5 Harsh Realities Of Marrying Someone From Another Country
I lived every romantic's dream. I went to a far-off country and met a tall, handsome foreigner. He charmed me with his sexy accent, and one night, after a whirlwind courtship, flushed with love and a ridiculous amount of alcohol, he proposed and I said yes.
That's where the bad romance novels and chick flicks usually end. That's because what comes next is decidedly less sexy. All marriages take work, but when you and the person you decide to spend the rest of your life with are from different countries, you face issues that homonational couples would never even think about.
Your Love Is Tested Early On
If you are willing to forego the $51 billion wedding-industrial complex, getting married to another American is insanely easy. As drunks in Vegas prove all the time, you can decide to get married one minute, and be signing your life away half an hour later. But when you want to marry a foreigner, the government makes it take slightly more effort than invading a small country.
It was really difficult to fit that in before the reception.
Simon and I met and married in the UK, which meant we had to go through mountains of paperwork to get me a marriage visa for that country. Then, within 18 months of tying the knot, we moved to the US, which meant another nation wanted all up in our happily wedded life. Since we had been married less than two years, we had to prove to the government that our marriage was real, and that he wasn't just using me to flee single-payer healthcare and common-sense gun laws.
I should point out that while we had to go through the same system of "fill out forms, pay money, fill out forms, sign over your firstborn child" that everyone has to go through, once we got to the face-to-face interview stage, everything went much quicker because we are both white. It's basically that simple. Since we were suitably mayonnaise-colored, both countries figured that the chances of our marriage being real were pretty good.
Interracial, gay, AND an age gap? Yeah, have fun with that.
Still, even when it goes relatively easily, as it did for us, it is an unbelievable strain on your marriage. It cost all our savings. We were under constant stress that something would go wrong with the process. We had to spend three months apart on two different continents while we were newlyweds. Even when we were together, we had to drive for hours just for interviews or "official" doctor's visits. Meanwhile, we were on one income the whole time, since I couldn't work there and he had to wait six months for his green card over here.
So when I see politicians talk about how people should just get in line to come here legally, I get super pissed. Coming to this country is one of the hardest things you can possibly do. My husband and I have weathered some tough stuff in our marriage, but we both agree this was the absolute worst.
You Have Completely Different Cultural Touchstones
Even though we're almost the same age and speak the same language, the historical and entertainment moments we consider important are completely different. You don't realize how often you make country-specific references until someone else doesn't get them. I finally had to make Simon sit down and watch about ten classic episodes of Seinfeld, and now he uses "No soup for you" like it is a hip, current phrase. And I was never even a big fan of Seinfeld.
Being "Queen of the Castle" means something completely different where he is from.
It started in our childhood. While Sesame Street was teaching me important lessons about life, death, and avoiding the angry homeless people who live in garbage cans, the BBC was refusing to air it because they thought it was "indoctrination" and "a dangerous extension of the use of television." So instead Postman Pat was teaching Simon how to, like, post shit, I guess? I wouldn't think that would take more than one episode. You put the letter in the big red mailbox (MAILbox), and done, but okay.
I also had to completely change how I watch the Olympics. You see, America goes to the games and wins a lot of medals. We're a ridiculously competitive country with the population and the sporting infrastructure to be great. Britain goes and gives it a good old college try; they really do. But my husband had to explain to me that for his country, the honor is in taking part. When they do win, they go a little bit crazy. In 1984, the British ice dancing duo Torvill and Dean won gold and the country has literally not stopped talking about it since. Seriously, here is an interview with them from January 7th of this year.
At least that explains why they still haven't changed out of their costumes.
Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of things you take from the other culture that are awesome. I discovered Girls Aloud, Have I Got News For You, and everything Stephen Fry has ever done. Simon found Law & Order and developed such a man-crush on Detective Briscoe that we named our dog after him. But it takes years to get to the point where you think you have finally caught up with the other person's experiences. Then you immediately find another gap in your knowledge and have to start all over again.
One Of You Has To Give Everything Up
When Simon and I got married, we planned to stay in England. But within a few months, it became clear that it would make more sense for us to live in the US. This could have been a disaster on par with the Challenger, New Coke, or invading Russia.
We would have needed more guns, for one thing.
