Inter-cultural dating and difficult family
I need some advice around my relationship with my parents/family and how they are towards my partner. Sorry this is long but I feel you need context.
A few months ago I started seeing a man who I met online. He is absolutely delightful and we have feelings for each other. The relationship is mutually respectful, loving and we share the same values.
My family are extremely distrustful of him because he is an Iranian refugee who is Muslim (I am a white Christian from a middle class family in Melbourne inner city suburbs). If you were to meet him in person or speak to him over the phone, you would not even know that he is Iranian or Muslim - you would probably assume he’s Southern European or South American. The problem with my family is that they have jumped on the Pauline Hanson & Donald Trump bandwagon (far right ultra conservative views), which is ironic as my family were immigrants and our background was considered undesirable in the 50s, 60s and even 70s.
He follows Sufism which means that he does not believe in most of the Islamic doctrine (i.e not drinking alcohol, women needing to be covered up, eating pork - he doesn't eat pork as he doesn't like it but doesn't have an issue with it, I digress). Essentially, he smashes every stereotype of a Middle Eastern man or a Muslim and doesn't even have anything to do with the Islamic community in Melbourne. He treats me with the utmost of respect and as an equal in everything. He is supportive of me having a career and continuing study etc and celebrates my successes and helps me with any issues I may have.
He is extremely grateful to be in Australia, loves the country and people, and really tries hard to be as Australian as possible. He speaks english well and is trying to learn all of our slang and colloquialisms so that he can fit in with everyone. He has a variety of friends from different backgrounds so doesn't stick to “his own kind”. He and his family are well educated and mostly all have post graduate qualifications - even the females. He was a school teacher in Iran (which is how he got into trouble) and came to Australia by boat (i.e he was a boat person and spent time in detention on Christmas Island). He has been granted a temporary protection visa and wants to become a permanent resident and therefore eventually a citizen. He no longer teaches and is undergoing an electrical apprenticeship as he prefers to work with his hands and took this as an opportunity for a career change (he would have had to study any way if he wanted to continue teaching).
Many nasty things have been said to me about him from my family, some were said after having a bit too much to drink at a celebration which are totally unfair. If any of these things were said about anyone else who isn’t middle eastern or Muslim it would be considered to be unacceptable. I of course have not told him what their feelings towards him as its too early in the relationship and I don't want to make him feel bad or ruin what we are enjoying (its bad enough that I am made to feel bad so he doesn't need to deal with it yet. I cop a lot so there are times when I’m not with him, I feel bad/sad about the whole situation, yet when I’m with him, I feel 100x better). For some reason he is being held to a higher standard than other men I have dated, yet he is the one who has treated me the best and with the most respect as you would expect your partner to treat you.
In order to allay some of their concerns, I arranged a dinner with my parents and the two of us so that they could meet him and see that he isn’t a threat. My parents were delightful towards him and enjoyed his company. And while a lot of concerns were put aside (his religious beliefs, family background, temperament), they came up with more issues of concern. They saw him as a lovely, gentle, delightful man who is well spoken, well presented but now they think he is too nice. It seems like they are trying to find an excuse to find something wrong with him.
My family do not listen to me when I try to allay their concerns. In summary their concerns are:
He’s using me for a visa. I have never had anything to do with immigration with him, besides, you need to be in a de-facto relationship for at least 18 months for him to get a visa based on a relationship with an Australian citizen. We don't even live together nor have discussed this.
He is too nice. He is an apprentice at the moment so therefore isn't earning a lot in terms of income and he wont have his full licence to practice for another 2 years. He indicated that he wanted to open his own business or work for a large construction company. They think that because he is too nice and gentle that he doesn't have the get up and go to do this and that he will end up working for some small company for the rest of his life not earning much more than $60-70K pa (this isn't a lot if you live in Melbourne! and is below the national median income). I don't think this is a fair assessment as I know successful people with the similar temperament who have done very well for themselves. Tradies in Austrlalia also earn a very good living in general. They want me to be with someone like a stockbroker or lawyer who earns in excess of $200K pa.
He’s an economic migrant and not a refugee. He told me reasons why he came here the way he did and my family do not like the fact he came here as undocumented arrival by boat. Regardless, I feel this this a moot point as he’s here now and the government provided him with his visa (which was under the more conservative Abbott government who tightened the regulations). He’s a law abiding citizen who works hard to pay his own way (never was on government benefits), pays tax like everyone and loves this country, its people and culture. He has never lied to me about anything, in particular about this (he was very open to me about it).
They feel that my political views/opinions are changing because of him. I am a member of a centre right political party and I admit that some of my views have changed, but I fundamentally believe in the same things I always have and my political values and opinions align with the party I am a member of. I have been involved for 10 years and will continue to be indefinitely. They all use to vote and support my party (albeit not as members) but now agree with Pauline Hanson and voted for her (the joke is that her views have been consistent for 20 years and she was kicked out of my party for her views which were considered abhorrent back in 1996 but seem to be acceptable now by some. The only difference is that Hanson directed her criticisms (vitriol?) to Asians back then.
