What It’s Like Falling in Love With a Foreigner
“What’s it like? You know, being with him. Is it different?”
Most of my friends are single. Most of them have asked me some version of this question, and it grates on me because they want a neat sentence, a few-word summary, and I can’t give them that. The answer is a collection of memories beginning 14 months ago, when loving him meant feeling everything and understanding nothing.
I caught the disease that is infatuation before I even knew his name.
We went to a restaurant he had never been to, the menu entirely foreign to him, and he said he would have whatever I was having. I ordered a salad. I could tell he hated it, but he didn’t mention it until a few more dates had passed. Now I order for him every time we go out.
We had our first proper conversation in the car after dinner. The words were short and punctuated by silences; all I knew was that I didn’t mind catching him staring at me out of the corner of my eye.
It’s struggling with the foreign roadmap of his mind.
We had only been aware of each other’s existence for about three weeks before my mother raised concerns.
“Have you considered that he might be after a visa so that he can stay here?”
I hated her for making the suggestion, but even after she agreed it was uncalled for and apologised, the seed was planted in my brain. Then Dad asked whether there was any chance he would be having an arranged marriage.
It’s growing up faster.
I’d seen him about six times before I met his friends. They were warm but calculating, and even many months later, I haven’t quite figured them out. I learned to treat them like neighbours: be polite and kind, make small talk, and then retreat to your own space and try not to incur any noise complaints. A few months later I found out they thought I wasn’t good enough for him and he should put an end to it. They thought he might be happier with an Indian girl.
It’s being judged unworthy by a group of relative strangers based on your skin colour.
I remember the night he told me he would have to move to Tasmania for two years in order to fulfil Visa requirements. It was only a few months before I was due to leave for a month in Japan, and it felt like the end. I remember hearing him say nothing would change, and laughing at his naivety through my tears.
It’s realising that we are living on borrowed time.
We stood in the kitchen surrounded by balls of dough as his mates showed me how to roll out flat circles of naan. He told me that if I wanted this to be long term, I would need to learn to make naan bread the way his mum did. I laughed.
“Maybe you should just date your mother.”
He smiled. I learned to make naan.
It’s preparing for a life you never envisioned.
One night he took me to one of his favourite traditional Indian restaurants, and I could feel the eyes on me as soon as we walked in. The waitress at the counter looked from his face to mine as though she was playing a very slow game of spot the difference.
“They’re staring at me. I don’t belong here,” I said as we sat down.
He looked me in the eye.
“So stare back at them.”
As if it were that easy in a room full of people who share a culture, a history, and a family.
It’s feeling isolated in a restaurant.
He would talk to his family over webcam most weeks, but we don’t talk about them much unless I ask.
“So how long has it been since you’ve seen your family?”
“About two years.”
It’s realising you don’t know anything about hardship.
I went out to a club with an old friend from primary school, her fiancé and her mother. That sounds like the beginning of a terrible joke, and in a way it was. One hour in, my friend was drunk, and her mother was sitting beside me with a fast-tracked hangover.
“So have you considered all the challenges that come with trying to be with someone like that?”
Only a few hundred times.
“Can you see yourself marrying him?”
None of your business.
“I think you’re making a mistake. What would you do if he couldn’t stay here? Have you thought about that? You can’t give your whole life up.”
It’s having this conversation with people who think they know what’s best for you.
It’s putting up with all of it because I fell in love with him after a few weeks, as naive and ignorant as it sounds, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
It’s been 14 months now, and this is what it’s like.
Cover by Anete Lūsiņa