For the past couple of weeks, I've been dating a guy I met at work (at a grocery store.) I like him a lot, and I think I'm falling in love with him too, which is a big deal for me. However, I have a problem. He's from Kenya, and moved permanently to America last year. He's currently in college to get an accounting degree, in addition to working nearly full time at our grocery store.
I'm not bringing up where he's from because I'm racist, but there are significant cultural differences. For example, he wants to have sex. I do too, but when we were getting to the point that I asked him if he had a condom, he had no idea what I was talking about. He'd honestly never heard of the concept before. I tried to explain, but he said he didn't see the point, so I refused, and now it's a bit of a sore subject between us. Another cultural difference is the way women are treated in society; where he's from, women are expected to bend to men's wishes. He doesn't *really* act that way, but he still has grown up with the idea, so it's something that he at least slightly believes. I told him that I'm going to go to college and have a career, and that it's not even something I'm willing to discuss changing, and he accepted, for now at least. Some of the differences are just little things, I had to explain frisbees to him, but there are quite a few things that we just don't have in common.
I'm going a few states away for college in the fall, (he's known that all along) but I don't really want to break up with him, because I can honestly see a future with him, and I'm willing to work for one. I hope you can give me some advice on what to do in general, or how to deal with our cultural differences.
Well, there are cultural differences. And then there are cultural differences. And dating a person who comes from a drastically different background does require open-mindedness, sensitivity, and patience when it comes to things like religious rituals, or peculiar foods, or the fact that you lack any common reference points when it comes to things like movies, music, etc. ...BUT. While cultural differences may necessitate a certain amount of negotiation, discussion, and compromise, being brought up elsewhere does not equal a free pass to hold tight to prejudiced, hurtful, or otherwise nasty philosophies that mess with your partner's health, happiness, and general well-being.
Which is why it's okay that your boyfriend was unfamiliar with the practice of using condoms, but decidedly not okay for him to dig his heels in, claim that he doesn't see the point, and allow it to become an ongoing source of strife between you. Particularly when the point is a bunch of no-brainer necessities like your health, your independence, and your ability to achieve various goals that require that you remain un-pregnant.
Basically, while compromise and understanding is a necessary component of inter-cultural relationships, there's no room for it when the disagreement at hand is rooted in a fundamental difference of values. If your boyfriend truly believes that you're inherently inferior, and that your life is inherently worth less, just because you're a woman, you're not going to find an acceptable middle ground. Somebody has to change his mind. And since I'm not about to recommend that you give up your goals, declare yourself inferior, and spend the rest of your life barefoot, pregnant, and deferring to your man on all things—and since, as far as I can tell, that's not what you want either—that leaves it to your boyfriend to make the adjustment, and to you to hold firm to your views.
The good news is, you're already going about this exactly the right way—keeping the lines of communication open, explaining your position, and digging in only on the issues that really matter (your health, your safety, your independence.) And since you are going away to school in the fall, you've got a built-in, ready-made way to test your relationship's ability to weather a situation in which you're independent, in control, and doing your own thing. Whatever happens, it should become clear pretty quickly whether or not you can make it work.
If he's similarly-committed to you, your boyfriend will rise to the occasion, accept that you're on equal footing, and acknowledge that in a relationship based on mutual affection and respect, your health and autonomy are more important than "But I don't wanna wear a condom." (Which, for the record, you should always insist on until and unless you've both been tested for STDs—especially if your guy was sexually active before he moved to the states. Africa's AIDS epidemic is serious business, so it's extra-important that you be vigilant.)
And if he won't budge? That's a bummer, but it's a bummer with a message: specifically, that this relationship was never going to work. A successful future is one in which you get to realize your goals, get your degree, have your career—and be supported in those things by someone who wants for you what you want for yourself.
Ask Kat is advice for the college-aged crowd. Got a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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