“You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.
We will make it through this.”
The words were written in irregular handwriting outside the lines that sought to contain them. They were written in red, scrawled like the love in his heart, across a page torn haphazardly from a notebook. They were courting words, wooing words - words meant for me, words meant for a heart that cracked a bit more every time it beat and pounded anytime he was near.
We met in December 2007, when the South African sun was being chased away by a thunderstorm. We met at my work. I am a TV producer and he was a guest on the show. He was early. He was also funny, entertaining and easy to talk to. We chatted while we waited for the show to start. Then we bid farewell and went home. I saw him a week later when he invited me to movies with his friends. We stayed in touch over email and text and invited each other to the odd social. I was never quite sure whether he liked me or not until one day I opened my desk draws and in each one was a single long stemmed red rose. I couldn’t speak for about an hour, I just sat there flabbergasted; he had taken my breath away.
A week later he took me for lunch but neither of us ate. We talked about my friends and the cold drinks and the way our bosses spoke. Then he took a deep breath, and said I shouldn’t laugh, because he’d never done this before. Then he told me that he liked me, and asked if I liked him, and I said I did.
I’d love to say that we then went on to live happily ever after, but we didn’t. I took him home to meet my parents and they told me they didn’t approve.
They didn’t like him because he was multi-racial and I was white.
That was the day my search started: how to have a successful inter-cultural or inter-racial family in a world which isn’t always accepting of families, relationships or people that aren’t like them. In most cases, I’ve found it’s fear that causes the problem: fear of the unknown, the misunderstood, or dread of a stereotype that is nothing like the person in front of them.
Yes, we did get married. Here are a few things I believe help make our inter-cultural and inter-racial marriage work:
1) Don’t pretend to be colour (or culturally) blind. Knowing that you are from different cultures is actually a gift. It forces you to communicate more, about everything. Really, communication is vital in any relationship. I often think having a relationship with someone who is obviously different from you actually makes it easier to say, “How do you celebrate Easter in your family? What would you like us to do the same and what would you like us to do differently?” God created different colours and cultures, so when you see something that looks or sounds different to what you know, take the time to find out why. It will build a stronger relationship and make you better communicators.
2) Realize it’s not your issue. If other people have an issue with your relationship, let THEM own it, not you. Yes, it’s hard to ignore the loud comments and stares of disapproval, but if you are happy in your relationship, and you know God is happy with it, then don’t let it get to you. Many times the people who are the meanest are simply the most afraid, a kind word and an attempt to break the ice is often all that is needed to help them move past colour and culture.
3) What about the children? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this question since meeting my husband. Other couples I’ve spoken to with multi-racial children or the children adopted across cultures say that colour or culture isn’t the defining factor of a family. Coming to grips with the fact that identity isn’t found in external appearance but in internal character is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give a person of any age.
4) Laugh often and much. Yet another point that perhaps shows how no matter what your culture or colour we are, all more alike then different. Different cultures means there will be misunderstandings, but if you keep a sense of humour these just become funny things that you look back on and laugh about.
It’s been 5 years since I found the note saying we would make it. My parents came round to my husband and love him like a son. My dad married us two years ago in a forest filled with rain and umbrellas and two dozen people. We’ve laughed, we’ve fought, we’ve wanted to kill each other, and we’ve fought cancer together, and many times we’ve needed to be reminded of that note, “We will make it through this.” I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know my life has been made more beautiful and rich because of the diversity- and the diverse people- I have allowed to become part of it.
What about you? I’d love to hear from you about the things that have made your relationships work.
Wendy van Eyck is proudly South African and lives in Johannesburg where she runs a 24-hour Gospel Music Television channel that broadcasts to 47 African countries. Her website www.ilovedevotionals.com features devotionals that range from learning about God while doing laundry to discovering biblical truths while caring for her cancer fighting husband. Follow her on twitter: @wendyvaneyck or find her on Facebook.