Island Relationships vs. Continental Love: Same or Different?

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Life on an island can be downright boring. So the easiest way to distract yourself is to have a relationship.

Now if you’re in New York or London, life is fast paced, with tonnes of professional opportunities and entertainment options. Your world doesn’t revolve around love and relationships, because you’ve got places to go, things to do, and more people to see. The bim and bam, cling-on couple syndrome is best left to the islanders.

I know. You’re probably saying “what the hell”, or that’s not true; so now that I have your attention, let’s settle down to looking at the different approach to dating and relationships between Trinidad and Tobago, and other parts of the world.  If it’s one thing we all know, love is universal; but if love is universal, do we all approach relationships the same way?

Are people in the UK, US or Canada more relaxed about relationships and expectations to get married? Is it easier to sleep around? Are families less judgmental and fault-finding about who you date, or are people more willing to tell their family “eff you”, and be with the person anyway?

The general thinking seems to be that Trinis focus on settling down with one person, couples cling to each other, family and friends are all up in your business, and there are great expectations about getting married, especially if you’ve been with the person for a long time or you’re expecting a child. I chatted with a few Trinis who have lived abroad for long periods or who are still abroad about love in the metropolis cities to get a sense of how life is on the other side of the ocean.

 

“In Trinidad, you’re very much aware of the fact that everybody knows your business.”

Dating

“Well, nobody in the UK knows you or cares one way or the other about what you do – as long as it doesn’t affect them,” says Candace*, who recently moved back home, after living abroad for four years. “And so yes that does influence your approach to relationships. In Trinidad, you’re very much aware of the fact that everybody knows your business, whether or not that business is even worth knowing. And that can colour several, if not, most aspects of your dating experience, from who you choose to go out with (dais she man?!) to public displays of affection (yuh eh see how de two ah dem rubbing up in de fete?!) to the decision to break up (what will people think?). In the UK, that social web is much more temporary and fragile. What’s interesting though is that often, while they may mean nothing or very little in a foreign country, should the relationship move to Trinidad, it often very quickly becomes burdened by the same factors. So the same things that can make living abroad difficult can be great facilitators of relationships while abroad.”

The difference in approach may well be due to supply and demand, according to Stacey*, a Trini in New York City.

“NYC and LA dating is totally different than anywhere else in the world because there’s an abundance of beautiful, exotic people everywhere you turn, and also with the atmosphere/ attitude of those cities, settling down is not in the forefront of relationships,” she says. “Everybody’s trying to make it or be famous, and almost every other person comes from a broken home, which affects how they view relationships. Also we have careers now; we don’t need a relationship. Middle America is different. They tend to marry quicker, but ultimately the high divorce rates tell you that many marriages don’t work out.”

 

“One-night stands… I know that happens here (Trinidad), but definitely more so in the UK.”

Sexuality

The average Trini may tell you that the culture abroad is much more open; they may even call it ‘loose’. Some would say that Trinis are the most sexually hypocritical people around, acting as if promiscuity or one-night stands aren’t a way of life here. The difference may be that abroad, less people are in your business, and the social networks are larger.

“People here are much more casual,” says Trey*, who lives in London. “You could do it because the place is a lot bigger. You can’t in Trini because even if you don’t plan to, you will bounce the person up. Also with it being bigger over here, I guess it’s easier to move on. You won’t ever bounce the person up in Hilo or at the mall.”

“Brits definitely more loose, you know… tonnes of one-night stands, and I know that happens here (Trinidad), but definitely more so in the UK,” adds Paula, who’s back home after six years in London. “I’ve been approached for threesomes several times, and that never happened to me at home, although I do know it happens. Maybe it’s just a more open culture out there. Dating is exactly that… dating and that would mean seeing various people at a time… when that is narrowed down to seeing just one person… that’s a relationship.”

Lisa*, a Trini 20-something-year-old in NYC, thinks that the more open approach to sexuality helps to decrease the focus on relationships.

“If a person breaks up, it’s no problem because you can still be intimate and have sex with other people in between, so you can go about having meaningless sex to fill the loneliness,” she says.

 

“Couples create their own rules for their relationships.”

Marriage

Couples create their own rules for their relationships. Some feel the need to marry, others don’t.

“New York is the extreme case of no expectations, or pressure to have a relationship and get married,” says Lisa*. “But in the South (USA) you have some people 18, just out of high school expecting to be married. It depends on the environment you’re in.

“Black Americans don’t have good examples of working relationships. Most people have been raised by single women who are bitter about men. Some men didn’t know their fathers; so many people have a negative attitude about relationships… Americans are very… independent. The thinking is ‘I can do it on my own’. In any big metropolis where it’s fast paced, people are more focused on their career than relationships.”

On the next end of the spectrum, even if you had no plans to get married, if the woman becomes pregnant, people expect wedding bells to sound. As one friend puts it, “isn’t it a universal rule that if you get knocked up, you must get married?”

“That’s an island mentality,” Trey argues. “Countries like USA or Canada or England don’t talk that way. Why expect to get married? I know a girl who was with a guy for 13 years and they never got married. In Trinidad, belly swell, they married. Here people don’t do crap like that. It’s very rare that you hear someone got married because they got pregnant.”

Some would say that Trinidad is more relaxed now. Plus, common-law arrangements have been around for years. Still, there are some people who hold fast to the belief that if you’re pregnant, you should get married. My question is… is that pushed more by parents or women trying to get a man to commit to them?

