I have spent the best part of this week answering what ought to have been a perfectly simple question: how do you prove that your marriage is real? If youâ€™re anything like me, youâ€™ll snort with laughter and point to the pile of washing up thatâ€™s been left to fester beside the sink, but that sort of evidence doesnâ€™t seem to fly with the U.S. Department of Immigration.
Itâ€™s time for me to take the next step in my journey towards becoming a proper American. Having lived here for two years, the government is now prepared to trust me enough to remove the conditions on my residency but, understandably, would like to be sure Iâ€™m not here on false pretences before they do.
Presumably a fair few foreigners arrive to chase their American Dream, rather than to set up a life with their soulmate. I am thankfully too far from Los Angeles and too wooden an actress to be accused of seeking Hollywood stardom. (Also, Iâ€™ve been here over two years and thereâ€™s still no sign of the Sundance Film Festival getting underway, which has somewhat crushed my chances.)
Still, I donâ€™t blame them for wanting to be certain and I would very much like to be allowed to stay married. And so began several days of poking through drawers and rifling through bills to find proof of our love and our life together.
Ladies and gentleman, my challenge for the week is to consider this question: if you were asked to prove that your relationship was real, but you were only allowed to use evidence that can be printed on a piece of paper, what would you decide to submit?
My own ponderings led to a packet of papers almost too big for the envelope. Some might call that overkill; I call it â€śbetter safe than sorry.â€ť
Official letters bearing both of your names are the most obvious starting place, I thought. Very few people would trust their bank account to a near-stranger or choose to make themselves responsible for someone elseâ€™s financial burdens.
And so I created a buffer zone within my proof package that consisted of insurance documents, phone bills and bank statements, with a smattering of tax returns and the title to our car. It was all terribly official and difficult to argue with but, I wondered to myself, does it prove we are a couple in love? Or just that one of us canâ€™t be trusted with a debit card?
I wondered how to get closer to the crux of the matter. The lengthy instruction manual, which was twice the length of the actual form, suggested the birth certificates of children born to the marriage. Unfortunately, the cat didnâ€™t come with any credentials.
Another of the instruction manualâ€™s whims was affidavits from folk who know you, promising that, to the best of their knowledge, you have not constructed an elaborate faĂ§ade involving air kisses and car pooling to work. My concern with this is that any Hollywood starlet worth her salt would know how to pretend such a thing, so how can the evidence of a third partyâ€™s eyes be truly trustworthy, no matter their good intentions?
Nevertheless, two affidavits were added to the packet, both claiming to have seen us emerge from our stated marital home. With a bit of luck, the person given the honor of evaluating our proof will do so unenlightened, having never read this column.
The instructions got a bit woolly after that and simply asked for â€śanythingâ€ť that might prove the existence of love between the two of you. Clearly, I thought, they donâ€™t have a clue how to go about this either.
The problem is that proof of love is not found in the title to a car. Itâ€™s in the patience of a husband explaining how to work an American-style gas pump for the fifteenth time and the willingness of a wife to ignore the path of dirty socks leading to the laundry bin.
Itâ€™s sharing the burden of grocery shopping and not getting cross when one of you forgets to buy toothpaste. Itâ€™s splitting your favorite cake in two and realizing you donâ€™t actually mind.
Itâ€™s wanting your other half to be the first person to know when youâ€™ve successfully grilled a steak without setting fire to the dog. Itâ€™s emerging from the shower on a winterâ€™s morning to discover they are already outside with the snow shovel, clearing a path to your car.
Proof of love canâ€™t be found in Valentineâ€™s cards and anniversary messages. Both are wonderful things, but neither capture the day-to-day minutiae that binds one spouse to another.
Nevertheless, in they all went, along with photographs of us pledging our lives to each other, photocopies of this very column and printouts of blog essays in which I describe in great detail the process of making my husband his dinner. I endeavored to create a snapshot of two lives spent in tandem; hopefully the authorities will be swept away by the sheer romance of a couple watching television and sharing a cat.
The next step will be equally terrifying â€“ if youâ€™ve ever seen a movie involving a green card, you already know what we can expect. The Interview.
This isnâ€™t the first time weâ€™ve been tasked with proof-gathering; we had to do the same when I first arrived. Fortunately, we turned up to meet the immigration officer clutching an enormous pile of documents and were told it was more than enough to render an interview unnecessary.
Iâ€™m hoping to achieve the same result this time around, because Iâ€™ve heard that The Interview is terrifying. We will be asked such questions as, â€śWhat color socks is your spouse currently wearing?â€ť â€śWhat did you do for your last anniversary?â€ť and â€śWhat is your spouseâ€™s favorite color?â€ť
Two problems exist within this line of questioning, aside from its resemblance to a murder investigation: firstly, that our answer to any special occasion question seems to be â€śpizza,â€ť which immediately seems like cheating. Secondly, that my husbandâ€™s favorite color varies according to usage: when heâ€™s painting, itâ€™s a particular shade of gray, but heâ€™d rather have red for his shirts. I will be forced to witter on for hours to answer any question involving favorite foods, colors and places.
Itâ€™s a tiresome but necessary process, beset by the fatal flaw that proof of love is almost never found on paper. Bulky as our proof package is, the only real evidence within it is the evidence they had already. I was so taken with my husbandâ€™s many charms that I gave up everything I knew and understood to move 5000 miles to his side â€“ and Iâ€™m still here.