Because I invest so much time in learning my couples’ unique stories, I thought it might be fun to share my own. Well, at least a small piece for today.
As many of you know, my husband & I celebrated our one-year anniversary last month. On June 7, 2013, we said our vows & whooped it up with our favorite people on the planet. It was a beautiful whirlwind.
But June 7th wasn’t our first rodeo. In fact, we celebrate not one, but two wedding anniversaries with equal abandon. Because our story isn’t cookie-cutter, and that suits us just fine.
But first, a quick recap for those who aren’t familiar with our story: My husband (Hutch) & I met in 2008 while working at summer camp: A traditional eight-week, all-boys summer camp in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Perhaps it was his northern English accent, or his newly-minted lumberjack facial hair, but I was twitter pated. And he, likewise.
We first flirted over hot chocolate in the camp Big House, where new staff congregated on that first rainy day of orientation. I recall rain boots, butterflies, mud puddles.
After ten days of orientation hijinks, we had our first official date on a tiny strip of sand on Lake Superior’s south shore. Four years later, that beach would become an excellent New Year’s Eve proposal spot.
We worked a combined decade of summers at Camp. I could ramble for days about Camp’s unique ability to bond people for life. It’s a magical place, and our family ties run deep there (but we’ll save that for a different blog post).
In the four years leading up to our engagement, we did a heck of a lot of adventuring: Daily Skype chats (Hutch is from England, remember), tearful airport goodbyes, and some wild backpacking adventures.
But let’s switch gears a bit. After getting engaged, we chose America our home base for the time being: It just fit. However, being engaged doesn’t make things easy-peasy. Every non-U.S. citizen who wants to live & work in the States must go through a process. For us, that meant sponsoring my fiancé, submitting 120 pages of meticulous paperwork, and paying the government a whole boatload of moola. All completely worth it, of course, but still a year-long source of nail biting, tears, and ulcers.
Ay, but here’s the rub: By the time we consulted with an immigration lawyer, we had already booked a venue for our June 7th, 2013 wedding in Duluth. Plans were unfolding, family members committed to flying over. Hutch was due to work another summer at Camp, and then (fingers crossed) find a job in the U.S. after summer & apply for a work visa. But we soon learned it’s not so simple.
As a legal alien working here under a visa (i.e. Hutch’s camp visa for summer), you must leave the States for three months before applying for another work visa. When Camp ends, that particular visa is null & void. Even if he did find another job, the process could take many months — which could possibly prevent us being together for our intended wedding date.
At that point, we started considering other options. A fiancé visa? Sounds great, but then we’d be apart for untold months, with no guarantee we’d be together for our planned June 2013 wedding. Or, we could just get married (say, at the courthouse), and then apply for a marriage visa.
No matter how we moved forward, there was always a risk. And that terrified me. We are as legit a couple as you’ll ever find, but still. Forget to dot your I’s or cross your T’s, and you could be charged with visa fraud. Yikes.
I recall feeling bitter towards other couples — couples who (lucky ducks) were both American. Or both British. Both anything. Their biggest hurdle was “What’s for dinner?”
They didn’t have to think, “Hey, it’d sure be nice if we could be together, live together, build a life together.”
I was hurt by how simple it seemed for them — angered that no matter which path we chose, we still had a heck of a journey before starting a “normal” life living & working (without restriction) in our chosen home base.
Following our engagement, we spent about six months playing Connect-the-Dots. Trying to fill in the gaps & find the right solution for us. There are several ways to immigrate to the States, but you HAVE to do it the right way, or you could be deported for life. It’s a big deal, and we didn’t want to play with fire.
Finally, after considering all of the options, we made a pivotal phone call in July 2012. We phoned a family friend, who is also a Judge for the city of Duluth. We made an appointment for July 26, 2012 — coincidentally, Hutch’s golden birthday. We were off from our Camp jobs that day, but no one at Camp knew what we did that Wednesday afternoon.
It happened at the Duluth Courthouse, in all its marble-floored glory. My parents & step siblings witnessed. It was a simple ceremony, a perfect fit for the occasion. I wore a short lace ivory dress; Hutch wore a grey suit. I carried a small bouquet (I recall sunflowers). My dad captured a few photos of the ceremony & us outside near the courthouse fountains.
We told all of our parents beforehand what was happening, but it was tough explaining the complex ins & outs of our decision. Yes, the 2013 wedding celebration is still happening. No, we can’t make this super public yet — at least until we get through the immigration process. Yes, the immigration system is royally messy. No, there isn’t a better option for us. We PROMISE.
It was tough. I often felt the need to justify our every move, which seems silly in hindsight. At the time, it was easier not to share our news with the world. I worried that our guests would refuse to come to our June 2013 wedding because we were “already married.” Heck, to some people, I guess that matters. But to us, June 7, 2013 was the true celebration. A public, joyous hootenanny — a chance to share our story & commitment with the folks who matter most. In no way did signing our marriage certificate a year before detract from the significance of our June 7th celebration.
Fortunately, our marriage visa application process ended favorably. It was still one of the yuckiest times — months of unknown, since we didn’t know the verdict, or when it would come. But we got to wait it out (together) in the U.S.
Then, just before Christmas 2012, Hutch got his work permit. And after our immigration interview in February 2013, his Green Card. Our June 2013 celebration went forward with gusto. In retrospect, calling the Judge was the best decision we ever made, and we’ve never looked back.
I hate to use the term “rock & a hard place,” but that’s precisely what it came to. And so, if you’re walking a similar path, I GET IT. I so get it.
My heart is with you through those hurdles. Always remember your touchstone. What matters most? What is your ultimate goal? Be sensible and research your options, but know that your heart matters too. Listen.
Oh, and by now I’m sure you’re asking, “Which day do you celebrate?”
To you, I say “Both!” Because why limit your celebrations in life?
Although we recently celebrated one year since the big celebration, we have officially been married for just over two years. Yahoo!
We are blessed to have not one, but TWO wedding days to celebrate. And like I said, we’re not cookie cutter, so that suits us just fine.
Images by Gina Zeidler