the headlights—not quite sure if a comment was inappropriate or not—but usually, he can tell from my laser-beam eye contact if I am left feeling a certain way. He doesn’t ignore it and takes it upon himself to be anti-racist.
Taking an active stance on educating ourselves and not expecting the other person to do the work for us, as well as learning that it’s okay to ask questions, has been essential in our relationship.
Accept that there are things you’ll never understand, and that’s okay.
Coconut oil head massages, pouring milk onto a statue of Lord Shiva, keeping your boyfriend a secret until marriage, appreciating the vast Prairie land, being outside until your toes are numb, the smell of cowpat. My partner and I have had our fair share of things we simply will never understand—and that is okay, as long as we continue to have respect for one another.
There aren’t just two identities in our relationship, either: not only are we experiencing Punjabi and Canadian cultures, but we also have my British culture in the mix. One day, my partner caught me eating jalapenos out of the jar. His first thought: was I pregnant? “No,” I said. “I just really needed to eat something spicy.” My tastebuds crave a spicy curry at least every two weeks; likewise, my partner craves a simple meat, potatoes, and vegetable meal (albeit less of the vegetables). We understand these things about each other and are happy to accommodate.
Culturally, affection comes in many forms.
You know that scene in teen movies when the couple is canoodling, and then a parent walks in and they push each other away and off the bed? Well, that’s still me at 30 years old. A huge part of our relationship as an interracial couple is learning cultural boundaries, especially when it comes to affection.
In South Asian culture, even when you’re married, it’s inappropriate to even pop your feet up on your significant other in front of your elders. “I want to show your parents that I love and care for you,” my partner told me on a trip to London. I replied that it’s just not respectful to parade your affection around like that. Yet, my partner will kiss me goodbye in front of his own parents and cuddle me on the sofa. Although I sometimes feel uncomfortable with it, knowing it wouldn’t be approved of in my family, I’ve learnt to embrace it and enjoy the openness over the years. We’ve both established a mutual respect and understanding for these cultural boundaries.
Ultimately, I think the best way to show your willingness to understand and give your partner strength in an interracial relationship is to simply ask: “How can I support you?” The heartbeat of our relationship is open communication.