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Meeting the parents is always difficult - just ask Ben Stiller. While most guys don't have to conjure up stories about milking cats and most girls don't have ex-CIA agent fathers watching their every move, it's a milestone in any relationship. And it's hard enough to make a good impression on people with similar cultural expectations in the same language. But try doing it over kimchi and stir-fried squid while piecing together broken English. Believe me, it's tough.

However difficult it may be to deal with cultural differences when dating interracially, you can't de-couple someone from their upbringing. As in any relationship, a little adjustment and compromise is needed. But working through any differences the two of you may have isn't the hard part - it's dealing with other people's reactions to your unconventional romance.

Considering that anti-miscegenation laws were only completely repealed about 40 years ago, it's understandable that a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of interracial dating. Just because racism, and even stereotyping, is far less socially acceptable than it used be to be doesn't mean these feelings have disappeared - especially among older generations.

"My dad has told me that he'd be really upset if I didn't marry a Chinese man," said a senior at Yale who has hidden relationships from her father in the past for that very reason. "I don't really know the specific reasons why, except that he's very conservative."

I found interracial dating might be a touchy subject for my own conservative relatives this holiday season. After getting panned by my uncles for Baracking the vote and listening to Grandma's borderline (fine, completely) racist comments during Christmas dinner, the last thing I'm going to do is mention that my boyfriend is Pakistani and Muslim. Some things need time to sink in.

But whatever prejudices older relatives may have, we live in a time where open-mindedness is appreciated and almost expected in most social settings. The book Freakonomics mentions a study done by two economists and a psychologist on dating sites. According to their study, about half of white women and 80 percent of white men claimed in their profiles that race did not matter to them. But 90 percent of these men sent their e-mail inquiries to white women, and 97 percent of the white women who said race didn't matter sent inquiries to white men. Such a huge difference between professed and actual beliefs means people must be less open-minded than they'd like others to believe.

It's unfortunate that people aren't as open-minded as they seem to be, but it's also almost natural. We're told that people shouldn't be slotted into categories based on appearances. Yet almost every application, whether it is for a job, college or survey, asks you to check a box corresponding to your ethnicity. Maybe that's what makes people so uncomfortable with interracial relationships, even if they consider themselves to be forward-thinking and open-minded. Two people of different races don't look quite right together. They don't fit into the same box.

In spite of this, more couples are thinking outside of the box, as interracial marriage is on the rise. And it's not just power couples like Heidi Klum and Seal or Tony Parker and Eva Longoria who are pushing the envelope of social norms. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, interracial marriages increased from 310,000 in 1970 to 2,669,558 in 2000 - a jump from 0.7 to 4.9 percent of total marriages over just 30 years.

"It's impossible not to consider what types of issues an interracial relationship might bring up," said Engineering sophomore Eric Lamb, speaking from personal experience. "But for the most part, it wouldn't determine whether I date someone or not."

As more people adopt this view, dating interracially becomes easier. Sure, some people still stare when they see an interracial couple, but many others, especially in our generation, are becoming more nonchalant about the idea.

That's not to say that interracial dating is for everyone. It's sometimes hard not to let a close-minded relative or a rude stranger question your choices. But whatever your romantic preferences may be, keep an open mind about it. If you only say race doesn't matter to you without actually meaning it, you may miss out.

Katherine Rea is a College sophomore from Saratoga, Calif. Rea-lity Check appears on alternating Fridays. Her email address is

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