What If I Married the Wrong Person?

What if I marry (or married) the wrong person? Is there one perfect soulmate out there for everyone?

Those questions seems to resurface all the time and I’ve always wondered lost sleep over them. I mean, that is a whole lot of pressure. You have to find that one perfect man out of the 3 billion(ish) on the planet? What if I make a mistake? Does that mess up the whole order of perfect soulmates because I married someone else’s perfect mate and now they’re endlessly wandering the earth trying to find someone that’s already taken? And if I do make a mistake and I don’t believe divorce is an option, am I just stuck with the wrong person till death do us part? Thinking about how I could be miserably mistaken my whole life or about how I could possibly screw up the arranged order of the perfect soulmates of the world is enough to give me an ulcer.

I’m pretty sure I did almost get an ulcer early on in our marriage because there was a small part of me that wondered if Albin was really the one for me. It was terrifying. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know we had a rough start, but apart from all that, I felt like he didn’t even know me. Like didn’t know what really made me tick. I assumed that if we truly were soulmates, he would just “get” me. He would understand what I needed and it wouldn’t require me spelling out everything. He would always make me laugh, he would understand all my vague comments, and anticipate my needs. Basically, he just needed to be a mind-reader because “happy wife, happy life” … right?

Wrong. Painfully wrong.

Not only did I find myself feeling misunderstood and lonely, I found myself with a husband who was frustrated because he couldn’t make me happy. I had no idea what was going through his mind and that frustrated me as well. I had an illusion that we would always be on the same wavelength and when that bubble was burst, I started to question whether we were right for one another. Some of it was selfishness (like the hope that he would anticipate my every need, bahh), some of it was an expectation that we would naturally be interested in the same things (like… where to go out for dinner), and some of it was just our deep-down desire to know and be known. As we’ve worked through these things, we’ve had a big breakthrough: truly becoming “soulmates” takes time, effort and practice.

It’s finally sinking in that we have to work hard to be soulmates. We have to put in some effort to learn what makes our spouse “tick.” We literally have to practice being the right person for our spouse. It’s all about being intentional. I’ll be sincere and admit that being intentional isn’t necessarily my forte. Being intentional requires effort, forethought and selflessness. It requires me putting myself aside and choosing to do something that doesn’t necessarily appeal to me like it does to him. It requires him to ask me if I want to talk about something even if he’s tired and has no desire to open that can of worms. It requires both of us to be interested (or at least try to be) in what gets the other person excited.

The problem is that it’s so much easier to think about how my needs aren’t being met. It’s far simpler to sit and lament our differences than it is to surrender our will and actively pursue a compromise. It is so much easier to sit around and think about what Albin doesn’t do for me or how he doesn’t “get me” than it is to flip it around and think about what I can do for him or how I can engage him more fully so that he feels fully known.

For example, discussing politics doesn’t appeal to me and I usually avoid political conversations at all costs. Albin, however, loves getting into a good political debate. For years, I’ve literally blown him off every time he tried to start a conversation about politics. Basically, it would go like this:

Albin: What is your opinion about [insert current issue]?

Me: I don’t know, maybe [insert quick generic answer].

Albin (silently waiting for me to return the question, which doesn’t come because I’m avoiding the conversation): Well, I’m not sure I agree.

Me: Okay. What do you want for dinner? [End of conversation.]

Rude, I know. I’m a slow learner, but almost four years into this, I’m realizing that Albin gets some sort of intellectual satisfaction from hashing out a political topic. If that’s something that he is interested in, why do I have to be a jerk change the subject? Is it really that hard for me to ask him what his opinion of the topic is and (heaven forbid) actually listen to his rationale? He listens to me spout unimportant crap all day and doesn’t blow me off. So, I’ve tried to be intentional and engage in a conversation that interests him. Maybe a little effort on my part makes him feel like he has a partner that values his opinion and with whom he has an intellectual connection. If that’s the case, me taking five minutes out of my day to debate about the government is worth it. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy these conversations now because he gets me thinking about current events and things in the government that I actually should be pondering.

An example for me would be something that Albin did recently. Playing games is one of my love languages and something that I associated with family. I love to play games, specifically Nerts. Albin will play games, but it’s not something that satisfies some deep inner need of his, and plus I think he hated Nerts for a long time because I may or may not go overboard and get too intense when I play. Anyway, it really bothered me that he never wanted to play games with me. It was like pulling teeth. Like how hard was it to sit down a play a few games of Yahtzee for goodness sake? It’s silly, but I actually wondered why I hadn’t considered this game drama before we had married. Would I have married this guy had I known he wouldn’t always be up for a game of Scrabble? Does he even know me at all?

