The politics of international dating: of love, ambitions, and immigration statuses
Eight months ago I met my soul mate.
He is a great artist, politically conscious, loving, and exciting. He is also American, and this is where things get complicated.
I came to Seattle, Washington, USA from Jakarta a little over three years ago. I had maybe four pairs of underwear and a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera in my suitcase. My 16-year-old self stepped out of the Sea-Tac International Airport and the dry, piercing December air greeted me. I shivered a little bit, giddy at the thought of building a new life and achieving my dream to become a great journalist. In the car ride to my mother’s friend’s house I looked outside the window, taking it all in. To this day I do not think there is anything more captivating than the unfamiliarity of a new city, especially when it is somewhere radically different than your city of origin.
I began my undergraduate education in the heart of the city’s counterculture communities. There was a lot of music, art, smoking, homelessness, coffee, and thrift stores involved. I fell in love multiple times. Every relationship I have had since I moved to this country has failed because of its own complex reasons. But I would try again and again, because like I told my friends and myself, I love love. My patience and perseverance paid off, I thought, as I sat on a bench in a park overlooking the Chinatown-International District of Seattle with my soul mate on a sunny, chilly day. We had just found our spot. Everything was wonderfully stable.
So then it was awful when we found ourselves shedding tears in my bed six nights ago, when I decided to end the relationship because of one reason: my immigration status.
I have been studying abroad since I was 12 years old. Now, seven years later, as a young woman, I’m at a stage where love and career are two of the most major things in my life. As an F-1 visa holder, though, I’m forced to choose the latter.
Now, some dates: I will graduate with my bachelor’s degree in June of this year. Then I will have a year to either work, intern, or volunteer somewhere until November 2017, which is when my F-1 visa, or student visa, expires. After that, I will have to leave this country if I do not get into graduate school for journalism like I planned.
I have had this all planned out almost as soon as I landed in Seattle over three years ago, if not before I boarded the plane. This is the reality of being a visa holder. You are always thinking 10,000 steps ahead. You are always worrying about things and making plans your peers do not even think about until two or three years later. You are always running. And sometimes along the way you will fall in love, and soon realize that you do not have the time to be in love. That is, if you want to be great at what you do.
I told him I was exhausted. I’m on campus for 13 hours a day, two days of the week. I’m trying to improve my GPA because I’m planning to go to graduate school. In those two days I also try my best to maintain a professional relationship with faculty members because the goal is to have them write glowing recommendation letters for me. The rest of the week I put on my editor-in-chief hat at a campus newspaper and my freelance-journalist hat at different news organizations throughout the city. I could still maintain our relationship and be a good partner, but then I would not have the time to remember to eat, drink enough water, or exercise. Or do the things I love, like going to the movies or drinking too much wine at social functions.
He said, “It’s OK you know, if you don’t have time for me.”
I replied, “Yeah, I don’t. I don’t because I want to be a great journalist and that’s what I came here to do. I didn’t come here to fall in love.”
He left my apartment and I broke down in tears as soon as I closed the door behind him, knowing that I did the right thing but fully letting myself be hurt, all over.