When considering to marry someone from another culture, who may also be from another country, many things should be under consideration. While love can blind us, love may not conquer all when talking about the complexities of a long term cross-cultural (bi-racial, multifaith, multilingual) relationship. Though coaching many other couples in these situations, I would like to share three common mistakes many have made while jumping two feet first into these relationships and wedlocks.
Mistake #1 – Thinking Love Can Conquer All
Many Americans hold an ideal that regardless of social standing, culture, economic status, educational background and religion, love will overcome all these problems and make everything ‘ok.’ This can be true if and only if the couple have extensive discussions before marriage about expectations after marriage and into the long term, such as both partners’ career aspirations, family planning, traditions, values, choosing the place to live among many other variables. Of course, not everything can be breached ahead of time. Situations do change after marriage and through time. So, in such cases, both partners should be flexible as the relationship matures and conditions may change.
Mistaking Love for Commitment
To many Westerners, the statement “I love you” often stands for a long-term commitment. That is one reason why many American programs broach the hard choices people make and situations that arise when one partner says “I love you” and the other isn’t ready to say it yet. In fact, many sitcoms in the US have episodes based around this situation!
This being said, when most American [women] hear the words “I love you,” they take this very seriously. Due to mistake number one, she believes the man will do anything and everything in his power to create a long term commitment which will sooner than later evolve into marriage.
It may be true that in many Indian families, many may still believe love comes after marriage. This is of course due to the arranged marriage which is prevalent among many segments of Indian society regardless of geography. Thinking of this from the point of view of the Indian’s relationship with you, keep in mind he or she may hold back physical and emotional forms of affection as well as verbal confirmations of love. This is not because he or she doesn’t love you. In fact, many Indian guys or girls who really do love you will withhold this out of respect for you and wanting to reserve these special occasions for after tying the knot. The problem here is that, in many Indian’s minds, they may not commit to any of these forms of affection until their parents have given the go-ahead. His or her relationship with you in this case, is not separate from his or her relationship with his or her family in that way. When his or her family accepts you; you are now family, so in his mind he or she is more willing to be open and available to you.
Though those who grow up in the US prefer their family to also accept the partner they choose, they may be more willing to commit in heart and soul with words and actions way before their family meet you or accept you or the marriage actually happens.
Giving Up Everything – Even Their Very Identity for “Love”
Due to the upsurge of the Internet, the incidence of cross-cultural love affairs takes place without the two people ever interacting face to face (in person as compared to Skype, which is not the same). The first time these couples meet face-to-face is when one saves up enough money to travel to the other. In some cases, their first face-to-face encounter is also when they decide to marry. The irony in all this is that this set-up is very similar to an arranged marriage minus the family pairing you up. You as the girl are acting as the super-traditional Indian girl who gives up everything; including her family, place of home, independence and identity to marry and move to India. Ironically, as the incidence of Western women taking part in this behavior increases, Indian man’s desire to marry the Westerner may increase as more and more modern Indian women are not interested in being so confined and traditional. Ironic that a Westerner is willing to be more traditional than an Indian (who is stereotyped as more traditional), isn’t it?
Because the Western woman is wrapped up in the exotic that is India; the traditional culture with the perceived higher sense of family values due to living in an extended family, and the idea of love conquering all, she is blinded by the reality that is about to hit her like a pile of bricks. The honeymoon in many of these cases never begins or ends before the marriage takes place. There is no honeymoon because the culture shock, reality and gravity of the situation hits the woman sometimes as soon as the heat hits her face as she deboards the plane.
Tying Things Up
Many say “The first year of marriage is the hardest.” This is often said among Americans who marry other Americans – not in a typical cross-cultural relationship. Yes, the first year of marriage can be the hardest even when the mindsets, environment and communication challenges seem very similar. Even for those who have traveled extensively within their own countries or abroad, they quickly realize living in another country, and with in-laws is worlds different than visiting a place on a vacation and staying in a resort!
As a side note: this post is not meant to discourage you from attempting a cross-cultural marriage; it’s meant to help you think about the reality that stands before you. Life will NOT be easy, the romanticism and exoticism will die fast and love may not conquer all when you land up in India and are in the midst of culture shock and your new family doesn’t approach life the same way as you. In these cases, many begin to lose themselves, feel misunderstood and become bitter toward their new family and life in general.
Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys provides coaching to foreigners and Indians managing cross-cultural relationships both personally and professionally. For more information, get in touch with us.
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