Posts tagged Marriage
“Where are you from?” Freedom and the Immigrant Experience
That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.
— Raymond Carver

Ivan here.

I’m back in Los Angeles after spending the last few months in Taiwan.

On my way back to the States, I was detained in San Francisco for traveling on an expired green card. 

Let me explain.

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In 2015, I arrived in the U.S. on a spousal visa. I was issued a conditional green card, valid for two years, where I had a 90 day window before expiration to "lift the conditions" on my card by submitting another application. Which I did, promptly, on the first day I was eligible. I'd had first hand knowledge of how slow and incompetent the U.S. immigration system could be, and I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

Unfortunately, my application happened to coincide with a certain election and mass confusion around a certain travel ban. So here I am, thirteen months later, and last I checked, the immigration office in Los Angeles hadn’t even gotten around to my case. They were still processing applications submitted in the panic of 2016.

Before I left for Taiwan a few months ago, I called the immigration office and asked for some advice. The lady at the call center told me I could get a passport stamp at the border that would allow me to travel on my green card for another year. This turned out to be the wrong information. I don’t know why she told me this, but I guess considering my previous experiences with immigration, I shouldn’t have been surprised. 

So that’s how I ended up being detained coming back into the country. I was ushered into a backroom and was questioned for 45 minutes while they verified my details.

The border patrol officer who interviewed me turned out to be a real grunt. This isn’t a comment on his appearance, but his general attitude and the way he treated people. He talked slowly, in that condescending tone some people like to use on minorities with foreign-sounding names. He used that tone long after it’d become clear that the people he was talking to (at) spoke perfect English. That’s the problem with grunts: working in grunt-like conditions does a number on their personalities. Even after I’d been cleared by the system, I had to sit there and wait for him to send me off with a lecture - like I was his son.

If I could boil down his Catch-22 argument:

Just because you followed the rules, doesn’t give you the right to disobey the law.

“Didn’t you know that traveling on an expired green card was against the law? No, I don’t want to hear excuses. It’s the law. We wouldn’t be a country without laws. You should’ve stayed put (in LA). But you’re lucky, because I’m letting you off this time.”

He was letting me off.

I recount this story to explain something that an immigrant or minority understands intuitively upon setting foot in this country:

It’s possible to go through your entire life obeying all the rules, until that moment arrives when it doesn’t matter anymore.

My Seventeen Month Nightmare:

The Immigration Process That Almost Cost Me My Marriage

Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

I wish I were the type of person who could just let things go. I really do. My tendency to hold grudges is not an admirable or attractive quality. I often make it a point to remember when someone (deliberately) gets in my way. You know, for down the road. Because whether they know it or not, I'll owe them one.

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Anyway, this is a part of my personality I’m trying to fix.

What I’ve learned since arriving in North America is that I can’t let my guard down here. At least, not in the same way that I could in Taipei. America, to me, is just another opportunity, and I have to accept all the positives and negatives that come with it.

But it’s hard to forget how I was made to pay for it. January 2014 to June 2015 - seventeen months trapped in immigration limbo. Seventeen months of my life. My time. Stuck between a job I hated in Canada and an immigration process with no end in sight. At one point, they lost our paperwork, but forgot to mention this little detail until we reached out to them nearly 14 months into the process.

For a non-trivial percentage of my life, America forced me to choose between my marriage and my mental health, and I resented having to make that choice. In my eyes, the system had held me hostage, then turned around and expected me to feel grateful for it. It damaged the relationship I had with Jennie to the point where it almost cost us our marriage.

At the same time, I recognize my privilege. I know there are people today who have it much worse. I think about the men, women and children still waiting in Syrian refugee camps and it makes me sick. Because I understand it’s not just about the deplorable conditions in which they live and the indifference or hostility they’re met with. It’s the waiting that kills you. Waiting without limit or hope. It’s a fate that’s worse than death, because at least death has certainty. Death has an end date.

