Culture of Love #1: Desire for Communication and Empathy

At the age of 18, Stef moved alone from Mexico to Germany, at first just to try something new. In the end, she stayed. In the first episode of our new series "Culture of Love", she talks about the values she was taught about sexuality in her childhood and her new relationship towards sex today.

Kultur der Liebe 1, Stef
Fotograf*in: Maxi Spalek (sie/ihr; Illustratorin)

Dating and love – that can be very beautiful but also very exhausting. Beautiful because you can meet a person who inspires you, with whom you can exchange closeness and intimacy. Exhausting because we live in a society that is becoming increasingly fast-paced, with sexist and racist stereotypes and norms. What are the experiences of people with migration and refugee experience in Germany when it comes to dating and love? Two people meet and thus also two (cultural) identities with different expectations, socialisations and experiences. Different wishes, freedoms and sometimes also languages. This can lead to misunderstandings, prejudices, new insights and commonalities. In our series „Culture of Love“ we want to find out more.

In Mexico Stef (29) grew up in a catholic-conservative society. Even though none of her family members were religious themselves, Stef attended a Christian school, as they offered good education. Sex education at the school however put her off from any kind of sexual intimacy and made her want to stay a child forever. Though she remembers always having been in love with someone since Kindergarden, sex was always regarded as bad and forbidden, especially for “good girls”. Sexuality was marked as shameful. But that is not the case anymore.

„The whole thing wasn’t very sexual. I don’t know why”

I have been a late bloomer in regard to dating and love. On the one hand there was this conservative environment at my school and on the other hand there were my girlfriends. They didn’t attend Christian school and already showed interest in sex. I felt pressured to be sexually active a lot because of that. It was exactly what I didn’t want. That’s why I was glad not to get my period until later. I didn’t want to have any sexual experiences, preferably, I wanted to stay a child forever. Reason for that partly being the taboo around the topic at school, that really put me off. I didn’t want to get infected with HIV or become pregnant.

When I was 17, I then got together with my first boyfriend. We started being best friends, it then developed into a relationship. But the platonic relationship outweighed the desire to have sex with each other. The whole thing wasn’t very sexual. I don’t know why. One time it did happen, but I didn’t like it. We actually just tried it because of the societal expectation that sex is part of any “proper” relationship. It remained the first and last time. We broke up when I decided to go to Germany to work as an Au-Pair. In Germany I didn’t really feel like getting to know anyone on a deeper level like first. I was overwhelmed by the new country. After one year I felt settled and was ready to get to know new people.

I think I needed that time to free myself from those structures. After that, no one could tell me what to do. I started to go beyond my personal boundaries and try new things. Suddenly, it was totally fine with me to engage in a romantic relationship. That summer I fell in love for the first time since I came to Germany. It was my first summer-romance. I basically relived my teenage years in my early twenties that summer. My dating-life really started then.

„I can just tell that the fact I’m from Mexico is kind of a winning for men”

During the course of the years, I figured out that One-Nightstands aren’t really my thing. If there’s no trust, I feel like I showed that person a side of me that they didn’t deserve to know. To be able to start a relationship with someone I need to feel a connection with them and trust them. I can’t reduce that to solely the physical, just because I feel like having sex.

When I’m dating, I keep noticing that men are really interested in my Mexican origin. I can just tell that the fact I’m from Mexico is kind of a winning for men. It’s seen as a plus factor and constitutes how attractive they perceive me to be. But I believe the reason they connect with me so well is that I grew up pretty Mexican-western. I myself don’t even have a real impression of my own culture. I believe not as many men would be interested in me if I would’ve grown up more traditional.

But it feels like they just want to see that “Mexican culture” in me, meanwhile not even getting who and what kind of a person I am. I find that very problematic. Because even though I’m Mexican, I don’t feel connected to the cultural traditions of Mexico. It is exactly those that I always wanted to distance myself from. I get ascribed this traditional Mexican image, which I don’t even conform to. For example, I’ve only realized through the Black-Lives-Matter-Movement that I’m not perceived as white in Germany.

In Mexico however, I have many privileges because of my appearance. I also feel like people here don’t understand that racial discrimination also exists in Mexico, especially in the indigenous population. In Germany it’s as if I’m quasi white enough.

If I looked like the main protagonist in the Mexican movie ROMA, the advantage of being Mexican would suddenly not apply anymore, even be a disadvantage.

And even though for a long time I didn’t perceive myself as white and didn’t want to accept that I experience discrimination because of my appearance or heritage, I have to admit to myself, that I have indeed experienced racism in a relationship.

“I try to change my attitude but still end up positioning myself around the same kind of people”

I also have to admit, that I notice that kind of stereotyping and those preferences with myself and that has a lot to do with my western socialization. For example, I’m not all that interested anymore to date Mexican guys. I also tend to orient myself on western white people, I find that pretty crazy. That has a lot to do with how in Mexico you are taught growing up to orient yourself on the West and strive for that. I got that instilled into me, I can’t just change that overnight.

I realize that those are the marks of colonialism. During that time society was split into different classes, depending on appearance. The whites, the mixed and the indigenous, they were the lowest class. Since then, a control system with certain privileges developed, which is still present today and I’m an example for that. But of course, it’s not like there isn’t anyone in Mexico that I would find interesting. I try to change my attitude but still end up positioning myself around the same kind of people. I did already become more open though.

I already feel so comfortable dating Germans, that German became my preferred language by now. In my last relationship there were many moments in which I couldn’t properly express myself in German and had to switch to English. I lacked the linguistic means. But now I feel like I can express all my feelings in German and feel good doing it. I don’t like speaking Spanish when dating, at least not with people whose native language isn’t Spanish.

I often experienced men trying to hit on me with their not-so-accentless Spanish and I just find that uncomfortable. I don’t like talking with them in Spanish. I don’t have anything against speaking Spanish when dating but I want to do it in my own Mexican way. I can only do that when I know that the person in front of me doesn’t just understand half of what I’m saying and has a cultural reference to the language. Otherwise, I won’t have fun speaking the language.

Stef’s wish regarding dating and love is that men look into the subject of feminism more seriously. She notices how often the role of the women in a relationship is still reduced to “care work” and that there is no balance. She wishes for a well-balanced ability in communication, management of feelings and thereby self-reflection. Stef wishes for more empathy in our dealings with one another.

This article was first translated into German and translated into English by Sahra Azadzo.

Kultur der Liebe #1: Wunsch nach Kommunikation und Empathie


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Emma Bleck
Emma kommt aus Hamburg und hat dort “Kultur der Metropole” an der Hafencity Universität studiert. Seitdem ist sie kritische Alltagsforscherin und befasst sich mit machtkritischen Gesellschaftsanalysen. Sie liest gerne und interessiert sich für Sprachen, Feminismus und Migration. Nebenbei engagiert sie sich politisch.

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