Saturday, August 22, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Nicole & Vijay

(Img via Liz West)

This couple lives in the American midwest and have been together for 5 years and are planning to move to Europe in the near future!

My name is Nicole. I was born in Georgia and have lived all over the US. Right now we are living in Kansas, and planning a move to the east coast soon. In the next few years, we are getting ready to emigrate out of the U.S. completely to Europe. I am a second generation American - my mother's side is from Germany coming here after the war. Genetically, I am a varied mix of mostly European nationalities, but I grew up with a strong German culture. 
My husband is from a Hindu family in Varanasi. We have been married for almost 5 years and we have a 3 year old daughter.

Three words that describe you...
Introvert, redhead, sentimental.

Favorite childhood memory...
My dad brushing my hair, getting me ready for school.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Being alone in nature.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We were neighbors during our last year in college.We had been living in 2 big old houses that the owners separated into small apartments. When the owners of the house decided to demolish the house he was living in, he moved in to the house I was in. He lived in the room next to mine. In fact, if I looked under my bed I could see into his room from the vent! The funny this is that he almost moved into the house behind to live with his friends, but he felt lazy. He moved into my building because it was about 10 steps closer. He likes to reference this fact to support his claim that laziness does indeed pay off!

How long have you been together?
While we had seen each other in passing and on friendly, neighborly terms since the summer of 2010, it didn't take a romantic turn until November of 2010. We got married New Years Day of 2011. Yes, it was quite a short courtship!

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
He treats everyone with the utmost respect and kindness. He is very laid back and open-minded. He is a critical thinker, but he doesn't believe that his thoughts and opinions reign supreme. He is thoughtful, generous, caring, and devoted. As a husband and father he goes above and beyond on a daily basis. I could not have dreamed up a better man.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
When I told him I was pregnant. He is usually so composed and careful with his emotions, it was a real treat to see him let loose with such exuberant joy.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I love culture in general, having wanted a career in archaeology and anthropology. I had always loved learning about India since I was a small child. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was my favorite movie growing up. In 3rd grade, we spent half a year studying about India and I was completely enraptured by it. When I was about 11, I became a Buddhist. In high school, I liked foreign music and film as well as learning to cook different cuisines. I was sure glad to have been regularly cooking Indian food for 10 years by the time I met my husband! I remember sneaking out of bed in the middle of a school night to watch Dil Chahta Hai on the foreign film channel, and borrowing CDs from a Bangladeshi friend. I'd picked Indian topics as the basis for several school projects and shopped frequently at the Indian market in town. In the 90's I lived on the West coast, when yoga became a big thing. So I read into that and Ayurveda. Even in pop culture, India became kind of hip at that time - loving No Doubt, Gwen Stefani brought on bindi, henna, and nose rings. For years I rocked bangles on both arms. I'd even attempted to learn Hindi on my own in high school (failed miserably!). I'd always said that if I could only visit 1 other country in my lifetime that I'd want it to be India. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
Our relationship was such a whirlwind that we were already engaged before I even had a chance to mention to anyone that I was dating someone. In my family, no one bats an eye at "intercultural relationships" - most people have one themselves. They would be more surprised to see me bring home a white American named Brad. I had dated guys from lots of different places and as I mentioned, my closest family is from another country, so xenophobia is not something I had to deal with from either of our families, thankfully.

Since we had decided on getting married at such an early date, and given the timing, we thought it best to just take a road trip during winter break at school to visit our relatives, introduce each other, and let them know of our plans. We just made a big loop, stopping to see everyone and getting married along the way. It was wonderful. My family was only shocked at how soon we were getting married. 

His family was totally shocked. He was in his 30's and sort of ......ahem......past his prime, marriage-wise! He had previously said that he did not want them looking for a wife for him. So it was sort of a given that marriage, for him, was unlikely to happen. The good thing about this is that after the initial shock wore off, they were so thrilled he was getting married that they didn't seem to care too much who he was even marrying.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I had planned on being the eternal bachelorette my whole life, and was quite looking forward to it! My husband knew he wanted to get married and have a family but knew he couldn't get married to just anyone. He said he knew the odds of finding a woman he would want to live with were quite small, not to mention he put about zero effort into looking (have I mentioned the "laziness pays" philosophy he ascribes to?), so he had resigned himself to being forever single as well. So really, being married in general has been such a weird thing to wrap my brain around. This was definitely not the life I had imagined living. To be honest, reminding myself that I am someone's wife and mother still makes me laugh! They are not roles I ever grew up envisioning myself in. As a staunch introvert in particular, having a kid and a husband that works from home has just been a really monumental thing to adjust to. Seriously, I am never alone!

