There’s been one movie everyone has been telling me to see all year, recommended so many times that I’ve genuinely lost count of the suggestions. It didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It doesn’t feature actors that I particularly like. But I’ve been told that “The Proposal,” starring Sandra Bullock as a Canadian working in New York City who needs her underling, played by Ryan Reynolds, to marry her so that she can stay in the country, like, so closely resembles my life or something.
So I finally hunkered down this weekend to watch “The Proposal.” And I’m sorry to report that just about everything in it— from the green card legalese, to the immigration official who crashes the wedding, to the lightening quick timeframe — is unrealistic. I can’t blame anyone, though, for accepting Hollywood’s interpretation of a marriage between an American and a foreigner as how immigration works. Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that most people don’t understand it (precisely because of movies like “The Proposal,” probably).
Let me take you back in time to almost a year ago exactly, when I started messaging over OK Cupid to a guy who lived in Brooklyn named Kale. I don’t even remember what we chatted about, only that he was a ginger, Australian and funny. We met up for our first date outside my barbecue joint near my office; I remember thinking, He is so much cuter than his pictures!
We had an intense and mutual attraction at first sight. Even though our first date only lasted a few hours, we had a deep and wide-ranging conversation about everything from politics, work and our families to feminism and comedy. Kale was — is — extremely smart and easy to talk to. We both opened up about parts of ourselves that were probably risky for a first date; he also very patiently answered all of my questions about koalas and wombats. When Kale walked me to the subway and didn’t try to kiss me, I assumed he didn’t like me back. But then he asked me out again (don’t worry, we kissed on our second date) and for the next three weeks, we were inseparable.
Then, Kale abruptly broke up with me. (But he fixed me a stiff cocktail before he left my apartment, because he is a gentleman.)
I was heartbroken: I was falling in love with him. Come to find out later, he was falling in love with me, too. But because dudes are weird, he had panicked. Kale told me he was afraid of becoming more attached, because his tourist visa would be up in November. It was early June then and he could feel this getting serious. He had taken a sabbatical from his job in Australia, which would be waiting for him when he in November. Knowing that his time in America was limited, he thought he should break up with me instead of getting closer. I wasn’t happy about it, but I accepted his decision.
Three more weeks passed. At my request, we didn’t talk to each other. Then he randomly emailed me one day and asked to meet up, saying he wanted to talk. Over brunch that weekend, it was clear we still had strong feelings for each other; we picked up exactly where we left off. Only this time, we both knew what falling in love with each other would really mean: a deadline looming over our heads.
The next couple of months were those first-days-of-a-relationship type of incredible. We introduced each other to our friends. I watched him perform standup. I took him home to meet my whole family over the Fourth Of July. We spent plenty of nights and weekends together, but I never felt like I had to chose between him and my friends, or him and my writing.
As the summer wore on, I became the one who was panicking. We weren’t just in puppy love — we were deeply connected to each other and madly in love. The November deadline hung over our heads like an axe. What if he didn’t see a future with me like I saw with him? What if he wanted to break up when he went back to Australia for his job? I imagined what Thanksgiving would be like with my heart in pain. But I only really confessed to my girl friends and my co-workers how I was feeling. Knowing he’d been skittish before, I was scared to spook Kale by bringing up future plans so soon. Of course it had popped into my head that we could get married. But I also thought maybe I could move to Australia on a tourist visa (like he did here) for a period of time, or maybe we could move to Canada together. Yet I restricted myself that I had to wait until September to talk to him about our options, if we were to pursue any of them at all. Even with that axe hovering, I tried to take things as slowly as possible.
We never made it until September to have “the talk.” In the middle of August, Kale and his friends traveled to Chicago to perform some standup shows. He was only a few hundred miles away, but the distance was enough to realize he didn’t want to be apart from me, especially not all the way in Australia. Kale later told me that it was on his trip to Chicago that he pretty much realized he wanted to marry me.
After he came back from his trip at the end of August, we got engaged while snuggling together in bed. It wasn’t so much a proposal as a conversation, a mutual agreement that we had found our life partners. This was definitely different from the down-on-one-knee-with-a-ring proposal that I’d imagined about since I was a girl, but who cared? We were elated. I had offered to move to Australia and even talked to Amelia whether it would be possible to work for The Frisky from there. But Kale and I agreed it would be better for both of our careers (me as a writer, him as a comedian) here in the U.S. In retrospect, it occurs to me how selfless we both were during this conversation. We were both willing to sacrifice, to reorder and reorganize our lives, just so we could make it work. That’s not to imply we made the decision without thinking through what we were doing— it just wasn’t a difficult one to make.
