Finding partnered happiness as a third culture child
October 30, 2017 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I recently turned 30 and I am unhappily single. I have a great friends who support me and I've never been happier with my life. However, I have also never been lonelier. Long snowflake détails inside.

I emigrated from a West African country to America when I was 9 and and recently I found out that I've been suffering from depression since I was 12. I was an unhappy child, an unhappy teenager, and a mostly suicidal adult. I've only been on medication for the past three years and since then my life is turned around. I'm much happier and have a little bit brighter Outlook towards the future. The substantial details for my life have not changed much but my emotional quality of life has been much much higher.
One of the things that changed was that I realized that it was okay to not keep punishing myself and being alone out of self loathing.

However I've never been in a relationship and I've been trying to date for the last three years with little success. I knew it's a fact that dating is a numbers game but as someone who is coded as black I got very little response with OKCupid; 6 OKC dates in 3 years. I've sent hundreds of messages and I have my profile regularly looked over and sometimes updated by female friends. And it's a little bit frustrating to see my friends who have much less thoughtful profiles easily find dates and eventually partners through this system and it's hard to not feel jealous.

I'm living in a fairly large town in Central Virginia because it's close to where my family and my sisters are and where I went to University, which I still need to finish. And I don't think moving is an option in the next three years if I'm trying to rebuild my professional CV from having worked outside the states for the past 4 years in a vague field with seemingly untransferable skills.

I engage socially with my own hobbies and I do some volunteering however I don't use these as ways to find potential partners because everybody is there to do the thing not get a boyfriend. I am very good with long-distance friendships and some of my best friends are ones that I met on an IRC Channel.

At this point in my life I'm feeling a lot of pressure from adult males in my family to be partnered and have a family even though I just recently realized what it's like to actually feel happiness.

Should I just live in the moment and just give up on trying to find a partner like it's a second part-time job or is there something else that I could be doing? The loneliness is strong but not crushing, as I seem to be getting a good baseline amount of social interaction.

Other third culture kids on metafilter how did you meet your current life partner?
posted by tedious to Human Relations (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
These struggles are real and hard. I think you'll have much better luck offline and in more social/community groups. It can be nerve wracking to get off the internet and find a group of people to tag along with, but it'll be worth it. I think many people feel "different" in some way, but those differences are something to celebrate. And there are people out there who feel that way and who are excited to date someone from a different culture and learn about them. (Online shopping-style dating sucks).

As for pressure to be partnered from adult males in your family, they may not know what is the best. (In fact they don't). It's ok to chase the glimpse of happiness that you've found at this point in life. You should celebrate your forward strides. They should be supporting your professional success, but whatever.

Maybe you can join a group for people in your intended professional area?

But yes, it's ok to be you, single or partnered or whatever. It's an achievement to be your own best friend (or get better at that), and I think that will serve you well when you find someone.
posted by karmachameleon at 10:51 AM on October 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Firstly, I am so sorry your emotional path thus far has been so tortuous.

I am curious as to why you mention being a third culture child, or feel that is what is holding you back from finding a partner. Don't get me wrong - I'm a third culture child and while I was dating there were very real gaps in cultural understanding and practice with potential partners. However, it was never a dealbreaker, especially with honest, upfront communication. There have been some people in my community who've consistently had trouble keeping a relationship going, but it was always due to other aspects of their lives or personality, not the fact that they were third-culture. Also, I personally know at least a hundred individuals my age (mid-thirties) whose families have been in the United States for centuries, or are first-generation or second-generation, who are single and unable to find partners for whatever reason.

Being raised in a comparatively liberal environment while surrounded by family who are still steeped in their native traditions becomes a challenging life to navigate, with choices that may not always please your elders. Ask me how I know.

I don't know how being black may play a part in all of this, especially in Central Virginia, but statistically I believe black women are impacted more in online dating than black men are. My partner is African-American from the South, I'm South Asian, and neither of us have particularly found our race to be a significant factor in finding a partner. We met at a bar, on New Years Eve, when neither of us particularly wanted to be in a relationship. Things went slow at first, and two years after we met we finally committed to a relationship together.

