In a romantic relationship, the first phase transcends culture: there’s that way one’s stomach does a little flip upon seeing them; there’s the infatuation, and the generous curiosity about the other person. But being in a relationship in Mexico with somone from a different culture can be challenging.
All the differences between you are exciting as you learn about the individual squares of the quilt that have formed them into a whole person, each piece a fascinating clue to what has made this beautiful human that now stands before you.
In the beginning, it’s all searching and discovery. Our higher selves naturally take over and feelings of benevolence and even altruism course through our veins – how lucky we are to have found this wonderful person, delightful and compelling in every way!
If the relationship becomes long-term, things change. Discovery never truly ends, of course, but it certainly slows down as you become more familiar with the other’s reactions, habits and quirks. Suddenly that tendency to evaluate every possible option in every situation no longer seems intelligent, but maddening (it’s just a restaurant, can we please just choose something already)? The way they always seem to have at least one of their shoes partially untied isn’t so cute anymore, either.
Familiarity breeds contempt much more easily than we’d like to believe, and soon we realize that it is indeed true what the older and wiser among us have professed, again and again: relationships take work. This fact is virtually impossible to see or believe in the beginning when we’re blinded by love, desire and the excitement of something new. How we go about that work once the newness has worn off, however, is what usually makes or breaks a relationship.
Adding Culture into the Mix
Two human hearts are complicated enough, but two human hearts that have been nurtured and led to expect culturally specific signals, customs, and habits can become, and sometimes stay, complicated. At what point do differences stop being charming and start being the source of real conflict? And is that really any different than other relationships?
Not all cultures mesh together equally well, and when different gender roles and expectations are involved, Mexican and “norteamericano” cultures can clash.
This seems as good a point as any to give the requisite disclaimer: yes, these are generalizations and patterns, not the definitive case of every bicultural couple. Also, I’ll be using Mexican and American as shorthand for American/Canadian and Latin American.
As I did research for this article, one woman offered a great example. She said that a Spanish professor she once had was married to an American wife. He told her American husband and Mexican wife pairs tend to work very well because the husband gives the wife much more freedom than she expects, and the wife does more for the husband than he expects. When it’s the other way around, well, things can get a bit stickier. Especially for American women living in Mexico. The realization that we have an even stricter set of double-standards than we do in our own country can be alarming at best, and infuriating at worst (more on that later).
For now, let’s divvy these issues up:
Certainly one of the best parts of being in a relationship with a partner from another culture is the way they can open your eyes to so many new and different ways of seeing the world. If you approach things with an open heart and and open mind, there are beautiful experiences to be had. If you live in your partner’s country, you have an automatic cultural and linguistic guide, as long as they’re willing to serve that purpose for you. An intimate relationship with someone from another culture automatically gives you an intimate relationship with the culture itself, and Mexico has seemingly endless charms to be discovered.
Mexico is warm and family-oriented. And when we say family-oriented, we mean it. Every Sunday will likely be spent with the extended family, as will most holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. Families might have disagreements, but overall they are very close to each other. Older people are taken care of by the family, and babies and children are cared for by everyone.
Speaking of children, is there anything cooler than a naturally bilingual kid? As long as the foreign parent speaks exclusively with their children in their own language, they will learn it, naturally. If you speak to your children in Spanish sometimes, it will be much harder for them to be willing to speak anything besides that.
Add to the mix several generous helpings of the passion and intensity that latinos are known for, and it’s easy to see why so many of us wind up married to Mexicans. We’ve found the country’s best-kept secret: that it’s not the violence that will get you down here, it’s the romance.
This category, unfortunately, is a good place to explore gender dynamics. Mexico is well-known for its machismo, and while especially younger people tend to have different, modern values, beliefs about what it means to be “a good woman” or “a good man” are deeply ingrained.
While American men are delighted to see their partners scurry off to the kitchen automatically when it’s time to eat, Mexican men are often perplexed that their American wives don’t do the same. It simply doesn’t occur to many that it might not happen, and how they deal with and adapt to that failed expectation says a lot about their ability to get used to a close partner from another culture in general.
Plenty of American women, of course, give in and perform the role that’s expected of them. The U.S. is, after all, more conservative than most latinos imagine it to be. For those women who insist on a more equitable household arrangement, plenty of disagreement and resentment can emerge.
Machismo also extends to the area of fidelity. While men aren’t necessarily expected to cheat, it never seems to be treated as a big deal when they do it. If an extramarital dalliance comes to light, a cheating husband will typically get to stay married, his actions – at least publicly – swept under the rug. A cheating woman is taken infinitely more seriously.
Let’s talk about family again, as well. They are close. And if your partner is close with his or her family, it’s likely that you’ll be along for the ride, whether you want to be or not. Sundays will typically be spent hanging around the family home visiting, and a visit that lasts eight hours or more is not uncommon. Settle in!
Then of course there’s the danger of things going sour. If things don’t work out and there are children involved, it must be decided where everyone will live, and where and with whom they will be raised. The parent with custody – unless they can prove abuse or neglect – cannot take the child or children to live in a place where the other parent cannot exercise his or her visitation rights regularly, which usually means the foreign parent will stay a foreign parent until they are no longer minors.
Making the Leap?
Everyone’s experiences are different, and humans are typically fantastic. Problems can be overcome, and love can transcend, especially if we’re willing to work at it. The coming together of two people from different cultures can certainly be rewarding, and if opposites really do attract, then we’re well-poised for some great adventures.