Two hearts, living in just one mind – Tomorrow morning my wife and I will be leaving on a two-day trip down south to celebrate seven years of marriage. (Correction: When I first wrote this, I had no idea that a blizzard had moved in—last measurement showed 17 cm on the ground, and it’s still coming down. So it doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere tomorrow. No big deal, though—we’ll just take our trip next weekend or the weekend after. I’m sure we’ll think of something we can do tomorrow to celebrate our anniversary. Ahem.)
Eight years ago tomorrow, I met my wife-to-be in a cafe while waiting for another girl. Heh, sounds like something out of a romance novel when I put it like that, doesn’t it? It wasn’t nearly as romantic as it sounds, though, and if you want to read the full story you can take a look at my background story. To make a long story short, though, one year to the day after we met in that cafe, we were putting rings on each others fingers. Actually, my hands had swollen up in the heat from the lights and the ring only got about a third of the way up my finger, and Hyunjin was frantically trying to jam it on while trying to avoid looking like she was frantically trying to jam it on. It was all I could do not to laugh, and I just quietly said, “Don’t worry about it.” Ah, memories.
The first year of our marriage was undoubtedly the hardest, most likely because we spent six months of that year in Mongolia helping a friend start up an English school. Hyunjin had no experience as a housewife, and there she was, tossed head first into a country where meat didn’t come wrapped in cellophane and you had to heat water on the stove if you wanted to take a bath. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best place to spend the first six months of our marriage. But we made it through, and things have just kept getting better.
Although I probably wouldn’t do it again if I knew then what I know now, I’m kind of glad we had that experience in Mongolia. It was probably one of the hardest times of my life, but once we got through that we had a much different outlook on life. The petty problems that came up between us when we returned to Korea were just that—petty. In light of what we went through in Mongolia, most of the trials we faced seemed laughable, and we have never been able to find anything worth really fighting over after that. It just put everything into perspective for us. We may face crises in the future, possibly even severe crises, but the knowledge that we have made it this far will hopefully help us through them.
Besides being our wool anniversary (um, OK...), there is something special for me about our seventh anniversary—it is a milestone of sorts. Now that I actually come to write this it seems a bit silly, but, shortly after my wife and I were married, a good friend of mine told me to watch out for the seventh year. Apparently, statistics showed that most divorces occurred in the seventh year of marriage, or something to that effect. I laughed, and told him how ridiculous I thought that was, but I never forgot about it. Not because I was worried, of course, but because it was something to shoot for, a point where I could look back with a certain degree of smugness and say, “Ha! We did it!” I suppose it is quite silly, but what would life be without silliness? At any rate, today is the last day of our seventh year of marriage, and tomorrow we will begin our eighth, so unless something catastrophic happens in the next half hour, I think we’re in the clear.
Although not many people ask us about it anymore, in the beginning a lot of people asked us how we dealt with an “international marriage.” I guess things are supposed to be harder because we weren’t born in the same country or raised in the same culture. I don’t think either of us was ever really all that concerned about it, but I know for certain that the people around us were. Before meeting me, Hyunjin’s parents were “concerned” about her dating—and possibly marrying—a foreigner. Fortunately, they are very nice people, and we got along quite well from the start, so there was never the traditional opposition you might expect.
Other people around us, though, were not so easily convinced. My wife’s youth pastor, for one, was strongly opposed to us dating. The kicker is that he spent a number of years living in the States himself. You would think he would have broadened his horizons a bit and learned some tolerance, but apparently what he saw in the States only served to solidify his prejudices and fears. Before I ever even met him, he constantly said negative things about me to Hyunjin (which she in turn related to me), all based on the simple fact that I was American. Needless to say, I was infuriated by this. Later on, after he got to know me, he had no problem with us, yet he also saw no contradiction in his behavior and never once apologized to Hyunjin or me. Now that I write this, I realize that I am still somewhat bitter about this. I thought I had forgiven him, but I guess this is still something that bothers me.
Hyunjin’s oldest uncle also had his concerns. He never openly opposed us getting married, but before we were married he did sit us down and lecture us on the glorious virtues of Korea and the evils of the West. Of course, my memories are most likely distorted, especially when seen through my state of mind at that time, and it is likely that the speech wasn’t as harsh as I remember it. Nonetheless, I had a very difficult time accepting her uncle at first. As time went on, though, I came to understand how strong and intelligent a man he was. He passed away last year, and I am glad to say that we had a good relationship.
I mentioned above that my wife and I never really worried too much about the international aspect of our marriage, and I have found over the last seven years that we were right in not worrying about it. While it is certainly true that American and Korean cultures are quite different, and I most certainly did suffer culture shock when I first arrived here, getting married is a different story. I think what most people fail to realize is that all people are different, no matter what color their skin may be or what culture they were raised in. When you marry someone else, you are bringing someone into your life who is different from you, sometimes radically so. To put it a bit more academically, you are internalizing the other—that which was not you is now a part of you. It’s going to be difficult no matter who that other person might be.
Marriage is not the union of two cultures, it is the union of two people. By extension, it is the union of those two people’s individual cultures and family cultures. But to call our marriage the meeting of American and Korean culture is nothing short of absurd. I am an individual, as is my wife. I am also not a typical American, nor is my wife a typical Korean. Trying to pin down any influences beyond our families and immediate surroundings is really just guesswork.
This may sound strange, but I think the international nature of marriage actually worked to our advantage. Like I said, we didn’t worry about it, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t expect difficulty—we expected difficulty, we just weren’t worried about it. Maybe it was the foolishness of youth, or the blindness of love, but it never really occurred to either of us that it might be something that we couldn’t overcome. As it turns out, we were right. But because we expected difficulty, I think we had an easier time of it. People from the same culture may not go into marriage with the same resolve, and they may not realize that there is going to be culture shock anyway, since no two people are the same, and no two families are the same.
That’s my take on it, anyway. Things seem to be working out for us so far, and our relationship is great. Life does have a tendency to throw you curveballs from time to time, and some of the storms can get really severe, but together I don’t think there’s anything that we can’t get through. I’m looking forward to what the next seven years have in store.