I’ll start with any type of spousal visa. They suck. You go through this long process where you’re treated like a liar and a criminal and your relationship is not believed unless there is hard evidence – like a phone bill from when you first moved in together. Too bad if both your names aren’t on the bill. If you fall in love with someone from another country the first thing you should do is put both your names on all the bills. Nothing says true love like shared utilities.
Their family is SO far away and you will spend a lot of time flying to get to see them. Flying long-haul is hell. Flying long-haul with three kids including a toddler is hell on steroids. And you need a lot of money to afford all of this so if you do marry someone from another county, I hope one or both of you is loaded. *
They will never really be home. I lived in London for eight years and I know well the relief of landing at Heathrow after a trip away. Seeing the neatly lined up grey terraces below and thinking “Oh London! I’m home!” but underneath that, is another layer. Another part of you that’s made of stardust and bones. And that part says quietly “Well, you’re home, but you’re not HOME home.” For some reason, I think, where we figure out “what” we are (as in, a walking talking human child) wherever that takes places is where we are linked. You can figure out “who” you are in any old place (speaking from personal experience) but that place of your childhood for some reason is always there in your DNA. **
You will be pushed to understand things you’ve never encountered. Your culture will be scrutinised. Your manners, customs everything that comes naturally to you is not natural to the person who is not from your country. You will both be constantly forced to work out what is nature and what is nurture about your identities. You will look at your home differently.
You will experience so many unexpected scary things. You will lie awake at night worrying about safety and the things that could go wrong when you visit their country.
You will stand under the most brilliant sky on the western coast of South Africa laughing at your three partly foreign children in their pyjamas. Taking dips in the freezing cold Atlantic, burying each other. You will wonder how on earth you got lucky enough to experience such unexpected joy in your life. You will wonder if the version of your life where you didn’t marry someone from another country could ever have taken you to a place called Paternoster with is little white house’s and turquoise water. Or on a truck surrounded by rocky mountains and the most beautiful lions you’ve ever seen. The ones in the zoo don’t even compare. Or to the most incredible beach restaurant where they will pull the food right from the sea to the fire.
You will eat new and delicious things. You will listen to new beautiful things. You will learn another language without even trying. Your in-laws will figure out you understand them. Try to disguise the fact as long as you can - it’s way more interesting.
You will have an entire family with their own rich and wonderful history that is so completely different from yours. Your kids’ eyes will marvel at the way they warmly hug and kiss each other when they meet. They will automatically understand without being told that warm hugs and kisses are the go. Even if the town they’re from is much more of a “greet with a very slight nod and mumbled g’day” type of place.
Your kids will know that the world is big, and the world is wide. SO wide you have to spend more than a day in an aeroplane just to get half way round it. They’ll start asking questions about where else they can go.
You will cry. A lot. You’ll cry when you land at the airport and Evie won’t let go of here Ouma for a good half an hour. And when Clara walks into her brand-new Uncle Braham and Aunty Polly’s bedroom the morning after they’ve flown home to England and simply declares “Oh, Uncle Braham all gone.” You’ll see Ouma cry again and you’ll start too. Don’t even ask about how much you’ll all cry when you have to say goodbye at the airport. You’ll need to carry tissues if you don’t already. Your heart will hurt for your partner. Because he has to live away from all his touchstones. The things, places and people that connect him to his childhood. Even though he has no plans to live there again.
You will appreciate that your home doesn’t need several levels of security and electric fencing. You will appreciate that your personal safety is never something you have to actively and continually monitor. You are glad the kids had to fill the toilet cistern with grey water from the washing machine to flush it. You will explain that The Western Provence of South Africa is in the midst of an even bigger drought than the one at home. And despite all this you and your family will still meet the happiest, warmest, friendliest people. Who are tough AND kind in ways you might never (gratefully) have to be.
You didn’t really think this was going to be an advice piece, did you? Marry whoever the heck you want gosh! *** Marry no one if it pleases you. But if you marry someone from a different country prepare to swell your heart size so big it reaches across continents.
*We are not loaded – which is why I haven’t been to South Africa for 12 years.
**I am not a scientist or psychologist, so this is likely bullshit.
***Said in the style of Napoleon Dynamite (which I watched for 1.5 out of 28 hours of plane journey and it’s still funny.)
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