Are Cultural Divides Worth the Ride?

Q. I have been dating a guy for a couple months now and we are starting to get pretty serious. We love each other, we communicate really well …we have similar interests and senses of humor. The issue is that he is from India and I am from the US. He is only here for short periods of time which is dictated by work.

Our different backgrounds, religions and permanent locations have forced some really serious questions to the front of our minds much earlier than they would be in other relationships. Should we be worried about those big life questions (i.e. where would we live, how would we raise kids) now or should we wait to see if we even continue to like each other over time? Is it even worth continuing down this path when there seem to be so many obstacles in the way?

A. It’s natural that these issues are coming up sooner than later, but you don’t have to rush to any decisions today. You are young and you do have time. We do know these are important issues in the long run.

 “Before you ever get married to somebody, you have to be on the same page about a couple of things: kids, money and religion. Those are big things that I think that can really be a problem.” – 40-something, married 23 years, mom to 3 children, retired executive, Chicago, IL

So take advantage of this time to see if the different backgrounds, religion, child rearing beliefs or openess to stray from your comfort zone (e.g. live in another country) are your deal-breakers. To do so, the best prescription is to stay present and focus on how easily and drama-free you get on together … as that’s always a good sign if you can grow together and it creates the space to explore the bigger issues.

These 40-something women weigh in with their opinions:

There is nothing to decide right now…

“True love is certainly worth a gamble, but after only 2 months of a long distance relationship, I do not think you need to concern yourselves with “big issues”.  See where the relationship goes and in 2 years if you still are thrilled with each other, start to tackle bigger questions. There is no harm in giving it a shot as long as it doesn’t become an obstacle in terms of you  pursuing your dreams.  You can evaluate the situation as it goes along.” – 40-something, fashion designer, married, mom, Brooklyn, NY

When it gets exclusive, then it’s time to bring it up…

“These topics should come up as the relationship progresses and you become exclusive. This is typically the time when you meet the family, and you will be introduced to their expectations. When the relationship enters the next chapter, it is usually a good time to have a conversation surrounding this topic.”

Obstacles now will be big obstacles later…

“You seem to have too many concerns right now in order to make it work.  If you were thinking ‘Wow – how cool it would be to bring children up with two different cultural heritages and be able to have relatives in 2 different countries, learn a 2nd language’, you probably wouldn’t be asking these questions.

Being married to someone from a very different culture could be considered a life adventure but not if you want to share your life with someone that has been raised in a similar life to your own.  I think it’s very good to recognize that now because if you eventually want a family, all these differences will be wildly magnified and probably for the worse.  There are millions of Mr. Rights in the world; you just need to find one with a background more similar to you.” – 40-something, married mom who does not believe in soul-mates and saying like she thinks!

On the other hand…respect can trump a common history, heritage or religion.

This 40-something woman spent her 20s and 30s only dating men with whom she shared a cultural background, language and religious upbringing. As she saw each of these relationships fail, for reasons more “fundamental than “sharing a common history, heritage or religion”, she came to the conclusion that it was not the most important criteria when finding a mate:

“Today as a single woman in my 40s, I think the most important ingredient in a successful relationship is respect. Respect for one’s own self and your beliefs as well as respect for and from your partner.Respect with a touch of chemistry can readily help couples manage, mitigate and resolve religious, cultural and familial differences. Religious commonality however does not afford you the same capability or success rate.” – 40-something, financial advisor, New York, NY

There are obstacles in any relationship….

 “Any relationship you commit to, COULD ultimately fail. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you’re committed to it enough to take that chance … and committed enough to try to prevent the failure.  If you go into it assuming it’s going to fail, it surely will.” – 40-something, Washington, DC.

Perhaps some of these answers resonate with you and can help guide your decision as you continue to get to know each other.  It’s only two months so you don’t need to answer or ask it right now now. Just set clear expectations on dealing with your time apart (are you exclusive) so you can enjoy your time together and enjoy your differences.



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