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!

Women Wear Suits of Armor: Part 1

This post comes in two parts because I think it is too long for one. This is part one, part two is coming soon!

A suit of armor can be worn literally or figuratively. In this case, I am obviously talking about the figurative sense… Recently I have been thinking about women and their similarities/differences from culture to culture. I am of the opinion that women in many cultures are very very similar. I think the inner nature of women is relatively universal but the way this inner nature presents itself outwardly is what varies from house to house, city to city, state to state, country to country, etc.  Much like a vanilla flavored cake is still a vanilla flavored cake whether the frosting is red or blue, thin or thick, simple or fancy.

The purpose of a suit of armor is to protect one’s vulnerabilities from one’s enemies. One can appear strong and impervious while wearing a suit of armor. One can put on the air of confidence in a suit of armor. One can hide one’s weaknesses behind a suit of armor. A warrior heading into battle obviously needs the armor for many reasons. His enemies cannot see that his right arm is wounded from yesterday’s fight, or that he has a few cracked ribs that never healed properly. His enemies only see the strong, well-polished, ready-for-battle warrior that he wants them to see.

Women are a lot like this warrior. We have our various vulnerabilities and weaknesses that we try diligently to hide from the people we come into contact with every day. Maybe these people aren’t quite “enemies” necessarily, but we do often see them as people we must guard ourselves against because they have the potential to harm us. They have the potential to harm us, if not physically, then emotionally. In all honesty, maybe this applies to all people, not only women. But since I am a woman, I will only share my thoughts on how my fellow women that I’ve seen cope with hiding their vulnerabilities.

Again, every woman and every situation is different. I am only sharing my view. If your view is different, please share it with me!

Example 1: My Grandmother and Her Makeup

This example is one about the same grandmother featured in my last post. She has been on my mind lately, and this is a classic example of a woman and her armor. I would spend the night with her frequently when I was growing up and we were very close. But one thing about my grandmother was that she never let anyone see her in the morning before she put on her makeup. The first thing she would do in the morning would be to close the door to the bathroom in the hall, sit on a chair in front of the mirror and apply her makeup. As soon as she was finished, she would come out and continue her morning schedule. We would read in the Bible together and talk about the daily devotional from the book “Streams in the Desert” and then head out to Hardee’s or a locally owned restaurant for breakfast. But never, ever could we accomplish these things without her putting on her makeup. Today, I can only speculate as to if she felt the need to hide anything, if she simply needed the confidence boost, or if it had just become her habit.

Example 2: An Indian Lady and Her Sari

This example is one I only know about because of my trip to India. I already knew that a lot of women in India wear saris, as you can read in this post, but I had not really seen the sari “in its natural habitat” until our trip. I saw so many saris in B’s hometown and in the city of Kolkata. Women wore them basically in one style of draping where we went, but utilized them in many different ways. A sari, surprisingly to some, is a great multipurpose garment. As I saw, many women wear a sari and only a sari on a day to day basis. B’s mother wears a sari to cook, to clean, to eat, to do laundry, to go shopping, to sleep, to do everything! I was amazed. When B’s mother and aunt wrapped me in my first sari, I couldn’t believe that these women can handle the layers of fabric and the pleats all day long, during so many different tasks so gracefully. I realized that a sari can be considered a suit of armor for these women because, when worn in a conservative style, can cover a woman’s entire figure, shielding her from unwanted looks. It can be worn long to protect the legs and feet from those pesky, bird-sized mosquitoes. It can be worn over the head and neck to protect one from the sun and heat. It can be worn in a pressed, perfectly pleated way to keep one from being judged by other women. It can even be used to provide modesty to a new mother nursing her baby in a public place. I learned to respect the sari and the women who wear them everyday while I was in India. I’ll admit that I don’t wear my saris as often here in the US as I would like, but I am learning! I have worn my saris a few times and plan to be bold enough to wear them more frequently. Every time I am missing B’s family or have them on my mind, I wear a sari that day. It helps me feel connected to them a little bit extra that day. 🙂

Also, I will include the other popular style of Indian clothes in this armor. I also think that the salwar kameez suit with the dupatta can be utilized in many ways as well, but I just think the sari is more recognizably Indian.

 Phew, are you tired yet? Part 2 coming soon!

India was My “Fernweh”

I recently saw a page on Buzzfeed that resonated with me called “23 Charming Illustrations of Untranslatable Words from Other Languages.” I clicked on the link to the page because, being a visual person, I enjoy illustrations and, seeing as how I am married to a man whose first language/mother tongue is different from my own, word/expression meanings in different languages have recently become relevant to me.

The first word illustrated was “fernweh” which comes from German and means “feeling homesick for a place you have never been to” (according to the illustrator, I hope she was correct!). The list goes on and some of the illustrations are quite nice. If you didn’t click the link to the page, you should check it out. You might find a word that speaks to you like I did.