I do know that having a child has changed my outlook on life - I used to be afraid of nothing and now I am afraid of pretty much everything. Even with a relationship, there are a lot of things I worry and watch out for that would just not be an issue if I had realized that bachelorette dream. But really it's just sort of a trade off. There are things a single person has to worry about too, that I now find I don't really have to fret about. Finally I will say that being married and having kids has - for better or worse - really diminished the nihilist mindset I was prone to beforehand. Lame in its cliche, but true!

(Img via Sonja Lovas)

Who proposed and how?
He proposed. Since our whole dating life was weirdly short, I will have to just start at the beginning....

So as I mentioned, we were neighbors. We'd talked - normal pleasantries, introductions, "Hey you want to go in halfsies on WiFi?", that kind of thing. He used to smoke, and would go sit on the front porch to do so as smoking was not allowed in the building. I remember one day I had come home and he was sitting on the porch talking to another girl, and I felt myself getting irrationally pissed about it. It was kind of funny too, because he stopped talking to her in mid sentence and turned to watch me, and he seemed embarrassed to be caught talking to her. He was staring hard at me, I was staring hard at the door ahead of me, and this girl's head is going back and forth looking at both of us wondering what is going on. I see him trying to find something to say to me. He manages to finally blurt out a nervous, "Hi!" after I'd walked past and was going through the door. When I am safely out of view and heading up the staircase, I thought to myself, "What the hell was that all about?" My cheeks were burning and I was so astounded at this weird reaction we had. I couldn't really rationalize it other than realizing that I was more interested in him than I thought. A week later. I am about to open up a bottle of wine in my room and debating which is worse-- would it be sad/alarming to drink a whole bottle of wine alone in your room in the middle of the week? However, drinking half just seems wasteful and trying to save some for later is just not ideal (oh, single people problems!). While I am trying to put on an internal show of temperance, I hear his door open and him go downstairs for a smoke. I started thinking about my weird reaction to him the other day. I wanted to get to the bottom of that. Not to mention, it'd sure solve this pesky problem of what to do with the other half of this bottle of wine! I worked up the courage to go downstairs with my bottle, 2 glasses, and ask him if he drinks. He was pleasantly surprised and said yes. I pour us some wine and we spend the whole night on the porch talking. We didn't want the evening to come to an end. Eventually, we had to go in because it turned too cold outside. We make plans the next day to get together and I offered to cook him dinner. 

The next day, while I am shopping for things for our dinner, he is (unbeknownst to me) letting all of his friends know that he is going to ask me to marry him! We started dinner by talking and having a few drinks. Apparently he was nervous to ask me to marry him so he had a few drinks beforehand out of nervousness. He was feeling queasy, and excused himself. I had no idea what was going on.

Hours later, I am staring at my cold dinner on the stove, still waiting for his return but eventually hear him snoring through the wall. I marvel at what an awesome date I must be to actually put the other person to sleep! At some point in the night he texts me, apologizing that he fell asleep. "No big deal, we can hang out another time", I said. 

We text the next couple of days and he comes over again. After about 15 minutes of chatting he says, "I think we should get married." Maybe some of you have had that experience where you're talking to someone and you suddenly realize they are out of their mind?! (Louis CK knows what I'm talking about!) And that is exactly what I thought, "Ah. Looks like I'm on a date with a crazy person. And oh, look, we're alone in my room!!!" He then pitched the deal - laid out exactly how and why we were the perfect match, and to be honest, he did a very good job. 

I was still not going for it, but my perception changed from thinking he was crazy to thinking that he was just sweet, naive, and inexperienced. He also explained that he is not from a dating culture and that dating for years is completely unnecessary, which I didn't disagree with. We kept hanging out, and it soon became clear that he really did knew what he was talking about. We had so much in common and similar mindsets.

