Cross-cultural marriage a happy ending to single mother’s struggles

By Phan Duong   February 12, 2023 | 05:00 am PT
When Nguyen Minh Nguyet used a dating app for the first time, she didn't think the Frenchman she spontaneously messaged would end up being her soul mate.

Nguyet is a 32-year-old woman from Hanoi who works as a business development manager for a multinational corporation.

In early 2020, a friend insisted Nguyet try a dating app. At first, the single mother and workaholic said no, but then her friend convinced her to give it a go by assuring her that she could just delete and forget the app if she didn't like it.

But once Nguyet started connecting with people by swiping right, suddenly the career-focused woman was exposed to a whole new world of interesting possibilities outside the familiarity of her work and home life.

Nguyen Minh Nguyet and Florian Casagrande pose for a wedding photo. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Nguyen Minh Nguyet and Florian Casagrande pose for a wedding photo. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Nguyet soon matched with a Frenchman who was visiting Vietnam at the time. The French tourist's hotel was coincidentally located on a street she used to live on. So she recommended that the traveler, named Florian Casagrande, try some nearby restaurants she knew were delicious.

Nguyet says that after only a few exchanges, she could tell she was interacting with a polite and decent man. For the next few days, Nguyet and Casagrande spent nearly all their free time texting.

While getting to know Florian online, Nguyet found out he was a psychologist. And she was already comfortable sharing some of the more personal and private details of her life.

"You remind me of a psychiatrist who used to treat me," she told him.

As a therapist himself, of course the Frenchman's interest was immediately piqued. He wanted to understand more about Nguyet and what she’d been though.

Casagrande quickly learned that Nguyet was no stranger to the pain of crushing loss.

Her father was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 22 years old, and he passed just three short months later. Nguyet became depressed after the unexpected death, and she had to stop working as a result. To give her a fresh start, her family sent her to school abroad.

Nguyet says she’s better now after years of therapy with a psychiatrist, however she still has occasional dreams about her late father that leave her in tears.

"Just as Easterners put their faith in Buddha, I have faith that God will always watch over the souls of the departed so the living can find some serenity and have peace of mind," Casagrande told his new romantic interest.

But her father’s death wasn’t the only source of trauma, pain and struggle.

Opening even more to her new suitor about socially taboo parts of her life, Nguyet told 37-year-old Casagrande that she’d been betrayed in the past. When she’d gotten pregnant some years earlier, the father disappeared and she gave birth and raised a child alone while also taking care of her mother and supporting her financially.

Spinsters with children are still often frowned upon in Vietnam, but Casagrande didn’t judge Nguyet at all.

The pair’s text-message courtship continued to deepen with ever more profound conversations.

Nguyet’s demanding job often had her up at 2 a.m. stressfully finishing a report for her boss, but late-night texts from Casagrande helped her press on.

Casagrande encouraged Nguyet to treat her workaholic-ism in order to be there for her daughter.

According to Nguyet, she fell in love with Casagrande after only a few days of these candid and revealing text conversations.

But Casagrande’s holiday was ending and had a ticket back to France. With pain in their chests, the pair decided to meet in person before his flight home March 11, 2020. They wanted to at least say goodbye and maybe "see you again soon."

But fate, in its mysterious and utterly reliable way, intervened on their behalf.

On March 6, 2020, Nguyet returned late from work but was unable to enter her alley because a woman in her neighborhood had contracted Covid and the entire section of town had been cordoned off, with all residents ordered to quarantine.

Concerned for Nguyet, Casagrande invited her to stay with him in Hoi An. Meanwhile, Nguyet's mother and child had already flown to Australia to stay with a relative during the outbreak's early stages.

Nguyet was "stunned" when she first saw the psychiatrist, who was two meters tall, at a restaurant in Hoi An. He, on the other hand, thought she was "petite and lovely."

Nguyet eventually went back to Hanoi when her neighborhood opened after the local quarantine was lifted.

