Culture drove us apart?
February 8, 2009 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Will cultural differences always matter?

I met a woman in college that i became instantly enourmed with - but during the time we didn't date because i was involved in a relationship, and she didnt seem interested. We were friend for years, to the point where i drove her to the ER after a bad night of drinking and OD'ing on medication. The event was somewhat traumatic and was engrained in my mind. Years past with little contact and one night we ran into each other at the bar and started dating from that moment on. For 2 years we dated, we did have some issues at first as seen on my other posts on Ask.metaftiler.

There was a time when we both believed we'd marry one another and whatever obstacles existed would be challenges. Well that changed completely one evening...Long story short, after various bouts, she seemingly decided the cultural differences are enough for her to not only fall out of love but break up. The event has been traumatic for me none the less.

I've always felt like the whitest indian kid around with no real attachment to my native culture though i was always respectful of my parents. At the same time, i by no means have a complete "American" family/culture.

Not only am i broken hearted, im starting to become very jaded that my differences will chase me my entire life and though i have great friends and have dated women outside of my race, i am starting to believe i'll eventually have to settle based on race/skin color. I've always been attracted to and have only dated caucasian women - at maybe a time in our lives when culture didnt matter...but now i am starting to become discouraged that ill ever find one that would want to marry me.

In the recent years, i've felt lost completely - i was born Hindu but have no desire to practice it, im also not interested in other religions out there. Im also becomming slowly detached to my native culture.

I'm starting to lose hope that people are able to fall in love despite these differences. I'm starting to think my "differences" will chase me my entire life. And though im young, i feel like i'll never fall in love the same as i did with this woman.

And there aren't questions in this post, but does anyone have similar life stories or suggestions?
posted by AMP583 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Differences between people will always matter to some degree. How those differences are managed, though, can go a long way toward how much they matter. And yeah, there is such a thing as an insurmountable difference. Whether the differences between you two are insurmountable is hard to say.
posted by Rykey at 2:32 PM on February 8, 2009

You say she broke up with you citing cultural differences. What differences? Were there actual conflicts between the two of you that arose from your wanting to do things in a culturally Indian way while she wanted to do things in a culturally American way? Because my immediate impression was that she probably just felt awkward saying "I'm breaking up with you" and so she decided to make an excuse--"I'm breaking up with you because we're too culturally different."
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2009

I'm wondering what you're referring to when you talk about cultural differences. I'd say I'm largely in the same boat-- Indian-American, dated mostly non-Indian girls, and my Indian identity is not really very strong in the traditional sense.
The conflict I've always felt is that to marry a non-Indian would constitute a cultural issue more with my family than with me, while to marry an Indian girl (especially one who was not born in America) would be more of an issue with me (the standards & expectations I have for male/female relations as someone raised in America) rather than with my family.
The issue sort of works out like this -- whenever I've been serious enough with a non-Indian girl to start thinking about these sorts of things, I start to work out the overall awkwardness of her being a part of my family, which is presently mostly in India and is conscious of class & race issues related to marriage in the way that only Indian middle class families are. And whenever I go to India and find myself smitten with a young woman (say a cousin's friend or some such thing), I start to parse the potential for disaster in a relationship between people who grew up with potentially very different values and attitudes about love, sex, and marriage.

Then I realize I'm too young to be sweating any of this. I've decided to take the Popeye attitude and deal with things as they come.
posted by kid_dynamite at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2009

One white girl throws you over using "cultural differences" as her excuse and now you're ready to write off the entire Caucasoid race? Your broken heart is affecting your ability to see things objectively. Your statement, "I feel I'll never fall in love the same as I did with this woman" is the mantra of the dumped. There are many people out there with happy intercultural/interracial marriages. I'm one of them. We struggled with race, language and culture issues at first. We put up with much BS from extended family on both sides. It's smooth sailing for us now, and for lots of other people, so don't lose hope.
posted by Crotalus at 2:43 PM on February 8, 2009

Because my immediate impression was that she probably just felt awkward saying "I'm breaking up with you" and so she decided to make an excuse--"I'm breaking up with you because we're too culturally different."

Yeah. This.
posted by Crotalus at 2:44 PM on February 8, 2009

My parents - a FOB Muslim Indian-Pakistani and a FOB Italian Catholic - met and fell and love. Sure, my mom's family was truly shocked at her choice of spouse and sent hate mail to the two of them, but human beings can create connecting points, as my parents did despite many many many differences.

