It has been a little over four years since my husband and I made the transition! I’m not talking about physical transitions, but referring to the profound psychological changes that occur when you enter into an inter-cultural gay marriage.
Sometimes I curse the day I walked into that club at 2:00 am. I was out celebrating with some friends when one of them decided to confess his love to me. Awkward. My friend was intoxicated and kept trying to kiss me. Since I didn’t drive that night, I had no choice but to stay where I was and endure his nonstop attempts to stick his tongue in my mouth. That’s when I turned to the tall, dark stranger next to me at the bar and said: “Please, I know you don’t know me, but you’ve got to help me. Just start talking and act like we are having a great time. The guy next to me will not leave me alone!” Six years later, that tall, dark, stranger became my husband.
Why do I sometimes I curse the day we met? I am a pale white boy from upstate New York and my dark husband is from Puerto Rico. Our relationship is wonderful on so many levels, but I have to admit there’s a lot that I wish I had known before entering into our union. For example, I didn’t know how important family is within Puerto Rican culture. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in a loving household, and family is important to me too; but no matter how hard I try, my definition of family does not compare to my husband’s.
In Puerto Rico, the concept is brought to a completely different level. A family is not just about a few siblings, parents, and grandparents getting together from time to time. It’s about spending the vast majority of your life with parents, grandparents, cousins, second and third cousins, godchildren, grandchildren, their children, their grandchildren’s’ godchildren, and every other related person you can think of. When you’re Puerto Rican, your family is your army, and you do whatever it takes to defend yourself and everyone else in your unit from every injustice in the world.
Furthermore – and this is very important to grasp when you marry a Puerto Rican – you have to understand the extreme importance of birthdays. This is something you cannot execute incorrectly, and if you do, you may be reminded of your mistake for the rest of your life. While growing up in New York state we celebrated birthdays at my grandparents’ house. We had some cake and opened a few gifts. That was it. In my husband’s world, if you’re celebrating a birthday in which your age ends in a five or a zero, it’s game on! Whether you like it or not, you will be obligated to select a theme for this once-in-a-lifetime event. You’ll have to shop online and buy customized T-shirts. You’ll jump in your car, buy a bouquet of balloons, and purchase everything that matches your party’s color scheme.
When I first met my husband, he was turning 35. Before we met, I had lived in the south of France for over a decade and had very fond memories of the French apéritif. We often drank wine and nibbled on cheese well into the night, until we completely forgot about dinner. This custom is becoming more and more popular in the U.S., and many people refer to it as a dinner apéritoire. Anyway, I wanted to celebrate my husband’s 35th birthday and share my love for French culture with his Puerto Rican peeps, so I threw a wine & cheese party. Oh my God, what a mistake! When the attendees realized there was no rice, no pork, no lasagna, no macaroni salad¾they parted with looks of disgust and drove straight to the nearest diner. To this day, they’ll never let me forget it for as long as I live. No matter how hard I try to explain that I was merely trying to share my love for French culture, they glare at me with shaming eyes and remind me that I invited people to my home and did not provide enough food. I now have to live the rest of my life knowing that because of me, several people almost died of hunger on my husband’s 35th birthday.
On a more serious note, with all the racial tension that exists today, it’s more important than ever to appreciate and embrace people’s differences. Forget skin color and birthday parties. If your family is as strong as an army, that’s a unit I want to be a part of, and I truly wouldn’t change a thing.
Ted Simonin lives with his husband, Carlos Serrano Simonin, and their ten-year-old, adopted son in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If you would like to learn more about him, take a look at Ted’s cartoon series on Instagram @2Dads1Daniel.