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Roommates & Intercultural Marriage, Part I

September 16, 2011

Delta used to say that I always had one good roommate and one terrible roommate. I’ve had some great roommates. Roommates who encourage me to have a third glass of wine while we search for religious symbolism in Twilight movies. Roommates who tackled Delta and I at the same time after not seeing either of us for a whole week. Roommates who promised him I’d be drunk on my birthday.* And I’ve had some terrible roommates. Roommates who scream obscenities and leave a broken bottle of beer on the kitchen floor assuming I’ll clean it up because I’m OCD like that.** Roommates who introduce themselves to Delta’s friends in a lace tank top and boy shorts even after warnings that I’d offer Halloween imbibers a couch and then in the spirit of sleepovers invite their boyfriend to stay for the next three weeks.***

A few months after I graduated college, I found a tiny, paying-for-the-safe-neighborhood studio just four blocks south of the DC-Chevy Chase border. I had gone from a big apartment in busy Glover Park/Georgetown with two/three roommates to 400 sq feet of big windows, miniature kitchen appliances and Ikea furniture. It was a dream come true.

I thought I would never have another roommate (except Delta of course) again. Wrong. So wrong.

When I moved home, he was a few months from deploying and I was worried about my now constant fatigue and horrible PMS, I was actually six weeks pregnant. We have great timing.

When I moved home, it was home. It was my parents’ house, the room I’d shared with Rachel when we were teenagers. I started calling it ‘the apartment above the garage.’ I had my own bathroom, and since it was connected to the house with a nice little office, I had plenty of privacy. These two features became my saving grace. The only thing worse than sharing a bathroom with your new husband – boys are so gross sometimes – is sharing a bathroom with your teenage sister and brother.

When we told Delta’s parents we were planning on getting engaged, their reaction was that we would have very different expectations for marriage and family life. Fair. But my parents too – both third generation Americans – had different expectations, they both expected to make the decisions. Domestic decision-making was only a small part of what my the future in-laws meant. Slowly, little stories about his family started to unravel and reveal a very different picture of wedded bliss and child rearing than I had imagined. I came to admire their family values more and more. As the oldest child, I had responsibilities when I was growing up. My extended family is very close, especially my cousins, and we have a very strong sense of loyalty to each other. But my husband, as the oldest grandchild in his family, had much higher expectations on his shoulders. He had responsibilities to his sister, his cousins, his parents, his grandparents, and each of his aunts and uncles. His grandmother had helped to raise each of her grandchildren, moving wherever she was most needed. Raising our children would be a collective effort.

The big conversation (though I’m sure his parents didn’t realize that’s what it was) came when Delta graduated Basic Training. The three of us went to San Antonio**** to meet him, the only city in Texas I really love. His sister couldn’t leave school, so I was preparing for some very awkard silences. The first night at dinner he told his parents he’d chosen a few bases in Europe and one in Asia. The discussion that followed took me aback.

His mother could not accompany him to an OCONUS base. Delta detailed the process for getting his mother declared his dependent. “I am your dependent,” she said, “you are my son.” No, he tried to explain, we would have to get a doctor to sign a statement that you are mentally or medically unable to care for yourself and unable to make decisions for yourself.

In the Air Force, sponsor is to husband as dependent is to children; not family, children. To my in-laws, family is family, no matter the relationship.

Military wives need their sponsors’ in-person signature to lease an apartment, rent a car, open a bank account, get an change made on their ID card; no matter how capable, we are dependent in every sense of the word, even with a POA and deployment orders. When Delta left for Germany and I moved home, my in-laws were relieved. Not because they didn’t want me nearby, but because with Delta away there was no reason for me to be so far from my family – unless I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree of course.

For my parents, the ultimate goal was to release me into the world with everything I would need to be a good person and build a good life. I would be educated, kind, confident, and willing to work really hard. I would be loyal to friends and family but owe no major debts, I would be free to make my own decisions and learn from my own mistakes. It didn’t work out quite like that, but I was welcomed home with warm enthusiasm. And for the past eight months, they have been helping me raise my Baby Girl.

Delta’s mother won’t be PCSing with us, this time. But when his family visited us a few months ago, they were not shy asking about the many homes for sale in our neighborhood. I encouraged them to tell Delta we could be living in a mansion in Nebraska for half of what an average Chevy Chase apartment costs. No matter where we settle, it will have an in-law suite and at least one bedroom set aside for visiting aunts and uncles. I guess that rules out Chevy Chase apartments.

*This actually led to Delta realizing he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Awww. More on that story some other time.

**Actually happened.

***Also actually happened.

****There are so many awkward & awesome stories from this trip.  If you ever have the chance to travel with my husband’s family, take it. Pack a pharmacy, walking shoes, and your sense of humor.

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