I just went lingerie shopping with three American girlfriends (the same three, actually, who shared a house with me in that fateful underage trip to Mexico). It was so interesting coming together again after our travels and very, very different lives, realizing that we all still share so much. Did we go to Mexico because we were already on the path to becoming women who love learning, travel, languages, and culture? Or was there something transformative about that shared summer that led us to become who we are today? Every time I see these friends – about twice a year if we’re lucky, when we come home for the holidays – I’m astonished at their grace and passion about what inspires each one, and the amazing ways in which she is accomplishing her goals. Our journeys diverge and converge over the years, but we bring something new every time, and our stories continue to intertwine.
With them, of course, come new stories about love and relationships, always entertaining for someone who remembers the boyfriends of Christmas past, from college crushes to high school heartbreaks. One is dating a Mexican American, born and bred in Chicago via Catholic seminary, slight hipster tendencies, and highly successful entrepreneurship. Another has been living in Berlin where she’s seeing a Hungarian hip-hop dancer going to business school. Tell me that’s not cool. I would consider both of these cross-cultural relationships, because I think “cross-cultural” can be something as dramatic as coming from different countries or as subtle has having coming from the same country, even city, but having grown up in a different family with a different style, and traditions, and way of relating to one another. My school friend who was dating an international student from Botswana, her upstate New York roommate and her Southern boyfriend, my California girl mom and her southside of Chicago, dreadlocked, jazz musician partner with seven brothers and sisters — there are more of these types of relationships than we think. I think that so much of who we are depends on what we witnessed as children between parents and siblings, and there is an incredible array of sorts of families out there, all of which have their unique qualities and strengths (or weaknesses). What’s interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be a hierarchy for how “different” you are to how hard you have to work to understand each other. As I sit with these girls, eating and sharing stories and advice, a la sex and the city (really), the similarities strike me far more than the differences. Learning to communicate what you want and understand what the other wants. Creating ways to resolve conflict that are particular to you as a couple. Negotiating that eternal give and take, and forever trying to get inside their head when they do something that just seems so illogical. A problem that one has with her boyfriend can apply to the experiences of another with her lover, despite the oceans and languages between them. Are we more universal than we think? I mean at the base level, all anyone wants I think is to be loved, cared for, and respected – isn’t the only thing that changes the way we go about getting there? And could it be that in a way, cross-cultural relationships actually facilitate this?
Two things: first, it’s just more interesting. If you’re smart and enjoy a challenge, what could be more fun than trying to unravel the mystery of a heart and mind that has grown in an environment foreign to you? In a world where couples often grow bored with each other and marriage is not necessarily forever, it’s an extra spark of excitement. And secondly, think about it this way: you come from different families, cultures, ways of talking, loving, fighting, relating. You each bring your experiences as you try to build a life together – so don’t you actually bring more to the table by being so different? I mean, chances are you might find the solution to anything in at least one of your repertoires. Maybe you’ll both have strong views that clash, but it seems to me better to choose between two options than one, and that way better adapt to your personalities, who you are as people. Ethnic diversity is empirically proven to lead to economic prosperity. Why shouldn’t cultural diversity lead to romantic well-being?