The following post was written by a good friend of mine, Zareh, who goes by “Z.” Z is a native of Armenia, Yerevan, currently residing in Boston, MA. He is a Microbial Development Scientist focusing on Alternative Fuel Sources. You can connect directly with Z at @ZarehZurabyan.
We have all heard the cliché sayings of how similar human beings are: and that is true fundamentally, as far as the human species goes, but our relationships are not based on just mammalian human-human interactions: humans have evolved differently throughout planet earth, developing different cultures and mindsets.
For anyone who thinks otherwise, here is another way of putting it…Think of all the 7 billion people on this Earth, there is not ONE single identical person, as far as the fingerprints go, the face, the hair, the “anything.” Which means that every single human’s cell make-up is completely different from another person’s – which in turn translates to different personalities and mindsets.
I don’t need to get into the genetic history of human kind but you get the idea that there are racial, ethnic, regional, and to the most simple – individual cultural differences between people.
One must accept that in order to fully embrace a relationship, whether love or friendship – but let’s stick to love, because it’s more…sexy.
I personally believe that the differences are beautiful and create a challenge for a person to explore their deepest ideologies. Don’t get me wrong, it is much easier to date someone that has had the same culture as you, same childhood as you, same socioeconomic status, same education, same family values, and same religious or secular views as you.
But, if you are someone that doesn’t want the easy way out, or wants to specifically date out of his/her demographic you should expect many differences, and you should embrace them.
There are some fundamental cultural differences that should be talked about.
#1: Like attracts Like – I grew up and was raised in Armenia, Yerevan. With that city comes countless number of cultural characteristics. The post soviet era with the modern westernized schooling of the streets, neighborhood, school and parenting has shaped me and everybody else’s character during that period. This character is unique ONLY to us, nobody else, not even another Armenian who hasn’t grown up the same way as I have will truly feel what I feel. When I meet someone from my childhood, the mutual respect, understanding, love and care we have for each other cannot be compared to anything else.
Same way, the wave of Cubans that moved to US in the 1980’s have their own unique experience that has developed their culture, and nobody could feel what they feel. Or the Italians in New York, or the 4 generations of Irish in Boston – these are all different cultures of people, that share intimate similarities with each other and nobody else – besides to being exposed to your own kind the most, that is the reason why people stick to people from the same culture.
#2: Opposites Repel – What do I mean by saying opposites? Historical opposites. Meaning, it is extremely hard to have Christian marry a Muslim or a Jew, too many differences, and a historical opposition to one another. Is it stupid – yes, but that’s just how it is.
Can a Chinese marry a Japanese – extremely unlikely due to the historical hate they’ve had towards each other.
Think of the blacks and whites in US, it is still a very rare event in most states of US. It is not just individual differences, but when you engage into a relationship, you engage your family with theirs, your tradition with theirs, and your community with theirs. When there are many people involved with their unique personalities and ideologies, then you know there will be plenty of disagreements and difficulties within the relationship – still doesn’t mean if it’s not doable due to love, especially in modernized countries.
#3: Modern/contemporary differences – “Individualistic romanticism”
I have friends from all different cultures. One of my good friends had lived in the International building of Northeastern University, and I had spent a good chunk of my college years there meeting all types of people. All types of intercultural couples, anywhere from Uganda to Russia.
I personally have a lot of Russian, Middle Eastern, and European friends, as well as many from The Caucuses. After speaking to all of them with regards to intercultural dating, I’ve noticed this reoccurring theme, or a common cultural difference with respect to Modern Day America that everybody complained about…
It is a phenomenon I like to call “Individualistic romanticism,” where people idealize the concept of being a proud “independent individual,” and it seems to be present mostly in the Metropolitan states where the modernization, and the high pace lifestyle has gone above and beyond.
What this romanticism is, is this idea of everybody for themselves, you are your own person, you don’t need anybody else, you can do everything on your own. Independence from family, etc. America is the only country where once you turn 18, parents kick you out and say you are an adult now, go make things happen. As great as that concept is, it has detrimental affects of the intimacy of family and friends.
The most common issue I see with intercultural dating when people are dating someone from this individualistic romanticism culture, is the lack of intimacy, lack of interest and care for family and friends. In other parts of the world, and in more rural parts of America, people rely on each other, they dwell on each other, and they have a very hard time adjusting to these individualistic relationships.
Kids go to college and don’t call their parents for months. Families live down the street from each other and they don’t interact. Everybody has seen the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and that is a perfect example of this “Individualistic romanticism” versus the extremely close family and friend ties that might seem odd to some of the modern Americans.
A friend of mine who was getting his masters in Medicine at Boston University was telling me how one of his roommates used to make fun of him for talking to his mother every day and keeping her updated on how things are, since he was from LA.
I mean how do you not talk to your mother? She gave birth to you, cleaned your piss and shit for 3 years, and then cleaned the metaphorical piss and shit for another 15, and you do not have the desire, let alone decency to see how she is doing?
I think another reason for this was the whole hippy/drug movements that started from 70’s till late 80’s. There is a large population of Americans that all they did was drugs and sex, and because of that a whole new generation was born into these dysfunctional families, and they had no foundation to build upon to make their own. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as they say.
Last but not least, with regards to the individualistic romanticism, I have noticed myself straying away from my family – I had a period of my life where I always thought, “why are you trying to be so involved in my life? This is my life, not yours.”
All of a sudden, I realized that I was becoming lonely – I was becoming the product of this environment where I ONLY have to worry about myself, because nobody else worries about me, right? It is me against the world. You are not me, you don’t know what I go through! But your family and friends do, that is exactly why they want to be involved.
I love my mother’s affection, I love my father’s criticism, I love my brother’s extreme “love” for me even if it means completely ruining my day with his “tough love.” I love my sister’s fragile understanding of my mentality. I love the genuine smile of my friends when they see me succeed, and I love how they share my sadness.
Cultural differences are amazing. You can learn from each other, and meet each other half way and have a child that is a prodigy of the 2 cultures. The child is already at an advantage over other kids for being exposed to, and developed under 2 different cultures.
What’s wrong with celebrating 2 Christmases, on January 6th and one on December 25th? What’s wrong with fasting during Ramadan and Lent? What is wrong with taking the best ideas from the teachings of the Buddha and The Bible? What is wrong with knowing how to cook Fried Chicken and Orange Chicken (That was a joke, laugh). It is all about taking the best of both worlds.
For love, both cultures can intertwine and create a hybrid, all it takes is desire to learn and grow.