Balancing Two Cultures in One Relationship (My Interracial Relationship)


I'm Andrea, a Sri Lankan-Canadian, and I met my fiancé, a Caucasian man, on Tinder. Though my family is Sri Lankan, I was born and raised in the UAE before immigrating to Canada, which makes me a third culture immigrant. Because of my upbringing, I’ve always held onto a mix of cultural values, which coincidentally align with my fiancé’s. He's had a completely different upbringing from mine, which has made for a really interesting learning experience for both of us. Through learning about each other's cultural values, we're exploring how to live multiculturally instead of assimilating to Western norms. This doesn’t mean that all our values match perfectly, but that they complement each other in a way that helps us both learn about a world so different from our own.


My fiancé has always been very receptive of my background – I remember the first time I had to explain one of my cultural norms to him was when it came to my 10pm curfew a few years ago. It was a bit of a surprise for him that my parents still exerted so much control over my daily life, but he’s grown to understand how much Sri Lankan parents shelter their children, especially their daughters. I’m proud of him for always listening and taking the time to understand where my parents are coming from, even when their views appear to be so different from our own.


Since his parents are divorced, it took me some time to wrap my head around going to two Christmases, two Thanksgivings, or family gatherings in general. I had never been the only non-white person in the room before, which was quite jarring at first. It’s still a bit surprising to go to one of his family gatherings and look so differently from everyone else, but it also feels freeing to be able to hold my fiancé’s hand during Thanksgiving dinner without wondering whether someone’s auntie is looking at me weirdly.


It also took me a while to get used to the way his family cooks, especially since my family has never done the typical turkey/mashed potato/boiled vegetable dinners before. Nevertheless, it’s always interesting to step into a totally different world and celebrate holidays in a really different way.


Instead of setting aside my hybrid cultural values, I bring them into our relationship by being open about how I was raised, and not being ashamed of who I am.

His family has thankfully always been accepting towards me, I’m closer to some members of his family than others, but that’s solely based on common interests, more than any prejudice-based issues. I’ve only fleetingly met my previous boyfriends’ parents, which made it a completely new venture for me to get to know his family. My mom and sister have also been very accepting towards him – my mom makes him Sri Lankan food whenever she has time, which is so fun to see.


I’ve heard in the South Asian community that when someone is in an interracial relationship, they’re “abandoning their culture”, or “whitewashing” themselves. I’ve even had a couple of South Asian friends tell me that I “settled” because he isn’t a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. However, it is because I’m with someone who has had such a different upbringing from mine that I take even more time to introduce my fiancé to South Asian music, food, cinema, and values. In terms of community, some friends have been super supportive and my mom and sister thankfully think very highly of my fiancé. On the other hand, my dad still has no idea that my fiancé exists, because we barely have a relationship since we are so different.


Instead of setting aside my hybrid cultural values, I bring them into our relationship by being open about how I was raised, and not being ashamed of who I am.


It’s difficult to see each other these days, with the stay at home order in our province. Nowadays, we’re just doing our best to stay hopeful that things will get better soon, and staying in touch as much as we can. From making fusion cuisine, to discussing Western and South Asian social issues, we're doing our best to embrace aspects from both of our cultures while remaining critical of the work that still needs to be done in each of our societies. My relationship has only taught me to be more open about aspects of my culture that I align with, and be critical of the patriarchal South Asian values that I disagree with as well. It’s a fun balance to be a part of!

Andrea is a Sri Lankan – Canadian artist who uses art to make statements on social issues. As a Psychotherapy student and a social advocate, she is constantly exploring the intersections between mental health and social issues like gender-based violence, representation, racism, and climate change. Drawing strong women of color, and making South Asian versions of popular cartoons is how she loves to express these ideas!