Sunday, January 13, 2013

What CHiPs Taught Me about International Marriage

Twelve years into our marriage and fifteen years after our first date, Ren and I discovered our first and only shared cultural touchstone: CHiPs. Somehow, though I don't quite understand how, we both "grew up" watching Poncho and Jon save the day. The discovery that we shared this one thing from our youth made us giddy, if not perplexed. After all we not only grew up in two different countries but also in two different generations.

It can be strange not to share any experiences from your youth with your spouse. In our case, the lack of overlap carries on in our adulthoods. Ren likes Japanese historical dramas on TV, sci-fi and special effects in his movies, maudlin Japanese folk songs in his music, and his reading on the computer. Plus, he has nothing to do with any kind of social media. I like independent films and alternative music. I read books constantly. And I blog.

Don't get me wrong, we agree on some really important things: what we want for our kids, how we will use our money, the importance of hard work and shared responsibility. It's just that our interests and opinions diverge on most other things. And sometimes that can be difficult, especially when life keeps introducing new changes and challenges.

When you marry someone who is from a different country and who speaks a different language, you can't presume to know where he or she is coming from. From your very first date, you understand that you will have to work a little harder to make things work. You will have to figure out how to communicate effectively. You will have to carry out some top-level negotiations (not to mention savvy money-managing techniques) as you decide which country to call home and how and when you will visit the other country. Once you have kids, you have to decide what language to speak at home, what holidays to celebrate and how to celebrate them. Even little the things like whether your kids will use chopsticks or forks (or both) are up for debate. In other words, nothing is a given. Everything must be discussed and negotiated. Sometimes you won't be able to agree because you will be coming from very different places. And you have to be okay with that, too.

Having an international marriage is hard. There are a lot of sacrifices involved, and someone is usually giving up something. But here's the thing: isn't that true of all marriages?

In our case, we were just lucky to figure it out at the beginning instead of at the end.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sweet post. My whole life I never thought I would be able to fall in love with someone who didn't share the same cultural background as me. (I guess I imagined us holding hands and reliving episodes of Family Ties and debating about who was cooler, Hulk Hogan or Mr. T.) When I met Hiroshi, none of that seemed to matter anymore. We don't have kids yet so our differences may come up more as our marriage grows. I never even thought about having a discussion about our future children’s use of chopsticks! But, you are right. ALL marriages take a considerable amount of work and compromise. I'm reminded of that whenever I hear my friends gripe about how hard it is to negotiate which set of parents to visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas.