Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Kristin & Ravi

This gorgeous, fun-loving couple met randomly at a Halloween party & have been together ever since!

My name is Kristin and I’m a graduate student originally from Auburn, Washington (100% Scandinavian). My husband is Ravi, who was born and raised in New Delhi; but has worked in the US for the past 5 years. Right now we live in Redmond, Washington with our two cat babies and Ravi’s mom.

Three words that describe you...
Independent, feisty and fun! 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Growing up in the Seattle area, I've always felt inspired by nature. Mount Rainier is one of my favorite places in the world - it's so beautiful and quiet. I love the city, but there's something about being utterly by yourself that is so calming and centering. Getting away from daily disturbances really focuses your energy on what is important and is so great for getting those creative juices flowing! 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met completely randomly on a dance floor on Halloween! I was a senior in college and my girlfriends and I decided to go to a club in Seattle for a night of fun. About halfway through the night, a very confident man whose accent I could barely understand came up to me and just started to dance with me. He was very forward, especially for all of the Indian guys I know now! I had never done anything like that before, but there was just something about him. We spent the rest of the night together until my friends dragged me away to drive them home for class the next morning. We exchanged numbers to have an official date the following weekend and have been together ever since, despite having to deal with a lot of challenges from our families and society.

Talking about it later, it turns out we almost didn't meet - Ravi was at a friend's party, and then went home because it was boring and he wasn’t feeling well. He reached all the way to the stoplight down the street from his apartment when he decided to turn around on a whim and go out. I don't believe in fate or predestination, but it's crazy to think that if it hadn't been for the last second decision, I wouldn't be writing these words right now!

How long have you been together?
We have been together for three years, legally married for one year and publicly married for only a few weeks! 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Ravi is so confident and charismatic. It’s rare to meet someone who lives their life completely on their terms. When he does something, he does it 100%. He inspires me to believe in myself in ways I never did before meeting him. He also is unafraid of singing and dancing in any situation - it might take me a few years to match him in that!

Favorite memory together as a couple...
It's hard to pick just one, but a very recent memory was seeing him for the first time at our Indian wedding. His baaraat arrived hours late (as per Indian Standard Time), so after getting dressed I ended up sitting in a back room for hours by myself without any idea of what was going on! As time went on, I became more and more nervous. Finally, someone whisked me out for the bridal procession. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so there were literally at least 100 people yelling at me to “walk slow!”, “no, do this!”, “look down!”, “smile!”, and “look here!”. It was really overwhelming but as soon as I saw Ravi smiling and sitting on his throne waiting for me, everything was alright in the world and all my nervousness went away. Perhaps it’s cheesy, but it felt just like a movie! It’s those kind of little moments that are so beautiful and memorable. 

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
My best friend in middle school was Gujarati-American, so I had a bit of exposure when I was a kid t o "Indian culture" (mostly just eating a lot of dhokla). I also did research on India in college, but it didn’t prepare me at all for everything that has happened in the past three years! It's one thing to read about it, it's another thing to live it. No one could have ever prepared me for both the self-inflicted/outside pressure that comes from marrying an Indian...especially an only son. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
We joke that our life is a Bollywood movie since we've had drama from both sides of our families! Our relationship was not very public when we first started dating because Ravi was planning on going back to India within in a year to get an arranged marriage. We quickly realized that what we had was serious, but due to the situation in India, it look a long time for everyone to know. My immediate family was aware that I was seeing someone, but Ravi was apprehensive to meet them in the beginning since meeting the parents is such a big deal in Indian culture. However, it was love at first sight once they did! I’m pretty sure they love him more than me now! 

For the first year and a half, only Ravi’s mom knew about me. There was a lot of embarrassment and shame there, which was definitely hard on me. Finally, on a trip home for a cousin’s wedding, Ravi told everyone about our relationship and that we wanted to get married. There was a lot of pushback, threats, and drama, as I’m sure everyone on this blog can imagine! A lot of horrible things were said about me, but Ravi usually gets what he wants and he came back from the wedding with the reluctant go-ahead for us to get engaged. Sadly, after that we also had some drama when we told my very Christian grandparents that I was marrying a non-Christian, but you can’t please everyone!

