In the case that I have not been clear about my current life situation, I want to take some time to update you. I currently live in Izmir, Turkey and I moved here a little more than a year ago. Before that, I lived in Istanbul for two years, which is where I met my first Turkish husband (haha, only husband). We dated for just about two years and finally, three months ago, we were married in Izmir! We had a wonderful wedding, and for us this marked the official beginning of blending two lives and blending two cultures.
Since stepping into a cross-cultural relationship, I have intentionally engaged with people, read books and listened to podcasts about relationships and marriage, with a specific emphasis on cross-cultural marriage. I exposed myself to the whole spectrum of opinion and advice. Some sources were positive, most were full of fear - warning about the dangers and inevitable collapse of cross-cultural relationships. While reading some books, I had to take deep breaths before turning the page. For my personality, it was scary but necessary to consider the worst-case scenario and then still be able to formulate a “plan” and come out on the other side.
There were not a lot of sources that rejoiced in the strengths of cross-cultural marriages without a heavy-handed warning against the concept. I get it - being naive and swept away by foreign love is dangerous. However, that is hardly the case for many of the cross-cultural relationships I know around me. In fact, the seriousness, intentionality and reality are much harder to ignore when your countries and families are thousands of miles apart.
In the midst of this exploration, I came to a conclusion that put voice to the universality of these warnings. While most of these books and articles were focusing on two people coming together from two different countries, they often approached the idea of culture in a superficial manner. People coming together from the same country, region, state, city or neighborhood are still bringing their own unique cultures, lifestyle habits and perspectives to the mix. While I am not denying the gravity of language barriers, gender role expectations or geographic distance, I am also here to bring a positive voice to those that dare to connect despite these obvious differences. Communication is vital to every healthy marriage, trust is at the core of all deep relationships and enjoyment fuels the flames of connection. Therefore, I believe these warnings and celebrations apply to all.
From my short experience with marriage, I find that most of the conflicts and differences boil down to the fact that we are two humans coming together who often have different expectations and perspectives on life - not just our cultural backgrounds. We approach tasks differently - sometimes that is tied to culture but often times it is the result of our gender differences. I believe that all relationships should recognize that the individuals in the relationship come from different cultures, even if they feel strikingly familiar.
While those closest to Salih and me offered unending support, intentional care and steady love, there were a handful of voices that were soaked in fear and confusion - including people, books and articles on the subject. I am writing this short article to support those who are pursuing, exploring or engaged in cross cultural relationships, which actually includes all relationships. Of course, there are difficulties and differences that need to be addressed with maturity but isn’t that true for everyone?
If you are not getting the support you need from your community, here is a list of things to read and hear so you can think through this new chapter of your life. Also, I am resource for you to process and celebrate the joys of cross-cultural relationships! May you enjoy the ride and be open to learn!
Art work by Alessandra Olanow © alessandraolanow.com