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Kiss and Tell

In her new memoir, actress/writer Diane Farr talks openly about her interracial courtship with a Korean American man and the challenges they encountered in their quest to make their own “happily ever after.”

Many may recognize Diane Farr from her TV roles on Numb3rsRescue Me and Californication, or even farther back, as the sizzling young sidekick on Loveline alongside Dr. Drew Pinsky and Adam Carolla. Farr was 27 when she co-hosted Loveline, often dispensing cheeky love and sex advice. But more than a decade later, she has emerged as a thoughtful and seasoned voice on, of all things, race relations and interracial love. It’s a topic close to her heart, as Farr, of Irish and Italian heritage, fell in love with Seung Chung, a Korean American who immigrated to the States at age 3, after the two met at anengagement party. They married in 2006 and have three beautiful children.

But before this idyllic multicultural picture could emerge, Farr and Chung confronted a number of challenges as a mixed-race couple, including prejudice from both sides of their families. In her new book, Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After (Seal Press), the actress and writer provides an earnestly candid look at how she and other mixed-race couples navigate these choppy, often intimately painful waters, and contends America is hardly post-racial. But though Farr’s memoir of her own difficulties in “winning” over Chung’s family is honest and often humorous, she’s careful not to demonize anyone—even those who worked as impediments to their interracial union. She explains that it’s often fear and not hate that are the source of parents’ opposition to their child’s interracial match. But she also posits that love is the last prejudice parents openly teach at home, even as they preach the Golden Rule and principles of equity.

And, now Farr has even more of a stake in challenging this incongruity. She told KoreAm recently, “As a mother to Korean American children, I spend a great deal of time trying to find the balance between teaching my kids the important traditions of all their heritages—without making them exclusionary, so that love and race will not ignite like lightning for them, too, someday.”

In the following excerpt from Kissing Outside the Lines, Farr describes the tense confrontation between Chung and his father over her, the white girlfriend, and then the big test: Farr’s inaugural encounter with her future in-laws.

–Julie Ha

***

Dad did not laugh. Seung stopped laughing and respectfully said he didn’t understand the question. “She” is Caucasian, obviously, so what else did he want to know. Seung’s dad asked if I was Polish or of some other European descent. Seung explained that I was Irish and Italian and then raised his shoulders, sort of saying—what is the difference?

I fantasize that Seung raised “a shoulder” at his father—taunting him, almost daring him to say the thing that was really bothering him. That everyone in the family knew was a problem but everyone was now trying not to say. But having read the rules of this family and every family like them who almost lost their language, customs, holidays and beliefs within these parents’ lifetime—I know this was not the case. No matter how much Seung loves me, he would never goad his father because he understands where this fear (dressed as dislike of other races) comes from. Yet, in his own way, raising a shoulder at his father was still out of line because what Seung was actually implying was, “if you have a problem with her race, you should figure out how to say those words because I’m not going to say them for you, in any language.” To which Seung’s father said in English:

“You can’t love one of them.”

Seung shook his head yes, locked eyes with his father and said, “I know.”

After these two words, Seung never let his father’s gaze go. Which was not as much of a challenge as an outsider might imagine—as it was an apology. An apology from a son, who was wholly aware that he was about to fail his father’s greatest wish. But that he was going to do so nonetheless.

***

I’m standing at the door of their D.C. townhouse. Seung’s mother lives here most of the year, as does Seung’s sister. Seung’s father has just flown in from Korea, and so has Seung from Los Angeles. They are all waiting for me on the other side. Several weeks have passed since the father and son face-off and as the door opens, I am peacefully unaware.

I bow when I see them all for the first time. As I stand with my head below my heart, it is Seung’s sister who laughs at me for being “a better Asian” than she is. She reaches out and shakes my hand, pulling me upright and into the house—where she says in a hushed tone that I should not sweat the Korean “mish-i-gosh.”

***

Seung’s dad is so expressive, and clearly funny, that I kind of get an idea of what he’s talking about even before Seung translates for me. He is a charismatic entertainer—which was never what I imagined. I find myself laughing right along with everyone else in this family just from his delivery. Seung’s parents are actually fun—which is an adjective I also never considered I might use for them. Just as I pick up my chopsticks to begin eating, Seung’s mother leans in and whispers something about the meal being made without beef because Seung said I do not eat meat. I think she is justifying why they didn’t utilize the most expensive food for my arrival. I feel very flattered. Ama then whispers to me again:

“And the kimchi very spicy in our house. You pour water on, if too much for you.”

