Families, Children & Marriage

Dealing with isolation in intercultural marriage

I somehow missed this topic in my introductory post on A Long(er) View of Interracial Marriage, perhaps because it inherently carries less hope than the other topics I’ve covered.  I’ve been sitting on it for awhile because it’s more weary-and-burdened than come-to-Jesus, but it’s still a part of the story that needs to be told – harsh, but true.  

It’s been just over four months now since we’ve been the only interracial couple in town and I think I’m just beginning to thaw.  I had a dream last night that we were in Indiana and ran across two other interracial couples at a local restaurant.  When they saw us, they first looked shocked, then pleased.  I exchanged an awkward I-don’t-know-you-but-I-understand-why-you-look-so-excited-to-see-me glance with one woman as I walked out the door of a restaurant where we’d typically received what-are-you-doing-here stares.  Then, I went outside to sit on a blanket with my husband where we were going to have a quiet little picnic together.  My first inclination was to tell him, “There was another interracial couple inside!” which really translated to: “We’re not alone!  We really are ok!” but I couldn’t say a word.  Instead, I looked for food and realized we didn’t have enough, so I let my husband eat it and I went hungry, resting on the blanket in the warm sun, feeling quiet and sad.

When I woke up, I was confused why I’d felt sad.  Shouldn’t I have been happy that I’d seen another interracial couple?  It was then I realized what my emotions were settling into: we’re not the only ones anymore.  I haven’t felt that feeling of racial objectification in well over four months, and it feels soooo healing to be seen for ourselves and not our skin.  I realized that in my dream, I hadn’t really even wanted to tell my husband about who I’d seen. I was tired of talking about race and our inability to ever blend in.  We’d lived eight years scrounging for nourishment to sustain the interracial/intercultural part of our identity, and it simply wasn’t there.

My dream highlighted one of the hardest parts of interracial marriage we’ve encountered: isolation.  Not all marriages like ours face this, but when they do, it’s certainly not a cakewalk.  I don’t claim to suggest that we’ve always handled the isolation well – it many ways I still feel like a failure for not being able to withstand it.  In my head, I hear people whispering things like, “Why do they always have to make such a big deal about those things?” or “Can’t they just get over it?” or, perhaps the hardest of all, “If Jesus is what unites us, why does race matter?”  Ultimately, a significant piece of me feels guilty that escape was our only resolve.

Over the years, I’ve suspected many share our feelings of isolation for a variety of reasons – differing faith convictions, disabled children, addiction, divorce, dysfunctional childhoods – really anything that causes them to stand out from the perceived norm. I find myself drawn to people willing to be honest about the path they’re walking without over-spiritualizing their response to it.  At the same time, I acknowledge that any peace won in the midst of such struggles ultimately comes from a place of deep spiritual grounding.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus promised. Clearly he knew we’d all feel lonely at some point. The reality that I’ve observed is that while we’re quick to advertise our “come-to-Jesus” responses to our struggles, it’s not nearly as safe to share the “weary-and-burdened” ones.  I wish I could offer more direction on this, but it’s a very unresolved struggle for me.

So, I’m curious…  How do you live in your unresolved and isolating struggles?  What characteristics do you see in people who do this ‘well’?

Other articles in this series:

A longer view of intercultural marriage

Practicing grace in intercultural marriage

Practicing patience in intercultural marriage

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5 thoughts on “Dealing with isolation in intercultural marriage”

  1. Hi Jody, just wanted to say – YOU ARE NOT ALONE 🙂 I don’t know what the general attitude to inter-racial marriage is like where you are compared to Australia, but I must admit that our we’ve handled things in two ways:
    – withdrawing from those of my husband’s circle of friends who couldn’t handle the inter-racial nature of our relationship, and
    – me blending in as much as I could (skin-colour permitting) with my husband’s culture – something that’s second-nature to me given my rather nomadic background.
    Yes, it is generally lonely and isolating. But as the years go on, people tend to get used to one being part of the fabric so to speak, and accept us (me?) as we are without reference necessarily to the colour of our skin.
    I realise that I’ve just commented from the point of view of the person in the marriage who is the ‘odd one out’! Perhaps it is easier overall too, looking at some other inter-racial relationships we know, for a woman to be in that position than a man.
    Some random thoughts there 🙂
    Susie

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    1. Thanks, Susie. That’s a huge part of the reason I write here – to remember that I’m not alone… It’s been so helpful to realize others are grappling with the same questions and situations and feelings that we are, even if they are not in our immediate circles.

      Do you ever start to feel like you’ve lost part of yourself blending in so much? This was what was so difficult for my husband – to blend in, he had to become something that he was not. (and even then, it may have been doubtful if he would fit in…) Everyone is wired differently and handles these kinds of situations differently – that’s why I’m curious how other people process their own situations – I’m wondering if there is shared ground in isolation (kind of an ironic pursuit, eh?) or if it’s solely based on personality and situation…

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      1. Hey! I just stumbled across your blog via Twitter and loved this post. Thanks for being so honest and transparent. And truly, you’re not alone.

        Yes, there are challenges to any marriage, particularly intercultural ones. Yes, I sometimes feel left out and isolated – especially at social events where everyone is predominantly of one race, and my African husband and I draw far more attention than I think we should.

        It cuts both ways, though. I have been the only white person back in my husband’s homeland within a 20-mile radius (or so it seems), and it is UNCOMFORTABLE! We both have had to acclimatize to some pretty interesting (sometimes difficult) cultural expectations.

        But I think there’s a difference to “blending in” with your surroundings and “conforming” to them – a bit like how Jesus prayed for us to be in the world, but not of it. I think you can blend in as best you can from a background of mutual respect and appreciation, but still be rooted and comfortable being yourself. After all, you are unique – just like everyone else, right? 🙂

        P.S. Despite all the challenges, being in a multicultural marriage is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

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        1. Good to see you here, and thanks for sharing! I agree – I love being a part of an intercultural marriage…there is so much richness and joy.

          It’s certainly easier to be ‘unique’ in an urban context where this is the norm rather than the exception – that’s what we found most difficult. In rural contexts, sameness is highly valued and we often felt that our ‘uniqueness’ was a deficit, not a strength to being a part of the community.

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