My Maturing, Multicultural Marriage

B and I have been married for over 5 years this past July and our marriage has been a journey. As in all marriages, there have been ups and downs, but because we are the people we are, we’ve constantly pushed each other to grow as individuals and that makes our relationship much stronger.

We question everything about our own behaviors because we are trying our very best to take responsibility for our thoughts, actions, and emotional responses. Neither of us wants to go through life just behaving according to our childhood conditioning. We’re both lucky to be with a spouse who looks at these issues the same way. We are both very individualistic and independent, and it’s nice to have these things in common. We give each other the space to carry our cultural differences while being interested in sharing them with the other.

When we do have arguments or issues, we’re realizing the core of these issues typically just boils down to being raised in different families. I think that’s normal in any long-term, live-in relationship. Different families just do certain things differently. At this point in our marriage, we’re realizing (mostly) which issues are worth mentioning and which are worth letting go. There are still some things I do which really irritate B, and vice versa, but we generally can decipher which are important and which are not. We are also taking hard looks at why we do what we do, where our viewpoints on certain issues come from, and how to use our respective cultural habits for good or which to leave them behind. For example, we ask ourselves, “Do I do x this way just because my family did or is there a better way?”

The fact that we come from such drastically different places in the world doesn’t seem so new or important to us anymore. We’ve settled into a sort of homeostasis where we do some American things, some Bengali/Indian things, or we don’t. We’ve done a lot of emotional work that has helped us lighten the load of our baggage we carried into our relationship at first. It takes work to make any relationship grow. We’ve been committed, from the very start, to growing as individuals and helping the other person to grow as well.

Our multicultural roots and interests generally do still manifest in our lives, but these days it’s typically relating to food. We spend much of our free time eating, cooking, or talking about food. We have been interested in traditional recipes from all over the world recently and will probably continue to cook old fashioned foods and soups as cooler weather comes.

I have been thinking for a while that I don’t have anything new to add to this blog because the issues we deal with as a couple these days don’t really have much to do with our cultural differences, but with regular ole marriage and relationship growing pains. I have considered deleting this blog, but since I put so much effort into it and it may help other people going through something similar, I will keep it live. Maybe I’ll just post when something strikes me.

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The Things That Keep Us Up at Night

My husband and I have been married for almost three and a half years now. We have gotten to know each other pretty well and have talked about a myriad of things over the years. We’ve been through a few different stages in our relationship and have moved to different houses and states. I would say we have grown up and grown together a great deal since we first were getting to know each other.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that we are from different countries and grew up speaking different languages. Clear communication continues to be a challenge at times, just like in any other normal relationship, honestly. If you are in a relationship with someone who isn’t exactly like you, you’ve probably experienced something like this:

You both usually try to go to bed at a decent time. You cook, eat, clean up, get ready for bed and are feeling good about your time management today. You’re about to get plenty of rest. Then it happens.

One of you brings up some topic that’s been bouncing around in your head, keeping you from falling asleep. You start talking. You each talk about your opinion of the issue, why it is the way it is, you reach some common ground and then you hear it: the mispronounced word.

You try to ignore it because you know it’s not a big deal, you still understand what the other person is getting at. You start itching to clear up the mispronunciation because you want your spouse to clearly communicate with the rest of the people he or she may interact with other than just you. But it’s no big deal, it’s no big deal, it’s no big deal…

Finally, you can’t hold it in any longer and you blurt out, “It’s warm, not worm!”

What!?

This leads to a back-and-forth pronunciation game where one of you keeps saying it wrong, or not being able to hear the difference between the two. You argue about it then you laugh about it. Then you remind each other that this is one of the charms of your relationship. This is one of the things you love and cherish about being married to someone from a totally different culture than yours.

Then you realize it’s 3:00am and you have work in the morning. Yay.

Family or Not?

Hello readers! I’m finally back. It took a pretty long time for me to settle in at my new job and find time again to write. I will write about my job, but today I want to talk about family.

The word “family” is one of those words that probably means a lot of different things to different people. I’m sure we Americans have a different idea of family than the average people in other countries, and vice versa. Practitioners of different religions probably also have definitions that include some families and exclude (many) others. But according to the definitions found on ye olde interwebs, there are certain criteria that must be met for some people to be found worthy of being labeled a family.

A family is:

  • The basic unit of a society
  • The primary institution for the socialization of children
  • Living in one household:
    • a parent/s and child/ren
    • more than one generation
    • a number of people greater than one
  •  Living together or apart:
    • individuals related by blood, marriage, or servitude
    • descendants of a common matriarch or patriarch

I’m not completely convinced that these criteria are an exhaustive or inclusive definition of family. I think I would add some criteria and maybe even take some out, but we’ll get there.

