We make it work. Here’s how we do it.
DISCLAIMER: This is a touchy subject. Many people believe that by giving any attention to the issues people face in mixed marriages, I am actually justifying those problems. That is not the case here. I am simply describing a real experience that many people have every day, and in particular based on my own experience. It may not be applicable to everyone.
David and I are husband and wife. We love each other unconditionally and we grow in love every day (and yes, that includes growing pains as well). It is not uncommon, however, for some people to do a double take when they look at us holding one another or giving each other little kisses. And if we get raised eyebrows (I’m a dark pedigree Italian, he’s a mixed jamaican, and we live in NYC), I can imagine what many other couples may experience elsewhere in the world. Depending on the community, family dynamics, and confidence levels, a mixed marriage can be one of the most enriching parts of life or a constant pain in the butt.
But it never has to be a pain in the butt!
Because whether it is a mixed-race marriage, mixed-faith marriage, or one in which the two seem to be twins, they all have one thing in common: it’s a MARRIAGE, plain and simple.
I will not pretend to say that marriages are all the same, or that some have it easier than others. Believe me, everyone has their own burden to carry. Yet, there are a few things in mixed-marriages that are quite particular. They seem to garner more backlash from families than any other kind. Though the numbers are still small, there are great strides being made. According to this news article by CNN, more and more people are accepting this phenomenon. Yet in many instances there are bound to be negative reactions. To cope through them, the following are tokens of advice based on my particular experience. They can be true for any marriage, but possibly more true for those in a marriage like mine.
1. We didn’t choose our families, we chose each other. For many, that is a hard pill to swallow. Many of us, like me, come from a family filled with tradition, obligations, and expectations already lined up before we were born. It may have very well come from a place of love and care, as all parents feel it is their duty to protect their children from all possible harm. However, values over generations change and for some individuals, it is necessary to be true to themselves for the sake of their own sanity.
I was one of those people. I knew exactly what I was getting into when marrying David: endless arguments (we don’t do those things in this family!), guilt trips (what did we come to this country for? for you to marry HIM?), and the very real possibility of being estranged. As much as I tried to get on their good side, all became true, and yet I have never regretted my decision. To do so would be disrespectful to myself and to my husband. When you take the high road and lay it all out on the table, opening up yourself and inviting anyone who wishes to partake in your happiness, the decision is ultimately theirs to make. The arguments ended once the deed was done, the guilt trips still come up every once in awhile, and out of my entire family, only three or four of my closest relatives have held onto their hangups. All in all, no use crying over spilt milk.
Which leads to…..
2. We can only control ourselves, not anyone else. David’s family was over the moon when they found out we were engaged. However, I know my family. I was breaking ALL the rules. The question was, how much of my life was I going to let them dictate? Those that seek to manipulate and question responsible and well thought-out life decisions do not have anyone’s best interests at heart, even if they reiterate that they do over and over again….”You don’t know what you are doing! The world doesn’t work the way you think it does!”…”Why do you want your kids to have a hard life?”….”When you are my age, you realize I am right.”…..and my favorite “Why are you doing this to me?” The easy way I let all that bounce right off was by believing this:
Many people get married every day. It’s normal. There’s a good chance people make that decision because they are responsible, self-aware adults. Family members, minus children, are all adults. Adults make their own decisions in their own lives. Ergo, no one is doing anything TO anybody.
3. We were marrying each other, not anyone else. We will be the one that has to live with each other every day, take care of each other when one of us is sick, and deal with each other’s occasional bull!@#$. We had this discussion with each other one night: “Who do you want to grow old with? The person whom you love beyond compare, and who loves you back, or someone who loves you according to their own stipulations? Even more bluntly, would you rather make someone happy for their last 10 or so years of their life, or take 10 or so years away from yours and always wonder “what if?”
Speaking of what if’s…..
4. We seek positivity and are future oriented. We knew that before anyone was to get married, the two involved would have hopefully reached a point in life where they can clearly state their shared visions for themselves and their future. Reaching this point of self-actualization takes different lengths of time for different people, but once there, they find themselves making decisions with clarity and confidence. This level of clarity will make it extraordinarily easier for anyone to commit to each other and their marriage, and not anything or anybody can give them any doubt. Actually, the two would be so in tune with each other that it is obvious they are a match made in heaven. Between long discussions between ourselves, our priest, our marriage counselor, our friends, and other family members, we felt ready. We we took a deep breath and hoped that our aura of completeness and happiness would be contagious, and almost everyone would be happy for us despite themselves. For the most part, it was true!
And if some were not, I didn’t blame them. Some people have many other burdens and personal issues to deal with. I wasn’t angry at them (how freeing!), but I did feel bad for them. They would be missing out on something unique and special. Perhaps they will come around one day. Time heals, but if it doesn’t, it’s ok. People know our door is always open. Onward and upward.
If you are in a mixed marriage and have had your own obstacles, what are YOUR stories? How did you cope? What other lessons are there to be learned?