Ten Years (Holy Shit!)

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Unless I’m invoicing clients at the end of the month, I don’t do maths. There is a Chinese in the household for all my number needs.

But when I do, the results sometime surprise me.

I can’t believe that today is our ten-year wedding anniversary.

And that I’ve known Feng for half of my life.

This year marks my ten-year anniversary of several life-changing events. In 2005, I started my first “real” job as a French as a second language teacher. I applied for and was granted permanent residence in Canada. I finally graduated from my French university.

And we got married.

There was no party, no engagement period, no white dress—we did have rings but only because we bought them on the way to the ceremony.

We got married because… well, this doesn’t sound very romantic, but we had to, for my permanent residence application. We must have done something right though, because we are still together—and look, we even have a kid!

Which shows that life is full of surprise, and following the step-by-step instruction manual isn’t always the only way to, you know, live.

Early 2005, I finally decided to adopt Canada, a country where I ended up by chance. I’m a Chinese studies major and I had always thought I would settle in China. Of course, back then, I was naïve and I hadn’t fully appreciated the challenges of fitting in as a Westerner in a monoethnic culture. Scratch China. Meet up with Feng on the other side of the world, travel and travel some more and land in Ottawa because no more money to travel.

It took almost two years for me to consider “marrying” Canada. First, I didn’t speak English well. Second, I didn’t know the culture at all—like most French, I had heard of Quebec, that was it. Finally, I am a French woman, goddammit, I don’t move halfway across the world for a guy. Hollywood and countless novels proved it was often a recipe for disaster.

Canada and I were on cordial but neutral terms for a while. Little by little, I fell in love with the country and I realized I could make it work for me. Plus, I was tired of teary goodbyes in airports.

Yet, I was facing the daunting challenge of making it official, i.e. getting a permanent residence status. To this day, I still feel for prospective immigrants because I remember how confusing and selective the process seems to be, with little chances of success and a lot of efforts and money thrown into it.

We found out Feng could sponsor me. But we had to prove our relationship was genuine, and ideally, to be considered as common-law partner, we should have been living together continuously for at least a year. This was impossible on a visitor visa. “Get married, then” we were advised.

We did research for weeks and jokingly referred to marriage as “the other solution”.

“Alright, let’s do it,” I eventually said. There was no other option with reasonable chance of success. I was 22 and I had just graduated from university, I was not eligible as a skilled worker.

I wish I could write that Feng hugged me, proposed formally and that we sealed the deal by having sex all night but it didn’t happen this way.

Feng wasn’t… very enthusiastic. I was slightly offended but I didn’t blame him. Getting married is a big commitment and we were taking it seriously. It wasn’t just about signing the papers. We were going to make this work.

Feng got cold feet, and then it was my turn—what the hell was I getting into? I remember standing under the shower one night, realizing that I was making my first big adult decision, one no one else could make for me. It was terrifying. Moving to Canada was a big step but not an irreversible one. I would still keep my French passport and I was welcome back any time, plus I was already living there anyway. But getting married is kind of like having a kid—you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen if something goes wrong.

Yet we picked a date and applied for a marriage license. Corny for corny, we decided to head to Niagara Falls—our Canadian version of a Vegas wedding.

I called my parents to tell them that I, Juliette, 22 years old, former anarchist and openly against traditional values, had decided to get married.

In a church, to boot, because the only officials authorize to perform a ceremony, even a civil one, were interdenominational Ministers licensed by the Province of Ontario.

Damn, my own anarchist parents have been living as common-law partners for over thirty years. But true to their liberal values, they took the news in stride, even though they had never met Feng at the time.

On March 30, 2005, we drove to Niagara Falls. We picked up two simple gold rings on the way in Toronto and showed up at the wedding chapel. We had no witnesses, it was just the two of us. It all went very fast. We said “I do”, a couple of pictures were snapped and we left. Honestly, I have very few memories of the whole thing—it felt unreal.

What I do remember is the following ten years. I took the vows seriously, and I believe Feng did too. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”—yep, this sounds like the past decade. We went through tough times when one of us was down with luck or sick or injured, we had stressful moments, we worked hard, we argued, we fought against each other and against the world.

But we also grew together, learned about the world, traveled to amazing places, helped each other, challenged each other to be better, built something together.

Feng is the only person I can live with, the only person who know every aspect of my personality. He is strong, smart, stubborn and adventurous. He never eats my stash of chocolate and I leave his ice cream alone. I often refer to him as “the most self-sufficient person ever” and it’s true—he always seems to know what he is doing, he is confident and never follow the crowd. Yeah, it can be annoying sometime, but sharing his world and his fucked up theories made me go further than I ever thought I would. We have an interesting life, I think, even though we sometime sail through storms.

We don’t have a perfect marriage and I don’t believe such thing exists past the honeymoon period.

But we have something unique.

And for this I am grateful.

(I wanted a souvenir picture of the two of us, so we handed my precious Nikon to Mark. Turned out okay!)

