Q: I am not from the United States. I speak English well but it is not my first language. I am finding this to be a bigger problem than I expected. First, not everyone understands my accent perfectly, which makes first-time phone calls/dates much more difficult. But that isn’t the only issue. Even though some of my dates find my accent – and my background – to be new, exciting, intriguing, they don’t realize that it isn’t just a cute way of talking, but an entirely different approach to life. I find that in other countries there is a totally different “normal” for family expectations, financial expectations, even emotional expectations. I am having trouble bridging this gap with the people I date. Am I a lost cause? Do people need to be from similar cultural backgrounds to connect with each other?
Don’t despair just yet. You’re not a lost cause. While it is true that couples from similar backgrounds may have it easier at times, there are plenty of couples who are from different countries and end up happily married. All relationships take time to develop.
You specifically mentioned that dating over the phone can be challenging. I would agree with you that it’s not ideal for you to start dating over the phone. If you meet someone at an event or online, it’s best that you find a way to get an in-person date and skip the get-to-know-each-other phone calls. You’re in a similar position to someone who stutters. For anyone who has challenges or differences with speech, it’s important the first time you get to know someone it is in-person. Perhaps once you get to know your date you could then transition to having a phone date once in a while. For the beginning, though, it may be best to set up your date via email or text if you’re finding it challenging to be on the phone.
Understanding a person’s accent is one challenge; another challenge will be understanding what someone means or getting them to understand what you’re trying to say. Even people from the same country who speak the same language have to learn how to communicate clearly with each other.
Communication issues, while common in relationships, are more common with people from different countries. It’s sometimes hard, as you know, for the non-native speaker to get across what they mean. You may also have trouble understanding phrases, slang or colloquialisms. While these issues can be frustrating at first, in time they become easier, especially as you two begin to understand each other at a deeper level.
As you said, some people may think you being “exotic” or different isn’t a big deal, while others find it exciting. From your accent to cultural differences, yes, these things can be a challenge. There will be many differences that come up over time, and you and your date will need to carefully navigate how you deal with those differences. Family integration, financial preferences, emotional connections – these are things you’ll need to pay extra attention to.
The best way to bridge the gap is not to assume anything. Don’t assume you know how your partner will react or what your partner’s preferences are. The more different you are, the less you will understand about how the other person thinks or what they prefer. Of course, in time you’ll get to understand their way of thinking and know their preferences, so don’t worry; the relationship isn’t a lost cause. But at the beginning you’ll have to do more work to build the relationship and really understand your partner.
However, if what you’re really asking is: “How can I be understood by dates who seem to come in with assumptions about me?” then the answer is different. You may need to be choosier about who you date, and try to focus on finding people who share more ideas and expectations with you. Also, you should trust your instincts; if you feel someone is a true mismatch, don’t pursue the relationship.
May you have an easier time with dating and may you and your date be willing to put in the time to get to know each other at a deeper level.
Originally published on Aish.com.