Love Looks Like This: My Cuban Husband is Adapting to Life in the U.S.

"What I still love most are those differences that drew me to him on day one."

Terry Ward

Courtesy of Terry Ward; Art by Tiana Crispino

Brides is committed to guiding ALL couples through not only their wedding planning journey but through relationship milestones and ups and downs. Every love story is beautiful, has its own distinct history, and its own trials—there's no relationship that looks the same. To celebrate that uniqueness, we're asking couples to open up about their love story, for our latest column, "Love Looks Like This." Below, Terry Ward tells her story.

The fact that my husband and I come from different worlds was obvious from the start. “Come back to my place, I have air conditioning and hot water,” Javier told me the night we first met, back in 2015, a canopy of stars overhead and a chorus of chirping tree frogs around us as we stood outside a beachfront bar in Negril, Jamaica. I made a decision that changed my entire life’s trajectory. 

But, you don’t really know how different you are until the vacation’s over, of course. Our relationship went from zero to 60 in the time span most people are still trying to figure out if they’re ready to share their Netflix password. A month after we met, I uprooted myself from my life in France—where I’d been living for years with another man—to move in with Javier in Jamaica. Another month after that, I was pregnant with our son. 

Javier comes from Cuba. He spent much of the first 38 years of his life in survival mode before he landed in Jamaica on a tourist visa that he’d spent his life savings to acquire. In his communist homeland, finding something to put on the table for dinner often meant standing for hours in line at state-run shops with mostly barren shelves or figuring out what to barter for a chunk of cheese from a neighbor who had smuggled it out of their workplace. 

Jamaica greeted Javier—a born survivor—like the land of opportunity.

Supplementing one’s income with side hustles is a way of life in Cuba, where the average monthly salary is around $40 a month. Javier told me that when he worked on a city bus in his hometown of Holguin, he and the driver built a secret door in the money compartment so they could siphon off coins for extra cash. Jamaica greeted Javier—a born survivor—like the land of opportunity. He quickly went from sleeping on a friend’s floor with the $50 he arrived with to working an administrative job for a Canadian construction company, earning what he made in Cuba in a month in a single day.

When I met him, I fell hard. It was the first time a man had written my name in flower petals across the bed. I wrote to a friend back home in Florida that I was worried people would think he was using me as a ticket to the U.S.—even if I never feared that was the case. After all, Javier loved his life in Jamaica, where the stores were stocked with everything you could want and his company paid for the oceanfront apartment I moved into with him. He spent his time free-diving for fresh fish for dinner two steps from his door with new friends he had made. His life there was a paradise, he’d say.

My friend responded to me with a simple line: “What if you’re using him?” Who’s to say that wasn’t true either, I thought. After all, in any relationship that works, isn’t everyone in it for one reason or another?

Like so many Cubans before him, he landed in Florida, ready to start a new life. 

I was 40 and ready to have a baby—something that wasn’t happening for various reasons (the biggest of which was probably destiny) back in France. Suddenly, when I wasn’t even looking for it, I’d found a man I loved and I didn’t worry anymore if I would be able to get pregnant. As cheesy as it sounds, I just knew I would—and that he would be the dad. Needless to say, things escalated quickly with Javier and I. A few weeks after our son was born in Florida in late 2016—less than a year after we’d met—his U.S. immigration paperwork finally came through. Like so many Cubans before him, he landed in Florida, ready to start a new life. 

Javier entered the U.S. on the K-1 Visa shortly after the TLC series, “90 Day Fiance,” first debuted. We used to watch it and laugh (and often cringe) while relating to the cultural differences many of the international couples faced. Like the people on the show, we had 90 days to get married once he landed in the U.S., or he’d have to leave. Javier and I tied the knot a few weeks after he arrived in a simple ceremony on a Florida beach. It was perfect, surrounded by just my family and the one close friend who could make our very last-minute invitation. 

I remember rushing through the grocery store one day shortly after Javier arrived in Tampa where we live, hurrying him as I went to grab a bottle of wine and some flowers to bring to a friend’s backyard barbecue. His eyes had teared up, and he told me he needed a moment just to appreciate how many varieties of cereal there were in the breakfast aisle. It happened again at Home Depot, where, on his first visit, we spent two hours walking up and down every aisle. Javier had built his own house in Cuba over the course of many long years, bartering for materials when they showed up—a can of paint for a pig he’d raised, perhaps—and making do with whatever he could find when they didn't. “I can’t believe it can be this easy here,” he said to me, misty-eyed again, surrounded by appliances, flooring, bins of screws, and endless swatches of paint samples. 

Moments like those really drove home how lucky I was to be born in a place like the U.S., despite being the kind of person who had seen, in a way, too much of the world. I’d spent much of my life being convinced the grass was greener in some place like Norway, New Zealand, or France. But, Javier made me see things in a more nuanced way.  

For all the humbling moments we’ve shared together, the cultural differences are real.

For all the humbling moments we’ve shared together, the cultural differences are real. To say we’ve both had to compromise to make things work is a gross understatement. I bristle at any hint of a machismo attitude from him, of which there have been many. But, sometimes I realize I need to check my own paranoia on the topic, too.

Once, I angrily explained the word “mansplaining” to him as he tried to give me tips on how to better breastfeed our daughter, who had arrived by the time our son was 14 months old. He explained to me that it’s only because he’d spent 38 years in Cuba watching women who had no issue pulling their breasts out on public buses and park benches to feed their babies. He noticed how they positioned and prodded themselves to make it work, thinking it might be something he could share with me since I was clearly struggling. I admitted, then, that I had only seen a few people breastfeed in my life—and mostly hidden under something. 

The fact that we grew up so differently remains a constant reminder in almost everything we do. When Javier told our son to stop playing with dolls and that boys don’t cry once, he had to check himself, too. I let him know that attitude doesn’t fly here—and definitely not with me. And, if our girl wants to take skateboarding lessons instead of ballet, he’s going to have to get with the program, too. 

What I still love most about us are those differences that drew me to him on day one.

You often hear that the things you love about a person in the beginning will eventually be the ones that drive you mad. But, what I still love most about us are those differences that drew me to him on day one, as infuriating as they can sometimes be. Because it means that every day—as long as we’re still together and fighting for things—there’s room to give, and there's something to learn.

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