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I’ve gone through some very negative times in my life (being raised by a mentally ill, abusive mother, almost dropping out of high school for financial reasons, etc.) and for a long time, I really thought I would be alone. I’m very hard on myself, and I kind of just accepted that happiness was not in the cards for me. I was putting my life back together when I met Ravi, and so much has changed since then. His name means "sun" in Hindi, and he is just that for me. He believes in me so much and has made me see that trying to be “perfect” is so misguided and simply not any fun. Being married to an Indian has also made me realize that sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and enjoy the adventure!

Who proposed and how?
Since I knew that the proposal was coming, Ravi played so many games for weeks - getting down on one knee, coming home late, taking me out for nice dinners, saying he was going to a different jeweler after I had already picked out a ring. I literally turned into a crazy person! Finally, he took me down to Portland for the weekend (we’re vegan, so it’s our food paradise). He planned afternoon Ayurvedic massages and then took me to my favorite restaurant. Over dessert, my favorite Bollywood song started playing (Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai) and I was so confused because we were in an Italian place! When I finally realized it was for me, Ravi presented me with a gorgeous ring as everyone in the place clapped and cheered!

Describe your wedding...
All of our friends joke that we are addicted to getting married; although what we did seems pretty typical for many intercultural couples. We got legally married the month after getting engaged (we simply couldn't wait), and then had weddings in Delhi and Washington just a few weeks ago! Our Indian wedding was small (by Indian standards), but it still seemed like a circus to my family and best friend. We had a traditional Hindu ceremony with around 300 people at a banquet hall near the family’s neighborhood. The makeup artist tried to make me into a modern day Cleopatra/Snooki, but thankfully I knew enough Hindi to shut that down! 

We returned from India on a Monday, and had our American ceremony the following weekend (not something I would necessarily recommend to the faint of heart). We kept it small with around 50 people in attendance. I really wanted to focus on us as couple, as opposed to India where there is a Bride and there is a Groom. We had our ceremony in an old WWII structure and had one of Ravi’s groomsmen officiate. Since Ravi didn’t really know our wedding traditions, I kept telling him beforehand that he was supposed to cry when I walked down the aisle. He didn’t, but I got him during our handwritten vows! We then had a reception at my parents’ house, which was basically just a big party! It might not have held up to Indian standards, but it was so wonderful to hang out and have a good time with all of our friends and family, after the craziness of the Indian wedding.

What does being married mean to you?
We have the relationship we have with or without a license, rings or a mangalsutra. It is a forever commitment, through the good times and the bad. However, not having to hide it anymore and having our relationship recognized by those who were initially opposed is really great.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We both really push each other and have changed so much since we met each other, so I know anything is possible as long as we are together. One day, Ravi hopes to start his own company and I am looking to earn my PhD. We have a lot happening in the next few years! On a more dreamy note, I never wanted kids before meeting Ravi, but we love to imagine how adorable our kids will be once we are settled down, wherever that might be.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Most of the positive values I think I bring to our relationship are based in very American ideas about independence, from freely expressing love and affection to encouraging Ravi to follow his own personal dreams, not someone else’s. I’m not one to let anyone tell me what to do, and I think that quality has really helped our relationship in times when lots of people felt like they could say that we didn’t belong together and that we were making a huge mistake. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Ravi has never been very interested in doing “Indian” things - I have always been to one to say that we should go to the temple on Diwali or go to Hindi movies. Of course, we do regular stuff like make lots of rajmah and chaat. However, now that my mother in law is here, there are a lot more things I am adopting - like wearing sindoor, anklets, bangles, bindis and the mangalsutra. I don’t wear them all everyday (besides the mangalsutra), but it was funny to see how much Ravi actually likes them. He would never ask me to put anything on, but I see the smile on his face when I do wear them! He says I look exotic, which I find hilarious!

