I have turned off the comments in this post because I've been getting a lot of closed-minded comments from people who have clearly never left Russia. I understand that we all have different experiences and opinions, and that's great, it's what makes intercultural communication so great. But I don't like being attacked for what I write because the person who translated my article can't translate correctly.
"Just tell her to watch out for the men. They'll want to get married so they can come to America."
That's what one of my mom's Eastern European co-workers told her before I moved to Russia. Not everyone expresses his sentiments though. My grandma told me the other day, "Don't get too serious. We want you to come back." At this point you'd think being in an intercultural relationship is just about a free pass into your country of choice.
Before I go into the five things I learned, I should preface by saying I am far from an expert. Before A, I had ZERO boyfriends. Sure there were guys, but it's extremely hard to date in America's "let's sleep together until people assume we are dating and then we will be official" culture. Yes, someone actually told me that once. It's even harder to date the older you get. I started feeling like I was going to be a spinster for the rest of my life because I didn't meet my husband in college like the rest of my friends.
THE LANGUAGE BARRIER ISN'T A HUGE PROBLEM
I think Anton would disagree with me because he always complains about how he wishes his English were better or how he can't express exactly what he wants because he lacks the vocabulary. I also wish I could speak Russian so that if I meet his parents one day I'll be able to say more than, "Hi. How are you?" But if he spoke perfect English he would have never called me handsome instead of beautiful or called straws little pipes, both of which I found incredibly funny. Also, it motivates us to improve ourselves and something we can both work on in our relationship. He tries to help me better my Russian and I try to help him improve his English.
GENDER EXPECTATIONS WILL CAUSE PROBLEMS
Russia is extremely traditional in their gender roles. So much so that my friend and I joke that Russia has turned us into raging feminists. While Anton is pretty Western in his thinking we've had our share of issues with gender expectations. I see relationships as 50/50. Anton said he was really excited the first time I offered to pay for something. In Russia, men protect the family while women are expected to cook and clean. I wanted to scream when Anton said, "How do you expect to get married if you can't cook?" To clarify, I can cook, I'd just prefer to do the dishes and finding things to cook in Russia is really hard.
YOU WILL NEED LEARN TO BE MORE PATIENT
I believe this is true for any relationship, but especially for an intercultural relationship. This is one I still struggle with. Although the language barrier isn't a huge problem, I find that having to constantly explain words and phrases can become a hassle, especially after spending a work day with students who also don't speak English fluently. It becomes extremely tiring. Also, coming from America where "time is money." I've had to really learn to be patient with Anton constantly being late. I think most of our arguments are about having to wait for him. Like I said, I'm still learning.
DON'T FALL INTO THE INTERCULTURAL ISN'T INTERRACIAL TRAP
I hope I'm not alone in this but often times when I hear 'intercultural' I think 'interracial.' When Anton and I first started dating I didn't prepare myself for the intercultural issues that may come up. I assumed that issues like that only come up when you are in an interracial relationship. I was so wrong. Yes, we are both white, but we were raised in two vastly different cultures with different languages, histories, and religions. I've had to learn to show more affection in public and to brush off comments about what I'm wearing. This does make our relationship unique, but intercultural and interracial each have their own set of issues.
YOU HAVE TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS SOONER
I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think about where we'd be in a six months, a year, ten years. With the political situation as it is, it is extremely difficult for Russians to get visas to America. Long distance isn't an option because if I were to move back it is unlikely he'd ever visit me. Russians need to have interviews with the consulate for a mere travel visa for crying out loud! The closest consulate to Ufa is an eight hour bus ride away. On the American side it's a lot of work and extremely expensive to get a visa and plane ticket to Russia. I'm not ready to get married but if we decide, after another year, that we'd like to continue dating we'd have to seriously consider our options and what sacrifices we are willing to make.
Are you in an intercultural or interracial relationship? What lessons have you learned?