Navigating Your Significant Other's Culture

Dating is already complicated enough, but throw a difference in culture into the mix, and things become even more complex and confusing at times. Growing up in a culture makes us blind to some of the practices we see as normal. And while they are normal to us, they might feel foreign to someone who has never experienced them.

The easiest example I can think of is Christmas. Different cultures celebrate Christmas differently. The standard American Christmas celebration starts with everyone waking up as early as possible to open presents. It makes sense to celebrate Christmas on Christmas, but you have other cultures that celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. Noche Buena is how many Latino families spend their Christmas, even though it happens on Christmas Eve. Noche Buena consists of a big meal, friends, family, dancing, and gift opening. So how do you go about navigating your significant other’s culture and your own? 

Navigating Your Significant Other’s Culture

Patience

Patience truly is a virtue. Navigating something new like your significant other’s culture is challenging, especially if you have never been exposed to their culture. So remember to take a breath and roll with the punches. I promise it’s not scary. It’s just different. And you will get a peek into the world of your significant other and see a piece of them you might not have seen.  

Patience is key if you are introducing your significant other to your culture. Things we are used to might feel weird or foreign to them. It’s not your partner trying to be disrespectful, but they may need a little grace to adjust. For example, I know the friends I need to prepare or don’t need to prepare to take to a family party. Latin parties can be a lot, especially with my really big family. So friends that grew up in smaller families or are more introverted need a breakdown of what to expect, who to say hi to, and what corner of the house they can run to when things are overwhelming. A little empathy and consideration go a long way.    

Curiosity 

I don’t know about you, but I love talking about my heritage. I am proud of it. I love when people ask me questions to understand more about it. Genuine curiosity will go a long way when navigating your significant other’s culture. Ask questions. They don’t have to be the deepest and most philosophical questions. Ask why their mom’s habichuelas (beans) are the best. What makes them so special? 

Curiosity is important because it’s the catalyst for communication. Talk to each other about your childhoods. What were holidays like growing up? That communication can alleviate anxieties leading up to family gatherings. (Like knowing what corner of the house you can hide in for a minute or two.) And you don’t have to be experts on each other’s culture, but it might lead to a better appreciation of them. What more can you ask for than a better understanding of a piece of your partner’s identity? 

Expect Obstacles

With anything new in life, there will always be new challenges and obstacles that pop up around you. Exploring a new culture will challenge and take you out of your comfort zone. Communication is vital to overcoming those obstacles. I could go into detail about arguing about family traditions and who traditions take priority, but that’s a topic for another day. 

The easiest and, for me, the most obvious challenge is food. There are foods I grew up with that others might think are disgusting. And while there are some dishes I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (I’m looking at your chicken feet), plenty seem weird at first, but I promise they are delicious. I live by the philosophy that you must try the food at least once before saying you don’t like it. So try and overcome the challenge and try the food once. Maybe you love it, or maybe it’s the worst thing you’ve ever had. Your partner will appreciate the effort more than anything.  

Accept Change

Life changes when you enter a relationship. That seems like such an obvious thing to say, but it’s more apparent if you are with someone from a different culture. Change and compromise go both ways. A relationship is give and take. An example might be that you don’t like people wearing shoes in the house. Or maybe your significant other likes a side of white rice with everything, including pasta. (My little sister loves her white rice and whoever marries her needs to invest in the best rice cooker ever.) Maybe you open some presents on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. If you lead with curiosity, show patience, and overcome obstacles together, you might find some balance or harmony in your melting pot of a home. Healthy change and growth are rarely a bad thing in one’s life.  

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