The Quarter-Life Crisis of a First Generation Immigrant Part II: Tough Love Re-rooted

In science, there are two fundamental key concepts that paradoxically co-exist in nature:

  1. “Like attracts like”
  2. “Opposites attract”

Even if you are not a science type of person, it doesn’t take much to realize that both make perfect sense but in drastically different contexts.

Well, unless the situation deals with love.

People have been postulating for centuries about the absence of the real, tangible and logical nature of love. The idea that "love doesn’t make sense” seems to be consistently thrust upon all naïve individuals who have caught love like a disease and are now drowning in a whirlwind of confusion. It’s almost like Tylenol: nothing but a temporary relief. Take one shot of “Love doesn’t actually make sense” et voila, now you can go on wandering through your day feeling slightly better but not really, because sooner or later, your brain will learn to reject this laissez-faire style of thinking, and as a result be even more MIA than before.

As if things are not already complicated enough, for those of us who are first-generation immigrants, the matters of love are becoming surprisingly more challenging as we get older. I mean, face it, it’s not like they teach us in school about what should a nice, traditional and agnostic Asian girl would do when being courted by a nice, traditional and Islamic boy from Iran.

Sometimes I think that a whole slew of clichés were invented especially for people like me. Things like “Love conquers all” and “Love doesn’t know cultural boundaries”—seriously, what were these people thinking? Had they actually been first generation immigrants, they would’ve never allowed these words go down in history. Fact is, it’s really tough being in a cross-cultural relationship. There’s so much to get used to, so much give-and-take involved and so much “put yourself in my shoes and see how I feel” that, even the most open-minded and idealistic person can sometimes become discouraged. A relationship is based on trust, understanding and equality, yet the precise definitions of these words vary from culture to culture, and for first generation immigrants, their values and beliefs are usually so well-shaped by their own cultures already, that they are unlikely to change much over time.

Fast forward a couple of years and let’s talk about marriage (because that’s what a serious relationship would ultimately lead to, and we are not getting any younger). People say that when you marry, you don’t just marry the person, but his or her family. I say: when you marry, you marry that person’s culture. Obviously, there have been lots of cases with happily married couples who are from different cultural backgrounds, but on the other hand, the mere thought of my potential husband and I arguing about whether we should have pasta or Chinese food for dinner, serves as a quick reality check as to how complicated a cross-cultural marriage might really be.

All these hardships raise the question: is having a cross-cultural relationship really worth it? And is it actually possible that, on some level, because we live in a multicultural society, we feel pressured to at least give this new version of “tough love” a chance? And if we are this serious when considering cross-cultural relationships, would that make us not fully assimilated to the Canadian culture, and, for lack of better terms, close-minded? Most importantly, should we choose to marry someone with the same cultural background, would it end up "down-regulating" the development of multiculturalism in Canada?

Since I am relatively inexperienced in this area of life, I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. However, after much contemplation, I am certain about one thing: that life itself is a contingency. Any outcome ends up depending on a million factors that perhaps only Murphy’s Law can effectively predict. In that sense, I think that cross-cultural dating is more or less a fine balance between openly accepting the unknown and holding tightly onto the familiar. Be brave to follow wherever chance might take you, but be true to yourself always.


9 comments on “The Quarter-Life Crisis of a First Generation Immigrant Part II: Tough Love Re-rooted

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  1. I think I’m a little confused… The part about arguing with a potential husband about what to have for dinner… I’m assuming that example is a stand-in for… all the different kinds of things a cross-cultural marriage would indeed have to argue about, but… why… can’t they have both? With balance?

    Also, there’s the part about marrying someone of the same background down-regulating multiculturalism in Canada… I don’t really know what multiculturalism is anymore, but whether you have a culturally homogeneous family, or one with an adopted child from every continent, I would say it’s the fact that these families can co-exist beside each other (theoretically, or, they would in a perfect world) that’s the important part, right? Marrying someone of the same background doesn’t undermine anything, provided you love that someone.