Here’s what got me thinking about “family”:

I work in the office at a luxury assisted living and memory care company. As I’ve been getting to know the ins and outs of dementia and other problems that come along with aging (even for the richest of the rich), I’ve met a number of residents and their families. One specific case is a lady who had early-onset dementia and her relationship with her extremely loving and loyal husband began to fall apart simply because her mind was. Her husband wrote a book about how they had been dealing with her dementia symptoms and their history as a couple. He devoted one portion of the book to the years right after their marriage where they spent time travelling the globe and how happy they were in those times. He praised the time they spent as a couple only. And then, he said, after all those years, they started their family. They had, I think, about three children over the course of the next few years.

It made me wonder what the heck they were before they started their family…

Another situation that I have faced many times since changing jobs is meeting new people and coworkers who ask the same old questions in order to try and get to know me.

  • Are you married?
  • How long have you been married?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • Why do you not have kids?
  • How can you not want kids?!
  • And then the kicker… Oh, you’ll change your mind. You just haven’t gotten there yet.

This has literally been the conversation I’ve been subjected to when I’ve met about 80% of the women at my new workplace. There were a couple who thought that as long as my husband and I feel the same way about it, that it’s fine. Like their approval of mine and husband’s lifestyle choices means something in the first place. There was one coworker who told me that she never wanted to be a mother, but she is. She conceded that she loves her child, but she might would not have had him if she could go back in time. Her revelation was strangely satisfying to me.

All of these instances meshed together over the last few months to make me wonder if my husband and I could be considered a real family, even though it is and will probably be just the two of us. We feel we are a family, but many definitions of family would disagree I suppose. As I thought more about the concept of family and which people can fit the mold, I will admit that I felt a little left out. I felt bitter that a term that means so much to me because I grew up in a very close traditional family, some may feel doesn’t apply to my relationship. How can the presence of a child be the determining factor as to if a couple is a family or not? Does a couple only reach “family status” when they procreate? Are friends only friends if they’ve exchanged friendship bracelets?

Then I thought about a friend of mine who is married but cannot have children. She and her husband desperately would like to “start a family” in the sense that my resident and her husband did, but she cannot. Does she and other couples who can’t have children feel left out, too? I imagine she does and it made me sad. My husband and I not having children is a choice for us, but a forced reality for her.

Then I considered LGBT couples who are fighting right now for the right to be family. It must hurt many of them deeply to not be recognized as a family unit like traditional couples.

I also must admit that, on a not-so-serious note, my husband and I have been watching season three of Orange is the New Black and on many occasions, the ladies who fall into the different groups within the prison all refer to their groups as families.

All of these thoughts make me feel the need to express what I think constitutes a family.

I believe that a family is two or more people who feel inexplicably bound together based on individual circumstances and events, who support each other financially and/or emotionally, and who would feel a profound sense of loss should something happen to one of the other individuals. They love each other and hold tight to each other through the mountains and valleys of life.

My husband and I are a family whether we have children or not. My mother-in-law and I are family, even if our communication hasn’t grown any better than it was when B and I first got married almost two years ago. My parents and my husband are family even if they don’t see eye to eye on religion. We are all trying to make it work and it will.

My Favorite Indian Foods

If you have ever tried Indian food, you notices that it has some major differences from American food. It is usually served with rice that the serving of each dish is mixed with to the right consistency. It generally has a higher number of spices, more liquid (gravy) in dishes, and generally a larger number of individual dishes are served per meal. Also, Indians at home tend to use their hand to eat and dishes are served in the order based on which dish has the least complex flavors to the dish that has the most complex flavors. It’s all very interesting to me and the food is some of the best I’ve ever had.

Side note: Indian food has become my absolute favorite type of food. As you know, we cook Indian/Bengali food at home about 75% of the time, which is strange for someone who had never even tried Indian food prior to the last couple of years of college. Eating Indian food, specifically the homemade type, usually prepared with less oil than in restaurants, has really awakened my taste buds, helped regulate my digestive system, and made me love food even more. These days, if I go a few days with no Indian food, my body craves it like nothing else. Something about the spices makes me feel so good! It is no wonder that ancient cultures have used spices not only for their taste, but also their medicinal qualities. I am the luckiest girl to be married to an Bengali man who enjoys cooking with me.

I want to share a list of my favorite Indian/Bengali foods/dishes I’ve had so far. And if this list makes you hungry, go to your nearest Indian restaurant for lunch!