You come across as self-aware and well-spoken, but you also seem like you're being very hard on yourself. You mention self-loathing that has lessened over time and I'm glad that your emotional quality of life has improved. However, it could be that your depression, coupled with the intense need to be partnered is giving off a vibe that potential dates may find dissuading.

You cannot continue to straddle your West African culture and American culture in this particular aspect, as it may drive you up the wall. Since you are choosing to look for a partner using "western" practices rather than an arranged marriage or other cultural practice, you do need to try to ignore the rumblings and outright criticism of your family. My West African friends, male and female, talk about how strong the pressure can be to marry and start families, so I do understand that this may be hard especially in light of your past personal struggles. Be strong, in this regard. You mention a good friend support group that you get positive social interaction from. Spend more time on cultivating those friendships so that you get your emotional support from them. In the aftermath of my divorce from a horrendously patriarchal family (yay, third culture family pressures!), my friends were kinder to me than family were, and I will never forget it.

So... the answer to "Should I just live in the moment and just give up on trying to find a partner like it's a second part-time job or is there something else that I could be doing?" is yes. Focus on further improving your quality of life, and building your confidence in yourself. This is ultimately what will help you to find a partner, because as cliche as it sounds, you have to love yourself before someone else will. Finding a partner is never a part-time job. It is actually an exercise in shoring up one's own self-awareness, confidence, and expectation management. At 30, you're still young by Western standards of settling down with a partner, so give yourself the credit of having time on your side and congratulate yourself on making the positive strides you have in your emotional journey.

I also want to throw it out there that if finding a partner is your top priority, then perhaps asking your family to help you meet someone may not be disastrous. There are third-culture males I know who have been raised from a very young age in the United States, who've been introduced to prospective partners through family of family friends, and a surprising number of those marriages have worked out. Western conventions dictate that one must be aghast at "arranged marriages" but the nuances of modern-day 'arrangements' are in reality not far removed from the practice of dating, especially given how hard it is these days to find compatible partners.
posted by Everydayville at 12:01 PM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone else who has suffered from depression for most of my life, my advice is to concentrate on finishing school for now. That will take most of your emotional energy, even with moral support from friends and family. Leave yourself open to romance if it happens, but you don't need to let it become so important that you take your eyes off the prize.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:28 PM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about trying one of the Black-specific dating sites, like blackpeoplemeet? It might at least get you more responses so you can feel like you're keeping your hand in the game even as you focus on school and your other fulfilling activities.
posted by TwoStride at 12:46 PM on October 30, 2017

I don't know if I count as Third Culture (mother was a Hindu immigrant from a former British colony, father was an Anglo-Christian North American), but I will add these two cents that you really do need to love yourself and know yourself to date well in the Western World. I can't speak for white women though I'm sure they go through it too: we don't get well mirrored, and I think it's extra-true for women of color, no matter where they are coming from in North America, because race-relations are so inflated into mental problems here (I have stories; I will not go on; just trust that you need to be your own best expert).

The loneliness is strong but not crushing, as I seem to be getting a good baseline amount of social interaction.

You know, I've struggled with how much of my dating experiences are an artifact of post-colonial racial injustice or just typical challenges in sexism. But this feeling I've come to carefully detangle as normal biological attachment angst, and I think it's normal for people our age (20s-30s) who are single and childless to feel very acutely. "Normally" we would have that part of our brain satisfied through partnering and children; it seems to me it's only very recently that women have had the opportunities to not get those attachment needs met by making kids to keep around. The loneliness is strong but not crushing; that lizard part of the brain is alive but not in charge.

Do go live your life, finish school, get your life in order, and take the pressure off yourself for not having "successfully" figured out a boyfriend into your life yet. Use your good baseline amount of social interaction to remind your lizard brain that its attachment needs are getting met (just not through the biological process of coupling and producing children at this time). Revel in your identity, your uniqueness, what your needs are and how you thrive as a real human being. And when a good candidate person comes along, trust that your energy will resonate and be ready to let it happen.

I think the loneliness you're describing is somewhat biologically normal at this age, and I think that's partly due to how our brains were wired to feel secure about their own biological survival. I found it easier to manage for once I understood what it was -- oh, my lizard brain believes it's literally going to die again because it doesn't have a parent/lover/child to soothe the attachment angst right now. So easy to misinterpret as a personal failing! Very possible to re-direct.