Waiting is what eats you up from the inside.  


When it was all over, Jennie met me at the arrivals terminal at Boston Logan Airport on June 1st, 2015. One of the first things she asked me was, “aren’t you happy that we’re finally together?

Happy. Happy? I didn’t say anything because her question had pissed me off, and I knew an argument was brewing.

And argue we did, over and over again in the ensuing months, about the same issue. After all, didn’t we both have to wait for our lives to begin? Why was it that she could learn to let things go, while I had to make such a big deal out of it? Looking back, she was probably right. My wife is usually the more sensible one. Sure, things had been bad, but maybe I was being too dramatic. But I could only go by what I felt during those seventeen months, and that feeling, overwhelmingly, was anger.

“I love you,” I said at the arrivals terminal. “But I’m still trying to decide whether this has been worth it.”

Race and Freedom in America:

“The World is Going One Way, People Another”

Let me be brutally honest: whether or not America is made great again is of no consequence to me. Greatness, after all, is relative. America was “great” in the 1950s because most parts of the world were only a few years removed from being smoldering piles of rubble.

The world is different now. Better get used to it.

Of course, I’m rooting for this country. I’ve grown fond of the people I’ve met here. They have an optimism that I envy and they’re not handicapped by their failures. They have this idea that they can still make their own way in the world. These are ideas that I admire and still believe in.

But I’ve also seen their treatment of immigrants and minorities when the chips were down. What’s happening today with the Dreamers. Muslims. The Black American experience. I’ve walked through the Japanese internment camps at Manzanar. These are things that transcend both politics and administrations. And as bad as things are today, we’re currently nine years into an economic recovery. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 4%. 

I wonder who the scapegoats will be in the next recession?

My Definition Of Freedom Is Choice

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I’m not from here.

If America is one giant melting pot, I’ve got no desire or intention of melting into anything. I can only look at things as they are, unglazed by patriotism, tradition, or social mores. No subject or speech is taboo or sacred to me. These things are my business simply because I see them as my business. And if I’m interested, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll leave. But one thing’s for certain: from here on out, I’ll be coming and going as I please.

I refuse to be someone's collateral damage. Why should minorities have to continually pay for other people’s ignorance or indifference? When do we get to pay them back? In that sense, I was American before ever setting foot in this country. There will be no taxation without representation.

So give me liberty, or give me death.

7 Lessons I’ve Learned: Taking Time Apart In A Relationship

Jennie here.

Ivan left very early on a Saturday morning. We got up around 6am and went to our favorite donut shop to grab a “last coffee date before he left for the airport. He asked if I was going to be sad without him for two months. I nodded. When he finally left, I went back to our quiet studio apartment and immediately stretched out onto my full-sized bed and rolled around - soaking in all the space and the coldness of our bedsheets.  

I thought to myself: At last, freedom.

This was me for like...two minutes.

This was me for like...two minutes.

Yeah, so that “freedom” was very short-lived. It only lasted about a day and a half. Almost immediately, I noticed a gaping void in my life as I spent a very long and lonely night at home, ate dinner by myself, and went to our local farmer’s market the next day solo. Everything felt a little lackluster.

Here are the most frequently asked questions/comments I’ve received about Ivan being away:

  1. Why is Ivan in Taiwan for two months?
    He is fulfilling his lifelong dream of writing (and completing) his first fictional novel. He was halfway done last year but he’s finally locking in the final details in March! I’m so excited for him.

  2. Do you trust him to be away from you that long?!
    Why wouldn’t I? Doesn’t everyone need a break from time to time? I have complete trust in him and want to support his dreams in any way that I can.

  3. Are you going to visit him in Taiwan during the two months?
    Nope, I won’t. Partially because of work but also because I want to respect his privacy and his choice to write in complete solitude - which is what he needs.

