Dating Someone Less Familiar

Your friends want to set you up with someone. 

You’re a doctor and he drives a bus. You’re out at a bar and you see a hot, vivacious woman. She’s black and you’re white. You are a devout Christian and he’s an atheist. This column is not intended to address those readers who don’t want to date outside their own race, socioeconomic range, or religion. That is pretty limiting, but to each their own when it comes to love. Rather, we hope to offer ways to negotiate the realistic issues you might face when doing so. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of differences you might face in dating, but it may provide a general way of seeing things more openly.

If you and your potential partner are of different races, do not make your approach about that. Because the history of race in the U.S. is fraught, it might be on your mind when approaching a person of another color. Try to put this out of your head. If you guys end up dating, there’s nothing wrong with talking about race, but don’t make it your point of approach. Do you walk around all day thinking about your Swedish ancestors? Probably not. One’s race is unlikely to be on the mind of a potential partner unless someone makes it about that. Relax and approach someone of a different race in the same way you would approach anyone in whom you were romantically or sexually interested.

Another thing that can be frustrating for people of color is having people who are not guessing their race. This again puts too much focus on your differences and it can be offensive. Particularly if you guess wrongly and are, say, a continent or two off the mark. Racial stereotyping is also annoying. Don’t assume an Irishman drinks and don’t assume a woman from Brazil loves to dance. What people do or enjoy can be influenced by their cultures, but particularly if someone was born and raised in the United States, their ethnic makeup does not determine what they do, say, hate, or love. And on that note, if someone was born and raised in U.S., then that is where they are “from.” If she is Indian but grew up in Illinois, don’t keep asking after she responds “Chicago” to your origins query.

Socioeconomic status. In the U.S., the traditional family model included a husband who earned most or all income and a wife who stayed home with the children. This has changed substantially over the past century. With the changing roles has come a certain adjustment. If you make the greater income, make sure you are really ok with your partner earning substantially less than you do. Think about it practically. If you want to go to the Maldives with him for a week, you are probably going to have to pay. Are you both comfortable with that? In the early stages of a relationship, be sensitive to income differences. Don’t expect an art history graduate student to go dutch with you at the nicest French restaurant in Seattle.

If you come from money and you are dating someone who does not, understand that you experienced life pretty differently. Having money gives you a safety net and enables you to make decisions based on what you want to do, not what you need to do. Having to always make decisions based on survival is substantially different. By the same token, if you did not grow up with money, don’t assume your partner had an easy life just because they did. Money can ease the way for a lot of things, but it doesn’t replace care and love.

Another difference that can be difficult to negotiate is a difference in religion – sometimes this can be the very hardest, because it does involve a set of beliefs. If the two of you are fundamentally opposed on a major issue, it might not be possible to negotiate. Don’t try to change what you think to accommodate someone else. But do have an open mind. If you are compatible in other ways, try to understand what her faith means to her. Give your partner room to worship as he or she understands and make the effort to gain knowledge about religion or the absence of it.

In sum, don’t make your date or your relationship about one thing – be it race or job or financial legacy. To avoid stereotyping and judgment, think first and always try to consider whether you would like the same thing assumed about you because of YOUR race or job or financial legacy.



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Posted 09-27-2013 6:45 pm by