#1: Dal (Lentils)

There are so many types of dal in Indian cuisine. I had never really had a dish that was primarily dal here in the US. I had eaten dishes where some dal was thrown in, like in soups, but they never were the main character in the dish. We cook dal at home very regularly, mostly moong and masoor varieties. Something about those little beans packed with healthy things makes such a satisfying dish. B even says that dal is what they eat when they are feeling sick, much like we here eat chicken noodle soup or something like that. My favorite way of cooking and eating dal is very simple with toasted cumin seeds, turmeric, and salt. I also like it when vegetables have been boiled with the dal and when other types of dal are used. It is such a flavorful, comforting dish that has many options when choosing how to prepare it.

#2: Ma’s Cucumber & Potato Curry

This is a strange sounding dish to us Americans. We tend to think that cucumber can only be eaten raw. We imagine that if you try to cook cucumber that it will be terribly watery and unpleasant to eat. But let me tell you, this is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. B cooks this dish according to a recipe his mom gave him and I think he probably cooks it really close to what it would taste like when Ma makes it. This dish manages to keep the freshness and bright “green” flavor of the cucumber and combines it with the comfort of potatoes and fragrant spices. It is amazing.

#3: Aloo Methi

We just had this dish a couple nights ago. Aloo is potato. Methi is this fragrant plant that has small oval shaped leaves. I can’t remember if there is an English name for it… But it has a slightly smoky, earthy flavor in addition to it’s green, fresh flavor which makes for a very tasty combination. We boil the potatoes (but you can add other vegetables), add the spices from Ma’s recipe, then throw in the methi leaves almost at the end. Once they are wilted, the dish is ready to eat. It usually disappears pretty quickly in our house.

#4: Samosas

Ah, samosas. These are usually not a dish that is made at home because they are a little complicated. These babies are similar to the fried pies served here in the US, but with much more complex and spicy fillings. They are also shaped like pyramids almost. The best ones we get around here come from the Indian grocery store. We love the Indian grocery here! It always smells so wonderful when you step in and they serve freshly fried samosas and sometimes biryani and sweets. Their samosas are filled with a potato and green pea mixture, fried fresh to a golden crisp, with the flakiest of flaky crusts. Every time we go there, we at least order four. Oh, and they are only a dollar!

#5: Shondesh

This is another strange sounding dish to us Americans. Shondesh is a famous Bengali dessert that is made from paneer, which is like a homemade ricotta or farmers cheese. It is very simple to make at home and I have made it a few different times. Basically you boil milk, add lemon juice to separate the curds from the whey, strain the now paneer/chana, rinse the lemon flavor from the chana, press to remove excess moisture, then add your sweetener of choice and cardamom powder, knead, cook, shape into bite sized pieces, and finally chill. It sounds like a complicated process, but it goes much quicker than it sounds like. Once chilled, these morsels are sweet, creamy, chewy, and very satisfying. It only takes about two of these until your sweet tooth is satisfied. Yum.

#6: Ma’s Fried Eggplant

I must admit that I have so far been unable to re-create this dish to be close to as tasty as Ma’s. Also, I was never a fan of eggplant until I started having it in Indian/Bengali dishes. Nowadays it is one of my favorite veggie dishes. I can’t tell you how Ma cooks her’s, but I can tell you how tasty it is. There are pretty thick slices of eggplant, with spices and turmeric rubbed generously on both sides, the slices are then fried/sauteed, most likely in mustard oil until they are cooked through, but somehow they maintain their structure and integrity of shape. These slices are packed with flavor and comfort. When mixed with rice, they are lovely. And they are lovely when eaten with roti/flat bread. I will look forward to having these next time we visit India.

#7: Okra & Potato Curry

This dish we also had very recently, and that will also sound strange to at least us Southerners who like to eat okra only if it’s battered and fried. Okra and potato curry is another comforting dish that is pretty simple, but so satisfying. We cook this at home when the okra looks especially good at the grocery store. We chop the okra and potatoes, garlic, and green chilies. If you want the okra to keep its round shape, stir-fry the potatoes for a bit first, then add the okra. Fry, stirring continuously until they begin to soften. Add salt and turmeric (and any other spices you want, we just keep this one simple), then add a little water, cover and boil until cooked through. This is good served with rice or bread. As long as your okra dish is not too oily, it will be very tasty.

As I typed this, I realized that these dishes are not necessarily listed in any particular order. I guess it just depends on the mood I’m in as to which is my favorite. If you have been too afraid to try Indian food, please consider it. You could be missing out on something you would love and your body could thank you for. Step out of your comfort zone, ask your Indian friends to share a dish with you; they would probably be proud to share some of their rich, spicy heritage with you!

P.S. Spellcheck did NOT like these non-English words, ya’ll.

6 Benefits of “Inter-” Relationships

What are “inter-” relationships? To me they are interracial, intercultural, international, interfaith, and interesting. I am an advocate for these relationships.

There are very many types of relationships out there, but I’m just going to write about seven benefits I see in being in an “inter-” one.