  4. You must be so lonely without Ivan.
    No, not really. Two months seems like pennies compared to our entire lives. I mean, I miss certain things about having Ivan with me but I know that this trip and time apart is only temporary. And why not take this time to just focus on myself as well?

Why It’s Important To Be Apart:

Sometimes, You Forget Your Individuality

Source: Like Crazy (2011) movie

Source: Like Crazy (2011) movie

Ivan and I have been together for almost nine years now. We did long distance for six years. And it’s easy to forget that before we met, before we got married, and before we lived together - we led completely separate lives, in different cities as two individuals.

So, time apart for me means that I get to be alone. And being without Ivan really tests my independence (in a good way). Ivan and I both strongly believe that we need to learn to be comfortable with ourselves to craft the lives that we eventually want to lead. That’s why we created this blog.

7 Observations of Being Apart

This is what I imagine it looks like for Ivan without me ;)

This is what I imagine it looks like for Ivan without me ;)


Here are my observations from our time apart so far:

1. Time moves more slowly without him around.

I’ve noticed this a lot more in the evenings after work, when I’m alone. For close to a decade, Ivan has been my most intimate companion. With Ivan around, I’d normally spend time with him talking or debating, having dinner, etc. The days seem really long without him. It reminds me that time is the only currency we’re always spending that can’t be replenished. I should be more grateful and probably get more things done.

2. When I’m alone, I’m forced to think deeply about my life.

On a positive note, I get to rebuild or re-establish my sense of identity, how I process things, and how I approach my goals; it helps me refocus on my life and individual needs. However, on the other extreme (and stressful) end, I also have to face the truth about myself. When left alone to my own devices, I start to think about those existential questions and thoughts that I've been actively suppressing in the back of my mind:

  • I can't believe that I'm almost thirty now. That means that one-third of my life is over.

  • Did I spend my life in the best way possible?

  • What do I even have outside of my work? Is that where my value is? Work, work, and more work?

  • Is this where I wanted my life to go? If this isn't it then what do I want?

  • What am I passionate about?

  • Where is the meaning in my life?

3. I’m forced to be braver and to experience hardships on my own.

The downside of always being with each other is that he can become a crutch that I subconsciously rely on. When I’m on my own, I force myself to become stronger and braver.. An example of this is when I had to negotiate for a huge promotion on my own at work. Two issues came up during the process: a political issue that shifted my role and my inability to de-couple my self-worth to my job. I spent long evenings alone rehearsing and practicing very measured reactions and pitches. I did fine on my own but it felt 10x more difficult doing it without Ivan’s support.

4. I have more time to socialize, to reconnect with and meet new people.

I’ve known for the past two years that Los Angeles was always going to be a temporary pit stop in my life. I hadn’t made much of an effort to invest in relationships or friends in the city. And if I’m being honest, I thought the people here had nothing to offer me (which is clearly stupid). Instead, I heavily depended on Ivan for my social needs and it wasn’t ideal. I started to feel like I was living in echo chamber - where I was only conversing with uber-liberals at my tech workplace or I was chatting with Ivan about our long-term travel plans and goals and personal finance and investments. It all started to feel...repetitive. So I wanted to correct this by meeting new people. As I've opened up my social outlets, I realize that there is still a lot I can learn. People still surprise me.

5. I don't have to compromise on things I want.

Selfishly, when Ivan’s not around, I can do all my “secret single life” behavior without judgement or compromise. More specifically, Ivan and I have two very distinctive living styles. In case, Ivan is a “creative” and prefers to be messy with our home (e.g. he throws his dirty socks wherever, waits to wash dishes for days, etc.); for me, I am anal retentive - if things aren’t “in their place” or done immediately (e.g. wash dishes immediately, keep the moisturizer lotion in the same place (Ivan’s note: Lol. That’s very specific) , etc), I tend to lose my shit. So the moment he left, I got to organize my space exactly how I’ve always wanted to. It was a small act of freedom that I enjoyed, perhaps a little too much.

