One of the hazards of traveling is that you may meet someone who you really click with and want to continue seeing but there’s that pesky problem of having to go back home. Maintaining a relationship is already hard enough but add in distance, an unclear plan to resolve that distance and cultural differences and you have a very, very long road fraught with explosives. Looking back, I’m amazed that Hubby and I survived the journey.
How We Met
When people say that you never meet anyone nice in a bar, I can affirmatively say that that’s not true because I met the man who would become my husband in a bar. We always laugh when people ask us how we met because we met in a gay bar in West Hollywood at the annual Halloween Costume Carnaval. I was dressed as a 1950s soda pop girl and he was dressed as his cute self. Very quickly we settled into spending our days and nights together, exploring each other and cramming as many activities as we could to satisfy his desire to do and see everything in Los Angeles. I hardly had any real exposure to Europeans when we met. His accent, habits, and stories of home amused me endlessly. I noticed things about my own culture for the first time through his Dutch perspective. He took pictures of parking garages filled with trucks, of his $5 Denny’s breakfast big enough to feed three people, and of his friend’s SUV filled with multiple cases of soda from Costco. I introduced him to biscuits and fluffy American-style pancakes. We have a third culture to throw in the mix as I am Chinese-American. To this day I still haven’t been able to get him to slurp his noodles.
When it was time for him to go back home after his internship ended, he told me that he would apply for an extension. For some reason I wasn’t particularly worried about never seeing him again. I just knew that he was coming back. He did come back and for the next four months we blissfully continued our relationship. When it was finally time for me him to go back to Holland, presumably forever, and for me to move back to the SF Bay Area where my family was, we resolved to visit each other every few months.
For the next two and a half years, we sustained our relationship through frequent instant messaging and the webcam. We didn’t fill all those hours with stimulating discussions about our lives and dreams. There were many nights where I simply had the webcam on but continued to proceed with whatever I was doing; laundry, paying bills, or homework. It was comforting knowing that he was there in the background and that if I wanted to, I could call out to him and see his face pop in the screen. It was our equivalent of what couples who don’t have to worry about long distance phone bills do, falling asleep with the phone on listening to each others’ breathes.
People say that long distance relationships are hard, which is true. However, if it wasn’t for the fact that we were forced to travel to see each other, we probably wouldn’t have gone to half the places we ended up visiting. I would go over to Holland and stay at his family’s home in Monster, with a week spent traveling to another destination, cities in France, Belgium, and Germany. Monster and its nearby cities, filled with agricultural greenhouses and virtually no minority population, is wildly different from the SF Bay Area. I am not used to being stared at by the residents, no doubt wondering where I came from and why I was there. Now I love the opportunity to see a side of Holland that most tourists, staying for a couple of days in Amsterdam and perhaps Rotterdam or Delft, miss. These visits would always end with me dreading the next day, when he or I would have to leave and it would be back to another few months of internet romance.
A Decision to Make
I am not one of those people who believe that everything will just work out in the end. I increasingly asked him questions about our future together. We couldn’t continue this long distance relationship forever, no matter how exciting it was. I wanted him to go to Thanksgiving dinner with me, to wake up next to me, and to do mundane chores together like going to the grocery store. I knew what I wanted without hesitation. I wanted to marry him and told him so. He was less sure. He declared that he didn’t believe in marriage, that it was a silly institution that people did just to please society. Wasn’t it enough that we were happy together and that he knew he wanted to be with me forever? Why was a piece of paper necessary, he asked? In our situation of course, that piece of paper is what would permit him and I to live in the same country. I briefly flirted with the idea of moving to Holland, where we could just register as domestic partners but I loved my life here and he loved it here as well.
I knew that his hesitation was really a fear of commitment. He didn’t like being forced into marriage. I became increasingly resentful. Many tearful nights were spent explaining to him that we had to get married in order to be together. If the institution of marriage didn’t matter to him, why wouldn’t he do it because it would make me happy and it was necessary for us to even be together?
Taking the Leap
He eventually came back to the U.S. through a visa program with a year’s duration. He was still unsure about marriage. I would swerve between loving and resenting him. I’m not sure what changed but one day he finally agreed to marry. I guess my nagging and ultimatums really worked! It wasn’t the unexpected romantic proposal that you see in the movies but at least he came to his decision through careful consideration. I now proudly tell everyone that I forced him to marry me because it’s the truth. Now we can proceed with our lives, secure in the knowledge that we will (hopefully) never need to say goodbye. If you told me years ago that I would be married to a Dutch man I met in a gay bar on Halloween in West Hollywood….well I need to reread these words and pinch myself.