All relationships take work and they fall apart from a variety of issues. Personally, I'm very skeptical about blaming this entirely on "culture." Perhaps people don't want to reconcile their "differences" or go the extra effort to deal with conflict, or they simply don't see eye to eye on things. But these are human clashes, not cultural ones. An Indian from Chennia and Delhi are not going to have the same culture, and a white woman from NYC and Texas are not going to have the same culture. Hell, two people from the same town in Texas are not going to have the same culture.

It might do you well to stop thinking about culture so much. You are who you are who you are. Find someone that loves you for this. Love someone else for this. Create your own "culture" outside of the boxes and Venn diagrams. I know this might be especially difficult to do with family when you've shared so many of the same environmental conditions and experiences, and if you want to "detach (from your) native culture" please make sure you don't do so because it's a form of rebelling from the old school, but because you yourself sincerely have no interest in some traditions.

Culture doesn't exist outside of people. People make culture. All of us have a part in this making.
posted by raztaj at 2:45 PM on February 8, 2009

I share a lot of what you just said. I was born into a Subcontinental culture (Pakistan), and I was engaged to an American girl who was half Mexican/Irish.

In the beginning, things were great. We proclaimed we'd move past the cultural stuff. But then, slowly, little things began poking their ugly head up. First, she wanted any of our kids raised Catholic. Then, she said that living in Mexico was something that had to happen at some point in her life and was non-negotiable. The final straw came when she said I would have to attend Catholic Mass each and every week with her and any future kids we would have. I refused to do this, and our relationship ended.

Looking back, I see a few things that were at play:

1. There were other things wrong with the relationship, and I refused to see it at the time.

2. She was likely using the cultural differences reason to not have to deal with the real reason our relationship was in trouble.

3. We say that cultural differences won't matter, but in the end, they do. Your culture, even if you're not very in touch with it, does affect who you are and how you interact with people, how you think, and who you are. Marrying someone from a different culture means there will inherently be some friction. It is up to both parties to try to get past this friction together. If only one person is putting forth the effort, it won't work.

4. Love doesn't make any sense. These things often happen for no reason. It could be the end, or it could be another hiccup. The worst thing you can do is try to force things.

I've been there, and it won't be an easy road recovering from this. But, you will recover, and you will meet someone who is better for you.
posted by reenum at 2:46 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm of the "It's not Culture, it's People camp". I've lived and worked in over 10 countries, and when you get down to basics, people have the same wants and needs.

Happily married for the last 9 years to Mrs arcticseal. I'm white Anglican Brit, she's Chinese/Canadian/Malaysian from a different denomination. Different backgrounds/cultures, but we find common ground and love our differences.

I think she's using cultural difference as an excuse. What Crotalus said. She wasn't the one for you, but someone else will be.
posted by arcticseal at 3:05 PM on February 8, 2009

Maybe I didn't read closely enough, but you have another option: A girl who's in the same boat as you. Another technically-Indian, but not very strong in the cultural/religious department. You know, a so-called "ABCD." I'm one of them, and before ending up with my wife, I dated more than a few ABCDs. There's no shortage of dating sites (if you're open to the whole Internet thing) if you want to explore that avenue. I've seen plenty of happy couples -- even married ones -- where both parties were ABCDs.

Naturally, it narrows down your potential dating pool a lot, but you won't be able to beat the degree of "really understanding where you come from" that you'd get from someone else who's walked the same paths.

In a large enough metro area, you can find plenty of fellow ABCDs. I'm not saying you need to make it your only dating pool; just throw it into the mix.

Of course, if you live in, say, central Utah, this will be easier said than done . . .
posted by CommonSense at 3:12 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm an American-born Indian-American who married an American girl, and after nearly nine years, am finding myself soon to be single again. The culture gap wasn't a direct reason for the divorce, but I realize now that being raised by my parents, whose marriage was arranged, had a profound affect on how I approached my marriage. It wasn't good or bad, but it was different.

When I find myself looking forward, I don't know what's going to happen next time around. Different parts of me want different things, and my overall judgement right now is pretty cloudy. I guess thats not much help.

If you want to talk about it more, my AIM screenname is in my profile. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well as bounce my thoughts off of someone too.
posted by AaRdVarK at 3:18 PM on February 8, 2009

You sound like you mainly want to hear that you're not doomed to have your life completely determined by the ethnicity or skin color you were born into, and that's understandable. You know by now that cross-cultural relationships and marriages are reasonably common in North America. Plenty of them work out very well. I'm from a culture similar to yours. My relationships have all been cross-cultural and have all been happy ones. I have both relatives and friends in cross-cultural marriages that have lasted happily since the early 1970s. (That said, cross-cultural relationships have more potential trigger points for failure.)

