[cute]When Monica Dalmia was looking to casually connect with other MSU students through LiveJournal, an online network, she hardly expected to meet Dan. After talking online, Dan and Monica decided to meet for dinner in her dorm’s cafeteria. Although the two were just friends before they started dating, Dan and Monica have now been together for over two and a half years.
Dalmia\’s story probably does not sound unfamiliar to college students (relationships triggered by a charming “poke” on Facebook are not unheard of). However, the fact that the English senior is Indian and Hindu and her boyfriend – physics junior Dan McGrath – is Irish separates their relationship from the glossy picture of same-culture couples that is often displayed.
Relationships that cross cultural boundaries offer a separate set of obstacles in addition to the ones college-aged couples already face and therefore require more emphasis on compromise and communication. However, students such as Dalmia who date cross-culturally can attest to the countless benefits relationships like these provide, as well as illustrate what it is like to bridge cultures.
“I had dated cross-culturally before, as it’s difficult to find another Chinese-American Hapa, so I didn\’t initially have hesitations about dating,” 2006 MSU graduate Jaime Chao said. Hapa means being of mixed descent, usually from two races or ethnicities, one of which is typically white. “I only began to have concerns when we began to be more serious, and I realized the burden that it was going to be for my boyfriend, who had never dated cross-culturally before, and whether I considered him to be up to the task.” Chao, who has been dating a white American for three and a half years, identifies as Chinese-American and met her boyfriend through common classes in the James Madison College East Asian Languages and Cultures courses. Because Chao comes from a cross-cultural family, she was not concerned about her family’s reaction to her boyfriend. “The entire Chinese side of my family has married white-Americans, so another white-American in our family was not at all strange,” Chao said. Unfortunately, this acceptance is not always readily given.
While Dalmia’s family is accepting of her cross-cultural relationship, cultural norms are the motive behind objections to her relationship from others. “A lot of my mom’s friends think girls should date within their culture, so that’s pretty much why some of them don’t think I should be dating Dan, because I’m Indian and he’s white,” Dalmia said. However, Dalmia has not experienced any objections to her relationship from people her age, only from those older than her. She recalled a time when an older couple passed her and her boyfriend and could do nothing but stare. “There are always going to be people who are not going to accept things, but you just ignore it,” she said.
Because both Dalmia and Chao recognize the differences in culture between their partners, an emphasis is put on open-mindedness and compromise in order to successfully bridge the gap. Decisions such as what to eat for dinner or what party to go to are not arbitrary when different cultures are at hand. “Michael\’s family grew up on a lot of casseroles and a smattering of Italian, and a looser relationship with his family. I don\’t eat casseroles, I don\’t speak much Italian but I am learning a little, and I absolutely insist on bonds like iron with my family. Sometimes this causes confusion, but it hasn\’t been much of a problem,” Chao said.
Because most confusion and conflicts arising from cross-cultural relationships are a result of unmet expectations, open communication is most important in fostering a successful cross-cultural relationship, according to Dr. John Lee, assistant director of the MSU Counseling Center. “Just being open and knowing that my way of understanding things isn’t how things always work is extremely important,” Lee said.[monica]
Aside from being a challenge at times, dating outside of one’s own culture can spark conversations that may not have happened otherwise. “Being in an intimate relationship gives you more leeway to request background on a person that you might be intimidated to ask,” said education senior Tim Hillman, who is white and is dating an African-American male. For example, something as simple as why white people wash their hair everyday was a question that was comfortably raised in Hillman’s relationship.
Dating between cultures does not serve as a huge obstacle in Hillman’s relationship because dating interracially and cross-culturally within the gay community is not at all unusual, according to Hillman. “I think there are a few reasons for this. When you’re in the gay community, it seems weird to have prejudices against other minorities. Also, the gay community is smaller so there are fewer fish in the sea. And everyone in the gay community knows each other,” he said. The cross-cultural element of Hillman’s relationship not only comes as an afterthought to him, but to the general public as well. “In gay relationships, being interracial or cross-cultural is not the first thing people respond to. The gay part trumps the race part,” Hillman said.
While most judgments passed on cross-cultural relationships are based upon differing physical appearances, especially skin color, culture extends well past pigmentation. “Cross-cultural does not mean people look different. People can be from the same race but be from very different cultures – a Catholic dating a Protestant, someone from the U.P. dating a person from Bloomfield Hills, an African-American from Alabama dating an African-American from Michigan – these are all cross-cultural relationships,” Lee said. While the realm of cross-cultural dating encompasses a wide array of characteristics, the question remains as to how socially acceptable it is and whether it is becoming more or less accepted over time.
“I haven’t come across any negative responses from college students to my relationship, but I don’t think older generations are as open to the idea,” Dalmia said. While cross-cultural relationships can represent open-mindedness, they can also present a threat to one’s culture, and therefore draw negative reactions.
[Tim]“Non-white people in the US have every reason to guard their culture very carefully,” Chao said. “For many, many people in our generation, the kind of compromising my parents did to raise me, and to some extent that I do in my relationship, symbolizes a dilution of an old culture rather than the creation of a new one.” Even while college students are often considered liberal on just about every issue ever presented, it remains questionable how willing students are to act upon the open-mindedness they proclaim.
“I think people often think of themselves as open and willing inside their head, but that doesn’t play out to how open-mindedness exists. You don’t see it too often,” Hillman said. While gauging the level of open-mindedness in the college-aged generation is impossible, the media has placed interracial and cross-cultural couples on television and in movies, and in turn has confirmed that while cross-cultural relationships may be considered taboo in some areas, they in fact do exist and work.
“There has not been so much gain on the race issue, but culturally there has been a gain, and I think you can credit the media some for that,” Lee said. Grey’s Anatomy, a show with a cult-like following, shows Dr. Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh who is of Asian descent and grew up in Canada, dating Dr. Preston Burke, an African-American. A movie that was all the rage a few years ago, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, tells the story of a man’s struggles to assimilate to his fiancé’s intense Greek family. Celebrity couples like Heidi Klum, white and of German descent, and Seal, of African descent, who find themselves plastered all over news stands, also promote the idea of cross-cultural relationships. Even Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, married cross-culturally (she is American and he is British), as did Madonna, also American, and Guy Ritchie, British. This progress has not gone unnoticed.
Dalmia, Hillman and Chao show that a new precedent for relationships can be set. While there is still plenty of ground to be covered in order to consider cross-cultural relationships socially acceptable, the glossy picture of same cultured couples is morphing into a less limiting paradigm.

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