Now we had to tell everyone. Being the baby of the family, I had expected my older siblings might be skeptical of me getting engaged to a guy who, at that point, I had been only dating for about four months. Only one of my sisters voiced serious concerns about the short engagement, albeit in a big-sisterly way. (To her credit, she has been nothing but welcoming to Kale and his family ever since.) My other two sisters and my brother were entirely happy for us and supportive. Surely Mom and Dad are going to freak out, though? I thought. This seems too good to be true. But Mom and Dad broke out the champagne — they adored Kale a lot and told me they knew he was “the one” as soon as I’d brought him home over the Fourth of July. They understood why our timeframe was so quick and didn’t bat an eyelash about it. Mom even gave us her engagement ring.
Kale’s tourist visa expired in November, so we picked a wedding date of October 4th at New York City’s clerk’s office. (In retrospect, giving ourselves five weeks to plan a wedding was completely insane. But we did it!) To our joy and surprise, his parents and his sister took time off of work and bought tickets from Australia to NYC to be here for our “I dos.” That part, and all the help we received from friends and coworkers, was enormously humbling. I felt, and continue to feel, like a very loved and lucky girl.
I’ve already written about what it is like to plan a wedding in only five weeks. But I haven’t written about a whole other side of it: the immigration side. We applied for a marriage license at the clerk’s office and once we got married, we got a marriage certificate — just like any other couple. But the difference with us is that I had to sponsor Kale for immigration in a huge application process. It involved filling out forms – lots of forms. I had to provide copies of my tax returns to prove that I could financially support us both, as Kale couldn’t access any kind of federal benefit for a number of years. We had to provide copies of bills for our apartment that are in his name, proving we live together. Kale and I had to write affidavits about each other, how we fell in love and why we wanted to get married. Our friends also wrote affidavits on our behalf, testifying that they’ve spent time with us together. We included lots of pictures from our wedding day and even the room service bill from the hotel we stayed at during our wedding night. The government apparently asks couples to provide lots of proof that you’re legit.
All the paperwork is only one part of it, though. Immigration is expensive, and I’m not even referring to the lawyer we used. Until I went through the process myself, I had no idea how immigration in the United States favors the wealthy and privileged. Simply put, you need to have access to money to do this. We have spent thousands of dollars — all the money we received as wedding gifts — on the paperwork alone. To be clear, I am not complaining about the amount of money we’ve spent on Kale’s application; it’s worth every penny. But I had never realized before that immigration came with a price tag. And it’s a steep one. I’m now all the more aware of — and uncomfortable with — the knowledge there are individuals and couples less privileged than Kale and I who are not able to make the same choices as us.
There’s the legal side of sponsoring someone for immigration, but there’s a social side as well. My family and our closest friends had all met Kale and they understood and supported what we were doing. But there’s lots of tertiary people — acquaintances, coworkers, neighbors, college friends — he hadn’t met yet and for whom our short engagement and marriage came as a surprise. “You got married? I didn’t even know you were with somebody!” has been a common refrain to anyone who doesn’t follow my Facebook or Instagram. I’ve had to explain our story frequently (and yes, this is usually when they recommend that I watch “The Proposal”).
And I’m happy to tell our story. But there have been a couple of awkward conversations, because as I said at the beginning of this piece, a lot of people are unaware of how sponsoring a spouse for immigration actually works. I don’t blame them for not really getting it; I mean, there are people who don’t get why I kept my “maiden name,” so this is a bigger pill to swallow. So let me clear it up for anyone who is unsure about the protocol: suggesting someone has “a green card marriage” is rude. I know what you mean by it, but the connotation isn’t polite. Even if, yes, there is a green card on the horizon eventually, Kale and I didn’t just get married so that Kale could stay in America. He had a job waiting for him back in Australia, an apartment, a car, and storage units full of stuff that he had to leave. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly.We got married because we love each other and want to be life partners. It’s just a marriage.
