Multilingual/multicultural couples always have fascinating stories to tell, especially when it comes to how they met! The process by which we bond with our significant other is almost always an emotional roller coaster ride, even more so when it involves more than one continent and a mixture of languages! This article first appeared in Multilingual Living Magazine.
By Dinka Souzek
“Y ou’re from Austria? And your husband is American? So… how did you guys meet?”
Even though I am asked this question about three times a month I still don’t have a short answer.
“On the internet” I would say. Then I get a look and “Really?…. Neat.” Awkward pause.
“It’s not the way you think” I would reply immediately, imagining that the person is picturing me in some sleazy chat room.
In fact, the way I met my husband is much more innocent and random than that. It was fall 1998 and I was beyond excited. I had finally gotten an internet connection at home, after having been checking my email at the university for about two years. I couldn’t wait to feed my serious addiction to email and instant messaging. Not only that though, I wanted to download music – as some friends had informed me it was possible. For free! Whatever I wanted! Obviously this was ages ago when nobody was getting sued for that sort of thing. So I got my connection and threw myself into www.audiogalaxy.com offering access to millions of computers that would let me download music. My knowledge was very limited. I knew I needed an ftp-program to connect and it worked… about 50% of the time. Getting the song you wanted could take a long time and so when one day I came across some rare stuff on a computer I had connected to, I took the owner up on the offer to contact him if I needed help downloading. I had no clue who it was, I didn’t really care, but I couldn’t lose by sending him a www.icq.com/download message and increasing my song-per-hour-ratio.
There, I said it. It was a “he”.
I sent a message and checked his profile. What an unusual name… Lincoln Souzek. Valparaiso, Indiana? I thought Valparaiso was in Chile. Oh well, it’s the US, nothing’s really weird there. To my surprise he did actually answer and was more than helpful with the downloading. As it turns out I was the only international customer. You probably wonder what music I was downloading. To my own disappointment I have no idea anymore. I think it was some kind of swing. It was the whole big-band-comeback then.
I don’t remember much about the first conversations we had. Lincoln asked me about Austria, his obnoxious roommate wanted to know if I liked British bands – because he liked them and I was in Europe after all – obviously that made me a fan of every British band.
Somehow we kept in touch. I’d log on in the morning, check my emails and open ICQ. There it was “Gomez” and later “DJ BLAZE” and somehow little by little we were in on each other’s daily lives. Me, 23, in Austria, about to graduate from college, he, 19, in Indiana, just starting his freshman year. I must admit I didn’t think much of it. I enjoyed the conversations but I didn’t think he was a “real” person in my mind somehow. It was all too removed… he was just a name on my ICQ screen, and we had a funny chat now and then. Looking back, I realize we had gotten to know each other, and the ease with which we conversed, which I thought nothing of then, was actually showing a connection you don’t usually have with strangers you’ve never seen.
Sometime in January Lincoln informed me that he had gotten a generous gift from his aunt for his birthday. It was to be spent on a trip during his first spring break. He was thinking of Australia but that turned out to be too expensive. He looked for friends to go with but that turned out impossible. Thinking he might go on an American-style “Visit 20 European cities in 10 days” trip, I mentioned he could come see me in Vienna. It could be an afternoon with me playing tour guide.
I suppose I hadn’t really thought it through, because when Lincoln asked me what I thought of him visiting me, I was caught off guard. I didn’t want to be rude, he seemed quite normal to me, but spending a week or more with a 19-year-old-boy I don’t really know is not something I do on a regular basis. Well, it’s not something I DID on a regular basis!
Things changed, because after going back and forth about this I decided I was ok with him coming but we would be going skiing with a group of my friends. That way I was not put into a potentially very awkward situation of being alone with him, plus I had less responsibility for his entertainment and well-being during his trip. Before I had made up my mind completely I suggested calling him because we had never talked on the phone and I wanted to somehow check if he wasn’t a dirty old man after all.
So I called at about 11 a.m. – which was 4 a.m. in Indiana and we talked. Luckily he did not sound like a dirty old man. The background noise matched very much the sounds of a dorm and his personality sounded pretty much like the “Gomez” I knew from ICQ. So, the plan was made. He would come to Austria in March, spend a week skiing and then maybe venture off to Prague or some other city close by afterwards. Ha.
Then my girlfriend said: “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?! You don’t know him, you don’t know anything about him!” My parents had a milder reaction but still I could see the doubt in everyone’s eyes. It was strange, because I could definitely see the reasoning behind the worries, and rationally, I actually agreed.
Nevertheless, I was still very calm about this situation. I started to rethink this, wondering if I was too naive. Ok, I WAS too naive, but I had always been, so that was not really an argument. I tried recalling a time in our conversations when I felt uncomfortable, maybe hit on or something of that sort. That had never happened, which was rare. I had limited online experience, but even with a few anonymous conversations, guys will usually make some sort of romantic (read: sexual) remark. Well, I could not recall that ever happening. Big plus.
Then, he had sent me these cute gifts… a university t-shirt and then a huge teddy bear for Valentine’s Day (I had never really celebrated it, so it was quite thoughtful), then some funny remixes of my voice in a popular song…And again, although that might’ve seemed strange, it had never made me uncomfortable. The gifts were completely sweet and normal within the context of our friendship. We had discussed relationships and Spike Lee and even religion to an extent. I caught myself looking forward to meeting him.
