How We Made Our Interracial + Long Distance Relationship Work
First things first: I was born in a small city called Jeonju in South Korea, moved to the US when I was 7, and I just turned 22 years old. My parents barely speak English, even after 15 years of living here, and I only spoke Korean at home because according to my dad, I'm a Korean girl and, "Korean girls should know how to speak Korean." Caleb is Caucasian, born in Washington state and actually lived in various countries like Germany and Japan because his dad is a chief in the Air Force.
On being an interracial couple:
It's actually funny because when we're together, Caleb and I forget that we're an "interracial" couple. Because Caleb is more culturally aware than most, it seems natural that we eat Korean food often and that we're open to learning about different countries' traditions and practices. Plus, most of our date nights are in Atlanta, where it's becoming more and more common to see individuals of different backgrounds date and get married. But it's those moments in middle Georgia, where Caleb's parents live, where we hold hands and I'm suddenly so aware that I'm the only "ethnic" girl in the supermarket. One day we were at this gas station with Caleb's family and Caleb noticed that this woman was outright staring at me. He was so confused and he realized that I'm not the typical white girl that other white people in that region expect him to date. And it's also in those moments in the Korean restaurant when the waitresses bring all the Koreans hot tea and chopsticks, but bring Caleb ice water and a fork.
So realistically, when we're out and about, we forget that we're from 2 different countries. Mostly because I was raised in the US and I consider America my home, and also because even though we were raised by people with different skin tones, we all had the same morals: be kind, love others, and be good. But if you're from an Asian family like my family, or any other socially conservative background, you know it's no piece of cake bringing a *gasp* white boy home to meet your parents. Like what!? How dare I not keep our race homogenous and *pure.* (Yeah, believe it or not, I know plenty of my friends' parents who still think this way.) If you didn't know already, Asians can be just a tad racist. Orrrrrr a lot.
But I've told you guys before that my previous boyfriends weren't Korean, either - or even Asian. The first was Caucasian, the next was African American, and the next was Caucasian, and though none of them were too serious and my dad is the typical image of patriarchy, expecting a full blown meal with stew and banchan and rice and meat from my mom, he began to realize that I probably wouldn't bring home the perfect Asian guy, after all. And yes, he said this statement in the most dramatic way and I swear he probably had tears in his eyes.
It wasn't always that way though. My parents would remind me that it was important to marry someone of the same race. "It's easier for you." "It'll be good for your future children." "It'll be easier for us to have in-laws who get us." "You have to stay true to your culture." And at face point, it seems absurd. But you have to realize that they lived 75% of their lives among others who looked just like them. They grew up considering non-Asians to be "others," and only saw white, black, and brown men/women on TV or in the big city of Seoul. And even after immigrating to the US, they stayed within the Korean community and still do.
But for me, I grew up here. My best friend in elementary school was black and I went to daycare at the apartment complex with hispanic kids, white kids and black kids, while my mom worked at a nail salon and my dad worked a dry cleaners. Even though we went to the Korean supermarkets and frequented the fellow Korean restaurants and I only spoke Korean at home and I went to Korean school every Sunday after mass (you get the point), I didn't consider myself fully Korean. So growing up, I felt so divided. I was confused about my identity for a long time, and I eventually hated thinking that I'd have to be a typical Korean homemaker, waiting for my husband to get home to make him food and do what he says. And as I grew older, I realized that my parents' marriage was a stark contrast to what I wanted in my future - a relationship where we had equal responsibilities and respect for each other.
My Korean friends and I would say things like, "Yeah I would never want to marry an Asian guy. They're all mama's boys, expect you to be the perfect wife, and they're all just like their patriarchal dads." And we'd say things like, "I'll only consider marrying an Asian guy if he's Asian-American." Thinking back on these things we'd say, it's an overreach for sure. We know that not all Asian guys are the same. We know that we can't generalize a race to stereotypes because it's not true or right.
So fast forward to today: I'm engaged to the love of my life and he's obviously white and my Korean parents love him and his white parents love me and it's all fine and dandy. The more I share about Caleb on Instagram, the more DMs I get from you guys asking HOW IN THE WORLD did my parents approve of this, HOW IN THE WORLD do you guys settle your cultural differences, HOW IN THE WORLD DID YOU FIND A WHITE GUY WHO GETS YOU AND YOUR PARENTS!?