Finally, several months ago, Albin suggested we started having game nights once a week. He said he wanted to get better at Nerts and he thought it would be something for us to look forward to on Thursday nights. I ripped his clothes off right there. Just kidding, but his offer spoke to me on some deep level. He’s gotten really good at all games since then and now we really do love game night. He was intentional and sought to engage me in something that was important to me and that I associated with the concept of family…which made me feel like we were more of a family in a way. Like maybe we weren’t on two completely different wavelengths after all.

Albin and I definitely are not experts and clearly Albin is the deeper of the two of us (deep theoretical conversations vs. my board game needs), but we’re learning and I like our progress. As we become more intentional, we get along so much better, agree on so much more and feel more fully known. Even silly things like (finally!) agreeing on a restaurant, conversing about legislation and keeping a running Yahtzee tally going forms a connection and creates room for us to become soulmates for one another.

En fin, I’m trying to learn from my own lesson today and think about what other areas I can put myself aside to be intentional with Albin. What ways can you be intentional and engage your spouse today?

“I have found the one whom my soul loves.” Song of Solomon 3:4

                                                                                                                                   

 

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Top 10 Hardest Things About Bicultural Marriage

Last week I posted about my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage. To be fair, here are my top ten least favorite things in no particular order. If you’re considering marriage to a foreigner, I hope this list is helpful!

  1. Vacations will almost always be to see family. Unless you’re loaded and/or unemployed, most of your money and vacation time will be dedicated to seeing family. We usually go home to Ohio about once a year. It can be hard to justify spending money to go see a new place when you haven’t seen your parents and sister for a year. Another thorn is my flesh is that in our case, we have to spend a considerable amount of money to go on vacation to Cincinnati, Ohio. I love to visit my family, but Ohio isn’t exactly an exciting travel destination. If we lived in Ohio and went on vacation to see family in Costa Rica, however, I might be singing a different tune.
  1.  Difficulty with jokes and cultural references. In my honest opinion, my family is pretty witty and we joke around about 75 percent of the time. Albin had a hard time keeping up and inserting his own comments for a long time which made him feel outed. I’ve felt the same way with his friends/family so we’ve spent a lot of time educating one another on the millions of puns, sayings, and jokes that exist in each culture. For example, once my sister used the term “throw you under the bus” with Albin. As we were all laughing about how he had just been thrown under the bus, he was still considering why we were talking about him being run over by a bus.
  1.  Truly expressing yourself. Albin speaks English really well and I like to think that I speak Spanish equally as well; however, sometimes it is hard to truly express yourself and have your spouse understand. Expressing your deepest thoughts usually require you using more extensive vocabulary and that can create some misunderstanding or at least not a complete understanding of what you’re trying to get across.
  1.  Being far away for funerals, sicknesses, holidays, etc. Most likely one spouse will be living far away from their family. That part is hard, but Skype is a huge help (My parents skype me every day to watch my daughter do interesting things like smack her lips or roll over). It is almost unbearable, however, to be so far when there are funerals that you can’t get to, extensive illnesses that you can’t help out with, or holidays that you would otherwise enjoy being with your family for. Thanksgiving is always a killer for me because it’s not a thing in CR and my whole extended family gets on Skype while they stuff deep-fried turkey and pumpkin pie into their mouths. Sure I do a Thanksgiving dinner here, but it’s not exactly the same.
  1.  Missing family in general. This has become increasingly harder since the birth of  our daughter. It hurts my heart a little bit to know that my daughter only gets to see my family in person once or twice a year because I want them to be a big part of her life and they want to be a big part of hers. Knowing that you have to get on a long plane ride if you wanted to see them is a bummer most of the time.
  1.  Cultural norms. This is the everyday stuff that you just don’t agree on because you grew up not knowing there were other options (like whether you should eat big lunches or big dinners). One that has been hard for me is a cuota, which is a fee you pay to go to a party, shower, or even a wedding. Oftentimes you are required to pay this fee on top of buying a gift in order to help the host throw the party or finance the wedding. Not only is it hard for me swallow paying to go to someone else’s party, but it is nearly impossible for me to charge a fee for people to come to my parties. Can’t we just do a potluck? No.
  1.  Feeling lonely if you don’t have a community. This has definitely improved for us, but it can be challenging. It can be extremely lonely to not have any friends doing the bicultural marriage thing. Having community in any stage of life is of utmost importance, but this unique circumstance requires it.
  1.  Residency processes and paperwork. Have I mentioned that I hate it? Residency in any country is usually complicated, expensive, and requires a lot of patience. There is a lot of extra paperwork to fill out for every step you take when you’re married to a foreigner. Almost always, there you are required to pay a fee to file the never ending pile of paperwork. Buying a house, paying taxes, getting immigration visas, obtaining permanent residency, proving our child can receive dual citizenship, and obtaining employment are just a few of the processes that have emptied our bank account of thousands of dollars dedicated solely to filing.
  1.  Not having access to certain things (or they’re really expensive). This one doesn’t necessarily require you to be in a bicultural marriage, because this happens when you live almost anywhere overseas. Most likely, however, you or your spouse will be living in a different culture and will miss things you can’t have (probably more than you ever even wanted them when you were living in your own country). For example, Target. Oh how I miss Target. Another example, cheese is expensive here and I love cheese. When I’m in the U.S., I binge on cheese and when I’m in Costa Rica, I agonize in the dairy aisle about whether I should spend $12 on a small block of cheddar. One more: I absolutely love ice cream and I think I shed of tear of joy when a Dairy Queen opened here last year.
  1.  Negative comments. I previously posted a blog about this. People can be very critical of bicultural marriages and relationships. Whether it’s racism, ignorance, concern for your well-being, or just a case of social ineptness, people can say very hurtful things when you decide to do something out of the ordinary. Once you decide to marry a foreigner, be confident in your decision and don’t let negative comments affect your relationship.

