There’s an age old saying among the Shona in Zimbabwe (and am sure this applies to a number of African tribes) that says ‘Roranai vematongo’ which loosely translates to – marry from the same village/community/tribe. For years, cross-cultural relationships were frowned upon and discouraged because it was easier for people with shared values, beliefs and traditions to relate. Most communities were often defined on the basis of language, family totem, and village of origin.
Our modern communities have beed deconstructed and distorted by the long term effects of colonisation, urbanisation and globalisation which have made portions of the populations migrants and nomads as people leave their home countries to advance their studies, seeking job opportunities, running away from conflict or just simply out of curiosity and opportunity. Not only is there increased national, regional and international mobility, but technological advancements mean that it’s possible to engage in and maintain long distance relationships as well. Our generation is exposed to more cultural exchange in the schools and events we attend, which translates to interacting with people from different backgrounds on a larger scale than our parents or grandparents ever did. The hypothetical dating ‘sea’ that’s often described to have plenty fish to pick from suddenly turns into a whole ocean and it’s up to you to sink or swim.
Cross-cultural dating involves dating someone from a different background which could include nationality, race, religion – you name it! The symbolic aspects of culture which tend to be the root cause of most miscommunication and misunderstanding include language, socialization, practices and norms, gender roles – and each one influence your perspective of the world. While falling in love with someone from a foreign country can be the most romantic and exciting adventure; his voice, the way he says your name, all the exotic food he can whip up in a few minutes – it comes with its unique challenges. Beyond the attraction of forbidden love, there are things that you need to look out for if you’re considering dating beyond your borders.
*cough cough* I am speaking from experience. LOL.
Okay just some background info; I’m a product of a cross cultural marriage – my mom is Zimbabwean (Ndebele) and my dad is Malawian – they both grew up in the same city – Bulawayo, spoke the same language, went to the same church, had the same friends – but that didn’t take away the fundamental cultural differences – the concept of roora/lobola/ paying the bride price, who names the first child, what to do with the baby’s umbilical cord once it had dropped off…these were issues that I’m sure when they were gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes they never thought could create a huge gulf between them. So yea, I grew up around all that drama and jazz.
And the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I’ve also tried my hand at cross-cultural dating, am still trying and will continue to try – what can I say, I like to fail a couple of times before I’m sure it’s really not my thing – so yea, I’m sharing from what I’ve seen and experienced. There’s really no formula to love and relationships but there’s nothing wrong with considering some of these things…
- Know yourself!! Get comfortable in your own skin. Enter the relationship as a whole, well rounded person who is willing to engage and contribute to a healthy relationship. Who do you identify as? What are you will to compromise or sacrifice for the relationship? What are your deal breakers? Are you dating with the intention of marriage or is just a social experiment? You have to sit down and be honest with yourself before you engage in that relationship because love is not blind. Your traditions, your race, your religion, your language and your culture are so precious, especially when you’re part of a cross-cultural or mixed faith relationship. Own them and celebrate them because there’s never a good reason to hide who you really are.
- Acknowledge your privileges. White privilege, male privilege – we all have internal biases shaped by our background, circumstances and worldview. Are you coming from a relatively financially stable family while he’s coming from a family that has been struggling to break out of a cycle of poverty? Because that will affect and inform how you handle your finances. Are you coming from a close-knit extended family and she’s from the global north where it’s more of an individualistic society? This is important because it will affect your relationship with your partner and your family. You’ve got to know yourself first.
- Double the effort – especially in communication! Misunderstanding each other, misinterpreting your partner’s behaviour or miscommunicating your intentions can happen in any relationship but more so where there are cultural differences. We’re always communicating, with our words, our actions, our bodies, our silence and depending on where your partner is from – there will be differences in how loud or quickly she speaks, how he argues, how she listens, how he teases. And this means you’re constantly going to be teaching and learning from each other – don’t ever drop that ball. Ask questions, share information with your partner – no one can read your mind, and if he could, it’s probably in a different language so he still wouldn’t get it. You’ve got to double the effort people!
- Family matters! This is one truth you can try and run away from but it will catch up with you. Africans come from collective societies, as the Zulu saying goes ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ (a person is a person through other persons) and this is the foundation of family, community and humanity in African society. This notion of collectivism informs how we regard relationships and marriage. When I meet a guy, at the back of my mind I’m thinking – will my family accept him and will he understand my family? When I get married, it’s not just about my partner and I – it’s about the two families – you see weddings are not about the two people standing before the pulpit – they are mostly for the two families to meet, interact and celebrate the new relationship courtesy of the newly-weds. That same spirit of collectivism influences our expectations of our partners – will he be a good brother to my siblings? Will he understand that I have to send money and groceries every month to my family? You have consider how you’re going to engage with your family as well as with your partner’s family because let’s be honest – there’s nothing like a parent’s blessing on your relationship. Family matters!!
And this is just to get the conversation started. Now that you have the gist of the topic – I’d love to hear your opinion – would you consider dating someone from a different tribe/country/race/religion? How would your family take it? Does love conquer all?