Since the official Good Chinese Wife blog tour has started on the 15th (see here for the listing of all other blogs participating), we had a bunch of amazing reviews, interviews and guest posts by Susan Blumberg-Kason. Her new book Good Chinese Wife is a stunning memoir of an intercultural marriage gone wrong. But even though that marriage ended in a break up, Susan did not break up with Chinese culture. Her experiences have taught her many things.
Today we have the honored to read more about what lessons she has learned from her cross-cultural marriage, and maybe it can help some of us in the same situation.
Lessons Learned from My Cross-Cultural Marriage
When I was writing Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong, I learned that memoirs, unlike biographies, require a good amount of personal reflection and lessons learned. And to do this, I really had to look deep into the things I could have done differently in my five-year marriage to Cai, a musician from central China.
Before I married Cai, numerous friends warned me against committing to someone from such a different background. It wasn’t that these friends were against cross-cultural marriages because they were all in similar relationships themselves. But I guess they felt like they needed to relay some advice they had learned along the way. I politely kept quiet all while tuning out.
Ignoring my friends turned out to a poor decision on my part, but eventually I learned that cross-cultural marriages should be treated just like any marriage. There should be a lot of communication, patience, and understanding. With Cai, I excused our problems as cultural differences and gave him more leeway than I probably would have given someone from a similar background.
I can think of a couple of issues I should have figured out or at least thought about before marrying Cai.
- Where to Live
Cai and I met in graduate school in Hong Kong, which was foreign territory for both of us. He was from China and I was from the US. We had each chosen to move to Hong Kong before we met, so neither of us felt resentful living there. All in all, we were pretty happy in Hong Kong. Cai had his work and I had mine. We already had our own groups of friends there before we met, so we blended our outside lives with our new married life just as any couple would.
The problem arose when we had to leave Hong Kong after Cai’s student visa expired. Thanks to Hong Kong immigration law at the time, mainland students were unable to remain in Hong Kong to work. Cai told me this before we dated. He also informed me that he had no interest in moving to the US. He needed me to know that before we took our friendship up a notch. So I guess there are two lessons here.
One is that it was wrong for me to think that Cai would want to move to the US once he visited with me. The other lesson is that for something this major, we should have sat down and talked more about where we both wanted to live. Instead, I left it all up to him because I figured only he knew where he could find a good job. But as it turned out, it was such an overwhelming decision for Cai. I was lucky because we ended up in California after we left Hong Kong, but sadly that wasn’t the case for Cai.
Even before Cai and I married, we barely talked about kids. It first came up a couple months into our engagement when his mother offered to raise our future kids for five years while we worked and lived elsewhere.
Although we put the mother-in-law offer/threat to rest for a few years, there were other issues that we should have discussed, like pregnancy and post-partum customs. I was completely blindsided by the custom of zuo yuezi, or staying inside and not bathing for the first month post-partum. I did talk to Cai about the Jewish brit millah, the circumcision ceremony, when we learned we were going to have a boy. But we should have discussed all of our child-rearing customs so we could have figured out how to incorporate them or even which ones to reject.
Marriage takes a lot of work no matter whom it’s with. But had I listened to my friends or discussed these issues with Cai before we married and became parents together, I can’t help but think that our marriage would have been a bit smoother. The good thing to come from all of this is that Cai and I have both remarried and have learned to communicate better with our new spouses and with each other, as we have a teenage son together.
SUSAN BLUMBERG-KASON is a freelance journalist in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, TimeOut Chicago, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three children.
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