Experiencing life in my intercultural marriage has been like seeing the world through a new pair of glasses. Many of the distortions through which I saw people before our marriage have been corrected and I’m beginning to see the world through a cleaner pair of lenses. When I wore my old glasses, my vision was blurred by various forms of prejudice and resentment. I noticed how different people were from each other and I assumed that certain cultures were superior to others. This myopic vision changed when I stepped into an intercultural marriage. By making a lifelong commitment with a partner of a different culture, I took a step forward to remove prejudice and to embrace the things human beings have in common.
It was not an accident that I married someone outside my culture; I believe it was part of a divine plan. One great gift of my intercultural marriage has been the opportunity to enjoy a new perspective that allows me to accept as equal people of different cultures. I’m letting go of my ethnocentric outlook and replacing it with respect and understanding. I’m glad I traded my old pair of glasses and sought the courage to change.
My husband is American, and I’m South Asian. Our countries of origin make us different in many ways. Trent is light skinned; I’m dark. We’re beginning to find love in colour. An individual’s skin colour represents only external appearance. What is more deeply true and fulfilling to know is a person’s character. Our marriage is an exciting journey to explore the person underneath the skin.
We’ve discovered we differ in recreation and food preferences. Trent is a country boy from Colorado who likes outdoor sports such as hiking, skiing and swimming. I’m the city girl from Sri Lanka who likes indoor activities: reading, playing the piano and writing. Trent likes to enjoy the natural flavour of country cooking, whereas I prefer to empower the natural flavours with hot spices.
America, I’ve found, seems to focus on law, individualism and independence. It’s largely a consumer society where people are judged primarily on external appearances. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is a place where spirituality is important. This point is significant because, in my experience, spiritual depth makes all the difference in coping with life’s problems.
TV versus meditating
The cultural foundations of consumerism and spirituality affect the way Trent and I deal with challenges in our marriage. When we have an argument, Trent manages his feelings by watching TV. I process my frustration by finding a quiet corner in the house and meditating for 10 minutes. Sometimes I kneel and pray, asking God to lift my burden. Either way, Trent and I both get through the argument and go to bed as friends. The way we cope with these situations is a reflection of the cultures in which we were raised. Trent deals with the pain through an outside diversion such as watching television, whereas I deal with it internally through meditation and prayer.
Despite our differences we’ve been able to find productive ways to communicate. The most jewel-like quality in our marriage is that we use our cultural differences to our advantage. We’ve discovered that most of the time our differences are relatively superficial if only we take the time to understand them. Even though Trent watches TV to relieve his anger and I meditate to relieve mine, our common goal is to pay attention to our feelings and cultivate a healthy relationship. Our common goal is to journey through life in a healthy way. Even though we have developed different strategies to cope with life’s difficulties, our goal is the same.
Sauce versus gravy
At first I thought that American cooking was very different from Sri Lankan cooking. I’ve now found out that the two cuisines have many similarities. In fact, they borrow recipes from each other. I was quick to learn that sauces are popular in American cooking. They intimidated me at first. The word sauce is rarely used in Sri Lankan cooking. As I browsed through American cookbooks and learned to make spaghetti, cream of mushroom and tomato sauces, I was surprised. These sauces were prepared the same ways that Sri Lankans prepare gravy. The main difference wasn’t the procedure but the terminology: what Americans call “sauce” would be called “gravy” in Sri Lanka. The culinary arts in the two cultures are actually connected to each other, even though they seem very different at first.
God created the land; people created the boundaries. I’ve found that one of the most compelling reasons why people create borders and divisions is that they fail to understand “the other”. Being in an intercultural marriage shows me that there is no “other”. Who decides which one is the “other”? No-one, except God. We’re all one. There are no assumptions in our marriage that one of us is superior to the other because of the culture that each one of us represents. By loving someone from a different culture, I’ve learned to envision a world in which people become enlightened to understand that we human beings are all interconnected. Our cultural differences don’t have to lead to hatred and genocide. Cultural differences can be advantageous if they’re understood in a healthy way.
Some people are confused by our intercultural marriage. Some even think it’s morally wrong and express disapproval when they meet us. I’ve learned to respond to their disapproval with a smile. A smile has a strange way of diffusing prejudice. By reciprocating prejudice with love, I’m becoming a part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
I can’t change the world. I spent years trying to change the wind and not the sail; the car and not the driver; the whole world except myself. The only person I can change is me.
My new pair of glasses is revealing that evaluating people according to different cultures is not something I ought to be doing as a loving child of God. And even though I can’t change other people to the way I believe they should be, I can become a positive example of that way.