6. Daily routines with Ivan are embedded deeply into my life.

I’ve come to the realization that a ton of things don’t seem quite right anymore without Ivan around. I guess I first noticed it at bedtime - I noticed that I would subconsciously leave an open space for him on our bed when I go to sleep at night. I only notice this void with things that we typically do together: budgeting, grocery shopping, eating dinner, late night conversations, etc. It just feels like there’s a large gap in my daily routine now without him around.

7. I actually get a chance to miss and appreciate him when he’s away.

One of the best things about doing long distance for six years was having that sense of longing and appreciation for each other. You start to take that for granted when you live together. While he’s away, it’s much easier to reflect on all the ways he’s made my life and our life together better. For example, on really long days at work - when I feel like quitting or screaming into the void, Ivan will go out and get my favorite chips (Chester's Flamin' Hot Fries) and then he patiently listens to me go on a rant about work. It’s something so small but I feel grateful to have him as part of my life to share the ups and downs of this journey.

Time Apart In A Relationship Is Healthy


Taking time apart in a marriage is really healthy.

And “taking time apart” can manifest in different ways (e.g. a solo weekend adventure, friends night out, solo activities, etc). What’s important is that you take time to focus on yourself - it can help you maintain your individual identity, goals, or dreams; you also get a chance to do the things that you actually like to do. It’s refreshing to be reminded that I am responsible and in control of my own life.

Have you and your partner experienced this sort of situation before?
How do you handle growth and change in your relationship?
What's the longest that you've been apart?

8 Years Together: What’s Changed (And What’s Stayed the Same)

A few weeks ago, Ivan and I celebrated our 8th anniversary together. Since Ivan has been away in Taiwan on a cross-country cycling trip, I’ve had some time to reflect on our relationship. In response to Ivan’s “Why We Always Fight On Our Anniversary” post, I wanted to share ways our relationship has changed and stayed the same over the last eight years together.

Five ways our relationship has changed:

1. Small moments matter a lot more to us now than grand gestures.

When we were in a long distance relationship, every little thing felt like a grand gesture (e.g. visiting each other, flowers sent to the office, fancy dinners, etc). Now, the most memorable moments are those mundane/in-between moments we spend together. Activities like taking long walks together or having coffee in the mornings has made a lasting and positive impact for our relationship. The little things help us stay connected and I value the social capital that builds up from these moments much more than the big moments now.

2. Our arguments have become MORe trivial (and get resolved faster).

A great example of this is when I drove Ivan at the airport last week. Ivan started getting irritated with me because he was anxious about getting to the airport on time but I kept getting lost (even with the GPS on). So we started bickering. By the time we got to the airport, both of us were annoyed. Afterward, I seethed all the way through heavy LA traffic and when I got home, I saw that Ivan had texted me and apologized for losing his temper. I instantly forgave him. Problem solved.

I may be biased because we argue all the time, but I think open conflict is healthy in a relationship. Stuff doesn’t accumulate, everything surfaces. We’re forced to deal with our issues head on. Once you sort through all the important stuff (i.e. life goals and priorities), you start to realize that being right on the small stuff isn’t worth the hassle.

3. We’re more in tune with each other financially.

We’re more focused on planning for the the future as a couple. When I say this, it’s mainly about financial stability. We check in frequently about savings, investments, short-term goals, and long-term goals together; it’s probably been the best change in our relationship because we’re clear on expectations and the type of future we want to have together. A clear example of this is what we’re cutting back and saving more in order to reach our $40,000 savings goal for our year long round the world trip. This simple but clear financial goal helps us map out things we both need to do in order to be successful.

4. It’s More difficult to Keep our relationship Fresh

This is still a working item for Ivan and I. When we were living apart, it was a lot easier to set aside an hour or two to Skype each other. Now that we’re living together, it’s tough to spend quality together without life getting in the way. It seems like we’re constantly boppin’ around grabbing groceries, going to appointments, or working; by the end of the day, it’s exhausting to prioritize our relationship. Even though I personally think there’s more to be done on this front -- Ivan and I have begun to lay the foundation work by grabbing coffee together in the mornings (without distractions) and that’s helping a bit.

