Cross-Cultural Relationships – Playing with Fire?

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:36 pm -

It’s June and based on the questions in Bonjour Paris’s in-box, love must be in the air. Or, at the very least, like—okay, lust. There are so many e-mails that begin, “I’ve met someone who lives in France (or remplissez le blanc) and am considering…”

Perhaps it’s because people are more mobile and even though air travel may not be glamorous or pleasant, it’s easy enough to fly wherever you want for the person you want than ever before. And with the advent of Internet and email, it’s simply easier to maintain long-distance relationships.

And that’s only the beginning. Anyone can instant message, Skype and spend as much time (at least) communicating with someone else as if you were in the same city. The main impediment to whether or not you should pick up the phone is the time difference. I don’t care how much you love speaking, not everyone feels like talking at three in the morning.

Some conjecture that on-line dating has opened up a whole new world. People who would never have “met” twenty years ago are striking up cyber relationships that may develop into something substantially more.

Can two people from different countries see eye to eye and agree on little things such as where to live, how to raise children, who’s responsible for doing what and how? Factor in religious and political differences and you’re asking for double (a conservative estimate) trouble. If you don’t speak the same language, a lot gets lost in translation.

Will these relationships work? For some people yes—and for others, forget it. Unless they’ve been raised with the same set of values and references, cross-cultural relationships are too much of a stretch.

Some people are truly better off marrying someone from their community and (with luck) living happily ever after. The fact that fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce seems to be lost on a lot of people. Marriage, or just getting together with reasonable seriousness, is, well, a serious matter. And who remembers the quaint thought that it’s ’til death do us part?

The divorce rate is lower in France, which doesn’t mean that people are necessarily more content. But, because France is a nominally Catholic country (all right, Catholicism ceased to be the state religion a century ago, and attendance at mass is on the slim side most Sundays), perhaps people are less likely to divorce for the sake of the children or their status within the community. And many couples opt not to marry for all kinds of reasons—including being able to establish a civil relationship, which is more common among heterosexual couples than homosexual ones.

But what’s different now and interesting to me (and perhaps this is due to the somewhat older demographics of our readers) is that many of these emails are coming from Baby Boomers. We’re the post-WW II generation of people who are (possibly) easing into retirement and many are “empty-nesters.”

There’s a good chance you like to travel if you’re reading this site. So what about falling in love or like or lust and changing your lifestyle? Are people more willing to take a chance and move to another country? There are certainly a lot of reasons not to. But as I reminded someone who was chastising me for living in Paris because my grandchildren are in Washington, DC, I reminded them that the commute is an hour longer than if I were living in California.

Many of my American friends in Paris came to France for their college junior year abroad. So many of them stayed, married and have become more French than the French. Have their marriages worked? Not each and every one—but I am surprised how many have and how many of their children speak English with very French accents.

So much in relationships has to do with expectations and the ability to compromise. Can you be flexible in the way you approach life? Are you able to give the other person space to do what he or she needs to do—most especially when it comes to dealing with family who may live on the other side of the world? Are you capable of doing with someone from another country what is hard enough to do with someone from your own?

Real life situations cross us up, and unless you’re a take-charge type, you may need to assert yourself. I was just speaking with someone who commented that even though he’s 50 percent Italian and 50 percent American, he and his Italian wife don’t understand one another all of the time. Duh—who does?

When I questioned a friend who’s a therapist and does mediation training and conflict resolution, his first comment was that men and women tend to speak in different languages, and people (no matter their sexual orientation) get out of synch. And yes, there are some real negatives to being involved with someone from a different culture. On the other hand, there can be real pluses. Some people thrive in different cultures and may turn out to be more interesting than if they’d never left home. I like to think that’s my case.

What’s the best way to approach cross-cultural relationships? I have no idea. Only you and your other can have a clue. Try to figure it out, but look at the person, not the scenery, not the material. So what if he or she has the most spectacular apartment in Paris? You don’t make love—or even like or lust—to an apartment. On the other hand, if you feel right together, where you live, isn’t the be-all to end all—and there are worse places than France.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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