I decided I knew enough that I wasn’t worried about his visit, but I would still let him know some ground rules, so there were no surprises. I called him up a second time and told him I was very glad to take him skiing and show him around etc. but I was not going to promise it until I saw him and we had a coffee or something. That would give me time to say no if I wanted to back out. I was pretty blunt. I said if I didn’t think I wanted to do it, I was going home. It was not very friendly I suppose, and I apologized but there was just no opportunity to slowly get to know each other and then let things take their natural course without having to spell out “I do not want to see you.”
I was surprised to see how calm he answered that he was fine with that and that he understood etc. I asked him whether he was nervous at all. After all he was taking his first trip to Europe, to a country he had never been to, he didn’t speak German. I could’ve as well not shown up at the airport… what then? He said he understood the risks but he thought we’d be fine. That ended up being enough for me. I knew he would only say that if he was an evildoer planning something bad or if he was just normal and thought the same as I did: that we knew enough about each other that we could have a good time.
And so… Lincoln arrived on 2nd March 1999. I was actually extremely nervous. I can admit it now. A few days before he was supposed to come I caught myself thinking: “Too bad he is only 19.” I wasn’t really giving this any further thought. It was just a feeling that he seemed like a really nice guy and I hadn’t noticed anything reproachable yet and meeting him was probably going to change that. Plus even if there was no disappointment, he was 19! That did not sound like a boyfriend age for me. I drove to the airport beyond nervous. Now I know why.
Then I thought I was just nuts.
Lincoln got off the plane and looked just like on the pictures he had sent me. Only with a beard. He arrived around 11 a.m. so I dragged him to the mechanic with me, to get my car ready for the ski trip (the car did not end up ready which provided adventure material but I’ll leave that for another time). We were caught up on each other’s daily lives and somehow the conversation just continued, only face-to-face and not over little beeping windows.
I remember complaining about a situation and kept going over the same thing again and again – as is unfortunately common for me, and he answered summing up my thoughts in one sentence. I remember the exact place. It was completely confusing and clear at the same time. I’ve never felt so understood, but not on a spectacular revolutionary level. It just felt… natural. I remember more from that day… a grey hoodie, a chocolate cake we struggled over, picking out a movie and then watching it half awake (www.foxmovies.com/thinredline- this is proof we were not romantically involved… yet.). He made a joke about “our kids.” I got chills. I ascribed it to my high strung nerves after a day of extreme excitement. I would’ve believed it too, had I not found myself kissing the 19-year-old perfect boyfriend material about 2 hours later. (No, not in the movie theater! Who do you think I am? It was a street corner, of course!)
I don’t really know how that happened. I am still in shock I did that. It was pretty out of character. Ok, I had “known” him for about four months but this was the first day we actually met. I was completely overwhelmed and to my own surprise I was not having the sense of impending doom that is so often found with every exhilaration. I’m still not sure what happened exactly during those ten days. I remember being scared but I also remember knowing that NOT pursuing this relationship was just not an option. I know everyone thought I was crazy. They were scared and I think they were right to be. I asked myself over and over: Aren’t you scared? And I wasn’t.
We went skiing with exactly one more friend who I felt extremely sorry for, because who wants to hang out with a couple who, on top of that “just” got together?! We had a great time, but we could’ve spent the week on a park bench we would’ve been just as happy. It was all you’d imagine it to be, but to me it was not just the being-in-love-high, I was too calm for it. I still had all my rational thoughts together and… did I say I was not scared?
I’m pretty sure that at the time Lincoln was leaving to go home we were both thinking of marriage. We weren’t talking about it yet, we saved that for the next time we saw each other 5 months later when I flew to the States. We made plans for the whole immigration issue and after realizing that we really did want to get married as soon as possible we went straight for the marriage-based visa. Lincoln came to visit 4 months after that in January 2000. We got engaged and got married the following 18th May–14 months after we met (face to face).
Most of my relatives thought the story was grand – and some thought I was just crazy. “You are marrying a cowboy!”–that was supposed to be derogatory, as in “an uneducated American” or something like that. Little did they know my husband would’ve loved to be a cowboy, but instead he is just a philosophy-loving computer geek. I’m not sure if I alienated somebody – it’s sad if I did because our marriage is quite normal and the European/American-factor is almost irrelevant. We had very few adjustment problems when I moved here. We didn’t have the terrible first year either. We just fit.
I don’t know what I would do if my daughter came to me and said she was marrying this guy she has barely met, who is still in college and lives across the ocean. I remember my parents being quite “stunned” but I have to commend them for their reaction. They did not go crazy on me, rather they seemed uneasy but ready to believe that I was mature enough to know what I was doing. Maybe they also felt that I was more calm about this than I ever was about any other relationship I had had.
Looking at it from the outside, our story is quite crazy. I don’t know if I could safely recommend it – but I also can’t say it was just pure luck. It taught me that in life two and two do not always add up to four. Sometimes the impossible choice is just the right one.
Dinka Souzek is a Croatian-born Austrian, living with her American husband and two children in the U.S.A. She blogs at: www.souzek.com/dinka.