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
My family has not really adopted much of Indian culture, although they do love the food and celebrating holidays like Holi! They had a hard time in India due to getting sick and the heat, but they all looked really great in Indian clothes at our wedding. We’ll hopefully find another occasion soon to wear them.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Lack of privacy and space has probably been the hardest thing! While we were in Delhi, people would just show up at our house at any hour of the day - one time, I had a full face of makeup on only half of my face...and had to serve tea to an uncle when he stopped by! It was very embarrassing. I also love to come home at the end of the day, take all of my clothes off and just decompress, which is something you can’t do when you live with your mother in law. Besides that, freely giving any criticism and expecting women to dress and act a certain way has been very hard. I try not to take it to heart when someone says something, but it’s not always easy. The Firangi Bahu insecurity complex is REAL!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Oh my goodness, so many! In India, I felt like I did everything wrong, from not riding a scooter side saddle, to not wearing enough jewelry and bangles. Ravi’s family is very conservative, so there were even things like not bringing his plate to the kitchen after dinner that was frowned upon. Of course, I didn’t always touch elders’ feet at the right time. It’s an awkward thing when you haven't grown up naturally knowing when to do it!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Coming home from our Indian wedding and bringing Ravi’s mom back with us has definitely been the biggest challenge yet! India was crazy but I was able to go with the flow (one, I actually like it there and two, when in Rome do as the Romans). However, being subject to judgment and having no privacy or freedom in my own house has been very tough. Ravi loves his mom (which I love), but it's hard to feel like you're married to someone's mom. She also doesn't speak any English and my conversational Hindi isn't great, so it's like living with a stranger. We're learning and adjusting, but it's definitely been challenging in a way we have never experienced before.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Probably the best part of being in an intercultural relationship has been being exposed to so many new things and really thinking about the culture you were brought up to decide how you want to live your life. It broadens your horizons, figuratively and literally. On the other hand, the worst has been navigating certain cultural norms that are directly opposed to each other. Sometimes there simply aren't solutions that can make everyone happy. Thankfully, those are very rare for us, but looking forward, eventually we will have to settle down somewhere and one of us will be very far from our families. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
There are so many, but perhaps the biggest or most confounding one I’ve come across is that an intercultural relationship is too much work. Yes, it may not be as easy as dating the person who grew up right next door to you, but being with someone from a completely different background is also so much more of an adventure.

What are the biggest misconceptions about American women? 
The biggest ones I’ve come across about American women: we're godless/have no culture, we’re often prostitutes and all of us get divorced (all things we heard from my in laws when Ravi told them he wanted to marry me). There were probably even worse things that they said, but thank goodness for selective memories! 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
ALL OF THE TIME. We live near Microsoft and all the big tech companies around Seattle, so we are around a lot of Indians. We've had some racist encounters with other kinds of people, but for some reason Indian women glare at me like I stole Ravi away from the gene pool or something! I've had them gossip about us right in front of us because they assume I can’t understand Hindi. Even just going out to dinner or grocery shopping near our house can be awkward. We deal because we know how amazing our relationship is - sometimes we laugh it off, other times we make comments to each other about it where the people in question are sure to hear. That’s not for everyone, but sometimes we just get so frustrated! Interestingly, we never had these kinds of problems in India!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
It might not be the Indian way or the way of some other cultures, but ultimately, everything comes down to you and your spouse. Your relationship is worth fighting for. Sometimes it can take a lot of time for others to understand (or for you to understand each other), but true love is worth all of the struggles and misconceptions.



  1. Super cute story, and honest about the challenges. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. Wow, what a beautiful bride!

  3. Of all the intercultural relationships, I find yours the most relatable to my own intercultural marriage! Except that I managed to avoid living with my mother in law. How long do you expect she will live with you for?

    1. Originally we were going to live together for 6 months as a sort of trial run for when we settle down and have her move in permanently with us (either in the US or India). We only made it two months, because a month after the weddings we found out the my MIL has heart disease and cancer. Talk about me feeling horrible for feeling resentful towards her and then having all of this happen! We couldn't afford treatment in the US so my husband and her are back in India; they wouldn't let me come because of the dengue outbreak in Delhi.

      So anyways, for the time being, we are not living together anymore. It's definitely still a hard relationship to navigate though, they have such a different dynamic than I do with my parents. I'm sure lots of people here could relate to that.


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