I Was Once A "90-Day Fiancée"
There's a new show on TLC called 90 Day Fiance that follows the lives of four engaged couples and the women are all coming from overseas. The women enter the United States on a K-1 visa (aka the "fiancée visa") and they must marry their American fiancés within 90 days of entry. If the couple fails to do this, then the woman/fiancée would have no other choice but to go back to her home country. The four women in the show are from Colombia, Brazil, Russia, and the Philippines.
Only two episodes have aired so far -- but weeks prior to the airing of the show's pilot episode, I had already made sure that my DVR was all set to record the series. Why? Well, it's not as simple as just being curious and playing a voyeuristic role (as is true for most of us who watch reality television). It's probably more because I knew deep down that there's a part of me that could relate to these women and the need to compare my experience with theirs is just too strong to resist.
A Fiancée Twice
Yes, I was once (something of) a 90-day fiancée, and am definitely no stranger to international dating. The (amusing) fact is that I've only had two boyfriends in my entire life (including my husband), and both of them are "foreign." I guess I should also admit that I got engaged to both.
My first boyfriend is British. We accidentally met on ICQ. (I probably made myself sound so ancient by mentioning that; if you are not familiar with that computer program, you can knock yourself out and just Google it. This was back in 2001). He popped up on my screen asking for some information about Asia, particularly Thailand, because he was considering a vacation at that time. We talked; I answered some questions and clarifications, and I guess he found me interesting. Actually, it was easy for us to hit it off almost instantly, because we are both extremely cerebral. Suffice it to say that we fell deeply in love very quickly, got engaged, and filed our papers at the British Embassy office in Manila so I could join him in the UK on a fiance visa -- but obviously, things didn't end up as planned. It wasn't that the fiancee visa application was denied. We parted ways as a couple way before my interview date at the embassy got scheduled, for reasons much too private and complicated to discuss.
Fast forward to late 2002, when I first met my husband as he visited family in the Philippines. Yes he is Filipino by ethnicity, born in the Philippines, but he migrated to the United States by age 7. He's what you'd call a Filipino-American (Fil-Am), and though he's tried to retain as much "Filipino-ness" in him, by virtue of his basic socialization experiences, he's actually quite American. The beauty of it is that he has a good balance of both cultures: He knows enough Tagalog to survive basic conversations; he definitely loves Filipino cuisine; we have similar family values; and though we came from somewhat different worlds, we weren't complete "strangers" -- we had somebody in common in our lives who actually introduced us (one of my good friends, who happens to be married to a cousin of his).
So, unlike the women in the TLC show, I didn't have as much of a struggle migrating and starting a new life here in the U.S. given that my husband and I share the same ethnicity. I didn't have any difficulty with the language, either; and, as I've repeatedly written on this blog, the Philippines is very well exposed to American culture, so the culture shock for me was kept to a bearable level. I suppose it also helped a lot that I knew my parents had a visa, so they can come and visit me if I really needed it. The year I migrated was also not my first time in the U.S. since I'd visited three years before as a tourist.
That said, all of these positive points that might have made it a bit easier on us when we first got married, still didn't make the whole experience a walk in the park. I entered the U.S. as a tourist in April 2004 with no plans of marrying -- but love happened, and by July we were married. So, yes, it did feel like I was a 90-day fiancee even though I entered with a tourist visa, and the difficulties of adjusting went on for years after my date of entry into the U.S. Just like one of the women in the TV show, self-scan at the grocery store was totally new to me. I didn't know how to gas up on my own either, because in the Philippines, gas station employees do that for you.