The race issue

Her parents don't want her dating a white guy, and the pressure they put on her is hurting our relationship.


Cary Tennis
April 6, 2004 1:53AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am in an interracial relationship that has recently become difficult to maintain. My girlfriend and I go to different schools a long distance from each other, so our visits are infrequent and most often brief except for quarterly breaks, summers and so on. This has been going on for three years now and we've had our ups and downs, but something has kept it going despite the odds. Never once did I consider our cultural and racial difference to be a problem. It has always lagged far behind the distance issue.

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But this has changed. Her father, who is employed out of the country, has a history of alcoholism and depression that really took a toll on his family. He has told her not to date anyone (let alone a white guy) while she is in school, and she has been secretly defying him, as well as her less oppressive mother, for the past three years. Her mother has come to realize that something is going on between us but hasn't quite condemned it yet. Obviously her family will have to know at some point if it is to go on, and I have been expecting a little more assurance that there is significant potential for that happening. I understand that she cannot tell her father now, but the influence her parents hold over her inevitably causes a lot of doubt in me.

Before she came to visit a few weeks ago, her mother repeatedly made her promise that she would not have sex with me. When my girlfriend confronted me about this over the phone I told her that her mom didn't understand how we felt about each other and that we are old enough to do what we like. I thought this to be perfectly reasonable, but she brought it up a few more times and I eventually told her that she should do what she feels is right. That didn't work out very well. After nearly two months apart she arrived and shied away from sex as well as intimacy in general. A huge argument developed, and I told her that I could survive without the sex but I needed the intimacy to prove to me that this was a real relationship. She said she was afraid that the kissing would lead to sex and that she couldn't look her mother in the eye and lie to her. Tears were shed and things were blurted out from both sides and there was the conventional apology and we tried to put it behind us for the rest of the weekend.

Since she left I have been in doubt over everything. I don't want to argue or make difficult decisions over the phone, but I can't help but feel that this is the beginning of the end for us. I felt that I was very tolerant and respectful of her decision but I know I can't regress to a nonphysical state in my relationship of three years. With a few words her mother completely altered her mind-set and made her feel wrong and dirty about sex: What kind of influence will her parents hold when and if she chooses to tell her mother (and God forbid) her father about our relationship?

I am afraid to do anything. We've had good times together. This is the first serious relationship for the both of us. But I cannot get certain doubts out of my head. I am only going to have the freedom of college for another two years and, much as I care for my girlfriend, this relationship cannot be a dead-end street. I will see her again soon and hopefully this will become more clear to me, but if it isn't what should I do?

Needing Help

Dear Needing Help,

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When you know what you want, you can overcome obstacles. You and your girlfriend need to first agree on what you want. Suppose that you wanted to maintain your relationship as it is until you get out of college, and then move to a town where you could be together, and then get engaged to be married. That would be a plan. If you had a plan like that, you could overcome the temporary obstacles to your happiness that arise now from her family.

Without a plan for the future, little obstacles make the trouble look like it's not worth it. If the relationship is really just something to do, a convenience, or if you're not really sure you want to continue it, then the obstacles make it seem as though you should just call it quits. But hear me: It is not unusual for you to feel that you need to have the sex in order to feel secure. But you've got to use your mind: If you know the reason you're not having the sex is not because she's stopped loving you, but because her parents are threatening her, then perhaps you can have some patience.

You've got to know. Search your heart: Do you want to marry this girl? Do you want to be with her in five years, say, or 10 years? Do you have the kinds of mutual interests and outlook that would make you compatible living together and doing all the things that married people do? Think it through logically, and also think about how you feel: Not only about whether you have compatible qualities and interests but whether, in your gut, you want to be with her.

If you do, then I suggest you propose a plan to her. I'm not saying necessarily that you propose marriage yet. But tell her that in spite of the problems with parents and all that, you think that there's a future for the two of you. Tell her you'd like to plan that when you get out of college, you agree to live in the same town with an eye toward continuing the relationship. Ask her what she thinks. Does she think there is a future for you also?

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She may not. Be prepared for this. She might not say no, but she might fail to give you anything affirmative and concrete. Unless she gives you a good signal that she wants to continue, there's probably a good deal of doubt in her mind. Do not underestimate the power of her parents, the need she has for their approval. If you get the sense that she has doubts about your future together, that she's not willing to plan for a future together, then I think you should break it off. Because if this is going to work she's got to resist her parents, and that's a taxing, difficult thing. To do it, she's got to be sure she wants to be with you.

After you talk with her, ask yourself: Did she sound like she wants to make a long-term plan? Did she sound like she really wants to be with me? If she did, then you and she need to agree on what your plan is, and try to weather the present and all its disagreeable conditions.

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Cary Tennis

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