First off, relaaaaaaax. What you see on social media isn't 100% of someone's life. You think we don't realize our differences? We do. When we first started dating and we wanted to go on trips together, my dad forbid us from spending the night together and I don't think I've ever wanted to be white so much than in that moment. (Yes, I realize this isn't solely dependent on race, but to me at that time, it was, and I assumed white parents were more lenient. Immature, but weirdly made sense to me at that time.)
When I'd study super hard and stress about making my parents proud, I told myself that Caleb wouldn't get it. How absurd is that? Like he didn't work hard, either. But I was convinced that non-immigrants just don't understand the stress and pressure that children of immigrants feel when we do literally anything. Because all that we do is an opportunity to validate the price that our parents paid by leaving their lives behind so that we can have better lives in this country. That was the hardest thing for me. I'd ask myself, "How could Caleb ever understand this?" But I realized that I was asking a question that didn't really need to be answered. So what if he doesn't understand it? How could he? He himself is not the child of immigrants, and he doesn't need to understand this. He just needs to realize that this struggle of mine simply exists and to respect it for what it is, regardless of him knowing exactly how I feel. Even though he may not understand it - it isn't his struggle. When I changed my mindset, it made things easier for me and for him. I tore that wall down and along came tumbling down all these unrealistic expectations I had for a future partner. I learned that someone can still respect and empathize with my life and my struggles, without personally living in the same situation.
In the past 3 years, I had to teach Caleb that it's rude to lay down in front of your elders, to bow to every Korean adult he meets, to take/give things to/from adults with 2 hands, to allow male elders to eat first at the dinner table before we do, to teach him that you can't call adults' by their first names - all while trying not to be bossy or overbearing but in an effort to respect my parents. Yeah dude, it's exhausting. We're still learning, but in our opinion, it's all so worth it and it's kind of fun.
Second, I still have to think in 2 different languages when our families are together and holy cow it is exhausting. But oh my god it is beautiful. I have always been a translator for my parents in all aspects of immigrant life. Need someone to translate how to get a loan? You got 7th grade Clara. Need someone to translate how to pay off this speeding ticket? You got 9th grade Clara. Need someone to translate that weird ass idiom you heard on TV? You got 11th grade Clara who also doesn't know what that means, even after 10+ years of living here, because English is actually the weirdest language and idioms should be banned.
When Caleb first met my parents, my parents tried to give him a Korean name. Why? WHO KNOWS. But they tried, and I said "Stop, that's so embarrassing!" But Caleb was actually the best from day 1. He tried to talk slowly, tried to understand what they were saying, was patient when I had to take my parents' questions and understand it myself, then translate it in my head, and then tell Caleb what they asked in English, and then take his answer, then translate it in my head, and then tell my parents his answer. It's tiring, but it truly touched both my heart and my parents' hearts when Caleb made it a goal to learn Korean. And he has learned so much and you should just hear my parents boasting with pride when they tell their coworkers and their friends and their sisters and brothers about his efforts to learn a language that's so foreign to his native tongue. (I'm not crying, you're crying.)
Third, it's really fun and it's really beautiful. Not to mention, the thought having wasian kids makes my uterus want to explode. My parents always send me pictures of wasian babies saying how excited they are to have grandchildren who look both like me and also like Caleb. It's fun because we're incorporating both of our parents' cultures into our life. My parents never celebrate Christmas, so we celebrate with Caleb's family and eat spaghetti and prime rib and hang up the ornaments and hide the presents under the tree and *we actually wait until Christmas morning to open them.* Then we celebrate Lunar New Year with my parents and my aunt and uncle with rice cakes, stew, a million side dishes, rice wine, Korean pastries, and bow to our elders to get a couple bucks. We are doing both the traditional American wedding and a Korean ceremony (pyebaek) wearing traditional Korean garb (hanbok) during the reception. Our kids are going to celebrate all of this and it makes us so happy to think that we have the most supportive families.
So despite both the big and little differences from our 2 cultures, we make it work. Because though it was uncomfortable at first, it's a blessing that we get to share so many aspects of our lives with each other to make it the most fruitful and fulfilling relationship ever.
On Long Distance:
We chat a bit about our dating history in this post, but we just ended our long distance relationship by moving in together! It's so crazy because the summer before nursing school and the start of our 2 years of long distance, this was our goal. For Caleb to move up here, for us to get jobs, and for us to plan our wedding all while doing so. And it's just insane that we're here. We saw others' relationships fizzle out, long distance or not, and we too have been challenged, but here we stand today: Making a rental a home, saving up to become homeowners, independently working hard toward our career goals, and collaboratively working hard to make our life one that we are proud of.