Also not advised? Asking me if I’m pregnant and if that’s why we got married so quickly. That might be a reason for some people to get quickly married, but that wouldn’t be something that I would personally do. I’m not pregnant and don’t plan to be pregnant anytime soon. It’s been especially weird answering that question from people because, well, I don’t and wouldn’t go around inquiring about the contents of your uterus.
Something else that I’ve become aware lately has been learning just how many people also have immigration as part of their marriage story. It’s been a surprise just how many couples that friends-of-friends know who actually did get married for a green card. From what I’ve heard, it’s especially common amongst gays and lesbians who come from countries that imprison or torture LGBTQ folks. Sometimes an American gay man marries a foreign lesbian, other times platonic friends will marry. I can’t tell you how many such stories I’ve heard like this — and I feel as if I’m being let in on a secret, because I sense many of these people can’t talk about it publicly.
As I mentioned before, Kale moved into my apartment right before the wedding. In that way, our relationship was actually old-fashioned. We’d spent plenty of nights at each other’s places, but we still had to figure out all the logistics of the relationship as newlyweds. Neither of us knew how the other does laundry, or their bill-paying technique, or their dish-washing technique, or whether they prefer to take showers alone or together. We hadn’t even had a big argument before when we got married. If there was anything realistic about “The Proposal,” it was the line that Ryan Reynolds says at the end: “Marry me, so that I can date you.”
Such a predicament could either be scary or refreshing, depending on how you look at it. I choose to find it refreshing: Kale and I have to make it work out because we’ve already hitched our wagons to each other. There’s no choice but to compromise, listen, and talk things through. But I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t been difficult sometimes: we’ve had a few arguments about washing dishes and taking out the trash. There are frustrating moments that would suck in any relationship. At least in this one, I know we’re not going to break up over it.
The other difficulty has been Kale not being able to work until recently. Quitting the job waiting for him back home in Australia meant cutting off his assured income source for an indeterminate amount of time. Kale was not legally allowed to work in America until he got approval from the government in the form of an Employment Authorization Document. Sure, he probably could have worked under the table illegally. But he didn’t want to get caught and screw up his immigration application. So for about five months, he researched jobs, tweaked his resume — and, oh yeah, was a pretty awesome househusband. It means I’ve eaten some pretty amazing home-cooked dinners these past few months. It also means we don’t have lots of spending money. When Kale finally got his Employment Authorization Document in the mail and later on, a social security number, you could have heard us all the way in Australia yelling “PRAISE THE LORD!”
Just last week, Kale and I got another piece of mail from the Department Of Homeland Security with more big news. Coming up soon, we have our immigration “interviews.” That means we go to a government building and they ask us questions about each other to assess that we’re a real couple. Supposedly they ask questions that only married people would know, such as your mothers’ maiden names. At first this idea scared the crap out of me, seeing as I can barely remember my own social security number, let alone someone else’s. What was Kale’s childhood pet again? A hermit crab, right? But the more I’ve relaxed into it, the more I realize that — like an actual married couple — I’ve picked up on a million little details by osmosis. He takes his coffee black, sleeps on the side of the bed near the window, double majored in philosophy and political science in college (“at university”), and has very grumpy opinions about the royal family. Come at me, Homeland Security! I’m ready for you.
Friday, May 9th will be the one-year anniversary of Kale and my first date. (No, I’m not a sentimental psycho — it’s in my FourSquare.) Saturday, May 10th is my parents’ anniversary AND the day my brother marries his fiancée. It’s completely unintentional, but Kale and I will be celebrating our first year together surrounded by other testaments of love.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it feels like it has been much longer than a year. We packed a lot into it. Looking back on the past 12 months, there are a few things that I know for sure. It’s the been happiest year of my life. It has pushed me to grow, and also stressed me out, in ways that I never could have imagined. And Kale has done for me exactly what I told my parents when I told them we were engaged — he makes me feel more like “Jessie.” Being with him makes me feel more accepted and more like myself. It is sincerely my pleasure and my honor to be his wife and show him every day that he is loved.
The unconventional story of our marriage and all its attendant paperwork isn’t for everybody. There are plenty of people who would have taken a more cautious route, or seen red flags in places where Kale and I saw green lights. Especially when we first got engaged, I said, “I know this is crazy …” a lot, because I picked up on how strange our decisions seemed to others. But the truth is that Kale and I aren’t like everybody. To me, our love story is romantic. Even if it involves a lot of paperwork.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.