I’ve heard it said that any marriage could be cross-cultural when you take two people from two different families with two different personalities and two different genders. Bam. That’s about enough difference to count as cross-cultural, right?
In our case add in two different languages, two very distinct cultures with different socioeconomic levels and then try to discuss something like Valentine’s Day. That was our Sunday night.
I have lived in Guatemala for almost 3 years and know very well that Valentine’s Day like many other US Holidays, is just not really a big deal here. Sure, kids in the school sometimes have an assembly to celebrate Dia del Carino (literally translated: Day of Affection) and thanks to US marketing and China’s production, you will see over-sized teddy bears holding red hearts for sale in the local market, and some single stem red and pink roses wrapped in plastic cellophane being sold on little street corners. But that’s about it for Valentine’s Day.
I also know that my Guatemalan husband, never grew up exchanging Valentine’s with classmates or eating heart-shaped cookies or secretly hoping for someone to bring him flowers and handwritten note that says, “I love you.” But yet every year I still wrestle with something inside that says, I want to make Valentine’s Day special. Or maybe more honestly stated, I want someone to make Valentine’s special for me.
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On Sunday night as I’m writing on our chalkboard calendar, that hangs between the kitchen and living room, I drew a big heart around Thursday and wrote Valentine’s Day! Dotting my “i” with a heart. From the couch, G looks over, “so what’s the big deal about Valentine’s Day?” Feeling defensive and slightly emotional (I could blame it on the baby, but let’s be honest it’s probably just me) I didn’t have a response.
It’s a good question really. He wasn’t being critical, or mean, just wondering. What is the big deal about Valentine’s Day? I think what he was really asking is why for my 30-year-old wife from California, who I love dearly, is Valentine’s Day a big deal?
As I moped on the bed I couldn’t articulate why. I rationalized all of the reasons why this day could feel like a big deal to me…Maybe it’s because US marketing has convinced me that this is the one day of the year to be loved and chosen by someone else. Or maybe because Hallmark and 1-800 flowers have combined tactics to convince me that I deserve a card, flowers and nice dinner on this day of love. Somehow I imagine our great- grandparents a 100 years ago, never having a conversation that started with “So, honey, what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?” But none of these reasons helped me explain, why it still felt like a big deal for me.
What’s funny is that Valentine’s Day was never a huge deal for me when I lived in the states. I was never dating anyone on Valentine’s Day and even if I was, I probably would not have wanted to go out to a fancy, romantic dinner. Just not really my style. I never got on the single-awareness bandwagon, but was also never super excited for Valentine’s Day. It was kind of just a normal day.
But for some reason now that I live away from many of the funny customs and traditions that have been part of my home, I sometimes find myself caring more. Some how the very fact of being away, makes things that were never really important, feel that much more important. Hence, Valentine’s Day in Guatemala feels more important than Valentine’s Day when I was in the states. Usually, I’m pretty good at explaining why I value or want something. But every now and then there is something deeper, something that comes from a gut level. You can’t always explain it or articulate it well, but you feel it.
We both have this feeling, often about different things. Your head knows what is happening may really not be a big deal, but your reaction catches you by surprise. Something gets you at a gut level. Sometimes the hardest things about cross-cultural marriage are the unexplainable. The kind of things that cannot not be nicely labeled and categorized and don’t really fit in either framework. They are not issue of right and wrong or better and worse. Maybe the challenge is giving each other room to feel those things, even when the other person may not ever fully understand.
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I woke up yesterday morning to a sweet, smiling husband who took the dog out, got ready and came over to my sleepy side of the bed before I had even opened my eyes.
“Happy valentines day.” Touching my round belly, “to you both.“
The he added, “I think I’ll do great getting up with the baby every morning.”
I nodded, still curled up in the comforter, half asleep, thinking how lucky I am.
Maybe the gift and challenge of cross-cultural marriage is that you are forced to re-examine, why and what is really important. And I think what I’ve learned is that Valentine’s Day may always feel more important to me than my husband. And that’s ok. And one day there may be cards I want to decorate with our kids or heart-shaped pancakes I want to make for breakfast, and he may not totally get it. But there is no doubt in my mind that he is the man I want to wake up with every morning.
I will chose him as my Valentine. Always.
Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie!
Your Complicated-Cross-Cultural-Californian-Living-in-Guatemala Wife