Mixed Love: A JoySauce column about interracial/intercultural relationships within the Asian diaspora experience, and how these unique love stories make our lives fuller, funnier, and more interesting.
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I walk into the clinic with my fiancée and try to focus on my breathing. I’m here for a routine screening and as a child of doctors, I know firsthand that preventative care is a powerful tool for staying healthy. Still, I have to admit that I’m anxious. I have been putting off this appointment for weeks, but my fiancée’s presence is the only thing giving me comfort.
The doctor finally walks in and smiles at both of us.
“Nice to meet you! Are you friends or sisters?”
My fiancée and I stare at each other, dumbfounded. The weight of our melanated skin, and heteronormativity, is really sinking in. My mind starts racing immediately. We’re not even the same ethnicity, nor do we look alike enough to be related. Do people really bring their friends with them to the doctor’s office? I don’t even have a sister. Does she say this to everyone?
My fiancée and I are both women of color, which usually prompts people to assume that we’re both straight based on our backgrounds alone.
Moments like this have become increasingly common since my girlfriend became my fiancée. With our engagement rings came a gender-neutral word: fiancée doesn’t cue people to my queerness. This was further complicated by the fact that my fiancée and I are both women of color, which usually prompts people to assume that we’re both straight based on our backgrounds alone. This assumption was the reason that people often asked me if I had a “boyfriend” or why men felt entitled to hit on me at the bus stop or when I was walking down the street when I had never asked for their attention. These moments were also the ones that made me want to run straight back in the closet and never come out, if only to shield myself from the pain of not being seen, especially in places where I was already being asked to be so vulnerable.
When people assume that my fiancée and I are “just friends,” it feels like an erasure of the journey to find each other. We may have been an unlikely match from the beginning, when we met as college students in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, where rainbow-painted crosswalks had led us to an ice cream date in which we covered all of our respective bad first dates. My fiancée asked if I would be open to a surprise and took me to her favorite view of the city, all on a six-hour date that happened less than two months before I left for Prague for a quarter.
In the moments where others don’t acknowledge our story, my fiancée and I have to find ways to honor our relationship, and some of that comes with being out and holding hands in public spaces and correcting strangers when they make assumptions about who we are to each other.
I can’t stop people from making assumptions about us, but I can focus on what we are building together. I’m Pakistani and my partner is Filipino, which means that we’ve spent a lot of time learning about each other’s traditions. There’s no rulebook for how to bring our lives together, but our approach has been to be curious about each other’s cultures and customs. This shows up in small but powerful ways, like learning a few words and phrases of Tagalog and Urdu so we can delight the other person with an understanding of their family’s first language, or talking about the cultural significance of the jewelry we wear or art we buy. We’ve never worked in the same industry but found ways to speak each others’ languages, always making time for her to tell me about the ultrasound exams she had done during the week and me to talk about the stories I was pitching that week.
I’m still finding ways to bring our cultures together. I remember one moment when I was fasting during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims will abstain from eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset. Oftentimes, I’ve celebrated Ramadan alone, especially in my adult life when I didn’t have a Muslim community at school or work. My partner has helped fill the gap in small ways, like waking up with me before sunrise to eat sehri, the meal typically eaten before fasting begins, and distracting me on long days by playing Mario Party and breaking my fast with me by eating a date, a tradition going back to Prophet Muhammad. I’ve also learned about my partner’s holiday traditions, like making paroles, which are traditional Filipino star-shaped lanterns, or helping her make ube cookies and sinigang. As we’ve developed our relationship, we’ve also created our own traditions, like decorating gingerbread houses, buying each other special ornaments, and wearing matching pajamas for an annual Christmas photo.
As we move into the next phase of life that’s marked by our wedding, we’re trying to cultivate a community of people who accept us as we are and honor our cultural differences. I know all the common sayings, like the fact that your wedding is more for your family than it is for you, or that you have to say yes to your perfect dress (though you shouldn’t be surprised if you fall in love with one outside your budget). The guiding light for our wedding planning came from a Chance the Rapper lyric that has echoed through my mind ever since I first heard it:
I don’t want anyone at my wedding that won’t be there for my marriage.
As someone who’s always trying to make the “right” or “best” decision, I wasn’t even sure how to imagine my dream wedding. But I had my concerns: How do you plan for a day that you thought would never come? This was a product of being a queer Pakistani woman who had to confront my own fears that I’d never have my happily ever after with the woman I loved. I had no vision board, no dream dress silhouette, no reservations for my dream venue or the shade of green I’d use as my accent color.
But my therapist asked me an important question that is now guiding us through our wedding planning, one that puts things in a more positive light:
How can we re-center our joy in the process of wedding planning?
I stared at her, feeling pretty dumbfounded. We had talked about the debate of whether other people would want to attend a wedding in Washington or Hawaii or what dress we should wear to reflect our cultural identities, but we had never asked ourselves what we wanted from our special day.
Although we’re early in that process, we’ve discovered some things we know we want. We want to be surrounded by people who love us unconditionally, largely composed of our chosen families. We know that we want Mediterranean and Filipino food, and maybe even a boba bar to commemorate dozens of boba runs we’ve taken over the years. But most importantly, we know that we want our wedding to center our own joy, a celebration of fate guiding us to each other and the work we’ve put in to grow together.
We know that we want our wedding to center our own joy, a celebration of fate guiding us to each other and the work we’ve put in to grow together.
A lot has changed over the course of our relationship. Now, I’ve opened myself up to unconditional love from my fiancée and my chosen family, and a wedding is a chance to celebrate ourselves authentically, bridging our worlds and cultures on that special day and the rest of our lives. I can’t deny that it’ll still sting when someone makes an assumption about how my fiancée and I know each other, but I know that I’ll never stop advocating for us. Every time that I stick up for us, I’m honoring our relationship and identities, and I hope that never changes.
Published on March 13, 2023
Words by Aleenah Ansari
Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who's rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She’s written about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, CNBC, The Seattle Times, Kulfi, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals in Seattle and beyond, reading a book by a BIPOC author, and planning her next trip to New York. Learn more at www.aleenahansari.com.