5. We’ve rounded each other out

From the very beginning, Ivan and I were complete opposites.

Ivan used to be a lot colder and more distant from other people. On the other end of the spectrum, I was always a little too emotional in my arguments and opinions. Over the years, we’ve had practice in improving those characteristic flaws and now Ivan’s EQ has improved (slightly) and I’m more rational/logical in my arguments (significantly).

Note: The emphasis on "slightly" and "significantly" were all Ivan's edits... - Jennie

Three ways our relationship has stayed the same:

1. We’re still just as competitive.

The friends and family that know Ivan and I well understand that both of us are obsessed with being “right” and “winning” an argument. Early on, we constantly debated/argued to see who could get the upper hand. We even made wagers -- and Ivan always takes them because he thinks he’s always right.

One time, Ivan lost a game of poker to me (because he was on a long winning streak) and ended up wearing a maid’s outfit to the movies with me in Japan.

2. We’re still our own person, with our own goals.

One of the primary things we’ve been adamant about since we’ve been together is being our own person. I’ve met several couples where over become a single unit with no real ambitions or distinguishing qualities. The problem with this is that over time, you lose what makes you unique and start to become defined by your significant other.

For us, being partners means first establishing who you are as an individual. You don’t want to live every waking moment for the other person. Instead, it’s about establishing personal goal and space to evolve as an individual. We can support one another but it’s so important to have something that is solely yours.

3. We still love each other a lot, in spite of our flaws.

I still love Ivan as much as I did when I first met him. I love him more because I’ve grown to love and accept him as he is. He and I have a lot of faults and I know we’re not perfect people, but we’ve learned to accept one another as is. That’s key. It’s difficult to find someone who will love every good and bad aspect of you as a flawed human being.


Why We Always Fight on Our Anniversary
What we're like when we fight...
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Ivan here. 

On April 4th, Jennie and I celebrated our eight year anniversary. For some strange reason, we always cap off our celebration with a huge fight. Jennie claims it’s my fault. I’ll let you be the judge.

Before I get to this year’s train-wreck, let me give you a recap of our last two anniversaries:

April 4, 2015: Six Years Together

This was back when we were still living apart, caught up in a seventeen month long immigration nightmare. I was living in Toronto. Jennie was in Boston. Let’s just say we were thinking some un-American and politically incorrect thoughts at the time. We were also running out the rope on a six year long distance relationship. All because some incompetent nitwit sitting in a cubicle somewhere had lost our paperwork. 

A month before our anniversary, I told Jennie I couldn’t bring myself to visit her that year. I informed her that I wasn’t going to set foot on American soil if it meant buying yet another round-trip ticket back to Toronto. The very thought made me physically ill. To make matters worse, I told her not to visit me because I knew that in my mental state, we were just going to end up fighting. 

Needless to say, Jennie didn’t appreciate my candor and we ended up fighting on our anniversary anyway. Except instead of fighting in person, we did it over Skype.

So well played on my part. 

April 4, 2016: Seven Years Together

I’m pleased to report that our seventh anniversary was not my fault. Jennie and I had just moved into our new Los Angeles apartment. We were in a new city and were both adjusting to our new environment. Jennie had a brand new job. I was writing more than I ever had in my life. We were feeling great.

A few problems though. We had no furniture in our apartment as our bed wouldn’t arrive for another week. We also had no power because the last tenant was late in paying his bills. Because our anniversary fell on a weekend, we had to wait until Monday to call the power company to maybe send a guy over at the most inconvenient time possible. BTW: if this were Taipei, I’d be able to walk down to my local 7-Eleven, pay my electric bill by machine and the lights would be back on by the time I got home. 


