Monday, 31 May 2010

It's a good thing I was a hurdler... (Pt. 1)

...because I’ve had to jump over a lot of hurdles in order to emigrate to the UK. The reason I am thinking of this right now is that I would like to put up some other blog posts that I have stockpiled, but I can’t do that until I have access to some pictures that I would like to insert. Unfortunately, I won’t have access to those pictures until my shipment of possessions arrives from the US; since it has been en route since the first week of March, I have given up expecting it any time soon. This has probably been the most frustrating and expensive travail associated with my transcontinental move, and I suppose I should consider myself lucky—after all, that means I successfully got myself into the country, which is not always an easy feat and is more than some people achieve. All the same, the process hasn’t been easy. Let’s go back to the very beginning:

14 August 2008. The morning after my first (and, really, only) date with my now-husband, I woke up after having gotten only about 3 hours of sleep I prepared for the long car ride back from Ithaca, New York, where we had gathered for the International Society of Behavioral Ecology conference, to Williamsburg, Virginia. Even in my groggy state, swooning in and out of sleep in the back seat of our Subaru Forester, I became increasingly sure that I had just met the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. The only problem was, I lived in America and was destined to do so for at least another year and a half, when I was scheduled to finish my doctorate, and he lived in the UK. Hmm.
It turns out that this is a hurdle easily jumped with modern technology. I had recently signed up to Facebook in order to share pictures with friends and family, but had not yet made full use of its social possibilities. Within 24 hours of returning home, my husband had “friended” me and we began a frequent written correspondence that, when copied and pasted into a Word document, eventually accumulated to 300 pages of text from our first to our last message (the day of my departure for the UK). Facebook was soon supplemented with Skype, a superb invention that I still cannot believe is free. With Skype, we were able to talk twice a day with real-time video and audio. We could give each other virtual tours of our apartments and talk whether we were at work or at home or, sometimes in my case, at Panera. Occasionally, one of us went somewhere that lacked wi-fi (alas!), but even this obstacle was surmountable using Skype’s dirt-cheap computer-to-phone calling rates. Really, if we’d have had a wedding ceremony, Skype would have been both our best man and maid-of-honor.

With the relationship firmly established, the next big issue was marriage—which brought along with it emigration and relocation. I’m skipping over some minor issues that occurred between beginning the relationship and cementing it legally and geographically, because there isn’t much interesting to say about them. This includes how to finance international plane tickets while living on a graduate salary (the solution: I stopped shopping for new clothes and electronics, took up every spare job that was thrown my way, sold whatever I wasn’t using on eBay, and ran up credit card debt) and how to convince my doctorate adviser that it was a good idea to do my dissertation write-up while living on another continent from him (the solution: remind him that he’s the one who introduced me to my husband in the first place, so really it’s all his fault).

October 2009. Although we’d been discussing marriage in a formal way for quite a while—after all, there is really only one way that international couples can arrange to be together ad infinitum—it wasn’t until October 2009 that my husband formally proposed and we had to start thinking seriously about the logistics of marriage:

(The "love plant" my husband brought me, in lieu of a diamond, to propose. He didn't know my dad had proposed to my mom with a plant offering, as well--weird coincidence!)
For some reason or another, this task fell to me, and I think I aged about 10 years between the day we first started planning and the day we actually got married.

When we got engaged, I was only “visiting” my husband, as far as UK Immigration was concerned, and therefore did not have a “fiancée” or “wedding” visa. One of these is necessary if you are a foreigner wishing to have a wedding in the UK; if you do not have one you can write to the officials and plead your case—and I imagine that they probably would have been lenient with me—but this takes time and requires a lawyer. Assuming you do have all the correct paperwork needed to procure a license, you then have to give a wedding announcement, otherwise known in Thomas Hardy novels and other period literature as “the banns.” That’s right, the Brits still have the archaic practice of forcing people to publicly announce their intention to wed, then making them wait at least two weeks to make sure that nobody who has any objections is going to surface and ruin their dreams of marital bliss. The name of this practice stems from an Old English word meaning “to summon,” and initially was associated with the Christian church. Why it continues to this day in a modern, secular society is beyond me—I am, after all, from a country where, thanks to places like Walmart and Las Vegas and drive-through alcohol venders, you can have whatever you want whenever you want it.

In any case, we clearly did not have the time or the legal means to get married prior to my return to the US to defend my dissertation. The next easiest thing to do, in terms of timing and laws and organization, was to get married in the US. According to the literature I found online, it is legal for a foreign citizen to get married in the US without a fiancé visa, as long as he/she does not intend to stay on American soil afterwards, and as long as his/her visit to the US was not solely for the purpose of marriage. This was handy for us, because that meant that my husband could enter the US as per usual, since the main point of his visit was to celebrate the holidays with his family, after which he would be returning to his permanent residence in the UK. This merely left us with the task of choosing where, when, and how to get married.

