Immigration laws took my boyfriend away

Visa problems made our relationship so complicated that we finally gave up.

By Cary Tennis

Published June 1, 2005 7:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am having the relationship dilemma of a lifetime. I fell crazy in love with a guy. We dated for three months before he found out that he was losing his job. The problem was that his workplace was sponsoring his visa to stay in the country. From the point that he found out about his job situation he had about three more months (four weeks working and then a two-month grace period on the visa). We were together throughout that time, for six months total, happy but definitely stressed about his situation and its implications for our relationship.

Within two weeks of his finding out about his job, I found out that I had been accepted to a graduate program in Europe. More complications ...

In the meantime, I helped him revise his résumé, draft cover letters, and also apply to the school I had been accepted at (he had wanted to go there before). None of the stuff we tried worked out, and he eventually had to get on the plane back to his country (which is literally the other side of the world, over 20 hours away by plane).

I suggested we get married, but he didn't want to do it because he felt that it was too soon (he has also been married and divorced and doesn't want a repeat). He's also depressed due to the unemployment. Anyway, after much arguing and tears (I was so sad about his departure that I thought about nixing my school plan to go live in his country), we decided the best thing would be for me to finish my program, which lasts a year. We wanted to try to work it out. I'd visit him in about seven months when I had a holiday. And then he'd try to come visit me. And then when I finished school we'd move to his country and then maybe in a few years we'd move back to the States.

It sounded like a fine plan apart from all the heartache and missing him. But since he left we've fought a great deal over it. He has a difficult time with concrete plans, because of the uncertainty in his life. I feel like I need some reassurance from him about the relationship. I want to know that he wants to work it out with me no matter what. I have concerns about getting a visa, finding a job in that country that will allow me to pay back my student loans, etc. But he just feels very pressured. So we decided to let it go -- the relationship, I mean.

I'm heartbroken over it. Part of me feels like missing someone so much for the next year and a half without the promise of a definite future (he thinks I'm not being patient) would be awful. But part of me doesn't want to let go because I love him more than I've ever loved a guy. Please, please help me work through this mess of emotions and life circumstances and immigration issues.


Dear Confused,

The logistics of your situation are complex but the emotional issue is simple. You and your man have been separated. You miss him. The future between you is uncertain. It looks like it's over but you don't sound sure. There are a lot of different ways in which things might not work out, and there are a lot of different situations in which you will miss your man. But it all boils down to loneliness and fear.

Now, in some situations you might be lonely and fearful but you would still have some choices. But I don't even see what choices you have here. From what I can make out, you face the same stubborn, intractable obstacles that have separated lovers since the first tribes put the first borders around their settlement. You have immigration officials who don't give a damn that their boy has fallen for a girl in another country. You have company officials who don't give a damn whether it's more convenient for him to work in one country or another. You have university officials who don't give a damn about their students' love lives.

You could curse all these uncaring officials if it makes you feel better. But they hold the cards. You are powerless over them. Not only that, but you're also powerless over the inscrutable machinations of one man's heart. You're even powerless over your own heart, for that matter -- you made a choice to let the relationship go based on some kind of emotion and you're not even sure it's the right choice.

So I'd say there's not a whole lot you can do about the tangible aspects of the situation. All you have any control over is how you choose to deal with your loneliness and fear. You may regard your feelings as a curse or as a blessing, as unwelcome nuisance or door to understanding, as a misfortune that sets you apart from others or binds you closer to them. As usual, I vote for the positive outlook. I vote for enriching your emotional experience through art, literature and scholarship. That's typical of me, isn't it? I'm afraid it is. But what else can I do? All I can tell you is what I do in your shoes. I'd probably go to the library.

But don't you love the Web? There are advantages to going to the library -- libraries are temples to mass solitude, encouraging one, by their very design, to nurture and encourage the tiny, slow, methodical inner questing of which our silent lives are made -- but you can always just stay in your chair and use Google! Among the wonderful things I found quickly on the Web are some remarkable words from James Dickey, talking about Edwin Arlington Robinson's understanding of loneliness. Dickey refers to Arlington's grasp of the "self-consuming furnace that the brain can become in isolation, the suicidal hellishness of it, doomed as it is to feed on itself in answerless frustration, fated to this condition by the accident of human birth, which carries with it the hunger for certainty and the intolerable load of personal recollections."

Is that not marvelous? Couldn't you spend a whole afternoon just digesting that one little bit? But he goes on:

"He [Arlington] understood loneliness in all its many forms and deities and was thus less interested in its conventional poetic aspects than he was in the loneliness of the man in the crowd, or alone with his thoughts of the dead, or feeling at some unforeseen time the metaphysical loneliness, the angst, of being 'lost among the stars,' or becoming aware of the solitude that resides in comfort and in the affection of friend and family -- that desperation at the heart of what is called happiness. It is only the poet and those involved who realize the inevitability and the despair of these situations, 'Although, to the serene outsider,/ There still would seem to be a way.'"

Haven't you experienced that? As you talk to others about your situation, don't you feel that the serene outsider is looking at you doubtfully and thinking to herself, "There still would seem to be a way"? Perhaps I fall into that category as well -- listen to me prattle on about reading poetry, as if that would solve your problem!

Reading James Dickey or Edwin Arlington Robinson isn't going to get your boyfriend back! I'm just suggesting that while circumstances, nations, laws, educational institutions, employers and the human heart all work their inscrutable ways to bless or curse your desires, you can enrich your soul with art and scientific knowledge.

For instance, look at this fascinating monograph I found on the Web: Although loneliness and solitude have long been fruitful topics for poets and philosophers, according to these folks it was not until 1973 that serious academic studies of it began.

And what of the literature of fear? Fear, that cancer of the brain! Why don't I find anything good on fear on the Web? I don't know. I have to turn to Bartlett's! Here is Bertrand Russell -- who can possibly argue with Bertrand Russell? "To conquer fear," he says, "is the beginning of wisdom." Yes, indeed, admit your loneliness and your powerlessness over the future, and conquer your fear! Accept what it means to you, even if that means you must contemplate what Willa Cather says (on the same page of Bartlett's as the Russell quote, oddly enough; I don't write so much as just rummage!): "I like trees," Cather wrote in "O Pioneers" (1913), "because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do." Indeed -- as I would suggest that you yourself find a measure of resignation about the current uncertainty and loneliness of your life. It is simply what it is, something people have endured for centuries. Seek understanding and patience, my dear. Seek understanding and patience.

And, if you must, buy a voodoo doll, dress it up like an official of the INS, and have your way with it.

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