As I struggle with what and how much, if any, of this epic disaster with Chi to share with the world at large, I go around and around with the issues of what about this is “right”, “wrong”, or just a simple culture clash — good, bad or indifferent.
Listen while you read to “What Happened?”, an unpublished Panache piece slated for our upcoming “Victory Speech” album because this marriage has me constantly asking myself, “WTF happened here?! How did this go so wrong??
Let’s start with the physical and emotional abuse, since that, at least to me as an American and to practically all people I am close to, is a “black issue”, i.e., categorically wrong with nothing “grey” about it, irrespective of culture. I have a feeling such a black-and-white attitude toward that particular thing is culturally based, however….
In any event, I am unapologetically taking the position that what occurred in this incident (scroll through the top part) and this one is categorically wrong and unacceptable. I am also going to take this opportunity to pre-empt anyone from coming in with the contention of “…but other people get the living shit beat out of them every day, so what are you whining about? That’s nothing!”, etc., and bid you a sincere go-fuck-yourself because minimising and rationalising abuse on any level produces no useful result. In fact, that is precisely the sort of thinking that leads to the “normalization” of unacceptable and/or abusive behaviour, allowing a situation like that which I got trapped into (or far worse) to develop in the first place, and also happens to be one of the tactics sociopaths use to extort compliance from the people they prey on.
What could be argued, however, is that the stress of being in a relationship with an incompatible partner in an inhospitable alien environment pushes Chi over the edge periodically. The cultural element could be brought into play in that Japanese males are especially poorly adapted for coping with change and uncertainty, and for dealing with emotional situations, and generally for dealing with things they are not accustomed to. In that case, what in the hell was he thinking when he moved here with me?
Damn, that’s another thing! To hear him tell it, you’d think I’d forced him at gunpoint to move to California with me and finance the whole thing with the money he inherited when his mother passed away, and that was the whole reason why I married him in the first place — to steal all his money and move back home, and then abandon him, penniless and homeless! He has never at any time expressed any consciousness of taking responsibility for having made an adult decision to accompany me into an unfamiliar environment full of uncertainty. He holds me singularly and personally responsible for every single fucking thing that has gone wrong ever since we first moved here, even things I have absolutely no ability to control. That may well be culturally based, given the inveterate group consciousness of the Japanese which disinclines them from taking individual responsibility for their decisions and actions.
Let’s move on to simple compatibility issues. A particularly incendiary issue for us has been his nearly complete inability to touch anything in the house without making shit of it and apparent absence of any consciousness about cleaning up after himself. That is strongly culturally based, and unfortunately something I did not give due consideration to when I married him and brought him here with me. Additionally, in my experience a lot of highly creative, artistic people tend to be like that, i.e., they have their head in the clouds and are generally oblivious to the physical environment they inhabit, and more oblivious still to the extreme nuisance and disgust they impose on other people who have to keep cleaning up after them and dealing with all the stuff they fuck up with their mindless behaviour.
While I certainly appreciate that most people I am close to would immediately take my side and agree that “of course that indolent, entitled asshole should do his part, especially since you’re burdened with having to support the whole house because he hasn’t seen fit to pull his weight economically since you’ve been here!”, let’s start with the fact that he has been a professional touring musician for nearly his entire adult life and his Japanese wife had just divorced him a year or so before we met. That means that he has spent the majority of the time that he has existed living out of hotel rooms that he is not responsible for the maintenance of, and when he was home, he had a (Japanese) wife and/or mother to do all that shitwork for him.
Ok, let’s unpack that one. Japanese males of his vintage are socialized with the belief that they should never have to touch any sort of domestic upkeep or maintenance chores. That is what women are for. In fact, he even told me on several occasions some version of how when he was a little kid, if any female school child admitted to wanting to do anything with her life other than contribute to human overpopulation and be a domestic drudge (i.e., get married and procreate, be a housewife, etc.), she would be laughed right out of the classroom. While he had to find a way to perform routine household maintenance tasks such as vacuuming, washing dishes, taking out the trash, etc. by himself after his Japanese wife threw him out (obviously she had a problem with his abusive, mentally disturbed, drug-addled behaviour too) and he moved into his own place for a few years, as soon as we got married he seemed to automatically revert back to his culturally-based expectation of “wife-do-all-housework-while-heaping-adulation-upon-me”.