When we decided to move to Texas, Simon had only spent a week here. We had no idea if he would like it or if he'd get so depressed that we'd have to move back to England immediately. But even though he ended up loving it, that doesn't mean it has been easy.
We don't have the money for him to fly back and forth all the time, even for big events, so there have been funerals, family reunions, and weddings that he has missed in the past eight years. At some point in the future, his sisters will give birth to nieces and nephews whom he won't get to see very often as they grow up. Meanwhile, I have the opposite problem. While I get to be with my family now, we want to go back to England eventually, and my parents will be older with only my sister to look after them. I might be halfway around the world when something happens and they need me.
Even something as major as national holidays will suddenly disappear from your life. Now that he's in the States, Simon doesn't get to stand around freezing his butt off celebrating how Parliament didn't get blown up on Guy Fawkes Night. And December 26th is just "that day after Christmas." On my end, well, you don't know awkward until you try to celebrate Independence Day in the UK. (Plus, it turns out that without the fireworks, the Fourth of July is really boring.)
Have you ever actually read this thing? Total snoozefest.
But tiny things can suddenly seem huge as well. When I was in the UK, it was almost impossible to find Reese's Peanut Butter Cups unless you were in London, although I understand that has changed now because people in that country finally realized that keeping others away from chocolate and peanut butter perfection is classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions. Over here, Simon has never managed to find bread that he says tastes like the stuff from home. The closest yet was from a gas station. I think that makes a larger point about English food in general.
Major Marriage Decisions Are Even Harder
This is where I go into the hypothetical for me, but the reality for many other couples. I've told you before how I don't plan on having children, but we haven't taken any permanent steps to prevent his sperm and my egg from uniting to form what would undoubtedly be the world's most attractive and intelligent little sociopath. Accidents do happen. And if one did in our case, where would we raise the thing?
In a cage, obviously, but I mean in what country?
No matter how many vacations they take in their other homeland, kids are going to identify most with the place they grow up. They will have that accent. They will be closer to that side of the family. They will play that type of football. One of us would have to watch as our child grew up in a completely different situation than we did. I mean, Brussels sprouts at Christmas? I could never stand by and let that happen to someone I carried inside me for nine months.
Then there is the fact that the US and UK school systems are completely different. While America is all about a general education until you are 20 years old, in the UK, you start specializing as young as 11, and by 16 you better know what you want to do with your life. So it's not like we could move countries in the middle of their schooling, because either way, they would be seriously behind.
Spelling tests alone will be a nightmare.
And, God forbid, what if we get divorced? Joint custody is hard enough when ex-spouses live in the same town; I can't imagine how hard it would be to co-parent across an ocean. If you bring a kid into an intercontinental marriage, you better be sure you can go the distance.
You Get To Broaden Your Mind
Even if you think you know a lot about the place you are going to live, once you get there, it will shock you how much you were completely in the dark. I considered myself liberal until I went to the UK and found out what socialism really is. Now even Bernie Sanders is too far to the right for me. I went from not really having an opinion about guns to loving the fact that there were so few of them around.
And then I moved to TEXAS, because I am a genius.
Simon, on the other hand, handled firearms for the first time in the US and discovered he actually likes them. And now that he is surrounded by Christians, he went from a Richard-Dawkins-esque militant atheist to being open and accepting of everyone's religious views.
You have no idea how indoctrinated you are by your education until you marry someone who had a completely different one. While I assumed the British school system would spend a lot of time on the Revolutionary War, since it must have been a very important and traumatizing time for them as a country, it turns out they barely mention it. And nothing can set off an hour-long debate between my husband and me faster than how much thanks he owes America that he is not speaking German twice over. (His answer: "Not a lot.") We also helped each other understand the completely different and equally ridiculous political processes in our respective countries.
In what kind of messed-up system do you only campaign for a month!?
Everything is different, from the slang to the entertainment to the food, and you get to be a part of all of it. Soon you love your second country as much as, if not more, than the first. In the end, if you want to, you get to become a citizen/subject of both. And that is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
If you want to learn how those crazy foreigners treat their dead, buy Kathy's book, Funerals To Die For. Or follow her on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
See why being with a foreigner yields some benefits (if only we'd learn from them) in 18 Common Foreign Practices That America Needs to Steal. And learn how foreigners view "The Jersey Shore" in 20 Insane Foreign Interpretations of American Culture.
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