Ama smiles and nods to me many times, like she is doing little bows. I want to jump across the table and hug her. But I’m not actually positive this is what she is saying and I don’t trust myself after failing to let go of sister Eun Yi’s hand earlier. I also think Ama might actually wilt if I touched her at this early stage in our relationship. So instead, I give Seung a prideful yet diminutive smile.

I kind of feel like I’m in a war movie playing the role of the good-girl-American love interest. Seung swallows a laugh when I give him this look. I raise an eyebrow back sort of saying, “What? I’m totally the good-girl love interest!” And I believe I am (although I also laugh out loud when I’m alone in the bathroom as this whole day is a tad surreal). Whoever I am while sitting at this table doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I’m at this table. And no one is yelling or storming out about my being here. Seung shrugs at my role-play and continues talking in Korean with his family. Which, by the way, is hot.

Seung is doing so many sexy things at this table. He is sort of the master of ceremonies: translating, honoring and entertaining everyone. He is handling the pressure fantastically. He is currently telling his father about my trip to Malaysia, which I guess I told him about the night I hit on him at our friends’engagement party. He is relaying details that I have no recollection of telling him but no one else knows them, so it must have been me. As Seung finishes an impressive tale about me being the first American some devout Muslims on a teeny island had ever met, he winks at me. I think I love him a little bit more today than even yesterday when he asked me to come meet his Ama and Apa for the first time.

After dinner I am invited to sit on a couch next to Seung. We sit across from his mother and father, and sister Eun Yi pulls up a chair making the five of us into a triangle. Seung’s mother and father are not only eager to talk with me, they seem to be very much in love with each other forty years into their marriage. They are holding hands while talking. Seung then takes my hand. Apa asks me a question, via his wife. We talk this way for a while, about movies I think. The scene is so idyllic; I’m not even really paying attention to the conversation. I’m enthralled with how welcome I feel and how happy I am that I didn’t give up before I even got started. I’m making a mental note to myself, that this is Seung’s family and that the ancillary people that come with them shouldn’t weigh me down. Seung’s parents are caring, funny people. It is yet another bonus that comes with him. That and his disco dancing.

Dessert has been served and mostly eaten so now I am ceremoniously getting up to take the finished tea service back to the kitchen. There is no way Ama is letting me in her kitchen no matter how much she likes me, but this “clean up test” is the one that finally puts me over the edge. With big smiles and heavy hands, Ama and Eun Yi push me back on to the couch implying, We’re not kidding—you just sit there next to him. That’s your job in this house. As I settle back into the sofa, even I know . . . I’m in.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Diane Farr and Seal Press. It has been edited to fit this magazine’s format. To read more of Farr’s work, visit getdianefarr.com.

This article was published in the July 2011 issue of KoreAm.

 



  1. Nicole on Sunday 24, 2011

    Nice excerpt. I hope I won’t get the cold reception when I meet his parents.

  2. Sami on Sunday 24, 2011

    I’m so impressed by your writing. I’m in an interracial relationship myself and my beloved is actually meeting my parents in two week (dun dun dun). I plan on giving them my copy of your book prior to the meeting as suggested reading and homework.

    You probably get this all the time but your children are beautiful! From the picture, it looks like they have your positive energy!

  3. Jay on Sunday 24, 2011

    Good job on passing the “Let me help clean up but the in-laws insist you get the hell out of their kitchen” test!

    Koreans (and Asians in general) eat that stuff up because it shows to them that your momma (or whomever) raised you right and you understand how the system works, even though they reject your offers of help repeatedly.

    On a side note, does Seung really dance disco? And well? I’ve been told I’m an excellent dancer but I NEVER would dance disco. At least not seriously. I’m imagining your husband doing all of John Travolta’s moves in “Saturday Night Fever.” Is that an accurate portrayal? :-)

  4. Diane Farr on Sunday 24, 2011

    ha ha Jay, i just laughed out loud. ok, in fairness, Seung doesn’t exactly disco dance. it’s something between a crypt walk and a saturday night fever, literal disco dance. And it’s so incongruent to the rest of his image it kinda leaves you paralyzed to just watch it. But thanks for pulling that out! DF

  5. Lucas on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hi Diane -

    Reading and loving your book. I have been with a Korean girl for a year now, and I have to say we are in the thick of it now. I haven’t met the parents yet, but I know they are doing anything to prevent that from happening. It’s hard to plan long-term when she takes shots left and right from her mother, which only puts distance between us.

    I don’t really care if her parents accept me…I just want her to not let what they say and think bother her and affect us. But is that even possible? We are both getting tired, and that light at the end of the tunnel is getting harder and harder to see. It’s hard enough to even get a girlfriend these days…I don’t feel I need to “court” her mother too!

