Dr. Stephen R. Covey, in his The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, advised us: “Begin with the end in mind.” Make your initial choices align with your final goals. Beware of interracial dating: you might fall in love, not marry, never forget.
Knowing that you will not be able to marry a person of another race, religion, or nationality, does it make sense to date that person? You might both enjoy it or both learn something from it. You might even fall in love. There’s the problem. Where marriage is impossible, being in love is tantalizing. You are going to part. You are not going to forget. Depending on how deep that love is, your future relationships could be jeopardized by it.
I fell in love with Tina Su at Cornell University in 1963, when interracial dating and interracial marriage were much rarer than they are today. We were well matched in our tastes and values and in that we came from families of roughly equal financial and educational attainments. Tina’s highly educated parents came from China to America right after World War II, and her father, Dr. G.J. Su, had a long and distinguished career as a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Rochester. Her mother, S.T.C. Su, had earned a chemistry degree and had exerted her independence from her wealthy merchant family in China, but she applied her talents to home-making, child-rearing, and the painting of lovely watercolors, some of which adorn our walls.
Tina’s family, outside and above most of their neighbors in Rochester, NY, were among only a handful of Chinese families near that city during Tina’s childhood in the 1940‘s and 1950‘s. Any racial slights they experienced could be dismissed by the Su family as the bad behavior of lower-class individuals, thus less hurtful. Their situation was a far different starting point from those Chinese who arrived here as laborers, whose children stereotypically ran Chinese laundries and restaurants, often subsequently sending their children to medical, law, and engineering schools. [Far different, too, was the experience of Japanese Americans in internal exile here during World War II.] Tina’s parents expected each of the three children to marry a Chinese and the two daughters did, but the son did not. Of those three marriages, only one survives, the interracial marriage that withstood parental opposition.
My parents were both college educated; and my father became a lawyer of modest success. Like Tina’s two siblings, my four sibs went on to professions requiring college degrees. They, and I, eventually married within our race and religion, as expected. Of those five first marriages, only one survives. Education and similarity of background did not guarantee successful marriage.
In 1963, Tina Han Su and I met in the Cornell University language course, Chinese 102, and fell in love. We had to part when I graduated, in 1964, and we did not marry each other until 1984. Some of that delay was due to parental ethnocentrism. Meanwhile, she married a Chinese scientist from Taiwan and subsequently, I married a Caucasian young woman who reminded me of Tina. [My wife, I later learned, was “rebounding” from a failed romance of her own.]
Tina’s first marriage and mine eventually failed, quite possibly due in part to the love that Tina and I still had for each other. When Tina and I finally married, in 1984, twenty years after separating, both families approved. Time had made race seem less important than other considerations.
Tina’s elder sister’s first marriage was, like Tina’s, to a man of Chinese ancestry. Her second marriage, like Tina’s, is to a Caucasian. Tina’s younger brother married a Caucasian, a successful marriage that took years to win his parents’ acceptance. I have read that now in America roughly half of second-generation and later-generation Asians marry Caucasians. Time will tell whether such marriages are more or less successful than most.
Centuries ago, most people lived in their home towns all their lives, meeting and marrying local people, not so different from themselves — though still as different as women and men are from each other. Now, children often move far away to take jobs for which they have trained that are not available nearby, meeting others also from distant places, marrying them, and creating new unions of types of people rarely paired in prior eras. In biology, the mixing of somewhat dissimilar stock can produce “hybrid vigor,” arguably true for humans, as well.
Prosperity produces jobs that lure us from where we are to where the jobs are. Prosperity allows us to move to a nicer neighborhood because we can afford to do so, getting a better house or a better school system for our children, hopefully getting both. This movement produces small-sale mixing, where we find ourselves next door, or in adjacent cubicles at work, to people from widely different origins from our own, though often of a similar economic class. This kind of person-to-person closeness is, I believe, a beneficial result of a drive toward greater “diversity.”
When adding my powdered Instant Breakfast to milk, I note that pouring the powder in very rapidly can lead to poor dispersal. Some things should not be hurried. Occasionally, too, clumps of powder come out of the package that are hard to get to dissolve. Certain groups, such as the Amish or the Jewish Hassidim, do not want to disaggregate. Their tight bonds with each other have value, too. Dating such people, as an “outsider” is likely to produce heartache, however.
We think we chose even when we did not. I fell in love with Tina almost at first sight, in our Chinese language course. An adorable and brilliant co-worker of mine, J.J. Wu, shared an office with a handsome Jewish scientist of comparable intellect and similar interests. They fell in love. His parents forbid their marrying. They separated permanently. I doubt their story had a happy ending. One of our friends still nurses a love for a man of a different religion who was forbidden from marrying her — twenty-five years ago. She’s married and reasonably happy, but “what if…” crosses her mind occasionally.
So, if you are going to date across racial, ethnic, national, or religious lines, beware: You might fall in love. You might not marry. You might never forget.
It could be worse. As Shakespeare wrote,
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That I scorn to change my state with kings.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a freelance writer, a retired physicist. His book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, was published in September 2011 by Outskirts Press (Parker, CO) and is available through amazon.com, Barnes and Noble [bn.com], or tingandi.com.