In a world where distances are shorter than ever, new technologies enable instant communication across the globe. People are exposed to different ways of thinking and love has, in many ways, become more internationalized than ever before.
Some would argue that even today there are some highly isolated groups, while others would note that even before the arrival of European settlers to the Americas, Indigenous peoples would marry outside of their clan. It is fair to say that today we are traveling farther and faster than ever before and that cross-cultural love is on the rise.
Since many people are engaging in relationships in which each person belongs to different cultural backgrounds, religions, nationalities and so on, what implications do these kinds of relationships have for the wider society?
Firstly, as the number of cross-cultural relationships escalates, the boundaries between societies and cultures start to blur. A boy born in Canada, whose parents are from France and Thailand, would have complex cultural boundaries – he may pick up different aspects of each culture, creating a unique identity that is much more difficult to ensemble. However, that is not to say that a person born in the same country as their parents would have less cultural diversity.
As more cross-cultural relationships take place, more socio-cultural boundaries fade away.
According to Gavin Jones (of the National University of Singapore) and published in The Economist, “5% of marriages in Japan in 2008-09 included a foreign spouse (with four times as many foreign wives as husbands).
In South Korea, over 10% of marriages included a foreigner in 2010, up from 3.5% in 2000.” According to Giampaolo Lanzieri, “In France the proportion of international marriage rose from about 10% in 1996 to 16% in 2009.
In Germany, the rise is a little lower, from 11.3% in 1990 to 13.7% in 2010.”
What consequences does this have? Maybe children having more flexible cultural boundaries would allow them to take on different perspectives, a much-needed skill in today’s world in order to reach consensus.
On the other hand, could one’s identity division cause feelings of disconnect from the world? Would the fragmentations of their persona alienate them from the rest of society? These questions are highly contested and difficult to answer, however, in a globalized world it is necessary to look at them.
In terms of the relationships themselves, how do people manage the differences that arise from distinct perspectives? Some would argue that any kind of relationship implies some degree of conflict, but cross-cultural relationships often involve language barriers as well. Personal feelings are often the hardest utterances to be expressed. Imagine having to convey your feelings in a different language to a person whose native language may or may not be the one being used. There are whole arrays of possible misinterpretations that can take place but, once the language barrier is overtaken, expression of feelings likely becomes easier.
This raises the question: is love an international language? Can love transcend these barriers? There are still cultural differences that could cause confusion, but sometimes they are the very same differences that attract two people to be together.
The search for the exotic is a very well spread phenomenon in today’s society. We look for the different, the unique and the authentic. All these terms are highly contested and could be interpreted from many different points of view. It is important to note that there is no single truth about cross-cultural relationships, but that we must discuss these kinds of issues nonetheless.
Maybe all these questions can be addressed with a hypothetical situation: A Canadian exchange student meets a Spanish person at university and they engage in a relationship. They may have some language barriers, but English and Spanish are not that different and they quickly move past it. Although there are huge differences between the two western countries, there are more characteristics that unite them; once they pass the surface barriers they are able to interact like any other couple.
In another scenario, an Ecuadorian person traveling in Morocco and establishing a relationship with a local could present barriers more difficult to overcome. Religion, marriage and sex could be some of the many issues that are highly variable from culture to culture. For example, it is possible that the Moroccan person would have a totally different view of a relationship than an Ecuadorian. In this case, differences can absolutely be overcome, but chances are that the process would be more complex.
It is fair to say that some of these cross-cultural relationships would mirror global situations as in cases of international cooperation or conflict. With authority it could be argued that people belonging to countries that have agreements and somehow share cultural characteristics are more likely to be successful at cross-cultural relationships than people from places that are radically different and/or are at conflict. However, there is no single thesis or truth about how successful a relationship could be. That depends on many factors, such as the subjectivity of each person.
All these questions are controversial, contested and can be seen to have many answers. In the spirit of debate and discussion it is in our best interest to engage in an informed conversation in order to reveal hidden insight about the nature of cross-cultural relationships.