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Ten Years of Marriage (Holy Shit!)

Unless I’m invoicing clients at the end of the month, I don’t like math. 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, and 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!

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

In 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, and 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 chance of success and a lot of effort 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 common-law partners, 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 researched the matter 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 a 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, a former anarchist and openly against traditional values, had decided to get married.

In a church, to boot, because the only officials authorized 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, travelled to amazing places, helped each other, challenged each other to be better, and built something together.

Feng is the only person I can live with, the only person who knows 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 follows the crowd. Yeah, it can be annoying sometimes, 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 sail through storms.

We don’t have a perfect marriage and I don’t believe such a 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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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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