Two weeks later, it was my birthday. As always, we spent the evening on the porch together. He took me out to dinner that night and then explained why we should get married because we were so great together. It was beautiful and insightful. I excused myself to the restroom, because I was starting to tear up. Inside, I was alone and began pacing around. This time I knew I really needed to consider this proposal. This was genuine. In those 2 weeks we had been together, I had seen his ability to size up a person in mere minutes. He has a real gift of observation and it made a big impression on me, the tiny details and nuances that never seemed to escape him. I knew what he was saying was true and that he really had thought this out. I don't know how long I was in there. I gave myself one last look in the mirror, took a deep breath, and went back to the table, confident in my choice. Deciding to put my faith in his judgement, and mine, I sat down and said "Yes". It has absolutely been the best decision I ever made.

(Img via Doug Kerr)

Describe your wedding...
Oh goodness. It would not be hardly anyone's cup of tea, but to me, it was so perfect. I know most people view a marriage as a social affair, but to me it always felt like such a personal, private, and intimate thing. I would have been embarrassed to get married in front of other people. And luckily it all happened so fast, it was a good excuse not to have to have a huge ordeal. We road tripped to meet family and tell them the news, and on the road trip we got married at a drive thru chapel. We had left that morning from his sister's house. We'd had a nice stay there and she took me out to get mehendi done on my hands. It was New Year's day, and we were driving West through the Smoky mountains. There was snow out and the water that normally pours out of the mountainsides was frozen. Nothing hard to drive through, but it was a beautiful scenic drive through a veritable wintry wonderland. We had a fun drive - we were so giddy with excitement. By the time we reached the chapel, a heavy rainstorm came upon us. The officiant told us that due to the weather, he couldn't do the drive thru ceremony, so we'd have to use the chapel. 

When I am nervous - I cannot control my laughter - and I was so nervous about this! My brain just kept saying, "Am I really doing this? I can't believe I'm doing this!" It took every iota of strength inside of me to keep from bursting out in laughter at the surrealness of it all. I knew I looked like an absolute loon, standing there chewing my face from the inside, trying to keep my mouth shut. I felt so much adrenaline, that I kept vacillating between passing out and sprinting out of the building. Picturing myself suddenly leaping through the chapel window and running across the country, running so long I was sporting a Forrest Gump beard, mustache, and trucker hat while Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty" played in my mind did nothing to quell my giggles. And that's all I have to say about that!

(Img via)

What does being married mean to you?
Despite my unabating inner fits of laughter during our marriage ceremony (I luckily did manage to not laugh out loud), my husband and I take our marriage very seriously. Although maybe it is better to say we take our marriage vows very seriously, but that our marriage actually feels quite relaxed and effortless. "Partners" and "team effort" are not exactly a very romantic way to view it, but I think it's an accurate depiction. I was a real commitment-phobe, but our relationship has always felt so comfy, never once restrictive. We both feel we could never have been married to anyone else. I think in the West, we believe that the basis of a marriage ought to be love. In India, the basis of a marriage is respect. I feel first and foremost that my husband has utmost respect for me. Love too - of course - but on some days when loving each other is hard, it doesn't matter much because the respect, care, and devotion are constant.

I left home when I was 17. While I have family (as in they are living) for all intents and purposes, my family has never helped me. If I have any problems, I have always been on my own - no matter the situation. Getting married has been a real relief, knowing that we have each others' backs, look out for one another, and actively help each other to reach our goals. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We have a lot of dreams and goals-- business dreams (starting our own businesses), personal dreams (traveling to every country together), dreams for our children (emigrating from the U.S.). For ourselves though, we really just hope we can stay in good health and get to enjoy a long, serene, life together. Yep, we are pretty boring people! We like to talk about what we'll do for our 50th anniversary party!

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I don't think I received any advice. Maybe people knew I was unlikely to follow it!

