International Love: A Case for Dating Across Cultures
Updated: May 4
Originally published on Heartalytics.
Pitbull (i.e. Mr. Worldwide) and I share a few things in common: an inability to tire of reggaeton music; a propensity for blurting out “dale!” at inopportune moments; and an irrevocable devotion to the joys of international love.
Among my friends, I have a reputation for my partiality to the foreign gentleman. The farther away from me he was born, the more infatuated I’ll be. The krypto-hypnotic power of a non-American passport clouds my judgment and has gotten me into more than a few laughable situations. He chews with his mouth open? But the way he pronounces “neoliberalism” in his South African accent is so cute! He’s suggesting we scale this shoddy scaffolding barefoot to get a better view of the stars? And we’re both three tequila shots deep? Look at his collection of claddagh rings and Brazilian wish bracelets – such wisdom! Hold my bag!
We’re all fools in love. But superficialities, oversized scarves, Venetian leather shoulder bags, and copious amounts of Malbec aside, what is it about someone being foreign that makes them more attractive? And what is it about love across borders that is so damn romantic?
Of course there’s the added potential for learning that a cross-cultural relationship offers. In the enterprise of getting close to another person, we expand our scope of comprehension through exposure to a set of passions, priorities, experiences, and methods for cooking eggs that may differ from our own. When we throw distinct nationalities into the mix, the potential for shared learning exponentiates.
(And then of course there’s the accent. Especially when applied to discussions of metaphysics. Or Christopher Walken impressions.)
But perhaps synergistic with this paradigm expansion is the sense that when falling in love across international lines, we transgress barriers. It feels rebellious, self-indulgently magnanimous even, to find connection and commonality despite our different nationalities, contrasting upbringings, perhaps divergent spiritual identities, and maybe even a language barrier. And if the popularity of figures like Tyler Durden, James Dean, and Romantic poet/international lover boy Lord Byron is any indication, there’s something sexy about a rebel. And, concurrently, something acutely satisfying in the act of rebelling (see Joel Dinerstein’s work on transgression and the concept of “cool”).
Ensconced in the collective romantic narrative is this thread of love triumphing in the face of hindrances.
Consider the following:
Romeo and Juliet find love despite the animosity between their warring families.Downton Abbey’s Lady Sibel falls for Irish socialist chauffeur Branson despite their discrete class stations and citizenships.In Step Up, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan (who remembers their character names anyway?) pop and lock their way into each other’s hearts despite their distinct socioeconomic backgrounds.
In all of these romantic tales, the lovers cross social, economic, and/or cultural borders in order to be together. And we the spectators love it. Admittedly, some of these stories end tragically. And Lord Byron did die alone of syphilis in a shack. But that last hip hop/ballet sequence though!
For those of us to whom cross-cultural love appeals, perhaps part of the excitement is the sense of tapping into this romantic legacy of rebellion in overcoming obstacles and reconciling differences. It confirms the platitude that love does conquers all. Even the frustration of converting Celsius to Fahrenheit. Even strong feelings regarding “fútbol” and “football.” Even disagreement on the suitability of wearing a fanny pack to a nightclub.
This continual process of radical and quotidian reconciliation in love is not exclusive to cross-cultural relationships, of course, only more salient.
So what if we loosed our grip on “having things in common,” and approached all romantic relationships international and homegrown, with the same appreciation for difference that propels and adds luster to our foreign flings?
Deeply understanding another person, and feeling understood in turn is certainly romantic. But so is accepting and celebrating the reality that you will never fully understand your partner. So is knowing that the dude across from you in literal or figurative lederhosen can never fathom what it is to come of age in the DC ‘burbs; that you will never grasp the nuances of his beloved Bavarian slang. So is marveling in the wonder of this other person in all his glorious separateness from you. And loving him despite and because of it.
The scaffolding may be rickety, but it’s one hell of a view.