I read a couple of your previous posts. It sounds like you've had a pretty dramatic on-again, off-again relationship, and that the language barrier and differences in communication between her family and yours have been one of the trigger points. Sometimes that's just how it works, and maybe it's not about you, it's about the fact that she doesn't want to have to deal with language barriers, with feeling strange every time she visits your parents, with potential tension between the grandparents over the way any children would be raised. All of these things can get tiring if they happen (they don't always happen). There's nothing wrong with her feeling that way, but unfortunately for you, it does mean that maybe you can't marry her in particular.

That doesn't mean that every non-Indian woman is going to feel that way. You know that. You know that there are examples of successful cross-culture relationships out there.

Was there some specific incident that triggered the break-up? It's hard to tell whether one of you was asking for more than the other, or whether it was just a matter of long-term drama finally being too much.
posted by jeeves at 3:22 PM on February 8, 2009

Being of similar ethnic background and position to yourself but older, my advice is relax and don't worry about it. Your previous questions make it obvious the relationship had issues, and it's likely this excuse (real or perceived) was just a mechanism she used to make it easier for herself to extricate herself.

There will be girls (believe me, there WILL) who will find your background, culture and circumstances an attraction and endearing point, and will respect and love you for it. Not to get too cheesy or corny about it, but having lived in 4 different countries in 3 different continents, one of which was the USA, IMHO there is no place in the whole wide world that is more accepting and where everyone plays a part than the USA.

Finally, I would advise you to be who you want to be, if you like and are attracted exclusively to caucasian girls, by all means pursue just those. If you feel detached from your native culture, by all means find another that suits you more -- in being more sure and confident in yourself, you will likely attract a mate who accepts and respects you for who you are.

MEFI mail me if you have any questions or want a sounding board.
posted by gadha at 3:35 PM on February 8, 2009

Sometimes people give reasons to end relationships, but those reasons tend to be only part of the truth. If someone is into you enough, those reasons wouldn't matter.
posted by parallax7d at 3:45 PM on February 8, 2009

Well, the US has a pretty broad cultural diversity in and of itself, what might cause issues with one woman won't be an issue with another.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on February 8, 2009

Cultural differences didn't drive you apart. She dumped you, not your culture. If she was really into you, then no "cultural differences" or any other excuse would matter.

Sorry man, chin up, better luck next time.
posted by parallax7d at 4:03 PM on February 8, 2009

There are a couple of strange things about your question.

(1) You give the impression in your question that you love this woman deeply, and say you're 'heartbroken' about her leaving you. But you never say you actually love her; the word you use is enourmed (I think you mean "enamoured"). I would think that was just a fluke of your phrasing and not a genuine indication of your thinking if it weren't for this: the only detail you mention about her is that she drank too much and overdosed on medication. I know that's not necessarily the most evil thing a person can do, but you're in love with this person, totally heartbroken over her, and the only thing you say about her is that she overdosed on medication once and traumatized her.

I felt this way before I went and looked at your ask.metafilter history as you suggested. Now, it's even more obvious; you've been struggling with the relationship for almost two years, breaking up periodically and then coming back together.

I don't think the heartbreak you feel is over her. I think it's your wounded pride. That's okay; it's no sin to be hurt when this kind of thing happens. This was a tough process.

(2) You're very concerned about your cultural status. She told you that she was breaking up with you because of cultural issues. She seems to think that all of the problems you two had stemmed from cultural differences. This is probably true. I'll say it again: this relationship probably ended because of cultural differences. However, it's not nearly so simple as she thinks.

Every person has a host of complicated issues they inherit from their parents. This is as true for every person born and raised in the United States as it is for anybody from anywhere else. We have beliefs that we believe without even consider them, and a lot of times those beliefs get us into trouble. People in any culture have to spend a significant portion of their adult lives trying to sort out the stuff they got from their parents and deciding what to accept and what to reject. Personally, I was raised an Evangelical, and I've since left that tradition behind. The strange thing is, I often find it more difficult than most to come to terms with past issues because I tend to assume that I've already dealt with issues that I still have to go through. I like to tell myself I've already put my parents' crap behind me, but I'm constantly finding myself doing or saying things that they'd do.

I'm not saying all this because I think that you need to work on your issues or because I think she was "right to leave you." I'm saying this because I think you were clinging to this relationship because it helped you define who you were; it was a constant symbol that you'd 'moved on from your past issues,' and that kept you having to actually spend time facing them. Being suddenly alone with them is naturally unsettling. But - being afraid of being alone with difficult and painful issues is no reason to stay in a relationship that's clearly not working.