He doesn't drink much, but I like to enjoy quite a few wines. This is true, but he does drink and party like every other young person in Melbourne does, but not as often and doesn't drink as much alcohol. I don't see this as an issue as this is an area of compromise - I will end up drinking a bit less and he may drink a little more than usual depending on the occasion. He doesn't mind my drinking habits and him drinking a lot less than I do does not bother me.
Our family background is a big thing. My parents feel that it might get lost if I end up with him. Firstly, traditions change over time, particularly from migrant families like ours where it can meld into new ones in a new country. He is happy to celebrate Christian things with us like Christmas and Easter and finds our beliefs and traditions interesting and enjoyable, as I do for the Persian celebrations.
They think that he wont be accepted and we will therefore be ostracised from society. Well, my friends don't care that he's an Iranian Muslim refugee - their first question was “does he treat you well and make you happy” to which I replied absolutely yes. Their response that this is all that matters. I can see where my family are coming from from the issues with Muslim migration in Europe and the UK, however we do not have the same issues in Australia. I understand that there will always be someone who wont like a white christian female is with a muslim man who has darker skin, but to me it doesn't matter what a random person in the street thinks.
Its hard to meet a nice, decent person who is respectful, trustworthy, loving and kind. And while I agree that it would be easier in some respects to be with someone from the same background, you cant dismiss someone based on different backgrounds and religious beliefs. Most importantly, I think you should focus on shared values, trust, respect, support for each other in their lives and goals which is what we already have.
I know I need to really work hard with my family to gain acceptance for this relationship but I feel as though I’m constantly having to prove something about him and its never good enough. What started me writing this as I had a quick chat to mum and I mentioned that my partner cooked dinner and brought it over to my house as I just finished working 6 long days in a row. Her response is a flat “thats very thoughtful” and then ended the conversation and “had to go”. No other partner of mine has done something this thoughtful for me before.
I get a barrage of criticisms and concerns from them but never a proper chance to address them and if I do they are completely dismissed and I am spoken over (they all have loud personalities and I dont, however when I do speak up I’m told that I am over reacting). I’m at a loss as to what to do. I regret telling them his background but at the same time I feel its important to be honest. I feel as though being honest in this regard has led to all these issues which I shouldn't be dealing with at this stage of the relationship. I feel as though I should have left out the fact that he’s Muslim and a refugee (however his name would give it away!).
Now that there is background and context, I would love your opinion on whether there is a cause for concern based on the above and if I have “rose coloured glasses on”. I’m constantly told negative things so its starting to play on my mind a bit. I feel as though I need someone outside of my situation for an opinion. I also welcome any tips on dealing with difficult parents! I know they are coming from a place of love and caring, but communication needs to be a two way street.
this is a difficult situation you are dealing with here, ive read it skimming, in full but I have got the gyst of what you are saying here. the bottom line is that this is a real person with feelings for you, he has shown kindness, love, warmth and care for you. not everyone gets to be with someone that even respects them these days!
I think you are wasting your time trying to keep on explaining to your parents and other family members, they know you love him and have realized that now they have met him they cannot really fault him, but are still pushing your weak point to rile you and get you emotional. its become a game to them and an accepted game by you now, so much that you are even beginning to question parts of your views because as they say if you sling enough mud....
you will be stronger if you just don't keep biting back to them, they know that when you are upset you will need them to turn to, and so it all goes round in very tiring and emotional circles. try telling them next time they start, just say look, I know how you feel I don't want to talk about this anymore, you know how I feel about him and I'm not going to change my mind on this so youre just going to have to accept it sooner or later and walk out of their space literally for a moment or too, they will soon see that you mean business and are not budging. they have got a lot of power over you and are using it to control what they want for you. do you know know everything about our parents relationship? no of course you don't, and you cannot tell how much they love each other when they fight or are so in love, only they know, and its the same for you too. sadly, they do have some idea of your feelings, but are so steeped in culture and societal pressures and conformity and how they will be seen they have forgotten what matters where true love is concerned. your happiness.
you are seeing this person, but if you continue with all the pressure you will lose a good man and then where will you be? you are an adult now so you have to stand up to people, it doesn't need to be fighting and shouting but you need to stand up to them. maybe tell them you could have chosen to do things behind theier backs but are openly making a choice that you believe is good for you and if they don't like it tough.
good luck with this. but you need to be stronger, they are walking all over you and no longer feel that they have to respect you because they have grown so used to this pattern. you are with him and that is the end of it. tell them otherwise you will lose him! do your parent want to see you broken. if you were successful with other more suited men you would have still been with them!!!!! what did they have to say about their other perfect matches when they ended?! did they stand by you or tell you you were a fool to let these others go?