He apparently didn’t see any problem with that mentality, even though “wife” was (and still is) working herself into the ground trying to support the whole house since he hasn’t been able (or willing) to secure any sustainable employment in the entire time that we’ve been here. I most certainly had a problem with it though, so there we have it: a massive compatibility issue. Since the probability of me ever being okay with that state of affairs is “zero”, then this would logically preclude us from being a couple.
Did it have to be this bad? By no means. Was there a potential workaround? Absolutely. One of my fundamental assumptions when we were making plans to move to California from Tokyo was that given both of our advanced skill sets, we would be able to bring in sufficient income to hire someone else to do the cleaning and remove that source of conflict from our relationship. Would he have bitched about it? Assuredly! “Why should I part with my hard-earned money to pay someone else to do what you’re supposed to do for me gladly as part of your job as my wife?!”
Well…okay…except that I fucking DETEST doing that shit, even for myself when I live alone, and I CHOSE to work especially hard so that I could AFFORD to outsource shitwork I hate doing myself, and so I particularly resent having vast amounts of extra work piled on by a person who seems to go out of his way to make as big of a mess as possible when doing any fucking thing and won’t lift a finger to clean up after himself! That’s right up there with him thinking it’s fine for me to have to live in degrading poverty and want while working myself into the ground because HE hasn’t seen fit to pull his weight in 10 years, leaving me to have to support the whole house AND do every damned thing to keep it functioning while his oppressive neediness makes it impossible for me to take anything other than a low-responsibility (and accordingly low-compensated) job that I can get out of at any time to attend to his endless “special needs”. That is fucked up. Seriously.
Let’s back up and dismantle this “wife” bit. I’ll be bluntly honest and unapologetically declare that I have never cared much about being a “good wife”, at least not according to the “traditional” definition of one…whatever the fuck “being a good wife” means anyway?? It depends greatly on who you ask, since one man’s caviar is another’s shit sandwich. In my particular case, I did not get the breeder/mommy instincts genes. I came with a different chipset, good, bad or ugly. I was built/designed/ bred/trained for performance, performance, performance. Some people think that’s pretty cool. Others, not so much. It should also be noted that that was the basis on which we originally got together, so his expectation that I’m somehow supposed to just magically morph into something totally different simply does not square with reality.
Nevertheless, apparently in his mind, getting into a live-in relationship is all about acquiring a full-time nanny, so there you have it: another culturally-based massive compatibility issue! There’s precious little in that for me, especially when he isn’t contributing much of anything to my life other than endless grief. On the other hand, If he had made half a respectable effort to pull his weight and become viable here, then this story would almost certainly have unfolded along a very different trajectory, but since all he saw fit to do was roll over and play dead and refuse to lift a finger to do anything to make things work for himself, demanding that *I* assume 100% of the burden of responsibility for his entire existence while sabotaging and obstructing all of my efforts to do so, this is unfortunately how it played out.
Carrying this further, if I could have come home every day to a clean, peaceful, orderly home and a person who was pleasant to be around instead of a miserable, whining, toxic nightmare and a filthy, confused pile of shit, then the poverty may well have been somewhat easier to endure. Additionally, If he had given me one iota of support and cooperation in trying to make a viable go of it with our musical project instead of doing his level damnedest to sabotage and obstruct every fucking thing I tried to make happen while abusing and shitting all over me the whole time because of his pathological control drama, then we may well have been much more successful with it and had a considerably higher standard of living, or at least been able to buy me out of day job wage slavery so I would have had my time/energy/etc. available to devote to our musical project. So there we have it: a 10-year aggregation of blown opportunities, broken relationships and burned bridges. This is not cultural. This is dysfunctional.
I have recently recognized another major problem in that we are both highly purpose-specific, and while I have roundly proven myself to have vastly superior general coping skills and economically productive skills, my people skills are undeniably abysmal. Chi has far superior people skills and musical skills, but only when his mental illness isn’t front and center since I haven’t met very many people who can tolerate an egomaniacal, narcissistic douche for very long no matter how exceptionally talented he is. That’s another aspect of this whole fiasco that’s particularly disappointing: we have complimentary skills and could have accomplished so much more were it not for all the culturally-based mismatched expectations and general dysfunctionality!