Back to why “fernweh” stood out to me… When I read the translation of what it means, I recognized that I had felt this exact feeling in my life many times. I can’t tell you where it came from, why it came, or anything other than I know without a doubt I felt this homesickness for India long before I ever had any Indian friends or even knew any Indian people. Maybe it manifested itself because I was always an avid reader in my childhood. Maybe it came because I read something about India or its people at a young age. Unfortunately I have no idea what this could have been or if it was anything like this in the first place.

What I do know is that in my elementary school, I learned to read a little earlier than most other children, I used reading as a means to escape reality (don’t take this the wrong way, my reality was quite good, I promise) and “travel” to many different places, and that I had a very vivid imagination. I enjoyed reading so much that in fifth grade, I read so many A.R. books and got so many points that I was the Top Reader and won $100. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for a 10-year-old! What I’m trying to get at is that it makes total sense to me that I could have learned about India while reading one of the many books I read during my early “travels”.

My earliest memory of being interested in India was when I was young, maybe 10-12 years old, and spending some time at my paternal grandmother’s house. This story requires a little background information, so hang on! My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the whole world, especially when I was young. She and her dog lived in a three bedroom brick house about fifteen minutes from my parents house. I would often spend Friday nights with her and we would do many crafty things together during these times. We would draw, color pictures, make jewelry, do embroidery, etc. because she enjoyed being creative and making things herself. I think (and my husband thinks) I got some of my character traits from her. She made one heck of a grandmother. I still get teary-eyed when I think about her and she has been gone for more than 7 years…

One thing she would do with me was take me to fabric stores and let me choose a fabric to make something out of when we got back home. She sewed various things for my brother and I growing up, like pillows, embroidered blankets, bags, you name it. She had a fancy embroidery machine that you could create your design on the computer and the machine would transfer it onto your fabric. I guess this was pretty fancy for the time, now that I think about it… Because she was always sewing and embroidering various projects, she always had some interesting fabric scraps. One of my favorite things to do when I was at her house was to play in the fabric. Literally. I would take out her neatly folded and organized fabrics, throw them around for who knows what reason, wrap myself up in them pretending to be somebody different, or wrap up her dog or my brother in them turning them into whatever characters suited my fancy that day. This is where my earliest memory of being interested in India came from.

One day I told my grandmother that I wanted to wear a sari. I don’t even know how much I knew about them or how in the world I came to know about them, but I knew that they were beautiful pieces of fabric beautiful ladies were wrapped up in, and I wanted one. Spending the whole day dressed in a pretty fabric sounded perfect to me. And in my grandmother’s quest to be the best grandmother she could be, she made it happen. (Perhaps I was a spoiled child…) She found (I don’t know where) a print-out of how to wrap a sari and how much fabric one needed to do all the wrapping and pleating. She also calculated that since I was a child, I would need less yardage than a full-grown woman. We came to the decision that we would go to the fabric store and find four yards of the fabric for my sari. I still can picture the blue fabric in my head to this day. It was a polyester, flowing blue fabric with sky, royal, and navy shades and a large paisley block-style print. When we made it back to her house, we followed the directions as best we could, and I was happily in our version of a sari. That’s all I remember about it.

As time went by, I learned more about the world, not just India. It was on my radar just like any other country halfway across the globe would be to a girl born in 1990 in the U.S. When I would come across products imported from India, I was drawn to them because of the various colors and patterns that were different than the norm here. Other than that, I didn’t really have any tangible reason to be interested in a country that was so foreign to me. Fleeting thoughts here and there told me I wanted to go there, but I had no reason to believe it would actually happen! This was my “fernweh” kicking in.

I met my first Indian friends in college. I liked so many things about these people: their food (of course!), their clothes (surprise…), their friendliness to guests, and the way they were excited to share their culture with a white American Southerner who despite all the stereotypes surrounding her, was not, in fact, as closed-minded as she thought she was. And as those of you who already know us know, one thing led to another, and through mutual friends, I met the Indian man who became my husband.

Almost five months after our wedding, we traveled to India to meet B’s parents. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that it was a big deal for me especially because this trip was full of firsts. My first plane ride, my first time out of the U.S., my first time traveling with B for more than a small trip, my first time meeting his family face-to-face, my first time finding out what I am really made of! To read more about this trip, click here or here. I experienced so many things on this trip. I won’t list them here because it’s just too much.

December 2013 and January 2014 was the time my “fernweh” was satiated. Now when I feel homesick for India, Nabagram, B’s Mom’s cooking, Bengali mishti, etc., it’s just plain old longing instead of the fancy word “fernweh” because I’ve been there now. The bottom line is that I knew I felt something, but was never able to describe it in words. While I don’t know that all (or even half) of the things on Buzzfeed are worth the time it takes to skim them, this page was worth it because it made me connect things in my life I hadn’t connected yet.

Do you have a place that you feel “fernweh” for? If so, try and make it there someday! I bet you won’t regret it.