if it works good, if not you gave a nice person a try. don't keep living to what others want all the time, I feel there are other motives going on hear, but the real reasons to be with someone is love and care for each other. but also its not fair to stay with people who are good kind if you don't really love them. just do things with this guy without their interference and tell them what you have done and how good it was, if they don't want to hear it ok, but you will grow stronger with him. I think you need to talk to him too and be honest with him so you can have someone who knows and can share some of the load with you. you DONT have to prove anything to your parents except be the best person you can be, you don't have to work to get their acceptance. they need to work hard to start expecting your decisions as an adult and individual. it maynot happen or happen quickly, but just get on with being with the one you love.just because someone is one religion or not another doesn't mean a realationship will be good or that they will treat you with kindness! you have love and kindness so don't lose that for people who are not in the relationship. they love you, but are controlling and manipulating things because they are in fear if losing that control over you. go on a holiday with this man and send them a postcard!!!!! that will teach them. lol. take care.X
pps....if he is using you for a visa, then at least you can travel with him more for certain! ENJOY THIS ROMANCE FOR WAHT IT IS, something that is making you happy and keeping you sane right now. to hell with the rest of them.
I agree to your point that values, respect, morals are important factors that one should look in a person. It is also true that the situation in countries like Iran have forced people to move out and find asylum in other countries. If they weren't forced they would be happily thriving in their own countries. It doesn't make them bad people. It is very natural for a parent to be protective of their child. So i also understand when your parents are against all of this. The fact that he is a "Muslim" is a big shock for them, and the other fact that he is refugee is a total no no for them. So let us be fair when are trying to make integrate each other into our lives.
The first things that you look into a person is how trust worthy is he. He may be good hearted, soft spoken with good value systems. But that is not enough. You need to know that you can trust him enough for the intentions that he is wanting to be with you. If he was a normal muslim who was a Australian citizen, this conversation would have been slightly different and much more easier for your parents to gulp it down.
There are two issues that we are dealing here with. One is that he is a Refugee and second that he is a muslim. So starting with he being a Refugee, There is a question that how can you trust a person who is wanting get a Australian citizenship by marrying a native ? Right ? Extreme measures can push people to do anything. If he went through all the effort on getting on a boat and entering Australia... he could do anything or say anything to make sure that he can stay here. I am not trying to be cynical here but when you expect that everyone around should be fair with him, then you should be able to answer these basic questions too. We should be able to have a fair dialogue at this point of time, when it is necessary. Falling in love with someone with similar ideas is very easy. But to sustain this love and to make sure that this alligns with you life goals, is more important.
It is very easy for your friends to say that you should be with someone who loves you and respects you. Fair enough, but there are things beyond that too. His cultural background is very different from you. His ways of doing things is different from you. Being a muslim and living in a musilim country imbibes you with those thought processes. You see things differently. It is very easy for him to not be demanding wit you at this point of time. Because there are commitments or strings attached amongst you, thats why he wouldn't force them out on you. This is just a PROBABILITY.
On the other hand, he could be a gentlemen with the best intentions to be with you. It is very nice to hear that all the members of his family are well educated. It is nice that he has his financial and career goals set out too.
So all of this question boils down to a very simple point, how do you trust someone who has so much against him ? Correct ? See, i understand that you are putting up a brave front for him. Am sure he has done enough for you to gain his trust too. There is also an small angel of you wanting to be cared in the bestest manner possible, which is completely agreeable. You are more than eligible to ask for all this love and care from him. Only thing is that you require time to spend with him and trust him.
The easiest way out to this would be for you to dis-associate from his want to be an Australian citizen. So you need to ask him to figure out another way to be here in this country on his own. And that you are not willing to be a part of this unless you are absolutely sure about all of these things. This trust taking thing could take time and there are no guarantees that this will work. Am sure he shouldn't have a problem with this, because he is with you for the purest intentions possible.
Secondly, about him being a muslim. Firstly, i have nothing against that culture at all and i just look at it as another culture. Just as Christianity, Hinduism, Jew-ism etc. The reason that we talk about different religions is because every religion imbibes a certain moral and value systems into you. It teaches you to see things in a different way from other religions. Muslim teaches to you be slightly conservative as opposed to being a christian. There are cultural differences in the way you doing things too, which am sure you are completely aware of. People always associate muslims to be arrogant or violent in nature but that is not true. There are enough amount of Whites, Christians who also possess the same qualities.
Firstly, before you decide on doing anything further in this relationship, you need to be prepared to understand all the things are going to be coming in your way. You need to understand that there is a part of your emotional out come that you are getting from him. There is a part of love that you see coming in your way. There is a part where you really want to go through all of this for him to be accepted amongst the people around you. And yes people around you do matter. At the end of the day you are going to be living and thriving amongst them. MOST importantly you need to take all the time possible to ensure that he is trust worthy. And by this i don't mean that you humiliate him. But because the circumstances are extreme, you need to ensure that you ask him the right questions. You ensure that he is being the real him when he is with you and that there are no other ill intentions.
How old are you two?
Take out religion, culture, and politics out of the discussion, and you have a woman who wants to have a relationship with a man but is too distracted by others to make this happen.
Let this man's behavior define himself. Time will reveal all.