The author and her husband. Image: The Glow
When we fell in love over 10 years ago, I just saw us as a guy and a girl. I didn’t see us as “Chinese Carla” and “White Jeff”. But now, even though our marriage is stronger than ever, the racial differences between us have become glaringly apparent.
You know that old saying, “Love is blind?” Well, my version is “Love is colour-blind.”
I’m one half of what you may call an “interracial couple,” and even though we live in a multicultural area, the reactions and comments we get constantly surprise me. Naively, I had been colour-blind in my loved-up state, I hadn’t realised that our different skin colours would attract so much attention.
When we fell in love over 10 years ago, I just saw us as a guy and a girl. I didn’t see us as “Chinese Carla” and “White Jeff.” But now, even though our marriage is stronger than ever, the racial differences between us have become glaringly apparent.
When people meet us for the first time, our obvious racial differences are often the first thing that they notice. This invites bizarre questions as well as the assumption that we’re actually not even a couple at all.
For some, there’s the assumption that I’ve somehow dissed my entire race by marrying a white guy. “But… don’t you like Asian guys?” many have asked.
As I said before, for me, love is colour-blind. I’ve had crushes on guys of all different races. It just so happens that the one I fell in love with was white. Marrying Jeff was about love and all the mushy stuff — it was about us — and not a statement for or against an entire race.
There are certain stereotypes that haunt interracial couples, particularly when the woman is Asian and the man is white.
I hate the idea that one race is “better” than the other — last time I checked, that was called racism, whether it’s couched as a compliment or not. And it certainly hasn’t been the case in my relationship.
Another strange perception about Asian wives and girlfriends is that they are somehow perfect, subservient domestic helpers during the day and by night, “tigers in the bedroom.”
“Mmm-mmmm, I bet you make Jeff a very spicy stir-fry,” leered one of Jeff’s friends.
This, of course, is highly flattering to my intellect and probably not the best way to win me over as a buddy (or gain a dinner party invitation).
There’s also the idea that Asian women are somehow more “mysterious” than other women. I used to have a friend who was of European ancestry, but would only date Asian girls. He pointed to a picture of an Asian girl in a magazine and said, “Look at her! She’s exotic and mysterious and I wouldn’t know what to expect from her.”
I felt sorry for the guy because the he’d obviously missed the memo…all women are different and have unique personalities regardless of their race. I know! It’s amazing. Take me, for example: I’m an Asian woman who writes about her life on the internet. Uh, nothing mysterious about that. My girlfriends who are of Asian ethnicity have a wide variety of jobs and interests. Some are extroverted, some are not, some are mysterious and some are not. Probably the biggest mystery was this: why was I friends with a “yellow-fevered” bigot?
Even though Jeff and I bear all the traits of a long-married couple, when we’re out together people often assume that we aren’t a couple. We could be standing next to each other at a restaurant together, waiting to be seated, and the waiter will ask, “Are you two together?” The same thing happens if we’re waiting at a cash register together to pay for something.
We are constantly asked if we are actually a couple, as though it’s so unbelievable that two people of different races could be in a relationship. I’ve come to the conclusion that people ask us if we’re “together” because visually we don’t “match.”
We’re not two Asian people or two white people, all paired up neatly like Noah’s ark. I find this to be so strange. Isn’t it a good thing to look different from your spouse?
The opposite problem is what I call the Random Asian Wife effect. I will often be mistaken for someone else’s Asian wife which makes me both laugh and cringe. I was at a party with Jeff’s friends once and we were talking to different groups of people.
One of Jeff’s friends said to me, “So Annabelle, how’s the vet clinic going?” Our other friend, Paul is married to an Asian woman who, you guessed it, is named Annabelle and is a vet. Annabelle and I look completely different.
She’s 6 feet tall, skinny and with a pixie haircut and I’m on the shorter side, curvy, with glasses and longer hair. But I guess we’re just lumped into the “Asian” category. The Random Asian Wife Effect strikes me frequently. I’ve been called Lillian, Monique, Maree…and yes, my job as a nurse/full-time mum/accountant is going great, thanks.
Currently the strangest question that I encounter is about my daughter’s ethnicity. This happens when it’s just the two of us, when Jeff isn’t around.
There’s a local café that I used to visit several times a week and every time I walked in there with Emmy, the waitress would exclaim, “Wow, she’s so cute! And her father is…?”
The first time she asked me this question I didn’t know what she meant. I just stared at her in confusion. She then re-phrased her question. “Is her father white?”
Now, I don’t know about you but this is what the question actually sounds like to me: “So, you had sex with a guy who isn’t Asian! And you didn’t use contraception! What race is your sex friend?”
After the waitress had asked me that question on three separate occasions (she had a bad memory, I guess), I stopped going to the café.
It may have been an innocent question but ultimately, I felt uncomfortable. It’s a question that’s been asked often of Jeff and myself. We found it leads to more questions which are usually aimed at me: where are you from? Where are your parents from? Do you think your daughter looks more Asian or white?
Honestly, I don’t feel like talking about something so personal with a stranger. Especially not before my first coffee of the day. There’s more to my daughter than her ethnic makeup. And for now, she just wants to drink her babycino in peace.
Nosy strangers aside, it has actually been a real joy to learn more about Jeff’s cultural background over the years and I know he feels the same way about mine. We love to share our cultural traditions with our daughter.
We tell her that she’s extra lucky, because she’s not just one race — she’s two. I bake ANZAC biscuits with her each year and we take her to yum cha often. Of course, a country is about more than its food but it’s a good start for us now.
It’s funny that our cultural differences can fascinate others because what attracted me to Jeff was our cultural similarities. Sure, we’re of different races but when it comes to the things that we value and enjoy — our religion, our creative pursuits, our families and having a laugh — we are the perfect match.
People often say that we’re the male and female version of each other. To me, we match perfectly regardless of whether our ancestors came from completely different parts of the planet.
What are your experiences with interracial relationships?