Celebrating Love, the American and African Styles

On Valentine’s Day, every girl yearns for a candle-lit dinner in a fancy restaurant with good company. Sometimes, instead of just waiting and yearning, it is probably a good idea to whip out your purse, and make your dream come true.

This Valentine’s Day, my two girlfriends and I found this to be excellent advice. We dined at Sitar, an Indian restaurant, chatting and laughing, oblivious of the couples around us who were clearly lost in their own small little worlds.   “Celebrating love” – that is what I call it. Valentine’s Day, like any other American holiday gave us another excuse to celebrate life.

As we tucked into the spicy chicken tikka masala, we swapped stories about our romantic endeavors in the United States. All three of us come from African countries and have  parents who understand our academic goals and encourage us to further our education as much as we possibly can, but still uphold African virtues and values and would be delighted to hear that marriage is within sight.

By our age, traditionally a girl should have sound marriage plans or at least be in a steady relationship. Marriage is a mother’s reward, as it shows that they raised their daughter well, but more than that, with marriage comes wealth in the form of bridal price. We talked about how our parents would drop hints so that they could source who we are seeing and how long we have been together and laughed at how similar all the hints were.

“Would you ever date someone from outside your race?”

And suddenly, both girls were looking at me quizzically.

“I do not have a problem with it.” I confessed. And I really do not. However, my relatives would be very amused if I brought a foreigner home. They would accept him, of that I am confident, but even their open-mindedness would not let him go away without paying the bridal price. Neither would they let him get away without performing marriage rituals.

[Read more on dating in the U.S.]

“Geez,” a different friend had remarked when we had a similar conversation. “Why do you have to bring up all this formal stuff? Do you not date people so that you can get to know someone? Its not like you are going to marry them.”

This is one concept that eludes me. Not only do I fail to understand the American opinion on this matter, but I feel as if I fail to articulate my self effectively in this regard. Whilst dating does not always ultimately lead to marriage, the prospect of marriage should not be ignored. What is the point of dating someone who you have no future with?

Some of my American friends told me that they date so that they can get to know someone. I, on the other hand, have always been of the notion that friendship has to blossom first before a relationship. Are you not supposed to be able to relate well with someone to be in a relationship?

What exactly are “hook-ups” and “love-buddies” supposed to be, and more importantly, what are their limits?

Every day, I ask myself these questions. And now that it is Valentine’s season, I ask myself if race is really not an obstacle in my social life. But every time, I still maintain that nothing, not even racial or cultural differences can stop love from flourishing where it chooses. Dating someone who you would have never dated had you attended your local university would definitely add new light to your college years and will redefine how you “celebrate love.”

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