We must have gone somewhere for dinner that year, though neither of us remember where we went. All we remember was coming home after charging our phones at a nearby Starbucks, getting into an argument about nothing in particular, then falling asleep on a pile of cardboard boxes. The weak, flickering flame of the candle we lit that night felt like a metaphor for our marriage. 

What Happened This Year

The week leading up to our eight year anniversary was lovely. We had breakfast together every morning before work, trading memories about all the wonderful things we’ve experienced together since we started dating on a perfect spring morning in Kyoto, Japan. We both agreed to keep this year’s celebration low key: a sunset walk to a nearby sushi bar we’d been meaning to try - a small, unassuming place run by a Japanese husband and wife team. The restaurant even had a clock that ran counter-clockwise. Isn’t that poetic? Like going back in time. 

When the day of our anniversary arrived, I was juggling a few deadlines and had also committed to a volunteer session that afternoon. Originally, I was under the assumption that Jennie would be at work, giving me time to take care of business before she came home.

What I didn’t account for was Jennie being a klutz and trying to off herself with a shard of glass to the wrist. 

Now I don’t expect applause or anything, but for context: I’d been doing all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry for the week that Jennie was incapacitated, all while trying to keep up with a mounting pile of work. By our anniversary, I was feeling worn out and irritable. Meanwhile, Jennie felt increasingly neglected as I went about my tasks, barely acknowledging her existence. 

That afternoon, after three hours of unsuccessfully trying to instill a love of reading into a group of eight year olds, I arrived home exhausted, but looking forward to some quality time. We took our sunset walk to the sushi bar, sat down and placed our orders. 

The conversation that ensued went something like this: 

Jennie: Tell me something. 

Ivan: What? 

Jennie: Tell me your favorite memory of us. 

Ivan: Wait, I thought we already did this. You know, this past week over breakfast?

Jennie: Yeah, but today is my anniversary. 

Ivan: Our anniversary. And I know. That’s why we’re sitting here having sushi.

Jennie (eyes narrow): Is it too much to ask for you to just come up with something? 

Ivan: I've already told you my best memories. Now it just feels forced. Besides, I’m tired and all talked out today. Can’t we just do that thing where we look deeply into each other’s eyes and lapse into a comfortable silence? 

You can imagine what happened next.

My Three Takeaways about relationships and arguments

1. Expectations are corrosive

I hate how certain days are “supposed” to be more romantic than others. Valentine’s Day, for example. Total bull-crap. It’s like we enjoy setting ourselves up to fail. I've had a great time with Jennie over the past eight years. Why should we have to get our hopes up for one day out of the year? 

2. Focus on the journey over arbitrary milestones

We were never more appreciative of each other and happy in each other’s company than during the weeks leading up to our anniversary. It felt great. I may not be that bright, but it’s almost as if the process (i.e. spending our days together) is more important than some arbitrary milestone. 

Btw: I feel the same way about birthdays. Why is being born such a great achievement? What did the baby do in the delivery room that’s so worth celebrating?

3. It’s (probably) my fault

I’m just a stubborn guy with a bad temper who prefers to be left alone 90% of the time. I should feel lucky that someone wanted to marry me in the first place. The most practical solution to avoid future blow-ups would be to refrain from standing on principle and just do the little that’s asked of me, right? 


How To Travel Without Murdering Your Spouse

Jennie here. 

Ivan and I have been together for almost eight years now. It’s insane to think that we’ve spent the majority of that time apart; it’s no surprise that during our short stints of traveling together, we’ve come to the realization that we have fairly different traveling styles.

Ivan enjoys dropping into a new place with the minimum amount of planning. He likes to explore a new city methodically, moving glacially from one neighborhood to the next, with no set itinerary outside of a handful of “must see” sites. On the other end of the spectrum, I like to know the where, when, and how of my trip down to the hour. Then I draw up a map of the most efficient route that will help me avoid the tourists and save time. Then I’ve got contingency plans just in case plan A and B fail. Because having a back-up plan to the back-up plan is totally normal, right?

