Growing up, I always promised myself I would never marry someone who didn’t have U.S. citizenship. It sounds horrible, I know. But I didn’t want to deal with someone who might be marrying me just to come to America. I didn’t want to deal with the paperwork. I just didn’t want to deal.
Fast-forward to 2017. I am 29-years-old and married to someone who doesn’t have U.S. citizenship. And guess what? It IS horrible. To be clear, my husband isn’t horrible, he’s actually pretty amazing, but my situation is pretty crappy. I’ve been married for six months, and I’ve spent 5 weeks TOTAL with my husband, Mohammad, in the flesh. The rest of the time has been completely online.
Let’s rewind so I can walk you through how I got here…
At the age of 25, I traveled to El Bireh, Palestine for the summer like I did every year. I enjoyed my summers there because I was able to relax and spend time with my cousins whom I only get to see during my summer visits. During one visit to my uncle’s house for a dinner party, I met Mohammad, my uncle’s wife’s brother (yes, had to do it that way for you to understand).
As an adult, I was able to sit in the formal living room with the other adults and enjoy adult conversation, tea, and coffee with the other adults. Mohammad and his parents were nice enough, and I enjoyed my conversations with them. Nothing out of the ordinary, we simply made small talk.
A few days later, I returned to my uncle’s house and found Mohammad was there again. This time, I went onto the veranda with my cousins to smoke some hookah, and he joined us. At 37, I wondered why he wanted to spend time with a bunch of 20-somethings, but I brushed the thought away and began talking to him about music and hookah. We laughed about how he could be a chimney with cigarettes, yet choke on the hookah smoke.
Fast forward about two weeks to when I come home from shopping in Ramallah. After setting my bags into my room, I find my mother in the kitchen on the phone…
“I’ll ask her,” she says. “Insha’Allah (God Willing), I’ll call you back.”
My mom hangs up the phone as I take a seat, signaling her to explain.
“Amani, that was Mohammad’s mom. Mohammad wants to marry you. I told her you wouldn’t be interested, but she wanted me to ask you,” she says.
I stare at her. “You’re joking right? I don’t even know the guy,” I snort.
“Well, that’s what I told her, but she said he really wants to talk to you about marriage.“
“No. I can’t. He has no papers. He’s too old for me, AND he has a kid. No way,” I said.
And with that answer, my mom nodded at me and returned this lady’s phone call to give my response of “No” to her and her son.
We were still Facebook friends, Mohammad and me. He asked me why I said no, and I couldn’t give him a truthful answer the way I did with my mom. I simply told him I was scared of commitment and had other things I wanted to accomplish in life before I settled down. After two months of random texting back and forth, we stopped talking to each other.
I didn’t see or speak with him again for two years.
It was June of 2015. I had just graduated with my Master’s degree and decided at the last minute to join my parents for another summer in Palestine. I had been so busy with graduate school last summer that I didn’t get a chance to go.
Because of the last minute booking, I departed the same day as my parents, but reached Palestine almost 12 hours before they did. I made it home, cleaned up, unpacked, showered, ate at my neighbor’s house and decided to make my way to my uncle’s house to pass the time until my parents came. As I walked down the steep hill that led to the front of my uncle’s house, I noticed Mohammad’s car parked out front.
I hesitated. Should I go in? I had nowhere else to go. Whatever, it was my uncle’s house too, not just Mohammad’s sister’s house. They weren’t expecting me; it’d be a nice surprise.
I climbed the stairs to the second floor and rang the doorbell. My cousin opened the door and his mouth fell open in surprise. “Oh my God, look who’s here!” he screamed.
I made my way onto the veranda where Mohammad, his parents, sister, and my uncle were sitting. “Asalamu Aleikum (May Peace Be With You),” I say.
“Ahlan! Welcome! You’re here? When did you come?” are all responses I received at once. I made my way around the veranda and shook hands with Mohammad’s family and hugged and kissed mine. After dismissing his marriage proposal, I would have assumed he would be a tad resentful toward me. Luckily for me, he was still cordial, even if it was a bit awkward.
