One Love, Two Cultures: Making It Work

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One Love, Two Cultures: Making It Work
Cross-cultural love is easy to start but harder to maintain.

One afternoon, I saw some teenage guys urinating on the door of a Manchester synagogue. I was appalled, and told them so. They responded by jeering at me and a nearby policeman didn’t intervene.

Experiences like this are just as hard on Rich as they are on me: he doesn’t like to see me unhappy, but doesn’t understand why I need to “create a scene.”

Romano says this scenario is fairly typical among international couples. “Even people who have spent twenty-plus years in another culture can have the feeling of not belonging and being outnumbered in a point of view, or way of doing,” she says.

For American writer Rachel Freeman, 38, and her Polish husband, Slawek Justynski, 33, relocating for love presented insurmountable challenges. Freeman met Justynski, a jazz musician, on a train in his native Poland. There was an undeniable spark, though the two could barely communicate—his first love letter had to be translated by a sympathetic diplomat at the Polish Consulate.

Three years later, she moved to Warsaw to live with him. “Initially, he was the only person I knew in Poland,” Freeman says. “Of course, he was my best friend, but you need other friends too. It can put a strain on the relationship. In my first year I was so helpless, I remember not even being able to call a plumber because my Polish wasn’t good enough.”

As romantic as it sounds to drop everything and move to another country for love, the reality often means giving up your job, financial stability, and independence for a grueling adjustment to a foreign culture. It’s a leap of faith that doesn’t always have a happy ending.

When Freeman and Justynski moved to New York City, he was suddenly the helpless one. “His English wasn’t up to speed, and it was hard for him to get work,” says Freeman. “In Poland he went to all the right schools, and he came to New York and he was just a nobody.”

Justynski was unhappy enough to move back to Poland, and Freeman had a tough decision to make. “I was so happy to be back in New York, but I knew that if I didn’t go with him, we would have broken up.” The couple now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland—“neutral territory,” as Freeman puts it—and are expecting their first child.

Difficult though it was, Freeman credits the time they spent in each other’s countries as key to their success. “Our backgrounds were so different,” she says.

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