Us (taken by Mark, Ottawa, March 2015)

Us (taken by Mark, Ottawa, March 2015)

Me (by Feng), Ottawa, March 2015

Me (by Feng), Ottawa, March 2015

The Photographer

The Photographer

Me (by Mark), Ottawa, March 2015

Me (by Mark), Ottawa, March 2015

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

42 Comments

  1. Congratulations! Sometimes time flies so fast we don’t realize ten years has passed, no? Like you, 2005 was a memorable year for me, but for different reasons. That was the year I moved out of the house to pursue graduate school in Buffalo. It was the first time I basically stood on my own, without the parents’ protective safety net, so to speak. And that was when I was able to start thinking on my own. Plenty of things have happened ever since; they weren’t marriages nor children, but big things in life nonetheless.

    Congratulations again, and here’s to at least ten more years of happiness to both of you!

  2. Mark is an exellent photographer indeed! And you two are beautiful. In this picture I can see you are real frends, not just husband and wife, and I am convinced that this, with love, can make a marriage last more than forever. Congratulations Zhu!

  3. Congratulations! Time sure flies, doesn’t it? Before you know it you’ll be celebrating 20 years, by then your kid will be a young man already. I love the realistic, almost brutal no-nonsense honesty in your writing style, it makes you so easily relatable.
    Your kid did a great job with pics, I guess he got the photography gene in him, eh? good job Mark!

    • I think I’m so sick of political correctness here, I’m more blunt (sometime) and honest than I ever was in France!

      Mark started to take pictures during our last trip. He loves it!

  4. Souvent ce ne sont pas les mariages les plus prometteurs sur le papuer qui durent le plus dans la vraie vie. Waouh 10 years… Congrats ! Do you still wear your wedding ring ?!

    • Yes, I still wear my wedding ring, I love it. It’s just a simple gold band but I never take it off, it’s on and stays there!

  5. Congrats! Oh I see that there is hole in his sock! hahaha! Very similar to my husband.
    How did your in laws react when you guys made the marriage announcement?

    • Oh we… didn’t tell them 😆 I mean, they knew we were living together and all, I met them when we first started dating and they live around. But the fact we got married, nope, didn’t tell until… years later? We didn’t want them to interfere I think. Same for Mark, we told them when I was seven-month pregnant… and we see them all the time! 😆

  6. This makes me happy, for you and in general. Congrats! That’s a very nice photo of you two.

    I remember when I started reading your blog and how struck I was by the difference between the beginning posts, where your English was good but one could tell that it was a second language, and later, when you gradually became like a native speaker. Today one wouldn’t know that you were French from your writing style!

    • Thank you!

      I cringe when I stumble upon old articles, but I’m not going to go through them and correct my grammar. It was a learning process, I think I only started to sound natural around 2010 or 2011. This was probably due to my job too, as I transitioned from French teacher to translation/editing.

  7. Yay! Loved (finally) reading the story! XD
    I think that culturally we focus too much on the wedding (and they lived happily ever after), when that is actually only the beginning of the story. The real love story is the many years (with hardships and struggles) that happen after.

  8. HI Zhu,

    Congratulations!

    Taking the road less travelled takes courage and determination and doesn’t always work out for everyone but it has worked out for you. You are too young for memoirs but your story makes me think of Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” and Edith Piaf’s ” Non Je Ne Regrette Rien”.

  9. Congratulations! That is a really nice picture of you guys, and the photographer is so sweet.

    So many things can happen in 10 years! I can relate to “the other solution” thing, hopefully I will fall in love with Canada soon too (I think the issue is more, the part of Canada I live in though).

    Wish you many more years of being best friends and adventures!

    • I must admit Cnada and I have a love/hate relationship at times. This “marriage” isn’t perfect either… 😉 It’s hard to fit in at first.

  10. Mark never took those photos?! Wow he is a big boy now. Loved reading about your story. What you guys have is a marriage, not just the wedding and that is what is important xxx

  11. Congrats Zhu! This was a hilarious and adorable post to read. I was on a train and I think I got a bit of strange looks 😛 You both are amazing! Here’s to many more years together <3

  12. Congratulations!! I am so happy for you two… and Mark has some great photography skills! It takes us about 30 shots to get a semi-good photo, and we are both adults!!

  13. Wonderful text! Wonderful adventure too. I hope I’ll be right where you are in 10 years. You’re a inspiration (really!)
    Also, I’ve found the perfect anniversary present for Feng: new socks! 😀

    • No shit…! I noticed his socks when we were taking the picture, but I thought at least it made it “natural” 😆 (I also thought no one would notice, but I’m delusional most of the time, so…)

  14. Awwwwwww i love it !!I love your story ! Aww i love it ! (sorry i am being too enthusiastic and cheesy)
    Happy belated anniversary !!
    Mark did a pretty damn good job at taking the photo !
    Pheww…10 years!…give me all of your secrets!!

    • Seriously, no secrets: we fight, we argue, we make up, agree to disagree and all. I guess I see relationships as a constant work in progress, I have never dreamed of the “prince charmant”, it helps!

  15. Happy anniversary! We had the whole big wedding thing and it was THE WORST. So your Niagara Falls story sounds wonderfully romantic and absolutely perfect to me. I’ve learned from experience that it’s not the day itself that matters – it’s the relationship that comes afterwards. Sounds like you and Feng have it pretty good!

  16. Funny, I can absolutely relate to the way you describe your relationship! And I felt the same fear moving to Canada with J. I wanted to move there too but let’s be honest, we are where we are because of him. I would have chosen a different place. It was scary to move here “because” of a guy. And very unlike me!

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