I didn’t think or hear about Mohammad after that moment. Not until, three weeks later, my uncle was at my house and he wanted to talk to me. He sat me down and told me that Mohammad was still interested in marrying me. I was flabbergasted. Will this guy ever take no for an answer? I told my uncle that I still wasn’t interested. My uncle asked me to reconsider and to at least sit with him and chat. I looked to my parents for advice, and they said the decision was up to me. So, I agreed. I would speak with him for a few days to get to know him better. My uncle called Mohammad and told him that he could come over the following day, which happened to be Eid, our Muslim holiday.
My laptop has a permanent spot on the left side of my bed.
I’m the type of girl that is loud and outspoken. I’m not shy, nor do I shy away from a situation. I’ve talked to countless people, both men and women throughout my life. Why was it that I was so nervous about this encounter? I’ve talked to plenty of guys before. Maybe not so much in this setting, but I have. He’s just another man. I’m going to sit with him so I can give him the chance that he wanted, and then I’m going to tell him no. Just like the other times I refused his marriage proposal.
But after sitting with him one-on-one, I began to see how sweet, smart, and funny he truly was. We talked about school, kids, music, and anything else you could think of. But what really caught my attention was his response to one simple question I asked: “Why are you still asking for me?”
It may sound cliche, like I’m asking him to spout his love for me, but I’m not. A man in the Middle East can get married at the drop of a dime. I turned this man down two years ago, and I was set to turn him down again. But his response sparked something inside of me.
“After you left the last time, I was upset that you didn’t give me a chance. But then I got conceited and thought, who is she to turn me down? What’s wrong with me that she turned me down? So I decided I didn’t want to get married,” he explained.
As my heart began warming he continued, “My family tried to show me other girls, but none of them compared to you. If I couldn’t have you, then I wanted no one. You stayed in my head and my heart.” Swoon.
“So when I saw you the day you made it home this summer, I knew I had to ask for you again. And if you say no this time, then I will leave you alone, but know that I won’t get married to anyone else.”
Say what? This guy just professed his undying love for me. He really could have married any other girl, but chose to wait for me again, with the high possibility of me still saying no. That’s kind of cute. I like him. I respect him. He loves and respects me. We could possibly make this work.
And we did.
We were engaged for about five days before I headed back to America to return to work. And so began our relationship via the Internet. Skype and Facebook became our best friends. Time became our worst enemy. The time difference was difficult for us as he was eight hours ahead of me. He would have to stay up pretty late to talk to me, and that’s only if I headed straight home after work. It was tough, and we would both get frustrated. Honestly, I think it was more difficult for him than for me. I was an independent working woman, and I had my own thing going on before I agreed to marry him. But that year had its ups and downs, and we eventually made it to our wedding day.
After our wedding day, I was able to spend three weeks with my husband. I had landed a great teaching position back in Wisconsin and we agreed I shouldn’t pass it up. Besides, he had just had his visa interview, and he should be following me to the States “any day now.” Or so we thought.
After I left Palestine, it only took about a week for the realization to come to light that the immigration process is going to be a lot more difficult for my husband than we originally thought. They put us in a limbo of “administrative processing” until we could get certain documents that they requested. And even after those documents were submitted, his “processing” status remained.
Thus, we continued our marriage via Skype and Facebook. My laptop has a permanent spot on the left side of my bed. His side of the bed. Where we can lay down and talk to each other, vent to each other, laugh, and of course whine about the unfairness of the United States immigration system.
It is not easy being married via the Internet. Many days, I come home just wanting to find my husband waiting for me in the flesh, and not on a computer screen. Some days we can’t even talk because my schedule is too full and I get home too late and he’s already asleep. Some days, there’s nothing to say because our lives are running on different cycles. Some days, he loses hope. Some days, I do. But every day we support each other. We get to know each other better. And our love grows.