Getting married is easy, staying married is work. That’s at least what a whole lot of people perceive it to be. Let me tell you – even getting married is not always easy, especially when you are marrying into a different nationality and want to assume that nationality yourself. Almost nine years ago, native German I was going to marry a US citizen outside his country; not even in the country he was working in at that time, but on my own turf.
Ah, romance! I had finally found my knight of shining armor after two decades of neighbors, friends, and great-aunts asking: “Don’t you want to get married?” And here, at the threshold of almost forty, I finally announced what probably nobody would have expected anymore: “We’re engaged to get married.” Certainly, that was the easiest part. It was the romance, fun, and goose-bumps part. What came then was a dive into a jungle of forms to fill in and actions to take.
My official life by the side of my American future-husband started soon after the announcement. I had no idea that my future-husband’s commander had to sign a paper permitting my fiancé to marry me. Had I known then, I’d probably have sat tied in knots at the ball I was introduced to him.
It was only the beginning of the paperwork. After US medical checks and that marriage permit, I found out about the German side of the paper war. Had I imagined it would be easy? It took us three months to get all my husband’s papers from the USA – and only then would the registrar in my little home town file us for a marriage date. Which was to be just a month before my husband would have to return to the United States. Meanwhile we started work on all the forms we needed to file for a spouse’s visa for me.
Our wedding day was perfection. I’d even managed to obtain two pastors, one German, one American, to perform the church ceremony after a bi-lingual registrar’s ceremony. But the jungle of formalities left us only this short breather.
We were to fill in forms, wait for more instructions, wait for another step forward for exactly a year. We were living separately by then, my husband here in Washington State, I still with my job at a publishing house in Southern Germany. We were calling each other on the phone daily. There were times when we were “on the road”, and we had to rearrange our phone schedule. It was a time of romance and of fighting impatience. I was not permitted to visit him in the US; he made it to Germany only for a few days over Christmas. That was our first year of marriage.
I got my visa on our first wedding anniversary. It was not an indisputable triumph. It meant organizing my move, and the total cancellation of my former existence. It was stressful, bitter-sweet, harrowing, exhilarating, surreal.
Whom do I remember best in my fight with the forms? The US consular in Frankfurt who winked at me and said “You’ll be fine” though she was not supposed to tell me the outcome of my visa interview right away? The immigration officer who called my name from an upper gallery at SeaTac Airport to toss me some paperwork to the downstairs baggage retrieval, as he’d forgotten to hand it to me a couple of minutes before at the point of no return? The smile of the custom’s officer “You’re fine”, after he had sent everybody in front of me to unpack their luggage, but waiving me through?
What I remember best is the helpfulness of all the administrative people, be they German or American. They are usually feared. They are reputed to be stern and unfriendly. They are not. They are as friendly as you approach them. They are helpful as soon as you let on about your helplessness. They share a smile, they make jokes. They even send papers flying, if that’s the way to help the process.
I finally reached my husband’s arms after a tough year’s separation. We had met quite a few wonderful people along that hard path in places we didn’t expect them. Today, we share memories of comforting and encouraging each other, which makes us stick together even better.