Background Info:

B and I are from different countries, we have different skin tones, we grew up speaking different languages, we have a significant age gap, and we grew up with different faith traditions. There are more differences between us, but let’s just go with these for now. With so many obvious differences, how do we make it work? That is probably a question many of our family members and friends want to ask us, but don’t feel comfortable enough to ask (at least not yet… ).

Benefit #1: The Food

If you know me, you know how much I enjoy food. It wasn’t really hard for me to choose this benefit as the number one, honestly. I hope that’s not a bad thing… For me, a flavorful, hearty meal with good company can make any bad day better.

If you are in an “inter-” relationship, you probably already know what I’m talking about. You have the food from your specific family, region, country, etc., and your significant other has his. We get to pick the very best, cream of the crop recipes to cook at home and enjoy. We get to introduce new ingredients, spices, and techniques to each other anytime. It keeps things interesting in the kitchen. This may only apply to couples that enjoy cooking and eating together, but I absolutely see the food as a benefit.

Benefit #2: Personal Growth

This may seem vague, but I see personal growth as a major benefit of being in an “inter-” relationship. When I am forced to look at my culture, habits, and ideals from an objective point of view, like when I am explaining them to someone unfamiliar with them, I can see them much more clearly. I can look at some of the things I do automatically without really considering them and see that they need to be evaluated. I can finally start to realize the reasons why I am the person I am. I can look outside myself and see the areas that I need to improve on as a human being. I can see that some of my American/western habits and mindsets need to be re-thought. (And that some of them are perfectly fine, thank you very much…)

Benefit #3: Always Things to Talk About

When B and I are together, there is rarely a dull moment. We come from such different backgrounds that there are many many topics of conversation where we can compare and contrast our experiences. For example, our childhoods were very different. The demographics of the areas we grew up in have drastic differences. We enjoy listening to each others random stories about growing up. It’s fun to try and imagine what it would be like for me if I was in the environment he grew up in.

No offense to all of you people who are married to people just like you, but I think your conversation topics have got to be more limited than ours. Yeah, I said it. I think if a couple grew up in similar areas, with similar lifestyles, it must get super boring eventually. I think that those couple run out of things to talk about way way sooner than couples in “inter-” relationships. Maybe that’s why so many of those couples always feel the need to be out “doing” something, visiting places, or rushing to have kids. Maybe they ran out of things to talk about and didn’t know what to do next… Sorry, not sorry.

Benefit #4: More Holidays and Festivals

When you are in an “inter-” relationship, you have some amazing options in life. Every culture has its holidays and festivals that help make it unique. B and I can choose to celebrate the holidays and festivals that actually mean something to us. We have the opportunity to bring the best traditions from our individual lives, leave the ones that don’t mean anything to us personally, and create new combinations that mean the most to us. This freedom surprisingly has helped us connect more to our respective cultures and traditions.

Benefit #5: Interesting Wardrobe Additions

Since I am an American married to an Indian, I’ve gotten to know the world’s most multifunctional garment, the sari. B has been introduced to the world of camouflage and cowboy boots, interestingly enough. Being with someone from a different part of the world allows you to embrace some ethnic objects that you would not have been exposed to otherwise. I wear saris every now and then and B always appreciates my efforts to help remind him of home. Wearing saris helps me to be mindful of B’s mother and other family members and I try my best to send good thoughts their way. I feel like I’m a little more connected with them when I wear my saris. Last time B and I were with my parents, my dad half jokingly mentioned wanting to get B in a pair of overalls.

Benefit #6: Much Bigger Comfort Zones

This probably is the most valuable benefit for me. (It’s hard to choose though.) As a direct result of being in a “inter-” relationship, I am a much more comfortable person. I have become much more comfortable with myself and who I am as an individual. This is because in order to clearly communicate my wants, feelings, etc. with my partner who is very different from me, I have to really get in touch with the real core of myself. I have to also become comfortable with B’s culture and where his thoughts and feelings come from. I’m not saying that I’m perfect at it, but I’m at least much more inclined, when faced with a conflict, to try and understand where it comes from rather than feel frustrated or run from it.

Also, being in an “inter-” marriage has lovingly nudged our respective family members to increase the size of their comfort zones, in varying degrees. My family has embraced B and understands that our life as a couple is and will always be different from what my life was “pre-B”. B’s family embraced me when I was visiting them and continues to embrace me as their daughter-in-law when we talk.

Throughout our dating and so far in our marriage, we have addressed many of these differences and will likely do so forever. The different cultures we grew up in have helped make us who we are and will always be significant parts of us as individuals. We’ve matured enough in life to accept our pasts and not try and run from them or hide them.

Together, B and I have grown so so much over the last 2.5-3 years of knowing each other. I personally am very interested to see where our “inter-” life takes us.

Cheers, ya’ll!