“But that’s already too close for us,” exclaimed Bart Wijnberg when photographer Robin Kuijs asked him and his Filipina wife, Wads Wijnberg-Tiongson to move closer to each other on a two-seater sofa.
“There is only the two of us in this big house so when we sit like this together, that’s close already,” followed Wads.
Everybody in the room burst into laughter. And the laughter brought about by light banters continued all throughout the interview, giving us a glimpse into how the couple managed to stay together for more than 40 years.
We were in the lovely home of the Wijnbergs one Saturday afternoon, getting to know more about the husband and wife who have the reputation in the Filipino community for arriving and leaving a party separately. Sometimes they do not even sit together throughout the entire evening.
Bart and Wads have shared 40 years of wedded bliss and happiness and have been gifted with a son. Their marriage is still going strong and they have remained each other’s best friend since the day they met in Canada.
Moving in together and delaying marriage
They met in Montréal, Canada, six months before he was scheduled to fly back home to the Netherlands. He was a student and she was a migrant. They had a common Cambodian friend who, occassionally, would use her kitchen to cook food.
“It was not love at first sight,’ they both confessed.
Wads is seven years Bart’s senior but the age difference did not hinder the two to be good friends. When the friendship blossomed into deeper feelings, he moved in with her. She eventually came with him to the Netherlands to experience another adventure in her life.
“I left the Philippines because I felt constricted and the social control was too much. Everybody meddles with everything and I did not like that. I said, at the first opportunity, I would go away. Montréal was my starting point,” said Wads.
Wads recalled that she actually thought of not getting married.
“When I was living in Pampanga, I said I am not going to marry a Kapampangan. Senyorito kasi ang mga yan, nagpapasilbi! When I moved to Manila, I said, I am not going to marry a Filipino but in Montréal I said, I am not going to marry at all,” Wads fondly recalled.
“Seven and a half years, maybe.” The unexpected reply gave way to another burst of laughter. “There was no courtship, it was camaraderie and we did not get married right away.” Bart added.
Bart explained that their decision to delay marriage was because of moving to the Netherlands where he is a different person from who he was in Canada. More so, they understand that Wads will find it difficult to adjust to a new country at first. Plus she didn’t know the language.
“We knew it was bound to be difficult (moving to the Netherlands). We thought that if we could survive that, that’s the time we start thinking about marriage.”
When the couple finally decided to get married, Bart wrote Wads’ parents a letter, formally asking for her hand. Her father was not pleased that they were already living together but in the end gave his blessing. They got married and went home to the Philippines to meet her parents.
Bart became emotional while recalling the first meeting with his parents- in-law who did not know at that time that they have already gotten married. He was expecting to be sent to another room separated from his Filipina wife. It turned out that he did not have to worry after all. He received a warm welcome as a new addition to Wads’ family.
Setting up rules in a relationship
You would expect that with each coming from different cultural backgrounds, Bart and Wads would encounter extremely difficult challenges in their married life. Both were quick to say that they only had the usual misunderstandings like regular couples.
Their relationship seemed to be ideal, almost to a fault. They shared the reason why.
In their first years of marriage Bart and Wads sat down to set the rules of their relationship.
“We set the rules but not during or in view of an argument. We agreed not to go to bed if the argument had not been resolved,” explained Bart.
“And don’t suffer in silence, you have to speak up,” Wads continued. “If there is a misunderstanding, then bring it in the open right away.”
On being a Filipina wife
But not all Filipinas have the assertiveness that Wads possesses. In an intercultural relationship that involves a typical timid Filipina and a very candid West European, the former can have difficulty expressing her views to the latter.
Wads has this advice for them.
“They have to develop self confidence, look around them, be open to things. Mingling only with Filipinos is devastating for Filipino migrants here or wherever you are. If you don’t mingle with the locals or other expats ang paningin mo hindi lumalawak (your view of things would not expand).”
While she loves being out doing things on her own or with friends, she recognizes that many Filipinas love taking care of their family, their children and their husbands – a trait that makes Europeans fall in love with Filipina women.
She also emphasized on the need to be financially independent.
“You can do more things and you are exposed to people. You are not just a housewife cleaning the house, cooking and everything,” she said.
There are no secrets to a happy marriage
The couple emphasized the importance of communication to have a successful intercultural relationship.
“Talk. Communicate. Don’t assume,” Bart said.
“Tayong mga Pilipino, we assume a lot. Huwag kang mag-akala, tanungin mo! (Don’t assume, ask!),” Wads stressed.
Wads ultimate advice?
“Be yourself. Do not lose yourself in a marriage,” said Wads.
“That is very important,” Bart finished.
Dheza Marie Aguilar migrated to the Netherlands in 2009 to join her husband. She is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer and works in a logistic company in Rotterdam.