I’ve wanted to talk about what being in a cross-cultural relationship is like for a long time, but the topic is something I seem to learn more about and/or change my opinion about a lot. However, my relationship has been so valuable and helpful to all parts of my life that I really want to share. Here’s my attempt at describing what it’s looked like, phase by phase, and some of the overall lessons I’ve learned:
I don’t remember our cultures clashing then. I think it had to be firstly because we were still in the “honeymoon” phase. Most importantly, though, I think it was because we were both living in a culture different from our own, which meant we were more or less living the same way.
Most of the thoughts regarding Carlos being Mexican that went through my head during this phase went along the lines of:
“I love his accent.”
“I think it’s amazing he cooks Mexican food for me.”
“My heart melts when he speaks Spanish.”
“He is so kind and protective and takes care of me better than any American could.”
You get the idea. Honeymoon phase-thoughts if I’ve ever seen them.
I also hardly noticed our cultures clashing here, obviously because we didn’t see each other enough for that to actually happen. Yes, we visited each other, but that is way different than seeing someone live in their own culture in a daily-life sort of situation. Not to mention, during visits I always had the feeling that I needed to maximize our time by staying positive and not disagreeing (not a helpful strategy, by the way).
The only time I remember feeling disenchanted at Carlos’ Mexican-ness during this phase was then I visited him for the first time in Saltillo. We had a BBQ with his family that started at 4 PM (our lunch, I might add). Carlos and I had other plans that evening. Around 7, I started to get anxious because we were still sitting outside talking. Does he not remember our plans? I thought. Does he not see that my head is about to explode after three hours of solid Spanish with his family? Does he not see that I need a break? Of course, he didn’t, because Carlos is not a mind-reader. That was the day I learned first-hand Mexicans are way more relaxed than Americans, and way less time-oriented. Carlos hadn’t forgotten our plans, it just didn’t really matter to him what time we did them.
Here are some of the main cultural differences I have noticed since moving to Mexico:
1. When my family eats together, we rarely linger after the meal. We wait till everyone is finished eating, then start cleaning up. Carlos’ family loves to linger. I ate with them a lot in the beginning (and still do), and would always feel really antsy after we finished eating and continued to sit around the table, talking. I really like that they do this now, but sometimes I still get antsy when I look around their kitchen and there is a huge mess that won’t get cleaned up till we stop talking. The Spanish word convivir is best translated as “coexisting” or “living together.” The fact that there isn’t a perfect English equivalent might say something deeper about our cultures. Conviviendo is a priority in Mexican homes.
2. I am extremely punctual. I feel bad when I arrive 5 minutes late to meet a friend. Though Carlos is more punctual than most Mexicans I know, he’s not punctual by American standards. Until I finally talked to him about it one day, he would regularly show up 5, 10, and once, even 15 minutes late (oh, the horror!), without letting me know. In the big scheme of things, I realize this really isn’t a big deal. What I didn’t (and still don’t) understand is why he doesn’t just tell me a later time in the first place, if he seemingly always needs that extra time. Instead of telling me he’ll come at 3:30 and actually coming at 3:40, tell me 3:40 and be on time (then he would probably just come at 3:50, right?). The only logical conclusion is that we just have different ways of thinking about time.
3. I like resting. I am not a person that prides myself on being busy or feels the need to fill every second of my day. Carlos loves to rest. He is an extremely hard worker, but when he’s not working, when he’s not editing photos, when he’s not working out, he rests. Honestly, I was surprised that we clashed in this area, but I think it’s because what is restful for me is not necessarily restful for him. Doing something restful for myself might be going to the gym, or walking around Wal-mart, or reading a book. Rarely does it mean laying on my bed doing nothing, or taking a nap when I got enough sleep the night before, which is what Carlos likes to do.
A good example of our cultures clashing over rest happened in New Orleans last summer. We had a limited time to see the city because we were there for a wedding. I was floored, then, that after lunch on the day we were meant to be exploring, Carlos wanted to rest on the hotel couches before we ventured out.
4. I grew up in an American Evangelical home. Carlos grew up in a Mexican Catholic home. Though we agree on the main issues of the faith (or else I wouldn’t be dating him), there are lots of Evangelical concepts (think “mentoring” or “accountability groups”) that I’ve mentioned before that usually elicit a blank stare from Carlos. On the other hand, there are some Catholic traditions that I really struggle to understand. What matters is what God has to say and that we accept that as truth, not how Americans and Mexicans (and probably all cultures) twist and distort Christianity to fit into our cultural bubble. What matters for me and Carlos is that we both love Jesus. God is looking at our hearts.
What I’ve learned..
-About communication: Maybe in a relationship with someone of your same culture you can get away with not having great communication because you think the same way. Carlos and I definitely can’t do that. He has done a lot of things that have really hurt me (and vice versa), but talking about it usually helps me see that he was approaching the situation like any Mexican would and was not trying to hurt me. After that fact is established, then we talk about how we have to compromise to avoid me (or him) getting hurt or frustrated in the future.
-About patience: It is so necessary. Carlos has had to be patient with me as I’ve adjusted to Mexican culture, and one day I will probably have to do the same with him in the U.S. We have to be patient with each other in the little things, too: even though we both speak the other’s language, there are some things that he needs me to explain in English before he gets it, and vice versa.
-About love: I’ve learned so much about God’s love as a result of being with Carlos. I can’t necessarily accept as truth what American authors have to say, or even what my American friends have to say, about showing love. I have to look beyond that, to God’s universal definition of love: patient, kind, humble, forgiving, etc. How do I translate those characteristics into actions that Carlos, as a Mexican, appreciate and make him feel honored and valued? It’s kind of fun figuring out. I am so far from being perfect, but I know that I am not just infatuated with Carlos, I don’t just love the idea of him, I’m not just “in love” with him-I really love him.
In conclusion, this relationship has been a lot of work, definitely, but the good outweighs the bad. I could go on and on about all the ways he makes me laugh or all the funny nicknames we have for each other and all the ways he makes sure I know that he loves me. Sometimes I watch him eating tortillas (it sounded less creepy in my head) or dancing to banda music, or I look at his black hair and dark skin, and I remember how thoroughly Mexican he is, and it makes me love him all the more. Cross-cultural relationships will never be easy, but if you can find a way to make them work, they can enrich your life and expand your heart in ways your never thought possible.