The First Year of Marriage – Part 1

Today marks three months since our wedding day. Time seems to fly by…I can’t believe it’s already July. So much has happened since our wedding already, and looking back, I am proud of all the challenges we have conquered.

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There is an American TV program that I love to binge on called Marriage: The First Year. It chronicles the lives of newlyweds and I always love watching how the couples grow and change throughout what is supposedly the toughest year of being married. So I decided to write out my thoughts along the way, and the three-month mark seemed a good place to start.

During the week of our wedding, our families met for the first time. I had met most of his family before, and he had met my mother and grandmother in person when we were still just dating, but he only met my dad over Skype. My mom, dad, grandma, and stepmom all attended our wedding, and I am so grateful that they were able to share the experience with us. We plan on having an American wedding near my hometown, but my husband just started his company this year, so we are saving up our money and vacation days.

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My husband and my family members all had dinner at Outback with his mom and her boyfriend, and it was endearing to see her try American food for (really) the first time. My mother-in-law is the typical Korean mom, always telling me to, “Eat, eat!” even though most of the time she cooks, it’s something I’ve never even seen before, and I’m not the most adventurous eater. I think she gained a small appreciation for how embarrassing it is to eat food you’ve never tried before in front of a room full of people. But the dinner went well, with my husband translating back and forth.

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My friends from Japan, including my former host brother, whom I met when I first went to Japan as a teenager, all came to support us, as well. We had an after party where we ate, drank, and caught up. It was more difficult than I thought to speak Japanese again. My brain switches between English and Korean faster now, and Japanese comes out more slowly.

After the wedding, Junkyu and I settled into our regular life, but things automatically felt different with the new ‘marriage’ label. I still go around smiling and reminding myself that I’m married. I’m a wife. I have a husband. To me, it’s still exciting and new calling Junkyu my husband and when he says, “My wife..” in public, I can’t help but smile. I’m not sure when this newlywed feeling will wear off, but I kind of hope it doesn’t.

However, we did have a few arguments and heated discussions, because with our new titles of Husband and Wife comes a lot of new responsibility. For example, though I love most Korean food, I still have zero confidence in making Korean dishes by myself. Neither of my parents really have the affinity for cooking, so I never learned how, and the act of cooking sometimes stresses me out. When I was in Japan living alone, I ate out a lot but I did learn how to cook myself decent meals, and I went through a health craze where I forced myself to eat more vegetables. Did I mention I’m a picky eater? In the land of seaweed, snails, live octopus, silkworm larvae, and pig’s intestines? Yeah, it’s not been so smooth.

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Junkyu loves cooking, and he loves watching cooking shows. He has this ease about him, and he’s not afraid to try making new dishes. He’ll add things just to see what will happen. I’m more of a baker. I like to put exactly what the recipe says in, stick it in the oven, and be done with it. (Thank goodness he bought me an oven when I first moved here – it’s a luxury most Asians do not understand.) He also loves eating Korean food at home, and he encourages me to learn how to make it. But with my lack of confidence in the kitchen and my choosy tongue (and sensitive gag reflex) I hesitated for a long time.

He actually got frustrated that he was giving up a big part of Korean married life. Korean men dream of coming home after work to a big home cooked meal ready to eat. And since I work part-time, I technically have the ability to help him realize that dream, but it’s a slow process. The thing is, he works late almost every night, and I have established weeknight meetings with my friends, so there are very few nights when both of us are home and hungry at the same time.

I have been trying, though. I’ve started going to the store more, getting myself familiar with everything, and I’m building my cooking confidence. He’s come home a very happy man many times recently, because I’ve had dinner on the table as soon as he’s walked in the door. The best part is, it was something I didn’t stress over and something we both enjoyed eating. Slow progress.

Another disagreement we had was over going to church. When I first visited Junkyu in Korea, he lived with his mom and attended a church that they had both been going to for almost 20 years. Everyone knows him at that church, and he plays the saxophone most weeks and helps out with the projector others. I didn’t mind going to church with him for a while, but it’s a 40 minute drive from our house, and his mom no longer lives right next door. Both of us agreed it would be easier to start attending a different church, but every week I found myself back there.

To make things worse, the church got a new pastor, one who is super nice but in the in-your-face way. I’m a pretty quiet person unless I’m with someone I’m completely comfortable with, so the new pastor overwhelmed me. He would talk about me during the service, and encourage everyone in the church (mostly old ladies) to come up to me and say hi and shake my hand because I looked lonely to him. Which was sweet I guess, but the spotlight was constantly put on me, and it made me increasingly uncomfortable.

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We went to dinner with the pastor and his wife, and he basically told me I needed to teach everyone in the church English on Saturdays. And then when I expressed to him that I had attended an English church that I liked, he told me that he was thinking about making an English service. He bugged me about those English lessons for weeks, and got so upset that my husband never told him “No,” directly.

I met a girl at my Korean study group who is also married to a Korean guy, and she told me of the church they attend, which is right near our house and very laid back. I was desperate to check it out, because I knew it would make me so much happier than going to a church where I didn’t blend in, didn’t understand the preaching, and didn’t have any friends. The whole style of the church was also much too stiff for me, and I longed for a place where I could go get back my relationship with God.

My husband was worried about telling his mom. He said that it was her dream for us to go to church with her, and now that she lives alone, he only really sees her once a week. I asked if we could attend separately, even though that’s not my dream, but he was still unsure that his mom would allow it. Everyone at our church attended our wedding, because we made sure to go every Sunday and hand out invitations beforehand. And now that the wedding had passed, I thought we would be off the hook from going, but he seemed to think that not going even though they all supported our union would be rude.

The whole situation was exhausting. I cried about it a lot, because I felt as though my opinion didn’t matter in the least, even though I’m an adult and I’m the one who moved to a foreign country where I have no family or prior friends. Eventually, though, my husband sucked it up and asked his mom if she would be upset at my going to an English church. He even confronted the pastor and told him that I wouldn’t be going as often and to make less of a fuss over me when I do go. Both his mom and the pastor were completely on board. I was so grateful when he came home to tell me, “No one really cares where you go to church!” I started attending English church with my friends, and I love it. Now if I can just get him to go with me…

I’m a very high-strung person, and my husband is laid-back and down to earth. I’m constantly planning, analyzing, thinking, worrying, and looking forward to the next thing. I need to know about plans in advance so that I can mentally prepare, and he loves doing things spur of the moment. We balance each other out a lot, but sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, and I sometimes get offended when I tell him something and he just nods. But then he gets confused as to why tiny things make me worried or excited.

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Very recently, we smoothed out the way we communicate, and things are so much easier. In an intercultural relationship, it’s easy to misunderstand one another. But we are learning how to voice our appreciation for one another more often, and that helps a lot. Stress is a part of life, but we aim to take each other’s stress away as much as possible. We work well as a team and we have already gone through a lot in these past three months.

We also booked our honeymoon, which I’m so excited for that he told me to stop talking about it. I had everything planned three days after he booked the flights. Hotels, activities, restaurants, etc. Our honeymoon serves as a double bonus because we are going over the Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok) holiday. I can’t believe my mother-in-law allowed us to go during the most strenuous holiday of the year. In Korean culture, the first (or only in Junkyu’s case) son of the family holds the most responsibility, and his wife (that would be me) is the one who is expected to do most of the cooking, cleaning, preparing, etc. during holidays. But being a non-Korean has a lot of advantages, as I’m not expected or told to do too much of the work. And this year, our first Chuseok as a married couple, we are exempt from all duties. Huzzah!

Part 2 will be written around the six month mark, so stay tuned!

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