The Dangers of Marrying an Immigrant

There I was yesterday, naked in the sauna while this Russian stranger and I were having a conversation in broken Bulgarian as he exfoliated my back with a shrub, and I thought to myself — my life might not be normal.

A decade ago, I knew the only way to escape Oklahoma and adventure out into the unknown with my partner in crime was to marry her. Since, we’ve lived in 3 different countries, visited a couple dozen others, and would be hard-pressed to find dull moments in our marriage.

Y’see, I’m a simple guy. Born and raised in the pre-Internet conservative towns of Oklahoma. I spent 23 years there before I ever ventured out to another state, let alone beyond.

And her? She’s mystery. She’s the void I spent years scratching my head to figure out what was missing. She is adventure and excitement. She spent 21 years growing up in Europe, before moving to the States on her own.

And thus, after I found the way to her heart (hint: it’s humor), we set off. To California, to London, to Bulgaria — to really live.

Let’s talk about non-immigrant marriages for a second. Non-immigrants get some things for free. When they talk to their spouse, it’s in their native language. When they visit their parents, it’s less than 6000 miles away. When they have kids, they know which country they’re going to enroll them into school.

You see what I’m getting at?

We were up for the challenge. We decided to go parental. Now there are five passports and four visas between the three of us.

But isn’t it strange? You can be married to someone for nearly 10 years and still not know them. A few discoveries that cropped up since having a child:


When dad makes it: oatmeal.

When mom makes it: water with bread and feta cheese mashed in it (Попара).

Bed time

How dad would have it: kid goes night night in his own bed.

How mom would have it: kid goes spinka in the giant family bed we all sleep on.

Country to live in

Dad: United States, with summertime visits to Bulgaria

Mom: Bulgaria, with summertime visits to the States

Marriages have an inflection point. You spend your entire marriage exploring your differences and relishing in them, until suddenly those differences threaten the way you imagine your life going. Having a child triggers emotions in both parents, which is typically the catalyst needed for that inflection point. For me, the emotions were a sudden overwhelming urge to provide. For her, it was an overwhelming urge to pass on her culture and heritage.

But immigrant marriages have extra obstacles, like knowing. Ignorance is bliss and we’ve seen too much.

I know that food is healthier in Bulgaria.

I know that opportunities are better in America.

When I talk about 40 people holding hands and dancing around a restaurant to an average American, their shifty eyes go straight towards their smart phone — back to snapping, liking, and upvotes.

When I talk about portfolio diversification in this all-time high market, the average Bulgarian mutters a добре (okay) and continues sipping rakiya while thinking about what to build next on his villa.

We know the goods and bads of both places, and now we have to live with that knowledge.

And sometimes I think — life would be much easier if I had settled down with a local girl from Oklahoma. Grandparents a few doors down. Kid roaming the same streets I used to roam.

Then I see life today:

  1. Kid speaks two languages already, and is immersed in two wildly different cultures
  2. Family has access to live permanently in two continents
  3. Incredibly enriching life experiences that I never had growing up still amaze me even today

And, with a freshly exfoliated back, I think— an abnormal life isn’t so bad.