The #1 tip we like to give is to communicate. There are many ways to communicate when you're apart: phone calls, texts, letters, Skype. But the mode of communication is not as important as what you're communicating. Communicate to your partner what your day looks like. Let them know when you'll be in a meeting so they won't think you're ignoring an important text. Communicate to your partner when something they said hurt your feelings. Communicate to your partner that you miss them and want to see them.
I think it's easy to expect your partner to know what you're thinking, LDR or not. But they simply can't read your mind. You have to be clear with what you're thinking and what you desire so that they aren't left wondering what you want. Caleb and I would send each other our respective school schedules so that we know when the other was in lecture and probably wouldn't be able to respond to texts as quickly. We'd tell each other what our weeks looked like ahead of time so that we knew when the other would be more focused on studying for an exam, attending meetings, meeting up with friends. The logistics really mattered for us because our respective school obligations were demanding and we couldn't sit around calling each other all the time talking about nothing.
Make a schedule. When things got really busy, we wouldn't see each other for a couple of weeks. But we slowly learned how to see each other while not getting distracted. We spent most of our weekends studying together beside dedicating a couple of hours toward going on a date or attending social events. Something that was important to us was to text throughout the day, though most of the time it was "Sorry I'm replying 4 hours late!" and talking on the phone once a day if our schedules allowed it, even if it was just 10 minutes.
This part can be hard for many people. It feels like you're being exposed, or giving away too much of yourself to someone else. But to make an LDR work, you can't just assume that your partner is going to come see you every weekend or that your partner's life revolves around you. A huge part of a relationship in general is respecting that other person has their own life, so that you need to be clear on when you can make time for each other.
Appreciate time apart from each other. This is something we really focused on. We wanted to be individually complete and whole so that we wouldn't depend heavily on each other, because we believe that a healthy relationship comes from 2 complete individuals who know themselves and then bring their individual likes/dislikes to the table. This meant that if he knew he wanted to spend a weekend with his friends going to trivia over drinks and playing basketball with his brother, then he would communicate that with me. And if I knew I wanted to spend a weekend with my girlfriends or volunteering for school, then I'd communicate that with him. Time apart, working on ourselves and on relationships apart from ours, made it that much sweeter when we'd see each other.
Know your love languages. I remember being so obsessed with love languages because honestly, it's so incredibly helpful to know how you receive and give love, as it constructs how you interact with others. I also remember telling Caleb about love languages early in our relationship and him thinking it was stupid. But as we grew individually and communicated more, it became apparent that we needed to know how we give and receive love, especially being apart from each other. My love languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Gifts, while his are Quality Time, Physical Touch, and Acts of Service.
In the beginning of a relationship, it's fun but also hard to make room for someone in your life. You have to know what makes them feel loved and for them to understand how you feel loved. So to know your love languages means to know how to treat each other to ensure that each other feels loved. So, Caleb loves when we do something together, like go an an adventure or make a meal together. He feels loved based on the actions we take. As for me, I love when he tells me he appreciates that I did something for him, or when he expresses his feelings with his words. It's still a learning process for us to remember that we don't necessarily receive/give love in the same way. I still want him to tell me that I'm pretty, even I know he thinks it, because it's just how I receive love. Although he thinks it's silly to tell me affirmations every day, he works hard to do so and to tell me he appreciates me. And I have to know that he loves being together, even if it means we're just sitting next to each other doing nothing.
I shared this on Instagram before, but being apart for the majority of your relationship takes a LOT of effort. You have to talk about the future early in the relationship to gauge if it's worth it. You have to understand when the other person is busy, and you have to communicate if you won't be able to have that nightly phone call. LDR has taught us that independence is a beautiful thing. We cherish the time we spend together, but we also love the time spend by ourselves. (Caleb likes to say that he knows he loves me because being an introvert, he loves being alone, but he loves being alone with me.) By forming our own hobbies, likes, and dislikes, we bring these to the table together and find ways to combine them, while still respecting that that other person has their own passions, too. LDR has taught us to appreciate the little things, like grocery shopping! When your partner is worth it, the time apart doesn't seem to matter all that much, and the goodbyes suck a little less each time because you know there's an end goal.
I hope this post has helped at least one of you! We aren't perfect and we have our struggles, but we've learned a lot about love, each other, and how to make this all work throughout the last 3 years. And as always, thank you guys for all your kind words. We really appreciate that when we share parts of our life with you guys, you take us in with open arms and with kindness and acceptance.
Clara and Caleb