 

“Trinis expect you to be available 24/7…”

Cling-on Couples

Trinis expect you to be available 24/7, if you’re in a relationship. That’s the consensus among the people I spoke with. Think about it. If you’re with someone, and you tell your friends you only see each other twice a week, eyebrows raise, and they question if you really know what your lover is up to. In the States or UK, however, that’s normal for some, if not many people, with some texting in between, the reason being that “people are busy and have things to do”. Plus, if you’re dating, you shouldn’t expect to be afforded all the niceties that come with a full-blown relationship. This includes time spent together.

Now, Trinis are busy people too, so this perceived mentality that couples become Siamese twins can’t be just about schedules; it has to be something more cultural, and besides, I’m sure there are tonnes of couples all over the world, who expect to spend a significant amount of time with their partners.

“Sticking up under each other, not having their own life, that’s a Trini thing,” says Trey. “Here people live together and hardly see each other, which sounds bizarre, but it’s true. In Trini, someone will go to the gym because their man or woman going. Here, someone would go to the gym because it’s convenient. Maybe that’s why relationships last longer…”

I don’t have enough words to get more in-depth, but one thing that struck me about the different issues discussed is that people see the approach to dating and relationships in places like the US and the UK as being much more open and casual than in Trinidad and Tobago. What I want to know is what do you think? Do all Trinis think that the natural course of life revolves around romance and marriage? Is our thinking affected by the fact that we live on a small island, so we have a smaller social pool, and less geographical areas to cover? Are we really less sexually free than our international counterparts, or is that what we want people to believe?

 

* Names have been changed to protect people’s identity.

Image courtesy iStockphoto.com; asiseeit.

 

Karel Mc Intosh

Karel Mc Intosh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Outlish Magazine. She's also the Lead Communications Trainer at Livewired Group, where she conducts workshops in business writing, social media, and other communications areas. A real online junkie, when she isn't surfing the Internet, she's thinking about surfing the Internet. Find out more about her here or tweet her @outlishmagazine.

2 Comments

  1. observer

    October 26, 2010 at 5:51 am

    In the ‘big city’ if you see someone attractive, or meet someone you like you really need to make a move immediately. There is a high probability that you may never see that person again.

    In Trinidad if you see the person out at a bar, chances are they will be at that same bar again. And you will see them at a party. And you might catch them in 51 etc. So there is far less pressure to make a first move.

    Similarly, after that first meeting, with relationships. Your friends know their friends, or you know someone that knows them (might be how you eventually meet in the first place). So right away there is a connection and people ‘know’ that one of you is interested.

    A one night stand in that sort of situation is quite difficult.

    Another thing that is quite different is that women in Small Islands tend to be far less independent than women in big cities. Whether it is due to family upbringing or not, they are extremely insecure.

    In fact it has been said that it is very difficult to find a ‘stable’ west indian woman. 9/10 times a woman that has never lived outside of the West Indies has 101 issues. Those that have gone to University abroad, or lived abroad tend to be far more balanced.

    It doesn’t help matters that Caribbean men have a very archaic view of women (which in some cases is reinforced by their experience in relationships) and don’t view them with very much respect. This serves to further the insecurity of Caribbean women in relationships.

    So all the clingy, touchy feely relationships could quite simply be a symptom of our dystopic societies.

    How many of the people in these relationships are living on their own btw? People live up to their mid thirties ‘at home’ in the Caribbean, and in many cases this is due to harsh economic realities and not choice.

    That can also have an impact on the type of relationships that people cultivate.

    Relationships in cosmopolitan, first world countries can only be very different to those in small, dystopic banana republics. It must be a very negative culture shock, for anyone coming from a first world country trying to integrate into Caribbean society.

  2. Ras

    May 26, 2013 at 2:32 am

    I was in a relationship with a Trini girl that I knew living here in a Canadian city, and I am not from the islands… It was an experience, and I’m coming to see the huge cultural differences in relationships her and I had

    I’ll write some of the big differences – its important that I point out! THIS IS BASED MOSTLY MY RELATIONSHIP EXPERIENCE, along with conversations and articles I’ve read – if someone could please comment on whether these are general cultural differences, or just my specific ex’s issues, i’d be interested to hear it. I like to believe that culture should not be a barrier to love, but sadly the world is not so simple:

    -marriage doesn’t have to last forever, but getting married is necessary

    Its like the security of being married is important, but divorce seems to be common and an option. Also, in a marriage, ideas about bringing up family and how a family functions are different – so marriage is also different. In my culture, when a couple gets married, the 2 families get married. Is this mentality common in Trinidad?

    -being number 1

    I think Canadians are quick to expose themselves and their vulnerabilities, this isn’t meant as a put down, but people are very casual about who they are and they’re known for being very apologetic – and sometimes self-deprecating. I could be wrong, but I think image is very important in the Caribbean – how one looks and presents herself etc. Having pride in yourself is important. Caribbean women have a reputation for being strong, being able to raise a child on their own, not needing a man for this or that – even if its a man she wants

    -games, jealousy, trust issues

    Seeing some Trini shows, and listening to soca and calypso, and from talking with my ex and other West Indians, it seems like cheating or the possibility for cheating or having someone else on the side is common, or seen as a joke. Maybe this is related to the article talking about people being in each other’s business. So whether or not anything’s going on, it adds some drama to know that there might be some hidden action going on. The jealousy and trust issues that come from this mentality lead to a lot of games being played and just generally more drama

    -strictness and relaxness

    Trini people can be the most strict people, or the most chill people. I think this includes relationships. Meeting up in an hour can mean see you in 5. But ‘where were you?’ and ‘who are you talking to?’ are also legit grounds for a fight :)

    hope this doesn’t come off as a bash of Trini culture – its a very cool culture with as much diversity as any other culture I’ve experienced

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