Which “Multi-” Matters Most in Love?

I’ve been trying to figure out which community I’ve joined since marrying the shogun, which “label” matters most. Which way would I categorize our relationship if I had to pick the most relevant descriptor? Multilingual, multinational, multicultural, multi-ethnic?

I asked the shogun about our mixed marriage, about what he thought was the most significant difference between us. “Man and woman,” he said–which illustrates where the multilingual part comes in. Since I made no headway at the source, I’ll ask here what people in similar relationships think.

I rarely think of myself in a multicultural marriage in the American sense, because when I research what others are writing and thinking about it in the U.S., it seems like the focus is on people from different ethnic groups. But if the shogun were Japanese American, not Japanese Japanese, I think our marriage would be vastly different.

So that makes the think the multinational aspect is the most significant. It’s certainly the one I focus on the most, on a daily basis, but that’s because I live in his country, half a globe away from my home, where I barely speak the language and can only read the nonverbal signs correctly about a quarter of the time. Maybe it’s the mix of expat and non-expat, then? That he’s the one who navigates fluidly through our life and community, while I need to rely on him for almost everything practical and social? (Never thought I’d be in a marriage when I needed to ask my husband for money, but then again I never thought I’d be in a marriage where the ATM machines play cartoon pictures of uniformed bank tellers bowing at me).

So I wonder, if you’re in a similar partnership, or imagining being in one, what multi matters most?

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14 thoughts on “Which “Multi-” Matters Most in Love?

  1. A fascinating question. For me I think the biggest thing has to be multicultural. In some way, this is merely reflecting the fact that the other things don’t matter very much to me. Multi-lingual: not an issue as my wife speaks great English. Multi national and Multi ethnic: just don’t seem very important or pressing.

    But I do notice the little cultural differences that crop up from time to time. From time to time, however, I look at the “japanese” way of doing things and conclude that this is at least as good, if not better, than the “western” way of doing things.

    Case in point: my wife recently had a caesarean. She was fortunate to spend 8 days in the hospital recuperating. A friend of a friend in the u.k just had twins by caesarean and spent just 2 days in hospital afterwards.

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    1. Thanks so much for your reply, Bucky. I’ve noticed cultural stuff a lot since having a baby! (And by the way, many, many congratulations on your little one!) For me, the cultural experience was the reverse in giving birth: 48 hours of contractions, then 8 hours of being induced without ANY pain meds at all b/c they are so rare in Japan. I did appreciate the 8 days of hospital recuperation, though (I was finally converted to a c-section too). Anyway, hope you’ll share more about the multicultural divide as your little one grows and we both experience multicultural parenting.

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  2. This is a terrific topic, Tracy! I actually do think of my marriage first and foremost as a cross-cultural (or multicultural one, if you will) maybe b/c we fell in love over here in China and cultural differences were the most obvious thing that I noticed in our relationship. But I also recognize that there are many layers to my marriage. That we’re an interracial couple too, and an international one.

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  3. My late husband was Chinese born in China, but he spent his middle school and high school years at an international school in Yokohama, studied at the Univ. of the Philippines and Seattle U, and after we were married, worked for 24 yrs. at an international institution in Manila. I think he considered himself equally Chinese, American and international. We never lived in China or Taiwan, although we hung out with Chinese friends who spoke either Mandarin or Hokkien, and we did live for many years in Asia, far from my home. Still, my situation was quite different from yours. I guess the thing that stood out in our marriage was the multicultural aspect. Although (not being the one who moved to my husband’s country) I’d agree with your husband about the big differences between man and woman.

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  4. It’s a question I’ve asked myself. Hubs and I have been together for 7.5 years. We met, married and lived together in Japan before moving to Canada. Cultural differences are not a big deal. We are two people, first. We adapt, we learn, we change. We annoy each other and sometimes “debate”. We don’t have horror stories or drama with the in-laws or ourselves. We mix and match and borrow and use what we love or enjoy about each culture. It informs us but isn’t announced and saluted daily. I’ve thought about the groups I could belong to but haven’t felt strongly pulled to any, even though I’d like to. 🙂 I adore chatting with other couples like us but after the initial excitement, it’s just two more regular people and maybe we’ll become friends and maybe not. As for labels, mixed is what I like best. 🙂

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    1. Hi Hilary. Thanks so much for your reply. Love this: “It informs us but isn’t announced and saluted daily.” And I like “mixed” best too. Especially when it comes to the baby. Mostly, I don’t get too bothered by people’s reactions to her here in Japan and find many of them either charming or funny, but sometimes I want to say, “she’s mixed, not half!” Anyway, thanks again!

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      1. You’re welcome! It was a great question and after I wrote my response, I thought more about it and it’s something I could ponder and see how things change over the years.
        Have you seen the Hafu Project? Here’s the link to the fim http://hafufilm.com/en but searching the project brings up a few interesting links.

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      2. Hilary, I have seen the Hafu Project! Or I’ve seen parts of it. I wrote a small piece for CNNGo Tokyo a few years ago on the movie when it was still in production, as well as on diversity in Japan in general. Thanks for posting a link to it here though!

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  5. It’s an interesting question. I don’t think any relationship (or any person) can be labeled one thing over anotherーat least not completely. I’m the product of an intercultural marriage myself, and have spent most of my time living outside of both my home countries, but it’s not something I think about/focus on so much. I think if anything, I use intercultural because it implies that the cultures combine and interact with each otherーand that can be anything from specific family culture to nationwide or religious cultures. In that sense, any relationship can be intercultural as no two families are alike. I feel that’s more encompassing, and more “true” to my own personal experience. 🙂

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  6. A great topic! Like Hilary, after being inter-married (me Japanese-Japanese and my wife Euro/white American, living in the US.), for 10+ years, inter-cultural/national part has really faded into backdrop. There are quibbles here and there and still surprise each other occasionally, but it would feel trite if I put “cultural difference” as a center of our “multi”-ness.
    Yet, we are a “mixed” household, for sure, with two mixed-heritage/biracial kids, who are learning Japanese language, and they look forward to meeting with their grandparents once a year. We don’t know any Japanese man-American woman couples, and there is a different dynamic to more common Japanese/Asian woman-American man couples from the opposite pairing, so our attempts to make friends with them in the past didn’t quite work out.
    I guess “expat-local” may be the closest; we are very comfortable with other immigrant or transplanted families, who see the life in the US from a little different angle than, perhaps, most born-and-raised Americans and their families. A tiny bit of outsider-ness that we (including my wife, who took on my family name) feel make us gravitated toward them, I suppose.

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    1. Hi Tama. Expat-local is a big one for us, too. We’ve been together for 10+ years too, although only married for (almost) 8, but honestly the bicultural part of our relationship still feels very present. It’s something I really love (except for the times when we can’t understand each other…) b/c I think I’ll never get bored of being surprised by the difference in the way we react to or think about certain things. Anyway, thanks so much for your response!

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