So, it’s been just over 4 years since my husband and I were married and a little over 3 years since I wrote my initial post about our Arab/American marriage; a post which still garners much attention and encourages conversations among readers. It’s nice to share a bit of insight into our lives in hopes of helping at least one person who might find themselves baffled by cultural differences.
Before writing this post I thought it best to discuss things that might have changed over the last several years instead of writing yet another post about overcoming cultural challenges. Not only have I covered that topic enough but over time it feels as though our cultures are meshing to the point of becoming one in a number of ways.
Lately I’ve noticed that as women are commenting on the blog with questions about their Arab boyfriends (who are often students here in the US) I catch myself thinking, “How small minded and controlling he is!” Perhaps because my husband and I have both changed significantly since moving to America and what was once acceptable and even normal now feels confining and discriminatory. Not sure I could effortlessly move back to Kuwait and fit into a lifestyle I once felt so comfortable in. I know I miss my in-laws immensely, but fortunately, with technology and their willingness to travel, we see one another often.
Though I like to think my husband and I have never been superficial shallow people, that’s even more evident now. Holidays that once consisted of expensive gifts or vacations are now consumed with participating in activities with emotional value. Perhaps it’s a day spent at the dog park with our furry friends, or building a new cat house, or even just a family lunch at our favorite cafe. As we continue to grow closer we also seem to embrace more depth in life. We value things with meaning instead of things with a price tag.
My husband, who has always been more comfortable with the Western culture, fits neatly into his not-so-new life here. He has an incredible career, wonderful colleagues and business associates, and holds dear his simple yet meaningful lifestyle. He knows we’re making a difference regardless of how small it is.
One of the biggest differences I think we both experience is that sense of freedom. Primarily not having to be consumed with perceptions; a huge part of life in Kuwait. I’ve always been very independent, worked, managed businesses, drove, traveled, etc. And, fortunately, my husband always admired and encouraged that. Yet in Kuwait we still had to be concerned with perceptions. Would the neighbors wonder why my head wasn’t covered? Would they question who that Western woman was driving all over town alone? Would extended family members see me out and about and wonder why I wasn’t escorted by a man? While living up to those ‘standards’ wasn’t difficult, it did become emotionally daunting over time. Having to question every single move we made out of respect for some unwritten cultural rules that neither of us believed in definitely exhausted us. Here, the only respect we really have to show is to one another. And we do. Yet we have freedom to do as we please without wondering is the neighbor watching. If I want to head out at 5am for coffee and shopping (alone)… I do just that. No one cares. No one is watching. And no one would dare even question it. We want to rescue dogs… that’s what we do. No one is questioning it. No one is shaming us for having dogs in our home. And we certainly don’t have to worry someone will toss poison over our fence to try and harm our pets. We’re free.
Over the years, since writing my first post about the Arab/American marriage, the primary question has been, “How to overcome cultural differences?”. And as I’m sure my answer has changed over time, I can comfortably say the best advice I have is just to live the life you want to live. Be yourself. Love what you do and where you are. And if that person (whether it’s the Arab or the American) is supposed to be in your life then they’ll be comfortable with all of that. If they are constantly trying to change you then it’s definitely not the relationship for you. Yeah, this is pretty standard advice for any relationship regardless of background and culture but things can get quite blurred when the cultures are so very different.
Thanks to those of you who still hang around and read the blog during the very rare occasion I write something new. I always have thoughts and ideas running through my head and often think I should blog about them, but I doubt they would be of much interest to those who don’t know me personally. Perhaps someday.