Luckily for me, I have never wanted a wedding. My parents got married in a courthouse and have had a long and healthy marriage, so I figured the same was good enough for me. Plus, I am too darn lazy to plan a wedding, and I got so stressed out shopping for prom dresses that I can’t even imagine the pressure of getting a wedding gown. So, there was no worrying about the logistics of the ceremony, other than determining where it would be. Actually, I had always pictured myself getting married in the same place as my parents (Athens, OH) but this was not to be. The planning necessary to get both my husband and myself to Athens during his relatively short holiday visit was to overwhelmingly stressful and complex to even consider. The next option was Virginia, the state where I was defending my dissertation and where my husband would be staying while visiting his mother. However, in Virginia, both parties needed to be present in order to obtain the license. Because of timing issues, I needed to be able to procure the license on my own before my husband arrived from the UK, so Virginia, too, was out. [Side note: I later found out that the Virginia marriage license forces you to indicate your ethnicity, and that officials may actually use this information in deciding whether to agree to marry you. I am glad that I did not get married in such a backwards-thinking place.]

Unless we wanted to take a road trip to a randomly-chosen neighboring state, this left Maryland, where we would be staying while visiting the other side of my husband’s family. Lo and behold, Maryland’s wedding laws were remarkably helpful. Only one of the wedding party needed to be present to get the license, and they required a waiting period of only two days. This meant I could swing by on my way from Ohio to Virginia to pick up the license prior to defending my dissertation, and we could get married a week later once my husband arrived in the country. I was a little worried that they would question my husband’s out-of-country address, but they didn’t; in fact, because it was too awkward to put into the computer, they just used my address, meaning that we could have fudged it from the very beginning. I was also worried about the question of witnesses. Since we didn’t have the time and resources to invite all family members, we wanted to invite none, so as to avoid any potential jealousy or hurt feelings. But this left us without anyone to agree that they had, in fact, seen us exchange vows. Yet again, Maryland came to the rescue—they provide witnesses automatically, and though you can bring along onlookers if you like, it is not mandatory.

At every step along the way, I kept feeling as though something was going to go wrong. There were two minor glitches up front, and they both revolved around the fact that, to save time, I sent our application through the mail from Ohio. This is perfectly legal, but requires that you visit your local courthouse so that someone official can say that, yes, you are who you say you are, and you do live where you say you live. In our courthouse, nobody that I talked to had ever encountered this procedure, and everyone thought someone else should do it. Finally I was told that nobody had the authority, when in fact that paperwork itself said that basically anyone could do it as long as they worked in the Ohio equivalent of Maryland’s marriage license office. Eventually, with me on the edge of tears, someone took pity on me and said, “Well, I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m going to anyway.” That is the Ohio spirit.

Unfortunately, I wasted that charity by making a minor error on the paper application. My husband has two truly bizarre middle names, and I wasn’t sure of the spelling of one of them. I left it blank with the intention of looking it up, but then forgot to fill it in before mailing it. Two days later, I got a call from the Maryland courthouse, asking about why there was a blank space. Unfortunately, this invalidated the application, necessitating my trip there to fill out the paperwork in person. Once I had the marriage license in hand, I briefly felt better, until I started stressing over the ceremony itself—what if my husband had a flight delay in coming from the UK? What if someone heard my husband’s British accent and inquired after a visa, even though we didn’t technically need one? What if there was a typo on the license that invalidated it? What if I wrote down the wrong date/time and we missed our appointment? As it turns out, the one thing that actually did happen was something I’d never have anticipated in a hundred years: Snowpocalypse:
(No picnics any time soon)

(That's my car--not exactly the stretch limo or horse-drawn carriage that some people use to get to their weddings. In any case, it obviously won't be going anywhere soon.)

Two feet (or more) of snow covered the entire east coast two days before our wedding, and despite the best efforts of the plow drivers—despite the fact that I, in my little Hyundai Accent, could easily drive to the pharmacy the night before the wedding—the county courthouse was closed when we showed up to get married. We were told by a very apologetic guard that nothing could be done, and we should call back tomorrow.

I was torn between wanting to vomit from distress and wanting to gloat to my husband that I had, in fact, been right all along that something would prevent our wedding. This was particularly troubling to me because I had wanted very much to get married on 21 December, which is not only my parents’ anniversary, but also the solstice—it seemed very auspicious to get married on the day after which there would only be increasing sunlight (for 6 months, anyway). Also, I’ve always been a bit superstitious about the number 21, which has a very “lucky” feeling about it. Oh well. It turns out that it wasn’t too hard to reschedule the ceremony for exactly one week later. I wasn’t in love with the date (28 December didn’t seem to have much pizzazz, and, even though I know it is unreasonable, I really hate even numbers). More importantly, this forced us to have the ceremony after moving our lodgings to my mother-in-law’s house in Virginia. This required us to drive all the way around DC’s outer belt during the morning rush hour, which is nationally famous for being truly awful. In my paranoia, I made us leave so ridiculously early that we avoided all traffic and showed up in time to go to Starbuck’s and sit around nervously for a half hour before heading to the courthouse. Again, we were early, and they offered to proceed with the ceremony a good 45 minutes before we had planned. Within 15 minutes (max) we were husband and wife, and I was ready to put the wedding certificate to good use: helping me procure a visa to legally reside in the UK.

(We are laughing because the ring fits snugly and it's holding up the ceremony a bit. We are also laughing because the whole situation is a little bizarre--this photo was taken by the justice of the peace as she did the officiating. Talk about multi-tasking.)

(Our first kiss as husband and wife--we made it!)

(more to come)

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