If you’re considering a bicultural marriage and have questions or doubts, please hit me up. I’ll try to be as honest (and encouraging) as I can be!

 

Familia

I think it is appropriate that one of my first blogs is about family since marriage is a merging of families. In my case, two VERY distinct families. I’m realizing that I was a little disillusioned about how this whole thing was going to work out. In my head, it was going to be a mix between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.  However, it didn’t take me long to realize that Windex isn’t a cure-all, and that not all Latino families have steamy dance parties at family get-togethers.

I’m not really sure what Albin expected life with my family to be like, but I do remember his look of despair during a hundred-person party my mom threw during his first few days in Ohio. People kept coming up to him and slowly, but loudly, greeting him (since you should obviously speak as loudly and slowly as possible when you think someone doesn’t understand you). Though he often answered them with excellent English, many quickly split from the conversation thinking he didn’t speak any English beyond the basic introduction. He was a good sport, but I remember him going to bed with a headache that night and I can’t imagine why.

Albins mom and gma = stone cold Steve Austin in all of our wedding photos

Albin’s mom and gma= stone cold Steve Austin in all of our wedding photos

The whole family transition has been hard, humbling, and hilarious. Some examples:

– It took me years to convince my suegra (mother-in-law) that North Americans can actually cook and contribute something to a family dinner other than two liters or a bag of chips. One day I brought chicken salad sandwiches and pasta salad to a picnic and it blew her mind. She’s been making it ever since. Crushed it.

– It’s taken me years to prove that I speak and understand Spanish, despite the fact that my gringo accent will never completely disappear. Speaking of language, Albin refuses to use the word “beach” in front of my family because the first time he said it, they laughed for days thinking that he said, “I love the b#$@h.” He sounds incredibly proper now when he asks, “Will we go to the sea today?”

– It’s taken my family years to learn that Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are different, and even more time to learn that Costa Rica is not an island where everyone speaks Mexican. 

– I remember when we first got married, I told a certain family member that we would have a shower when we got back to Costa Rica (referring to a wedding shower). This unnamed family member got a huge look of relief on her face and mentioned that she had worried about how I was going to stay clean in a country without showers. .

Costa Rica lives, eats, and breathes fútbol (soccer) and thinks baseball is borrriinnnggg, while my family is all baseball and thought that soccer is what you played in elementary school if you weren’t good at anything else (ouch). My dad was a professional baseball player and everyone in my family (including my grandma) has been basically able to throw and hit a ball since birth. When Albin first came to meet my extended family at a grill-out, obviously a “friendly” game of whiffle ball started up. Albin is athletic, but I think that was the first time he has ever swung a bat. While my 8 year old cousin was hitting homeruns over the barn, Albin was struggling to make contact. Then my uncle, who is a professional softball player, suggested Albin use one of those big, fat, kid whiffle ball bats. Even then, the struggle was real. After too many strikes, I finally yelled “My goodness, just let him kick it and get out of the inning!”