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
My German side brings a sense of punctuality that is my husband completely lacks any sense of urgency! I am a perfectionist and I strive for the utmost efficiency in things. When this is applied to running the household, it impresses that Indian admiration of frugality. We both value education above most everything and my husband loves my logical nature. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
To be honest, my husband is not a "stereotypical" Indian nor am I a "stereotypical" American. We are both unconventional for either of our respective countries and we have never felt a strong attachment to any group. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
My husband's family is very progressive and liberal. However, I do find the presence of so many taboos to be quite annoying. I hate having to monitor my speech so much, or worry about accidentally holding my husband's hand in front of family, or calling him some term of endearment. I would love to have a drink with my mother in law, or take her swimming in a private pool, but that is not going to happen. I really hate having to pretend I never dated anyone before, or pretending like random dumb things never happened, like being forbidden from mentioning that my husband smoked (even though his father smokes) and his whole family KNOWS that he himself smoked. It is so bizarre, nonsensical, and melodramatic to me!!! I agree that not everything needs to be talked about, but being so serious about covering up benign truths is just frustrating and phony to me. I wish we could talk about how life actually is instead of trying to always paint a rosy, delusional, picture.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Ok, I of course know about the beef thing (who doesn't know about the beef thing?) and I don't even remember this but apparently when we were at his sister's place, my husband and I had some pizza somewhere that we didn't finish and brought home to have later. I guess it had pepperoni and they got very upset that we brought it in the house. My husband only told me this like 3 years later, so I don't remember it all. But it seems like I was the only one in that house who didn't know that pepperoni had beef in it (my father doesn't eat pork and also avoids pepperoni, so I thought it was pork-- never considered it has both). Now if my husband knew, why the heck did he not say anything beforehand but instead just went ahead and took it in there?! Sheesh!!! Oh and the real kicker? The next time we visit, she has a whole bag of pepperoni in her fridge, she said that the kids love it, and she fed it to them in front of her parents even (who I'm sure had no idea what it was...)

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
I often feel like my husband looks down upon a lot of things which he ascribes to as "my" culture. I feel like a lot of things he just misunderstands or won't accept my explanation of why people do X behavior. I feel like he often approaches it with a presumption that "my" group operates solely out of maliciousness or mean-spiritedness. I think a lot of people can fall into this wrong way of thinking when they approach another group, especially when they have very opposing ways of handling things. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
I like that people in an intercultural relationship are generally forced to examine their own beliefs and actions, and why they think, feel, and react the way they do. I like that you can learn new, possibly better, ways of doing things. You're opened up to so many experiences.

The worst part? It is relatively infrequent - the nasty, backhanded, and presumptuous comments are disgusting when you go out.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That most annoying one is having people say things like, "What? You couldn't find a _____ person to marry?" With the blank being the listener's "group", or the suggestion that no one in your group wanted you so you had to go solicit a spouse from another culture. 

Another one is that each member of the couple is with the other for ulterior motives (using to immigrate, using as a "status symbol", has some kind of fetish, hates their own group, wants to "conquer" another group, only with them for their money, wants their children to have certain traits, etc). 

What are the biggest misconceptions about Indian men?
I keep having people assume that my husband must be some kind of macho chauvinist who thinks women should be submissive to men. Even by people who know that I am a feminist and have never tolerated that kind of attitude by any person, be it a partner or total stranger. My husband is the most feminist guy I know. And light-years ahead of the people who actually make these comments!
I also hate people thinking the only reason my husband wanted to be with me was either my skin color or to get into the country (which he was already in and neither of us have any interest in staying in). I also get the feeling that people think that Indian men are some kind of sex maniacs. Luckily no one has dared to ask me about this.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
I prefer to rip someone a new one...while my husband prefers to just ignore them! 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
I don't really like to give generalized advice - every couple is different. (Plus it makes me feel like a fortune cookie!)



  1. Your family is so beautiful! I love an Indian man from Hyderabad, who is living in states for work. He will eventually move back to India but I loved getting to know him, if only we could date. Anyway you got so lucky, their culture is so nice and loyal. Thanks for sharing your story and pictures.

  2. Great story, wish them happiness...

  3. Hello!

    To be honest, I visited this site by accident, I was on another site reading about cultures and learning a new language (Punjabi, to be precise) and somehow ended up here. I had fun reading about your story, yours is an awesome story! I had a few moments of 'ROFL' ing too! Being someone who's 'past his prime' (purely by an Indian definition, of course!), I could identify with quite a few parts of your story. Good luck to you!

    Oh, I had a quick comment on the presentation. Maybe, its just the OCD in me, I noticed that all text is center justified, I thought they will look better and more professional if they were left justified!

  4. Thank you for this, it was very well written and relatable. Also, you are hilarious! I don't think I've ever laughed out loud this much at a blog post before. The part I shrieked: "I prefer to rip someone a new one..." Haha Priceless! Thanks :)

  5. Thank you for your story. I am currently being courted by a man in his 30's whose family is from Varanasi. I've been so scared that when/should the time arrive for me to meet his relatives that they would disapprove of our relationship, especially since I am over a decade his senior and was married before. I hope when/should the time ever come for me to meet his relatives that they will accept me.


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