(3) I don't know if this is a 'cultural' thing or not, but love, romantic love, is certainly not the most important thing in the world. And it's not the only ingredient of a lasting relationship. 'Differences' happen in every relationship, and every relationship deals with them. But you two have been back and forth the whole time together. No matter why all that happened, it's impossible for you two to have a lasting relationship now. So if "love" is some eternal form, perfect and unchanging, that two people can take part in and form lasting relationships (and I believe it is) then you two haven't been in love in a long, long time. That's okay; love isn't really about the feelings you feel, anyhow. So stop worrying that your own issues will prevent you from ever forming a lasting relationship with the only kind of person you would feel comfortable having a lasting relationship with. That's certainly a possibility - it's possible for anybody to let their issues get in the way of lasting relationships; if it weren't, then everybody would be married for life. The trick is, worrying about it won't change a thing. Just live, be who you are, and don't spend too much time clinging to one bad relationship.
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I was trying to keep the posting as short as possible...
When i met her in college, she was the first women i had a crush on while i was dating another woman for 3 years - it stuck out to me at the time as being a serious flaw in my current relationship but also meaningful since i obviously was happy with my then current mate.

The portion that is difficult is the fact we actually were able to act on this "love" years later - which signifies an accomplishment on its own.

I do love this woman for many reasons but the fact that i essentially saved her life, strengthened my bond. It was her who pursued me years later which also signifies some importance...

but in the end, she wasn't really that into me, for this wouldn't have happened if she were.
posted by AMP583 at 4:24 PM on February 8, 2009

This was said above:

>Sometimes people give reasons to end relationships, but those reasons tend to be only part of the truth.

My first reaction was that she may be citing cultural differences as a cover for the fact that the cultural differences are a big deal for her family. Some people can be strong against family prejudices; some cannot.

And I would go back and reread reenum's response. It says a great deal.
posted by yclipse at 5:16 PM on February 8, 2009

Indian (and not Indian-American) guy here, engaged to Caucasian woman for almost 6 months. There are always some differences in the couples, more so if they are from different cultures. But I believe it really depends on the individuals to ride over these differences; certainly it takes some amount patience and work. In all probability, it seems like (a) your ex-girlfriend left because of some other reasons, and she blamed it on the cultural differences as it is the easiest reason to give for the break-up, or (b) she was simply not much into you to be able to put in some extra work to understand and overcome the cultural differences.

In either case, it simply tells something about individuals involved--you and your ex-- and you should not let this dishearten you. Trust me, with the right person, the cultural differences will not be an obstacle, but will only enrich your relationship.

Good luck!

To give you a view from both sides, here's what my fiance has to say on this:

--- my message to you is don't give up. There are people out there who find cultural differences enlightening and not a barrier to getting to know someone closer. More culture, more diversity of experiences, more perspectives --the right person for you would want this opportunity to live life through a different set of experiences, yours, cultural and perspectives in general.

It is worthwhile to consider that cultural difference is not the only type of difference that pulls couples apart. Compatibility is built on daily habits, attitudes about family or self, preferences in sex, and *a wave length component* This last part, named with an unusual term, means that you and your future girlfriend have ideas that you want to share with each other, conversations that provide meaning for both of you, an understanding of each other's values, a desire to treat each other well and with respect, and a type of friendship.

If you are interested about the compatibility theory, check out the book Will Our Love Last: A Couples Roadmap. But, remember, that compatibility is also something that can change over time --sometimes people begin relationships with sub-conscious motives --it is more important to understand and keep in mind some of the topics covered in this book rather than to use it to make final decisions.

All the best to you! Find someone who will make you feel free. Let you be you.
posted by coolnik at 5:25 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suspect that the next time the planet in its entirety faces a sudden, credible, widely recognizable, and more or less immediate threat of mass extinction (and word of it spreads), cultural differences will evaporate.
posted by Muirwylde at 5:47 PM on February 8, 2009

Will cultural differences always matter?
Any two of us have some cultural differences. We were raised in different families with different expectations of us, learned different habits and tolerances, religions (or none), and came to be our own individual persons, etc. But there is usually more to join us than to divide us. So no, you aren't doomed by culture, you're enriched by it. You bring who you are to the relationship, as she does. The differences that divided you were your individual differences, not your two cultures' differences.

She offered you a vague cover for her issues rather than making more specific complaints, possibly to avoid opening a debate about them, if - as it seems - she had already made up her mind.

