As much as I love sharing my dating stories, there are a lot of experiences that I haven't had. That's why, as part of It’s Not You, I'll be talking to people with a broad range of experiences to see how things are different — and how they're the same. Of course, these individuals don’t speak for entire demographics, but they do provide some insight into the nuances of the very human search for love and connection.
This week, I spoke with Mel, a 30-year-old woman living in Australia.
Tell me about yourself, Mel.
“I was born in Sydney and moved to Melbourne, then the US, then the UK, and then I moved back to Australia when I was 12. And then my parents moved to the United Arab Emirates when I was, like, 13 or 14, so I lived between there and Australia for the next 20 years. So yeah, it’s been an interesting life. Even my mother and dad are kind of ex-pat immigrants. My dad is Indian and my mother is Chinese. But when they were little, they both moved to Malaysia. We’re all kind of transplants and from everywhere in the world.”
So your father is Indian and your mother is Chinese, but they were both ex-pats — did your parents have cultural expectations around sex and dating for you when you grew up?
“So growing up with parents like that, they’re a bit more open-minded. I was never told that I’d have an arranged marriage or that I could only date Chinese boys. My parents were a lot more open than that. I could date whatever race I liked. I could be gay — they wouldn’t mind. But they would care about what he did for a living, that he earned enough money. Those things.
“I think that’s changed a lot in the past 10 years. They’ve noticed and evolved with society. And they’re a lot more open — and I guess they have to be, because when they got together, it was an absolute social taboo. They both became black sheep of their families. And I think even through today, my mother’s Chinese family isn’t that accepting of my father’s Indian family. When I saw my grandmother last, she definitely looked at my sister and I and thought we were too dark.”
That must have been difficult. Whether or not it was conscious, seeing what your parents went through must have influenced how you thought about dating between cultures.
“Absolutely. I definitely didn’t want that division to happen to me. I didn’t want people to think a certain way about me, and I definitely know it influenced a lot of my self-confidence in terms of how I viewed myself. I definitely viewed myself as different, and different was ugly. I didn’t like being different. I really just wanted to assimilate. This was harder because we moved around so much. I went to predominantly white schools, and I never thought of myself as particularly beautiful or interesting until I got older. And that’s when I started to recognize that being different is beautiful. That took a long time to learn. I have so many stories of people telling me how absolutely beautiful I was, but I completely ignored them because I just thought, ‘No, I’m dark and I’m ugly.’”
What are some other issues that come up for you?
“I think the biggest pitfall is that, while men are starting to understand that things are different and harder for women in general, they don’t necessarily understand that it’s doubly difficult if you aren’t a white woman. They think that gender is the only thing that is an issue for us, and they don’t quite understand that there are relatively more hateful things that actually happen to ethnic women of marginalized groups. It can hurt because there are a lot of cultural implications that they don’t understand. Like they don’t understand colorism. They don’t get why I see myself as ugly when they’re constantly telling me that I’m beautiful. They don’t get that, growing up, I might have felt more ugly because I was constantly told that being dark is ugly.
“My parents also did pressure me to work hard and make a lot of money. The men I meet don’t understand this need for perfection I have of myself. It’s all these things. I do want to please my parents. I do want to do a lot of great things, but I do have a lot of self-doubt, and it was built by a lot of gender and cultural anxieties.”
Your current partner is white, correct?
“Yes, he’s white. We’ve been dating since April.”
Have your parents met him yet?
“They will next week!”
Ooh! That’s big. How are you feeling about the prospect of your partner meeting your parents?
“Super anxious. I always get this way. It’s just because I think, again, I’m worried about the cultural clash. It’s strange that I have this anxiety, because our mutual friends have assured me that he’s dated women of other cultures before. He’s really lovely, and he’s very charming. But again, you still always worry what are they going to say? Are my parents going to embarrass me? What if in the middle of the dinner he decides he doesn’t want to be with me because it’s too culturally different? And I wonder if other people feel this way — worried about how it’s going to work out?”
“I think I’m just terrified of getting to that point of having to go, ‘I really care about this person,’ but then to have them become this terrible person that looks down upon my family. I wouldn’t want my heart to break over it. But it’s something you have to figure out.”
It feeds right into the general vulnerability of dating.
“Yeah. I went on a dating trek this year. I broke up with my ex-boyfriend last year, and then I decided that I wanted to go on a date a week, and I met a lot of great people. Some of them have become good friends now. It really opened my eyes up to the fact that, even though I still have anxiety about how I look and where I come from, I live in a very open city where people are incredibly lovely and open-minded. That’s hard to remember sometimes, because I’ve also met people who would rather put their head in the sand than understand what you’re going through — even friends.
“It’s incredibly difficult, and sometimes I’d rather be alone than have to put up with that. And it makes me sad because I know that there are a lot of women out there who have just given up because there are a lot of assholes who make them feel bad about themselves. And I know that domestic violence runs rampant. I was in an abusive relationship previously with a long-term ex-boyfriend. And it had a lot to do with the insecurities I had growing up.”
Oh, I’m so sorry.
“Yeah. And I know that he serially targeted women of color in order to do that. He knew what their doubts and insecurities were, and he targeted that. [Women of color] can be easier to manipulate because of their insecurities, and it really impacts and damages you when that happens. Because they really hone in on all those intersections of gender and cultural anxieties, and it was really painful.”
I had no idea this was going to be part of your story when you reached out. Thank you so much for talking about this.
“Of course. I think everybody’s issues are important. I don’t like the idea that my issues are worse than yours. I just want to expand people’s ideas about what issues can come up for women of color.
“I really do feel like everyone’s stories are valid, and I’m beginning to realize we all have more in common than we think. It’s the same thing with colorism. We don’t talk enough about that, and there is colorism that exists within African American culture and Indian culture and Chinese culture. And it would be cool for people to make those connections between themselves and say, ‘Hey, we all experience colorism.’”
How do you feel about yourself now?
“I think it’s taken me 30 years to realize that I’m worth something. I used to think I wasn’t valuable or attractive. I still question my boyfriend all the time about whether I am attractive to him. I think that anxiety is always there. But I’m more comfortable being me and not having to define myself by how attractive I am anymore.”
And it’s got to be hard, after the abusive relationship that you were in, to trust that your partner is with you for the right reasons, and they find you attractive for the right reasons.
“Oh yeah. I’m constantly like, Oh god, are they playing a game because they know they can play a game? Do they think I’m an easy target? Are they gaslighting me? And it hurts that I have to think like that, but I feel like I have to be skeptical in order to protect myself. And it can really hinder love from happening — when you become so overly worried and anxious all the time. And it’s something that’s another barrier to get through, and it can be really devastating.”
I can imagine. Now, when you reached out to me, what did you really want to talk to me about? What was the thread that you wanted me to share?
“Interracial isn't a category in porn. It's a real thing happening between any two people. And one day we will just call it 'dating.’ With all the segregation and division happening globally, I love seeing an interracial couple going about enjoying their loud PDA coupling and loving. It's a tiny step forward, but a giant step forward to this becoming a norm.
“The reality is that interracial dating can be hard, especially on women of color who already lack self-confidence as women. We have our own issues that make it even more difficult for us. It was incredibly difficult for my parents to date and marry each other. But they still did it, and they're still together. It's still hard, and trust me I still get looks like in that Hannibal Buress apple juice joke, but the younger generation just don't give a fuck. And the less fucks people give about giving me their opinion and judgement on who I choose to love, the better it is for all of us.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.