  2. Liesl:

    Umm okay. So, for example, what if my husband ends up disliking Chinese food, or I end up disliking his? It’s just a trivial example, but I think when the time comes, achieving “balance” in this aspect of your life PLUS trying to do the same for all other parts of your life is fairly tough.

    Also, what you said is true. But I think it’s more about keeping a tradition going for generations in this case, which comes as a package with traditional values from that culture. In that sense, looking at each person/family individually, that multicultural aspect of it seems to be missing.


    Thanks hon! You’ve always been my biggest fan <3

  3. Hi Lucy, I stumbled onto your blog accidently but i enjoyed reading it. First off i would like to say you write well. Secondly i would just like to say that it makes me feel better, knowing that i’m not the only one lost in this sea of assorted feelings and undefined options.

    I have just started a serious relationship with a Visa student from the same cultural background. Your comment about the down-regulating multiculturalism, i find flawed to certain extents.
    I don’t know anything about you or your background. But for me, i was born and raised in Canada. If i were asked which race is was, i would often say proudly “Asian-Canadian”. Even in my current relationship we are of the same ethnical background, we are still very different in our cultural opinions.

    It is true about what Lucy had said, Balance is key. But balance doesn’t does make our love strong. Acceptance, understanding and patience are key in my opinion.

  4. Dear Tuan,

    Thank you for your comment! Having ppl liking my writing always puts a smile on my face 🙂

    I believe you are not the only one who’s found flaws in that part of the post…I’m starting to think that perhaps my statement was a little too certain. I wasn’t actually born here, and I immigrated here with my family about a decade ago, so I guess things are a bit different for me than it’s been for you. Nonetheless, I could only speak of what I know of based on my personal experience, and I apologize if it sounds a bit biased.

    The thing about balance, acceptance, etc is that, I’m starting to think it’s hard to accept/understand others and have patient with them when you’ve yet to achieve some form of balance in your own life. I remember discussing this with my friends quite frequently, and the opposing view is that no matter what you are going through, if you are with the person you love, you can get through it together and learn from each other. I think both are definitely feasible and different ppl might prefer to handle things differently. The most important thing though, should always be that you are happy with your decision and choice for way of life, whatever it might be.

  5. Hello Lucy,

    Thanks for the great read. I have been reading things on this blog a couple of weeks now, and think think all of you bloggers are just wonderful.
    I couldn’t help noticing you the “traditional islamic boy from Iran”, that took my interest because I am also from Iran. Since you have been so generous with your advice to students I also had some too. If this boy is traditional like you say, isnt it wise to consider problems with his parents as well ? After all, I know the traditional people in Iran don’t look too kindly on this whole “courting” thing.
    Anyhow, I really hope you and him worked out because I think Iranian men are really handsome. Good luck

  6. Hi there Mariam! Thank you for putting yourself out there. It’s very true that parents play a big role in this situation (I would say that parents of both people involved actually play a HUGE role when it comes to any serious relationship we might be involved in).

    About the “traditional islamic boy from Iran” thing: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that was completely hypothetical 🙂 However, relationship or not, I believe we’ve all had our shares of problems arising from being with people of different cultural backgrounds, to varying degrees of course. I was simply trying to draw conclusions from my various personal experiences and “extrapolating” a bit along the way 😀 I’m glad that it was that convincing though!

  7. Lucy:

    Thanks for the speedy reply, and thank you for you concern on not disappointing me (?). But rest assured that I am not disappointed. I do admit I was a bit surprised to hear it was hypothetical ! I mean, I personally couldn’t dream up something as strange as that .
    About the role of parents though, I think it really depends on the parents. I am in a somewhat serious relationship with an Iranian boy. While my parents wanted to talk to the boy and all that, his parents really trust that he knows what the religious rules are and that he finds someone he is happy with. I think parents’ opinions and advice is really important, but im not sure they should really be playing matchmaker.