I'm starting to think my "differences" will chase me my entire life.
Sort of. They're part of who you are. They need not chase you. Some of them will keep you company for your entire life. Some you'll embrace as strengths. You'll decide some no longer serve you as they once did and will choose to leave them behind. Eventually we find someone who understands our strengths and enjoys who we are, and accepts us where we're less strong. But more to the point, so will you become better able to enjoy her strengths and accept her where she's less strong.
What did you learn about yourself while you were with her? What did you learn from the breakup? If the breakup is still fresh, those might not be clear yet. But if we'll listen, those are the gifts each relationship gives us, strengths to bring into the next one.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2009

AMP583: but in the end, she wasn't really that into me, for this wouldn't have happened if she were.

I guess my point wasn't that she wasn't into you; it was that she wasn't very good for you (or even good to you) and, although I know the reaction that probably comes when you read those kinds of words ('but I do love her! And she's wonderful!') you need to have the self-respect and the pride to build a life for yourself that is good for you.

"I loved her, but she just wasn't into me" is a trap. That trap will waste your time.

On the scale between love and indifference, very few of us have perfect love. Most of us are in between. What you have to do is have enough love for yourself and for her to recognize that this really hasn't been working for either of you. Most of us have a real problem with this because our love is on a level where it's hard for us to let go of the people we love; we want to cling to them. That doesn't make us happy.

Part of letting go, my friend, will be the realization that you and her haven't been nearly as happy as you might like to believe, and that you have plenty to live for beyond her.
posted by koeselitz at 6:03 PM on February 8, 2009

Either culture played a role in your breakup or it didn't. If she used culture as a subterfuge because she really wanted to break up with you for another reason, culture isn't the problem. If she broke up with you because of or partially because of culture disconnect or whatever, then culture still isn't the problem. The problem is that she is unable, for whatever reason, to work around the differences to be with you. (You should also be able to work with these differences, but she broke up with you without mentioning this as a problem, I assume.) This is not a value judgment, different things are important to different people in relationships, and this is key. Her ability/willingness to work with cultural differences has nothing to do with that ability in women the world around, all women are different.

As another data point of cultural differences working out, my bf and I have been together for 6 years, are planning to get married at some point in the distant future. He is Korean, raised Catholic, and his parents are religious, conservative, and generally think of women in terms of pretty wombs for their grandchildren. I'm white, raised atheist, and my parents are old pot-smoking hippies who taught me all about feminism. We make it work, and we even like each other's families. The key is just to respect the differences and not try to force change where change ain't gonna happen.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:01 PM on February 8, 2009

I'm not sure where you live - I'm in California, so evidence of interracial, intercultural relationships for the whole spectrum of healthy and unhealthy reasons abound. So, I might suggest that statistically your chances of finding the type of love you are looking for in the future might depend a bit on where you live, and where you're looking. Hopefully, you're living in a rather multicultural town, which I think helps, because it has numerous examples of the different ways that people have come to terms, and have normalized the whole respecting and accepting differences thing.

Lastly, I'm not sure how to say this delicately, because you like who you like, and it's always such a quirky mix of history and biology and socialization in terms of who we are attracted to, but you might scare away many of the healthy caucasian women out there if your words or actions suggest that being with a woman of your own race is 'settling', or use language like you're concerned that you are 'never going to find one (a caucasian) to marry you'. Because in the end I can't really think of any woman who enjoys feeling as if they are interchangable based on something they can't change,like their race or culture (because it's kind of like saying that *any* caucasian woman would do, no matter her beliefs, interests, etc). It stops people from feeling like they are appreciated for all of their individual qualities.

(Random little side, which the mods can feel free to delete): There was a recent article in a prominent magazine I saw about the 'hottest singles in town "X" (that shall remain nameless)' where a rather nice looking caucasian man explained that his dream date was something like 'halle berry taking him to beyonce's house for Jessica Alba's surprise birthday party'. I'm pretty sure his intention wasn't to scare off every woman of color in range of that magazine's circulation, but that's exactly what he did. Poor man probably still is single.)

Best of luck to you.
posted by anitanita at 11:38 PM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

If she was really into you, then no "cultural differences" or any other excuse would matter.

...Except that cultural differences can totally be a factor in her being "into you." It's a wonderfully maddening "chicken or egg" situation.
posted by Rykey at 3:28 AM on February 9, 2009

There will always be cultural differences between people, even between two people of the same race. A person from upper New York will have a cultural difference with someone from lower New York.

It's not about culture, it's about a willingness to adapt to keep the relationship growing.

I think she was just looking for an excuse for what its' worth. Either that or she wasn't willing to adapt enough to "fit" in. Either way, the next woman may. Or she may not like you just because you have a huge left arm. There are a zillion reasons for people to split up, only one reason to stay together. Because you like each other and want to stay together.
posted by almostwitty at 5:48 AM on February 9, 2009

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