This week was my boyfriends and my 3 year anniversary! YAY! To celebrate this day, I want to share my experience in an international relationship. I was also in a relationship with a German guy before, hence, comparisons can be made.
First things first, I want to give you a little information on us: My boyfriend is Chinese and I am German. He lives in Germany since about 7 years and we both currently work on our master’s degree (in different subjects). We met in Germany at university (or rather on the way to university). We live together since 10 months and I wrote a seperate blogpost about tips on how to survive the “getting used to each other phase” when moving together!
When we had arguments because of cultural differences I looked for other people’s experiences online on how to handle this situation but I couldn’t find our certain problem. It seemed that people always wrote about the obvious problems in a binational relationship. That is why I called this post REALITY of an international relationship.
Well, it is easy to say that we have many cultural differences. Some don’t matter, and some I will never get used to. I’m not naïve. I know that we will always quarrel about certain topics just because we look at them in different perspectives.
This is not a happy-go-lucky post. There are serious matters to consider before committing to an international relationship:
1. planning the future
There are conversations you HAVE TO HAVE in an international relationship. At least if you reached a certain age where planning a family and buying a house is in the near future. Where do you want to live? How do you want to raise your kids? What is the role of a “good wife/husband” in your culture? What does your partner expect from you which is normal in his/her home country? etc. I think it is important to talk about these serious topics to check, if your future is even compatible. Don’t be naïve and think loving each other is enough. If your partner wants to move to the other side of the world or wishes that you behave differently because he wants a “good Chinese wife”, would you do it?
I don’t want to waste my time with a relationship that is not going to last. I don’t want to play around. That is an advantage of international relationships. You basically check on the most basic views of life (or at least you should be if you don’t want to be negatively surprised in the future). I think in a relationship with a German guy I would wait longer with these type of serious conversations. I write more about the guilty feelings in an international relationship here.
2. don’t be too lazy to communicate
It is so important to learn each other’s language! Not just for the sake of talking, but you also learn a lot about the culture. My boyfriend learned German in school and had languages courses in university in China. When we first met 3 years ago, his German wasn’t that good. He spoke a lot of English with me but I never answered in English. From the beginning I spoke German with him. Now, he mixes English and German how he wants and I try to incorporate more Chinese. I take Mandarin language courses at university since two semesters. (Remembering the characters and pronouncing the characters correctly is sooo difficult!)
All in all, we never had a huge issue with communication but it is still noticeable that we have different mother tongues. We often have misunderstandings because we simply don’t understand want the other person actually wants to say. Something I have to deal with is accepting that conversations take much longer. And that annoys me quite often. I have to be more patient! He is also often annoyed because he loves talking but then it just takes him a while to tell a story.
Here is a funny story: My boyfriend’s mum visited us last year and she just speaks Chinese. When she visited my parents (who just speak German), my mother-in-law said something in Chinese, my boyfriend told me in English and I translated it to my parents in German. So you can imagine how long a conversation takes! Also, you can get kind of lazy when talking and just say to yourself “Ah it will take so long for him to answer so I am just not going to ask.” But you need to talk! You need to make an effort! If you start to think this way, you will slowly stop to discuss things, which will lead to misunderstandings. Sarcasm, slang and abbreviations are difficult for the other person to understand. If you are a really sarcastic person, you need to patient until your partner is more save with the language.
All in all, I think you need to communicate more in an international relationship. On top of the normal misunderstandings between males and females, there are even more misunderstanding in an international relationship. Double the trouble! You basically have to explain why you are doing certain things and what they mean to you. And that is actually an advantage of an international relationship. I feel like you need to talk so much about everything that you just understand each other better on a personal level. I know why he does certain things which would irritate me if we wouldn’t have talked about it. COMMUNICATE MORE!
3. meeting each other’s friends
This point goes hand in hand with the previous point. He was going along when I met my German friends and I was going along when he met his friends. Once. He is not interested what me and my friends talk about and he and his friends usually talk in Chinese, hence, I feel left out. We never meet together with each other’s friends since then. I needed to figure out if that is important to me because if it is, then the relationship would not last. I don’t want to force him to do something. But it is not important to me to hang out with each other’s friends. Friends come and go, but the love of your life will (hopefully) always stay.
4. general more difficult everyday life
There a differences between couples even in relationships from the same culture. Your partner has other hobbies or doesn’t like the movies you’re watching. You basically have different interests and preferences. In an international relationship there are even more differences. We oftentimes cook separate meal because we like different things, which leads to eating meals alone. We just have a small kitchen, so just one person can cook at a time. We seldom watch TV together, so no cuddling on the couch in front of the TV in the evening. Sometimes he takes his laptop and watches a Chinese show with headphones on the couch while I watch German TV. That is our compromise. General different opinions about politics are also sometimes a point we quarrel about. (We better don’t talk about politics or Taiwan/Tibet/Hong Kong). Even in relationships from the same culture, a different political believe is normal. Looking at my parents or my brother and his girlfriend (who are all German), I realized that my relationship will never be “normal” like theirs. Is that ok for me? Yes, there are other benefits in my relationship that my family or friends in same culture relationships will never experience.
COMPROMISES are sooo important. At first I was really lazy when it came to compromises and just wanted things to go my way. But soon I realized that a relationship can’t work that way. If you thing the compromises you had to do with your partner from your culture was already too much, you may consider if an international relationship is what you want.
5. be sure what you want
Everything I already said sounds like an international relationship is more work and you have to pass on some things that seem normal to you. Why am I still in a binational relationship (except for love and the person itself)? I made up my mind. I asked myself if I would miss an “easier” life with a German guy and the answer is no.
I wouldn’t want an “easier” life.
I love my life with my Chinese boyfriend. Usually you have different opinions with your partner anyways, even if you are from the same culture. But I love my different everyday life. I watch TV shows I would have never watched with a German boyfriend. I eat food I would have never eaten (real Chinese food and not the food in Chinese restaurants!). I have conversations about topics I would never have. Till this day, my boyfriend surprises me with something that I just didn’t know of his culture. Its exciting! Next year we fly to China to visit his family and I am already really excited! Hopefully my Mandarin is better until then!
Like I said before, I am not naïve. I know that there are more difficulties ahead of us. The biggest potential “crisis” is probably raising a child. The Chinese way of raising a child is sooo different than the German way. My boyfriend basically already decided the future careers of our unborn children. I just hope they are healthy and happy.
So that was my take on binational relationships for now. I feel like I have so much more to say! These are just some everyday problems and big questions that nobody really seems to talk about. Hopefully it helped you!
Have you ever been in an international relationship? From which countries are you? Do you have the same problems as us?