The crowning irony is that we didn’t even have to put up with the shit that a lot of international/ interracial couples go through, such as racism and nonacceptance from our families and friends, which is rather shocking given how ethnocentric and insular the Japanese tend to be…and Americans too for that matter. I was enthusiastically welcomed into his family (which is NOT international, by the way! They just thought I was super-cool), as was he in mine. From that perspective, I was nonplussed to find that the musical styles Chi is most proficient in are overwhelmingly racist and xenophobic, but even so that had little impact on his employability as a musician. The thing that most severely hampered him in finding employment as a musician was his unwillingness to compromise, inability to communicate in English (or learn to retrieve his fucking voicemail/text messages!), predilection for drama, and propensity to make a outsize pain in the ass of himself.
All of the foregoing being said, here are some pearls of wisdom I would roll in the direction of anyone contemplating a permanent relationship (or even semi-permanent one) with a person from a different country and culture are:
Be very clear about your expectations of the other person, as well as the relationship. I mean, seriously, who does that?! Does anybody’s parents train them to do that? Do people on TV do that? Not that I’ve ever heard. From what I’ve observed, the overwhelming majority of humans just act according to what they’ve seen going on around them and muddle and blunder their way through relationships, and the more aware and astute of us try to learn as we go and improve our “relationship skills” along the way.
Nevertheless, that’s just not enough when you’re dealing with someone who may be giving up everything to follow you into a totally unknown environment that they may or may not be well adapted for or have the skill set to be employable in, and needless to say, it goes far beyond “Do you want kids?”. Looking back, I think the most egregious tactical error I made was to have no expectations or boundaries at all, other than a baseline assumption that my partner would be a responsible adult as I understand one to be and do his part to make things work for himself while I made things work for myself while doing whatever I could to help him get on his feet and find his stride when we moved from Tokyo to California.
I unfortunately learned *WAY TOO LATE* that the first thing I should have done was take a thoughtful, conscious inventory of my own core values (and I’d emphasize that if you suspect that your core values and/or boundaries may be in need of a tune-up, then by all means have a look at the linked article by Natalie Lue) so that I would be in a position to make a reasonably accurate evaluation of how the other person’s behaviour lines up with them and if there are too many conflicts, reassess the potential of the relationship and perhaps move on. That would have spared me many years of needless suffering.
If you find that your and your partner’s core values are reasonably well-aligned, it is then helpful to have a serious conversation about the following topics:
- What are your career plans, and what trajectory are they likely to take, and is that compatible with mine?
- To what extent are you willing to compromise? Do you have a Plan B (or C or D) in case it doesn’t work out?
- What would you do if you were to find that your whole desired career has pretty much ceased to exist (as in the hugely unfortunate case of my husband)?
- Do you have a backup plan in the event that, try as you both might, everything just completely turns into shit, as it did in our case?
- Are you willing to get stuck in some shit job that’s a total insult to your skill set in the event that you can’t find anything else for the sake of staying in the relationship, and would you have anything to go back to in your home country if not?
- Are you willing to be a stay-at-home dad or mom or spouse and do your part to make an equitable contribution if the other person is shouldering the burden of financially supporting the whole household?
Now is a good time to add that your chances of success are greatly enhanced if the “native” partner moves back home a few months ahead of their foreign spouse and gets things set up, i.e., gets a job, sets up a household, etc., so they are in a stable place and fully available to help their partner adapt and adjust to their new surroundings, and possibly make some contacts to help him/her find a job. That was another thing that went awry in our case. Chi insisted on moving out and joining me much earlier than planned, which massively complicated and hindered my efforts to set up a functioning household from zero and get some sort of sustainable income source in place.
If I had to sum up my biggest takeaway from this whole debâcle, it would be the following:
“Exotic pets do NOT make good partners.” Full stop. Exotic pets are for people with endless money and time on their hands to see to their upkeep, and who already have the support of a competent, responsible adult *partner* in their life if they want one.