Let's face it, more than a few foreigners come to Costa Rica with the idea that true love might be found here, far from the home shores.
Heaven knows it's easy enough to spot desirable potential candidates in a country where human pulchritude more than matches the beauty and drama of the lush tropical setting. But what happens when the passion points to something more permanent, when the magic leads to marriage?
Experts agree that even in this hyperglobal age, many are the challenges to bicultural couples. The cultural and linguistic setting into which one is born structures that person's very perception of reality, meaning that it's more than mere words that can get lost in translation.
The inimitably named "bi-cultural couples coach," Gudrun Kitten-Thong, identifies gender roles, the influence of in-laws, childrearing practices, and language as key areas where star-struck lovers' assumptions and expectations might not necessarily correspond across cultural lines.
Lisle and Anna go sight seeing in Panama
Lisle Head, the owner/broker of Coldwell Banker Vesta Group Jacó, wasn't considering any such issues when he saw the lovely young brunette across the restaurant in San Jose. He only thought how happy he would be if she would agree to have dinner with him. She declined. The moment passed. A month later, their paths again crossed, and this time she assented to go out with him. Last November, they married. Lisle is originally from California, while Ana, his wife, is from Colombia. Another long-term, bicultural adventure had begun.
To begin with, as is often the case, who Ana is as a person and many of the choices she made prior to meeting her husband defy certain stereotypes about Latin women, and help the young couple to mitigate some of the challenges they face. An only child from the Colombian countryside, Ana had come to Costa Rica alone as a young adult to make her own way in the world.
When she met Lisle, Ana was a 27-year-old woman working in office management who never expected to marry or to have children. Lisle was captivated by the fact that a woman could be so capable and independent without being bossy or demanding.
Most enchanting, however, was Ana's childlike sense of wonder about the world and new experiences. Having grown up with few of the conveniences that are standard in the United States, such as hot running water and dishwashers, much that was mundane to Lisle was a marvelous discovery to Ana.
Lisle loved that Ana retained an innocence that had not been jaded by excessive exposure to television or eroded by the relentless manipulation of modern consumer culture. He mentions a recent outing to a Central Valley petting zoo that delighted his wife to no end, thereby charming him.
As the sun goes down, they focus less on finding your dream property near the beach and more on each other.
Ironically, differing gender expectations are both a source of joy and concern to Lisle and Ana. Lisle is deeply gratified by Ana's profound preoccupation for his comfort and happiness, and impressed by her commitment to making their home a haven. "We have a full-time maid," he explains, "and Ana will be there cleaning up the house so it'll look better by the time the maid gets there.
Then, if we get home late after both of us working all day, and Ana hasn't had time to prepare any food for me, she gets upset. 'Look,' I say, 'we've both been working, let's just order out,' but she definitely wants to take care of me."
Ana's ingrained cultural expectations about men and their inevitable infidelity means that the green-eyed monster casts its shadow more frequently than Lisle has perhaps experienced in past relationships.
One solution has been for them to work together: Ana is the office manager at Coldwell Banker Jacó, which has her in close contact with her husband all day. "There's no way she could understand what I do, the hours I keep, without seeing it firsthand," says Lisle. "This way she knows how hard I work, that I'm not off blowing time." Even though they live in a Spanish-speaking setting, Lisle and Ana have resolved that English will be the principal language in their home, a practical decision given that her English is better than his Spanish. With both living as expatriates, the issue of how to manage extended family has not really come up, although it may once the couple starts having children (one says she, four says he).
Lisle admits that his family was initially concerned that his children be able to relate to his side of the family, but those concerns have eased as they have come to know and love his wife. He acknowledges, too, that they will likely bring her parents to live in Costa Rica once any children arrive.
In the meantime, their shared interests and experiences, beginning with that of living the expat life, helps to draw them together. But there are those moments when misunderstandings occur...
Noted marital communication researchers Patricia Noller and Mary Anne Fitzpatrick have identified the three most common types of marital conflict as constructive conflict, in which spouses engage in open discussions and arguments in order to resolve problems, conflict avoidance, when partners withdraw and retreat as a means of conflict avoidance and management, and destructive conflict when all hell breaks loose.
Guess who does what in the Head household? As might be expected from a cultural standpoint, Lisle is more oriented to engagement and rational discussion of the issues involved, while Ana is more apt to opt for silence and withdrawal. It is an impasse that may ease with time, as trust and understanding allow each to move beyond their own conflict paradigms.
Still, where there are sparks there's also fire, and the eternally elusive mysteriousness of a culturally different "other" can lead to long-lived passion in the bedroom. An added enhancement is Latin women's renowned attention to their appearance. "She takes unbelievable care of herself," says me. "Is that great for me? You bet!"