    I wonder, did you encountered any “failure” stories, which you didn’t bring up in the book?

    We are both at a loss for what to do at this point…

  6. Diane Farr on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hello Lucas and I’m so sorry for your troubles.
    I spoke to quite a few couples who’s relationships did not last, sometimes due to other factors but always with the same underpinning stress that you’ve spoken of. I think the best thing you can do for your girlfriend is to remain strong that you love her and that you want to share a life with her. And with that, remember that the two of you get to decide what is allowed into your life together. That her parents can make statements, requests or demands on her but you two can do anything you can think of to keep that out of your life in partnership. including, for example, only talking about what her parents have to say about you or your relationship, in your car. or on your front steps. literally, so it doesn’t come into the house where you spend time.
    I would be careful to not vent ALL of your frustration with your girlfriends family to her. you have friends to dish with about this. yes you can have feelings about what is said, but you don’t have to share them all with her. You do want to show her support. you want to give advice to her as a person, not just from what is moving you personally. you want to continue to tell her when she is doing well in order to help her find her own ground. This includes letting her know you are there for her and that you are also keeping their stresses as theirs. That they are not becoming yours.
    this is not an easy battle, but you have to remember that only the two of you let it in to your space. Its harder on her because they are her parents. That can also become a challenge for you but it should hopefully allow you to step back and not take all of this too personally or let it pile on.
    hope you both find peace and love. df

  7. Lucas on Sunday 24, 2011

    Thanks for the advise Diane!…Wow, I remember watching you on “Loveline” when I was in 7th grade!

  8. Radka on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hi Diane,
    really beautiful photos!
    I know that you have a lot of work but I wrote the e-mail for you. Because I didn´t get answer I made a new design on my blog. Would you like to see? (www.dianefarr.blog.cz) I hope you will enjoy. And I know that you are very kind to me and you have done a lot of things for me. I´d still like to ask you about the last thing. You are very very good writer and your last book is really amazing. You have the style that I like. I was looking your first book in Czech shops but I didn´t find it. Could you please send me your book The Girl Code: The Secret Language of Single Women (On Dating, Sex, Shopping, and Honor Among Girlfriends) with a dedication?I will send my address on your email. But if you didn´t send it to me, I will not be angry and I will understand because you are the best person on the world.
    Thank you very much and all the best for you and your family!

  9. Diane Farr on Sunday 24, 2011

    Thank you Radka your fan site looks terrific as always! Thanks for sending me a link. I”m just going to respond on here because there are just too many places to answer notes on the internet and I have a lot of small kids! All the best to you. DF

  10. Radka on Sunday 24, 2011

    I read your book very slowly because my English is not good, but what is your height? When you wrote that you could not get dress (in Korea)?
    And really you don´t eat meat when they served?
    All the best to you.

  11. Diane Farr on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hello Radka, I am not so tall, I think the standard dresses for Korean brides were just a bit smaller – or the lady at the shop was just looking for a custom job. Im 5’9″ and I don’t eat meat! not in over 20 years

  12. Radka on Sunday 24, 2011

    5´9´´ is 175 cm, that? Today I finally read the book. It is amazing and you are the best. All the best to you.

  13. kendra! on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hello, Diane, from Tennessee where I read your book, holding it to my chest and lifting a fist in solidarity. Here’s my review of it. I hope you have a moment to pull yourself away from those ridiculously gorgeous babes to read it.

    http://kendraspondence.com/?p=1649

  14. Diane Farr on Sunday 24, 2011

    Thank you Kendra, for reading and reviewing. I’m glad to hear that it sounds kind of helpful to you personally. That’s terrific. df

  15. Maggie on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hi Diane, I loved your book! I’m Korean American and my fiancé is brown… We are having a tough time because my parents are being so stubborn and refuse to accept our engagement, let alone our relationship. I’m really at my wits end and have done everything humanly possible, including enduring a lot of verbal abuse. I want them to read your book in the hopes it would help us be a family. Is there any chance your book will be translated into Korean? Thank you for your wisdom!

  16. Diane Farr on Sunday 24, 2011

    Hi Maggie,
    I’m happy to tell you that I just got my contracts for a Korean language version of my book! They have to do the translation so it will be probably a year. But please, set up a firm boundary where you will not be a victim of abuse. The moment it starts, i would stop communication with your parents and put in an amount of time before you will talk to them again until that pattern is changed.
    good luck to you

  17. Maggie on Sunday 24, 2011

    Thanks Diane! That’s what I’m doing now, so hopefully it will work. I can’t wait for them to read your book! Hopefully it will give them some insight as to how hurtful they are being.. You are so great! I hope our kids will be half as cute as yours..