Monday, March 7, 2016

How Our International Marriage is Different...and How it Isn't

Dressed up for a wedding last month
Once after a work function where he met many new folks, Yuya flopped onto the bed and sighed: "I'm tired of talking about foreigners this and foreigners that. Everyone only talks about gaikokujin to me. Why?!"Apparently he'd forgotten his wife is considered gaikokujin, a foreigner, in this country!

In a way, these kinds of reactions from well-meaning people are a tough part of our marriage. Wow! A bird loving a fish! WHY?  is the tone behind their questions and comments, as if our simply being together necessitates an explanation. It's a bit hurtful after a while, though it only means they see our outside appearances are different so they assume the inner workings of our relationship are different too.

Every couple has to deal with the two sets of culture and expectations brought in by each other, and at least two sets of in-laws and two ancestral homes. International marriage is the same, just on a larger scale.

In college I took several classes on communication and international relations. Business and diplomatic relationships between countries and cultures are difficult. Culture shock and cultural adjustments are difficult. But my relationship with Yuya is a different story: I see him less as a representative member of "Japanese culture" that I have to somehow finagle shared meanings with in a 5-step jargon-y process, and more as simply the male human I married. And we happen to live in his country, which is not the country I was born and raised in.

And this is how I feel our marriage is "international" or "different"--it is not in our relationship per se as much as it is in the scale of typical problems, and the reactions of people around us.

Perhaps most American couples don't have to worry about living far away from parents who expect their eldest son's family to take care of them in their old age. Perhaps most Japanese couples only have to worry about the wife missing her hometown a $100 train-ticket away, and not a $2000 airplane-ticket away. Perhaps most couples whose partners are from the same country as each other just worry about bills, paperwork, and filing taxes instead of worrying about bills, paperwork, filing taxes, passports, and visas. Perhaps such couples just debate about which town, state, or prefecture to raise kids in instead of which country. Perhaps such couples just argue about money in one currency without having to bring up the dollar-yen exchange rate. Perhaps such couples don't have to always see raised eyebrows and answer questions about why? and how did you meet? and isn't it tough?  when they meet new people.

In the end, though, to me these are all small things. Details. Daily adult life we have to tackle together. The whole is other than the sum of its parts. Yuya and I, we don't categorize each other as "oh you are Japanese" or "you are American," though that is a part of our identities. To me, Yuya is Yuya. A unique human being, a man, a person I'm sharing my life with. The things we encounter in our relationship and in life due to our international marriage don't make me think "Ok so this is life with a Japanese person." I'm more likely to think, "Ok, this is life with Yuya."

What I want to say is, we are just two humans interacting. I don't think our marriage is anything different, special, exotic, tough, interesting, or what have you. It's just marriage! And as of March 1st this year, we have been in it for two years. Still just starting out, and excited about life will bring us next.

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