But Casagrande didn’t go back home to France due to the pandemic, which was ravaging parts of Europe. Official international travel restrictions in both Asia and Europe – and across most of the world – had made flying home seem impossible.

So instead, Casagrande went to Hanoi to be with Nguyet. However, on his first day in town he came down with a persistent and crippling case of bad food poisoning.

The tender care Nguyet gave Casagrande while he was bed ridden moved him intensely in the best way.

When the first wave of the pandemic ended, Casagrande flew back to France. But he and Nguyet stayed in touch every day and continued to share the intimate details of their lives with each other comfortably.

Then the global lockdowns were lifted briefly, and the lovers planned to meet again.

But destiny wasn’t going to make it that easy. The second wave of the pandemic closed international borders again before the couple could plan a rendezvous.

Luckily, both Nguyet and Casagrande were able to work from home during the long lockdown, which gave them time and space to continue chatting and exploring each other’s personal world, inside and out.

Nguyet was inspired by Casagrande to found a Facebook support group for unmarried women, which to date has given hope and inspiration to almost 5,400 people struggling through the same troubles she had come to overcome.

Nguyet says that the sisterhood of the group’s members helped her let go of her guilt and shame and made her truly proud for the first time: proud to be a single mother and proud to have taken control of her own life.

From courtship to commitment

Finally, nearly a year and a half after an overworked single mom and a French backpacker bravely took the risk of reaching out to each other, Casagrande proposed marriage.

But Nguyet said no!

She says that despite her sororal group’s support, she was not over the injury of her first marriage, the trauma of which still tainted her still-healing broken heart. She says she was too afraid of getting hurt again.

But now Casagrande was hurting. Respecting the dignity of her own decision, he gave her the time and space she needed to make up her mind about the future of their relationship.

Eventually Nguyet flew to France to see Casagrande in the winter to discuss their future. They both acknowledged that they thought similarly and rarely argued with one another. But in a nutshell, the major obstacle was that one of them had to make the sacrifice of leaving their country.

Nguyet had worked hard to establish a successful career in Vietnam, where she earned a comfortable living. She was used to city life and spending generously.

Casagrande already know how he felt. He said he wanted to continue the relationship but had no intention of moving to Vietnam. He said he wanted to stay in France and work to provide for her and her child. And their children, if they were so lucky.

Nguyet was eventually ready to compromise. She then made the most important life changing decision one can make. She told Casagrande that she’d be willing to try to move to France, but only if he’d agree to have a traditional wedding in Vietnam first.

Nguyet and Casagrande during their wedding ceremony in Vietnam in November 2022. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Nguyet and Casagrande during their wedding ceremony in Vietnam in November 2022. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Casagrande knew a good deal when he saw one and immediately agreed. The love birds then held a Hanoi wedding ceremony and party in November last year. They described the event as a "fairytale."

Walking Nguyet down the aisle was her former South Korean boss and mentor, who she had not seen for six years. He flew all the way from Bangladesh to stand in for her late father and give her hand in marriage to her new husband.

Droves of friends and family members who had helped Nguyet out over her years of single parenting packed the wedding hall.

But the only person that was happier than the bride and groom on the wedding day was An, Nguyet's daughter. She finally had the stepdad she’d always wanted.

After the wedding, Nguyet changed the couple’s plan and with her groom’s blessing stayed in Vietnam with An for several more months so her daughter could at least finish her school year.

Then after An’s graduation, when both newlyweds and their child were finally back in France starting their real family life, Casagrande's guidance helped Nguyet land a series of job offers almost immediately. She admits now that it was far less difficult than she’d imagined.

Her fluency in four languages and background in engineering made her a viable, if not ideal, European job candidate.

She was approached by a European engineering firm, but turned down the offer because the position required frequent international. Then she landed a position as a business development manager for a locally-based multinational corporation.

Nguyet now says that after her first heartbreak and the years of lovesickness that followed, she thought she’d never experience a real true love story again. But now Casagrande and her know more than almost anyone: sometimes there are happy endings.

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