When my best friend introduced me to Alex, I told her I could envision myself married to him -- as long as there was a magnificently large rock on my finger; I needed something compensate for the fact that I would be giving up my life to move to the other side of the globe for a man who was divorced and 18 years older than me.
I was at least 70 percent joking then. Seven months later, I have a modest engagement ring and I'm enthusiastically purging everything but my clothes and a few keepsakes from my apartment; preparing to move from Duluth, Minnesota to São Paulo, Brazil in July.
A year ago, I knew just enough information about Alex to be decidedly disinterested. Libby -- the friend who introduced us -- is particularly inclined to match up her eligible friends, and had been trying to find someone for Alex for months.
At that time, I was in a relationship. From listening to her talk about her matchmaking process, I had learned that Alex was Brazilian, somewhere around 40 years old, once divorced, and that he liked to write poetry. I’m from Minnesota and 26 years old; I believe there are very few excuses for divorce, and most of the people that I know who admit to writing poetry for a hobby strike me as pretentious. By the time that I found myself single and on Libby’s matchmaking list, I didn’t even think to consider Alex.
But Libby and her fiancé -- a close friend of Alex’s -- had a hunch about us. They knew that we both love reading and writing. They had also both been on the receiving end of lectures that sprung from our obstinate and unusual political and social beliefs. Their hunch was correct; As soon as Alex and I met, we both knew that we had hit on something extraordinary.
In late May, after having run into each other twice at Libby’s house, we arranged to go on a date. Libby had sold it to me as “low pressure,” since Alex was planning to move back to Brazil. No long-term commitment, just a fun date with good food, drinks, and conversation.
It was that, and then some. I was surprised to find that we were unusually compatible. I found myself increasingly attracted to the interest he expressed in the world around him, his intelligence, and his love of self-improvement and social justice.
We stayed late, talking over too-sweet Prosecco on a trendy rooftop in Minneapolis, moved to an alleyway coffeehouse for round two, and finished the night huddled over craft beers at a bowling alley. He never once seemed old, unstable, or remotely pretentious.
Alex moved back to Brazil the next week. We Skyped almost every day after he left, often talking for hours. We started talking about marriage very quickly. The decision felt crazy on some levels, but it also felt instinctually right.
He came back to Minnesota for three days that month to see me and to meet my parents. My parents are both politically and socially conservative. In the past they have always been suspicious of the men that I date, with good reason. My rebellious streak is a few miles longer than most.
I knew that Alex wasn’t capable of a bad impression, but I was also sharply aware of how obvious our age gap would be to my parents, and I knew that they might wonder if he was divorced. While I mentally prepared to introduce Alex to them, I acknowledged the fact that I wasn’t going to end my relationship with Alex simply because they didn’t approve of the technicalities of our relationship. At the same time, I dreaded the thought of getting married and moving to a foreign country without the support of my family.
When they met Alex, my parents were hesitant but they didn’t look upset. Later, Alex and I spent hours rehashing everything that had been said and evaluating whether the overall reaction had been good or bad.
After Alex returned to Brazil, I talked as openly and honestly as I could with my mom about Alex. She asked how old he was and whether he had been married, but didn’t shut down when I gave her the facts. Realizing that I was not going to be fighting an uphill battle with my family all the way to the altar was incredibly reassuring. Alex and I both feel that having the support of our families is amazingly helpful while we sort through the inevitable challenges of our relationship.
Since then, Alex has returned and spent a little more time getting to know my family. In mid-February, I finally made the trip to Brazil – the new home that I had committed to, sight unseen. I met my family-in-law for the first time and got a good idea of how difficult the transition will be. I’m intimidated, but I’m excited to master the challenge. Alex is more cautious about life than I am, and he’s been kind enough to do all of my worrying for me so that I can focus on the excitement of adventure.
Despite the support that we receive from many friends and family members, there are plenty of people in our lives who are quick to remind us of what society assumes about a relationship like ours. Alex has sat through commentaries on how smart he is to catch and marry a younger woman, or how stupid he must be to not realize that I’m using him and that I’ll get tired of him soon.
Interestingly enough, people don’t feel obligated to share those comments with me – but I am aware that they are being thought. I know that some of our friends and family may wonder for years to come if we have a sex-and-money power dynamic.
Alex and I work to maintain an egalitarian relationship. We’ve discussed our expectations of sharing the effort at home and at work, and we do our best to support each other emotionally. We are working our way through premarital counseling and making massive strides toward leveling the cultural and relational differences that stand between us.
Skype, Whatsapp, and Facebook are our God-sends. Through them, we engage in conversations about finances, children, job aspirations, our spiritual lives, and the realities of forming an international family on a regular basis. Despite the fact that we’ve only met in person a few times, Alex and I know each other well enough to feel confident in our decision to get married.
It sometimes seems like we are on the absolute fringe of today’s dating norms, but the world is brimming with technology that enables intimate global connections. We are experiencing a change in cultural values and perceptions of valid relationships. A relationship that never would have happened seventy years ago -- and that never would have been supported thirty years ago -- is a reality today.
Alex and I have been told many times that our relationship is high risk by definition. We don’t deny that we embody a number of characteristic relationship risks, but we have a common understanding of the commitment that we are entering, and we work hard to build and maintain that.