Every time we enter a new relationship, especially women, people around us — friends, family members (both immediate and distant), and the occasional nosy colleague — tend to express some form of interest in it, if only to satisfy their own curiosity. They ask what his name is, then follow up with what he does, how old he is, and if they’re a particularly prying audience, if the sex is any good. The result is usually a spirited discussion about the relationship and its highlights, with perhaps a little rant thrown in about his bad habits.
In my case, however, it’s a little different. When people hear that I’m now in a relationship, their reaction comes in stages:
1. Surprise: I was single for so long before this that they can’t remember or imagine me being in a relationship;
2. Interest: They ask for his name;
3. Bewilderment: They realize from his name that he’s not Chinese;
4. Curiosity: They ask what I plan to do about the differences in our religions;
5. Astonishment: They discover that I have no immediate plans to address the religious issue, and then ask why I’m in this relationship anyway.
Naturally, there is no talk of sex after this point.
I used to be fairly amused at their surprise that I would actually be with someone who isn’t Chinese or Caucasian — a preconceived notion that stems from knowing that I used to live in the U.S. But now, ten months into the relationship, it grates on my nerves when people decide to be a little more forthcoming with a straight “Why? He’s Malay.” Or, as Becca so caustically put it, even before I was actually in this relationship, “I know you have more than one man to choose from at the moment, but can it not be the one who will require you to become a Fatimah or Sarimah in the end?”
To a certain extent, I don’t blame them entirely for their questions or concerns, which are raised because we live in a country that occasionally appears to go by only one religion, and one cannot speak or think of race without factoring in religion as well. Yet amidst all of this, it never really crossed my mind that our religious differences would be an issue, because I just figured that we would cross that bridge if it ever chanced upon us, so questions like “Wah, so if you have to convert then how?” have always been met with a shrug or a mumbled “I don’t know…” (until one of my very racist friends thoughtlessly asked if I gave up pork for Lent this year, and I icily reminded him that it’s customary to give up all meat for Lent)
I’ve never been opposed to mixed relationships or marriages, having previously been in a couple of them (relationships, obviously, not marriages) myself. This is partly because I was too young to think about a possible future with any of them, and partly because when I liked them, nothing else mattered. Being in a foreign country at the time, no one really thought much of it, and the only ones who did were a few friends in this country who went, “You’re dating a(n African American)? Aren’t they, like, dangerous?” My response to that had been to tell them to stop believing everything they saw on TV.
To this end, I’ve become somewhat fiercely protective of my relationship and everything that comes with it. Every race has its flaws and stereotypes, but I believe — and have seen for myself over the years — that there are the exceptions to the general rule, and ultimately, the two things that matter the most are the relationship itself, and the person whom we know is worth facing all the backlash — both racial and religious — for.
Surprisingly, my parents have been the least opinionated about it, largely due to their lack of faith that I’m able to sustain any relationship at all and they’re sure that this will be over at some point, but I’ll take the silence where I can.