Third Culture Kids and Arranged Marriages
TCKs face unique challenges when finding a marriage partner. Perhaps the clearest way to describe those challenges is to contrast monocultural experience of finding a partner to the TCK one.
For the monocultural individual, by definition they have experienced only one culture and way of life and thinking. Even if they are intentional in learning about other cultures, it is different than living, breathing, and interacting with it. A monocultural understands his or her own cultural norms of dating, personal space, and expectations surrounding the dating experience. They have a much easier time reading the subtle signs when another is either showing interest or disinterest. They have a greater facility in knowing when they are being taken advantage of or when the other has a genuine interest in them as a person. Additionally, most often they do not challenge their own cultural norms and happily choose a partner that fits within those confines.
By contrast, the TCK has lived in multiple cultures and learned different world views and ways of thinking. They have seen and perhaps experienced other norms of dating in their host country and may decide they prefer that way to the ones their parents’ value. They are much more likely to compare and contrast the two (or various) styles and criticize what they believe to be too narrow and “old fashioned” ways of finding a partner. However, one disadvantage a TCK often has over a monocultural, is in being able to read the underlying signals of interest, disinterest, whether what they are experiencing in the relationship is normal for the culture or if the other is simply taking advantage of the naïve TCK. Additionally, TCKs have a tendency to jump quickly and deeply into relationships since they have learned they do not have the time or the patience for the initial chitchat or what they view as superficial relationships. Because of this, they can attract others who interpret that as an invitation to cross relational boundaries. We all long for deep connection, but the frequent moves TCKs experience mean they either completely withdraw from relationships or move too quickly; either way potentially setting them up for heartbreak.
The TCK has experienced a life that is far different from their parents, so it could seem unreasonable that they are requiring them to act and live as if those experiences never happened. For the parent, it could seem confusing and even somewhat fearful that their child does not readily adopt their values, or rather, the expression of those values. And so the fight and resistance begins.
The key ingredient is for both sides to have respect for the other’s point of view, even if they do not agree with it. One way to accomplish that could be for the TCK, as a good observer of culture, to ask his or her parents where that cultural expectation came from and how they see it as having greater value than others. Since it is often difficult to explain our own culture, one way to gain valuable knowledge is through research. Learn those cultural roots of arranged marriage partners and discover the underlying value. By doing so, the TCK is showing interest, respect and value of their parent’s worldview. Additionally, the parents chose to expose their child to a different culture, so to expect them not to be affected by that is naïve. This is key in advancing a conversation and being heard. He or she has a greater opportunity of taking the underlying value and showing how that can be expressed in other ways, those that fit with the TCKs experience. I cannot stress how important it is for the TCK and their parents to come to an amicable way to settle this difference. Whomever the TCK chooses to marry, he or she is marrying into another culture: the cultural values in parenting, marital and career expectations, and so much more. So often the young adult can forget or overlook this important factor. They are marrying far more than just their spouse, as the extended family has great influence on the marriage, even if they are not physically present.
Part of this blog was quoted in the Wall Street Journal.