I don’t think I realized that I was in an interracial relationship until someone told me. I’d been dating my then-boyfriend for a couple of months, and our first languages were different — in fact, we had grown up in different countries. But our races, per sé, didn’t seem worth mentioning until the entire world decided to start wondering what our (non-existent) children would look like. “Hopefully they’ll look like you,” someone told me.
I was first annoyed, but then offended. Look like me? As opposed to . . . well, obviously, my boyfriend. Excuse me?
Little incidents occurred over the subsequent years that awkwardly re-injected race into our relationship, like the time when we decided to move in together and went to check out an apartment whose landlord greeted me politely before turning to my boyfriend and rudely demanding, “You wanna live here, too?” The landlord wasn’t really interested in renting to us both. It wasn’t too much of a loss, though, since we wouldn’t have rented from him even if climate change did cause hell to freeze over.
Marriages classified as interracial have more than tripled since 1980, and last year, NPR reported that one in ten opposite-sex marriages are between people identifying with different races. Even though the prevalence of interracial relationships is on the rise, being in one still brings with it a certain set of experiences.
Here are five truths about being in an “interracial” relationship that I think a lot of couples go through:
1. The mystery of the kids
As you might have picked up from my first anecdote, people will wonder endlessly (and I mean endlessly) what your children will look like. It doesn’t matter if you’ve expressed no interest in having said children, or if you’re not even out of college yet, or if you just made your relationship official five days ago. Will your babies have blue eyes? Brown ones? Green ones? Red hair and dark skin? Will they be neon and glow in the dark?
2. Strangers, or even tasteless acquaintances, might make offensive assumptions
For some reason, dating a member of another race automatically means that you have a fetish. I think this is especially true for men of color that date white women: certain people just assume that they have a sexualized obsession with whiteness. For example, one of my then-boyfriend’s cousins posted a Facebook comment beneath our first photo togethers saying something like, “Hey, cuz, can you get me over there so that I can have one, too?” And I don’t think he was talking about the ice cream cones we were holding.
Of course, it runs both ways; people have also implied that I have a “thing” for race. “Why do you date ::insert race here::s?” Or, “Is this a phase?” It’s a bare bones look at racial scars and the objectification of color.
3. The expectation that it’s a big deal
“Yeah, so, like, how do your parents feel about it?”
I heard that question so many times that I just integrated it into my introduction speech (“Hello, this is my boyfriend blahblahblah, and my parents think he’s fantastic”). My mom and dad have always been very conscientious people, really great with me and the world in general. But for some reason, even my friends were expecting them to blow a gasket or pop a blood vessel in their eyeball. They were giving me the “are you finally rebelling?” look.
I mean, sure, my mom and dad were wary, but only in the way that they’ve applied to any male with whom I’ve spent more than five minutes since I was 16.
4. People playing it so cool that they just make it weird
“Yeah, I dated a ::insert race here:: once.”
Other lines within this category include, “You guys are just so inspiring,” “You’re the future,” “You’re how we’ll finally end racism,” “You look so good together,” “You’re my favorite couple,” and “You complement each other nicely.”
I’ve heard them all, from strangers and non-strangers.
5. Becoming more self-aware and socially conscious
Your race really did play a big part in how you grew up, whether you realized it before or not. Watching how your partner is treated and how you’re treated together, in big and small ways, will illuminate many elements of life that are typically regulated to the background. No, you don’t deserve a gold star, but you do get to benefit from the intelligence that comes from multidimensional view points — learning new languages, new foods, new music, new histories, and new realities. You will be forced to think broadly, in “big picture” ways that you might never have considered before. Human connection becomes something true and solid when it’s brought to the forefront.
These five points are just an overview of the different experiences my partner and I have had; other couples can surely add more.
But all in all, interracial relationships can reveal how differences continue to make certain people uncomfortable. From that one bigoted relative who nearly brings down the house at Christmas dinner to your friend who comments about how “rude it is” for you and your partner to communicate in another language, you’ll notice that some people feel pressured to comment on skin disparities. Race makes them uneasy, and as the news reminds us again and again, society has a long way to go towards healing from its centuries-long racial traumas. Sometimes, it can feel like people want to place you at the head of that process.
But really, your time together works just like any other relationship. You don’t need to feel pressured to speak to the state of race in 2015 or to racial progress in the twenty-first century. Every relationship is different. Honestly, race isn’t something that enters into the daily life of my partner and I very much, but when it does, it’s largely in positive ways – learning and growing together. If that’s something that ultimately makes us interesting beyond our skin, I’m okay with that.