As the book states, U.S. Americans prioritize mutual physical attraction and “love” when selecting a mate. Yet divorce statistics indicate that a more complex notion of what a marriage involves is needed if the relationship is to succeed. Let’s look at intercultural relationships in the movie Fools Rush In.
Alex and Isa personify the value for mutual physical attraction in their first meeting: a sexual encounter. She then seeks him out to tell him she is pregnant because she thinks he has a right to know although she expects to raise the child on her own. After spending the evening together at Isa’s family dinner, they then decide they are “in love” and marry that same night. Alex’s memorable line that Isa is “everything I never knew I always wanted” captures the U.S. American value for romantic love nicely.
Her father was not happy to meet him. He doesn’t believe their marriage is legitimate because they weren’t married by a priest and with her family present. So she married knowing that her father would not approve—in fact, he briefly disowns her in the movie. While perhaps the rest of her family was not thrilled with her choice, they accepted the marriage quickly. It takes her father a while longer to accept it. Alex withholds knowledge of the marriage from his parents. Recall that they visit him by surprise after Cathy Stewart, a friend of the family who encounters Isa by accident in a restaurant, tells them he is married. Thus, we find that neither Isa nor Alex give their family any input into their decision to marry, which exemplifies the value of individual choice in U.S. culture. It is clear that both fathers object to the marriage, but that is not what creates problems in their relationship.
Shared values are probably the most important mark of a strong marriage. Isa and Alex differ in their values about religion, relational communication and sharing, and the meaning of family.
Religion and culture are the topic of their first conversation. After their marriage, he swears in shock when he sees the large crucifix on their wall when her family redecorates. Even though he isn’t religious and doesn’t follow the religion in which he was raised, he does not want the child raised Catholic. He takes a Marxist stance on religion and rejects the notion of destiny. Isa, however, feels strongly about her religion as shown by her frequent visits to the church to light candles, so she thinks he should let her raise their child in the beliefs with which she was raised. They don’t resolve the issue but later both apologize. In the end, he believes in signs and “doesn’t want to tempt fate,” and she claims not to. This exemplifies the intercultural “learning” that the book mentions.
Isa wants to talk everything through, discussing issues and problems, even when she is on the toilet. Both seem to compromise in the relationship. Upon meeting her family at the first family dinner, Alex thinks they are great. After the marriage he went out with her brothers, who question and challenge him about moving her to NYC. He accepts the redecorations of the house. She is surprised he “doesn’t live” in Las Vegas. LV is her home and where “her family, her life, and her work” as a photographer are. However, she eventually agrees to compromise, to move to New York if that is where his work is. They agreed not to move until the baby is born. She is willing to confront a problem when it occurs. However, Alex avoids difficult conversations. He lies about his parents’ whereabouts, about telling them about the marriage, about the demands of his job. He doesn’t tell her when his boss tells him he is expected back in NY sooner than they had thought. For her this was the last straw. These moments nicely demonstrate how different communicative norms and cultural values create the challenges that occur in intercultural relationships.
She does not believe that their relationship can survive, so she lies and says she has lost the baby. Their sense of the meaning of family varies greatly. She thinks it means sharing information and decisions, spending time together—choosing furniture for the baby’s room. While she clearly believes that work is important, for her, family is the highest priority. After Alex’s conversation with his boss, his work becomes primary. His professional goals are far more important that pleasing Isa or maintaining family harmony. In their big argument following Isa finding out about the NY job, Alex says “I’ve worked too long and too hard” … to which she responds “to what? To share your life with someone who loves you, who cares for you. Alex, you have to be there every day…you don’t include me, why are you afraid of me, why do you alienate me from your life.” The conflict culminates when she says that “you don’t understand the concept of a family, to you it is something you put up with on holidays. Love is a gift not an obligation.” He responds “this is the brass ring, and I’m not giving it up because one night I put a $5 ring on your finger in front of Elvis as a witness.” Her family fully supports her—the father slams the door in his face when he seeks her out after she breaks up with him at the hospital. So any relationship he had created with them was fully predicated on his marriage to her. Only her great grandmother challenges her to accept her “love”. Conflict over values and goals often leads to termination of the intercultural relationship. When family is of high value, they would always side with their sister/daughter and may break all connections to the former spouse.
As with all romantic comedies, there is a happy ending. At the end of the movie we find an enlightened Alex and a trusting Isa. They remarry in a traditional religious ceremony in the desert that includes both families. The book argues that the benefits of an intercultural relationship are knowledge, skills, and breaking stereotypes. We see the increase in knowledge about one another and their cultures throughout the movie. Both improve their skills at negotiating their needs and desires. Although some of Alex’s comments in the movie are questionable, it is not clear that Alex and Isa hold stereotypes of one another’s cultures. However, their families certainly do. Recall that Alex’s parents thought Isa was “the housekeeper,” and her parents did not think that Presbyterian was a religion. The fathers exchange a series of insults when they first meet. I think these scenes indicate the challenges that can occur when the families don’t accept the new spouse. Respect is a strong value for many cultures, including Mexican culture, so such interactions make building relationships more challenging. Many intercultural relationships end due to the problems illustrated in this movie.