dadandme

Take your daughter to work day…

Despite self-esteem crushing moments like that, the family transition has been beautiful. Both of our families have had their eyes opened to a new culture and new people. It’s been fun to see my family start watching and cheering for the Costa Rican national soccer team as they did awesome (holla!) in the last world cup. I’ve loved watching my mother-in-law and mom have whole conversations speaking cave man and using gestures. It’s been wonderful to have family and friends come to explore beautiful Costa Rica. I loved finding Albin’s grandma staring at our frozen pool out back and being amazed at that much water being frozen. You should have seen her face when I took her to our park, which had a huge frozen lake.

Once again, I know this isn’t just a bicultural marriage thing. When you get married, you marry a whole family, and it can be complicated whether they speak another language or not. My guess is that every suegra from every culture gives her opinion whether it was asked for or not…I know my mom shares hers with Albin quite willingly and that Albin’s mom will give hers, with no questions asked (especially when she not only disagrees with family salsa nights, but dancing in general…tear). It’s all good though, and I’m enjoying how things have “evolved” over the last four years. It may not seem like a big deal, but hearing a baseball game on TV at our house in Costa Rica or a fútbol game on at my parent’s house in Ohio shows just how far we’ve come. And that is music to my ears.

Al and Ana

It all started with a tuna sandwich…

A tuna sandwich.

About two weeks into our marriage, I was playing the dutiful wife and packed Albin an excellent lunch for work. It was comprised of a huge tuna sandwich, salad, probably a piece of fruit, and a snack. When he came home that afternoon he was scavenging through the fridge almost immediately. I casually asked if he liked his lunch and received a meek “sí” in response. Confused, I asked if he didn’t like tuna. He said that he enjoyed his lunch, but that he still felt a little hungry after a lunch that small.  I assured him that we would have a big dinner, but he didn’t seem nearly as enthused about that as I was. I began feeling slightly irritated that I even went to the trouble of making him a lunch if he wasn’t going to appreciate it.  Sensing my frustration, he slipped out onto the thin ice of stating how one’s culture does things. He said, “In Costa Rica, we are used to eating large lunches and smaller dinners.”

In my mind that was absurd. But we tried the whole “big lunch, small dinner” thing because I was going to overcome this whole living in a different culture thing. It was honestly like I had a Sunday afternoon food coma every. single. day. After eating my heavy lunch packed with carbs and topped off with loads of beans I was either out cold at my desk by 2:00 p.m. or locked up in the faculty bathroom learning about the side effects that black beans had on my “only ate baked beans once a year on July 4th” guts.

And from there we hit a stalemate. It became a thing for us. A little crack in our united front.  It was silly really; but while we laughed it off, it was a foreshadowing of our future of compromise and understanding that is inevitable for a bicultural marriage to succeed.

The issue with bringing two cultures together is that there are a lot of things. You’re bringing together two completely different outlooks on language, cuisine, relationships, government, etc. etc. etc., and it is a challenge. In a sense, all marriages are bicultural. No matter where each person comes from, the two bring very distinct opinions, stories, and beliefs about almost EVERYTHING. Maybe every marriage comes to a point where “living on love” crashes into the reality that you have to do life with someone that challenges what you thought was the “right” way of doing things. Despite the fact that my husband is a great man and I love him dearly, it is tough to swallow that my way isn’t always his way. When I first learned Spanish, I remember thinking that Hispanics said everything backwards. I mean why would you say “River Big” instead of “Big River?” When I finally opened my mind to accept that they weren’t speaking “backwards” and that their way of speaking made sense too, Spanish started to click and became a new normal. That’s what I want for our marriage. Realizing that no one has it backwards will help our relationship “click” and become our new normal.

As I said in my “About Me” page, I really feel a calling to talk about marriage between two people from distinct cultures. When we first got married, I started searching for information about bicultural marriages- stories, or self-help books or basically ANYTHING that could help me feel less alone; but there was an overwhelming lack of material.  I want to get the conversation started. I want to hear from others in the same situation who are fighting for their bicultural marriages. I want to know other people have to alternate having gallo pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice) and Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast to keep the peace. Basically, I want to know we’re not alone, and that despite the struggle, there is a special kind of victory when compromise is found between two cultures.

So here it goes. I hope that as I tell my story of triumphs and trials, I’ll find community, support and guidance from others who are living what I am living.  This is my story, please feel free to share yours.

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