I'm an ex-pat (Western, female) in a culture that is not like my own. I've fallen in love, but I don't know how to process the family dynamics. Help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've fallen in love with a man in my (conservative, traditional) host country. We've been together for over a year and I have grudgingly dealt with the fact he has not told his parents about us. (Note that we are in our 30s, he lives with parents, as is normal here). Culturally, people don't really "date" here and significant others are not introduced until a moment that is like "Hey, this is FEMALE and we're engaged." As an American, this is totally surreal to me.
I felt bad about the fact that he had not told his parents about us, especially as we were becoming more serious, and he eventually told them. We are 100% sure that they knew that *something* was going on before he told them, but this is a culture where people sort of live inside of lies. They know things, but they pretend they don't. After he told them that we were dating and it was getting serious, they reacted not positively. I suspect that their idea of what would happen to their son has been shattered, as I represent a different life (we probably won't stay here, I don't represent a family with whom they would enter an alliance with through marriage, mixed kids, etc.). They are not actively protesting the relationship, but they aren't supporting it either - this is a feeling in the air, not anything specific. And while this not supporting relationships that children choose for themselves seems to be par for the course in this culture, it feels terrible to me as an American. (For context, even though I am American, I speak the local languages quite well, have a long time interest and professional life in the local culture that will never end. I have an excellent reputation locally and certainly within the circles that my potential in laws travel in. If there was such a thing as references, I would get an A++++++. Basically, while I am not of the local ethnicity, for a foreigner, I am about as good as it could get in terms of a non-local daughter-in-law.)
To make it worse, I work in the same sector as his mother and up until the moment he told her about us, we were quite friendly, both in real life and on Facebook. Imagine her liking everything I post, commenting all the time, messages back and forth to NOTHING. (Also note that I was certainly using Facebook to suck up to her and perform being the best daughter-in-law ever before she knew.) It has been 2 months now since he told them and she has done nothing. We haven't encountered each other in person since the information came out. (Note, parents are pretty Western/open minded for their age.)
I love this guy and I want to be with him, but this snag is really bothering me. In my perfect world, we'd all be cool, they'd see that he and I are great for each other, and we've move on like people do. For pete's sake, 2 months ago, she LOVED me and thought that I was the bee's knees, but once it became "true" that we are dating, she is either in some state of shock or hates me.
His strategy is - we figure out what our next steps are (engagement, where we will live) and then he is just going to tell them "we're engaged, we're moving to X." and that is that. But this strategy seems so unpleasant to me. I don't want in laws that don't like me. I don't want to cause a family riff. I want a normal (read: American) adult in law relationship. I do realize that maybe this isn't possible though.
I suggested a letter (which I wrote) where I apologize for the deception, tell her how much I care about her son, how happy we are, how we aren't sure how the distance thing is going to work out and that uncertainty is difficult for everyone, but that we're figuring it out, and basically convey that he is in good hands.
I had a few local girlfriends read it and they all approved and thought that it would be a bold move but would probably work to repair the relationship between his mom and me. He, on the other hand, is pretty firm that staying silent until we announce an engagement or something is the way to proceed. He thinks that such a letter would be perceived as me being more into him than he is into me and me trying to use his mom or something.
I am sure that if I really pushed him, he would change his mind about the staying silent thing, but I'd have to convince him.
So at this point, I of course defer to him in dealing with his parents, but at the same time, I really would prefer to repair these relationships before he and I make the next step. Any MeFite insight into how these sort of different perspectives on in law relationships work and strategy to repair this would be greatly appreciated. Or maybe you all will say to chill out and not worry about these people so much. :)