Btw Everydayville's comment is so wonderfully articulate. Thank you so much for acknowledging the role of 'arrangement' as an adapted reality in the West, and not just some degenerate practice done in 'other' cultures.
posted by human ecologist at 12:53 PM on October 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm feeling a lot of pressure from adult males in my family to be partnered and have a family
How do you feel about this? Do you feel like you have an obligation to meet their expectations? Are their opinions important to you? Do you feel like they're caring about YOU when they say these things? Do they want to see you happy, or to just fit into what they think you should do? How much of wanting a partner is their pressure, how much of it is something *you* want? (Sorry to barrage you with so many questions; didn't mean to come off so interrogative, just want to check that you are doing the things you want for yourself, and not the things others want you to do for them).

I hate that family pressure shit. Family can be tough, and there are additional challenges if you're a woman of colour in North America. I don't know what your town is like but if it's not very diverse, it can be hard living in white spaces. My reference - Asian, born and raised in Canada with immigrant parents, so while I don't have your exact experience, I can empathize a little?

Time for a slightly cheesy interlude. I saw these tweets by my favourite baseball player today (who is Puerto Rican/African-American):

"Do what makes you happy. Who cares about what they’ll say. They’re not you, and you’re not them. Internal happiness promotes life!"

"Hate seeing people get discouraged or try to change, based off the opinions of unimportant sources." [not to imply that your family members are unimportant; interpret this as you see fit]

(He is always so upbeat, passionate and driven. I admire him a lot.)

On preview, human ecologist's comment is brilliant, as usual. I heart human ecologist <3
posted by foxjacket at 1:12 PM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all your kind responses.

I guess I should have been clear about what a couple things; my desire to be partnered comes mostly from my desire for touch. I can't imagine another way that someone would hold my hand, give me hugs, let me lay on their stomach, cuddle, etc, except by being partnered. And I know that doing those things would inevitably lead to romantic feelings, so as much as I love my friends, I don't want them to be a source of physical comfort for me as that would cross some obvious boundaries. My main source of physical comfort right now are my siblings, which while great is, gets harder as we all get older and farther from each other.

karmachameleon: I'm currently working in the printing industry and I would like to move to IT. Neither of these have really professional networking/mixers nearby.

everydayville: I don't approach people with the explicit intent to immediately be coupled, but it's simply a thing that I am constantly aware; I'm pretty sure if anything, I give off an overly friendly and approachable vibe, as people tend to think I'm very gregarious. I think I will try to use this idea of arrangement to communicate to those I think can help that I am looking. This is a good idea, thank you.

Also, to be clear, I'm a cishet male.
posted by tedious at 4:15 AM on October 31, 2017

I will echo the points above - the thing that matters the most is that you are happy with yourself and are growing in ways that you intend to grow. but since it seems like you seem relatively well-to-do in that category and the specific issue that you've illustrated is the lack of dates and not the lack of being able to be yourself on said dates, my main recommendation would be to try other dating sites and apps

YMMV but Tinder worked magnitudes better for me than OKC. I'm speaking as an male-presenting Asian-American which, according to most dating sites, is supposed to be the demo with the lowest match percentages for the male-identified. there's just... more people on Tinder, a lot more. and while everybody says it's used for hooking up, my experience of it was that the profiles for hooking up stated it fairly plainly (ie short, pickup lines, not looking for anything serious) and the ones asking for something more substantial were actually in the majority. you just had to put in the work to create the profile for your ideal person and forget lowering your standards to increase your match percentage or whatever - it doesn't sound like you're looking for a one-off relationship nor the arbitrary and sexist validation of having some arbitrarily high quantity of matches

and, for the record - if you're the kind of person who is socially conscious and needs your partner to also be that way, doing in-person dating activities like rock climbing or networking or whatever is a crapshoot and is exhausting. dating people with whom you already agree on a lot of things is already exhausting; dating someone you find out has problematic views is just asking for anxiety. skip that mess!
posted by runt at 7:52 AM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

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