On the face of things, my husband and I are a perfectly ordinary couple. To look at a photo of our wedding day, there’s not even the remotest clue that we’re any different: He in his dress blues, me in a white dress, both of us grinning like lovestruck idiots. You might be able to tell, from the concrete gazebo and the very small number of guests, that we had a simple courthouse wedding, but of course that’s not unusual by military standards.
However, what you can’t tell from the photograph is that the wedding was only one of many small steps in the process of binding us together for life.
I am a foreign immigrant and there were a lot more, less glamorous-looking steps in the two-year journey to keeping me where I should be: with him.
People say it’s romantic, the fact that I moved 6000 miles across the globe to be with the man I love, and yes, it was the best decision I ever made.
I am from England; we met during my study abroad year in Pittsburgh, PA and maintained a loyal relationship at a distance for the best part of three years after I left to commence my studies back in the UK.
It was romantic, yes, but it was a LONG period of time full of tearful pillows and sleepless nights and pointless arguments…and I was so happy to FINALLY have a shot at a life with him in the US.
I’ve yet to meet any other foreign military spouses, but I’m speaking for all of us when I say that being a legal alien in the USA can be, at worst, extremely alienating.
In a way, it feels self-indulgent to make an exception of myself, to treat my experience as a military spouse as somehow different or even special. In most ways, it’s not different at all.
After all, being of a white, British background, it was easy to assimilate myself into American culture.
I grew up watching many of the same TV shows and listening to much of the same music as my peers. We eat very similar foods and wear similar clothes. I also never had to overcome a language barrier, past a few particular colloquialisms — much to the enjoyment of my husband, who never gets tired of my “British words.”
As immigration experiences go, I had a relatively easy ride, and on the face of things, I’m no different to any of my milspouse friends.
That said, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. My husband’s career brings about a myriad of challenges — we’ve PCS-ed twice in the past year, for example — but this pales in comparison with the stress of all my immigration “bits and pieces.”
People ask why I don’t get an automatic green card, because I am married to an American citizen. The more astute ones ask why it’s not, at least, easier for me because I am British: one of the allies, American in every sense apart from my higher intake of (hot) tea and my awkward social paralysis when it comes to small talk.
Second spoiler: The answer is no. No one gets special deference with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.
It’s been a tough two years and there are lots of obstacles ahead of us, too. It would be unfair to the both of us — and anyone else who has gone through the same process — to pretend that applying for a green card after marrying an American citizen is easy.
It is a HUGE financial and emotional burden and I admit, in weaker moments, I have felt huge pangs of guilt simply for the fact of my foreignness and all the stress that it has caused the pair of us. I waited for months and months to be given the green light to work in this country, which was frustrating at best when we were short on money and unsure as to whether we’d even be able to remain side-by-side with one another.
And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: My career.
I know there’ll be people who would be poised and ready to smite me down for suggesting that my marriage has damaged my career prospects, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit it. As much as I try not to feel ashamed or bitter about this, the time it took for me to get here feels like a huge thorn in my side.
The two years where most new graduates would spend climbing the career ladder, I spent tackling mountains of paperwork and working menial jobs simply to pay for the onslaught of various visa fees.
I see the friends and peers that I graduated with taking internships in London, getting into graduate programs that will lead them towards a fruitful, fulfilling working life. I, on the other hand, spent several months legally unable to work in this country and once I’d obtained all the necessary paperwork to do so, I could do little more than work in retail because of career options where we were based.
There are days where I feel as though my career goals are the price I paid for love — sounds very melodramatic, of course, but it’s a potent bugbear at times.