You can imagine that our different travel styles have led to many arguments during our trips abroad.

Here are some tips on how to keep your sanity:

Tell each other your travel preferences.

And yes, you need to communicate this. If you’re the type of traveler that loves luxury travel (e.g. nice hotels, spas, etc.) and your spouse loves slumming it in eccentric hostels with limited amenities -- you’re going to have to find some common ground. 

Understand each other's triggers and warning signs. 

For example, do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a while? Do you snap at your wife when she interrupts your reading (*cough* Ivan)? It’s good to know what sets the other person off so you can learn to give each other space and avoid a nightmare situation. Because it will be much harder to ignore these habits and eccentricities once you’re together all the time.

Compromise. Seriously, figure out a middle ground.

One thing we’ve found that’s worked for us is to divide up our travel days so that we can each take turns being “in charge” of our travel. On Jennie days, Ivan has to go along with my militant itineraries without complaining. And vice versa. That way we each get what we want without feeling like we’re not getting the full experience.

Create an itinerary that accommodates
to both of your needs / likes / dislikes.

Create an itinerary that accommodates to both of your needs/likes/dislikes.

In our case, Ivan loves bookstores and I love cafes. So, we make it a point to try and check out at least one or two places that we love going to.

Below, are a couple of things I listed that Ivan and I both enjoy/like/dislike:


Understand each other's strengths and use them.

Ivan is the worst navigator, ever. He reminds me of P-Chan / Ryoga from the 90’s anime, Ranma 1/2. When we used to travel together, I’d let Ivan lead us...and nine times out of ten we’d end up getting lost and in an argument. In recent travels, Ivan has left most of the navigating to me. Conversely, I have let Ivan take over when my Plan A, B, and C falls through and my brain starts to shut down in panic. I don’t do well without a plan.

Schedule some time alone / apart. 

I believe in setting aside personal time for yourself. Because before becoming a couple, you were individuals first with different needs, desires, and interests. Setting aside some personal time to explore or relax and read with during travel is going to be crucial in traveling together. This way, you have time to actually miss one another and enjoy each other’s company more.

Build in relaxation days where you don't need to do anything.

Days like this are usually our cafe days together. We’d hang out in cafes, just working or surfing the net -- holding onto some piece of reality that is a normal part of our daily lives at home. This also gives you a chance to appreciate how some locals might live/work and to savor your time a bit more than usual but with a nice cup of coffee.

October Money Diary: Our $10,000 Destination Wedding


Ivan & Jennie here (back after a two week absence). 

We held a wedding reception in October. Our wedding reception. It was a bureaucratic redundancy more than anything, since we had already eloped in a courthouse ceremony in Boston two years prior. 

There was also the practical matter of our families having never met. Jennie’s family, originally from Vietnam, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and hasn’t set foot outside the U.S. in over 20 years. My family lives in Taipei and has no real roots in America. It didn't make sense for them to make the uncomfortable 14 hour journey to attend a one hour wedding reception. 

Our compromise was to hold the reception in Taipei. My parents (as the hosts) would cover the cost of accommodations and the reception. Jennie and I would cover her family’s flights both to Taiwan and to Vietnam, where they would spend three weeks ‘back home’ visiting family and paying their respects at the graves of Jennie’s grandparents. 

Planning a $10k Wedding Reception

A wedding typically isn’t about the two people getting married. Because if it was really about what Jennie and I wanted, there would be no wedding at all. We were pretty happy with our elopement at Cambridge City Hall because it suited who we were.

No, this wedding was strictly for our families. And that’s who we invited. Our immediate family. Meaning no second cousins, no long lost uncles we’ve never heard of, no friends or co-workers of our parents. Basically, if we have to draw more than two lines to get from us to them on our family tree, they were not invited.

This also meant no friends, which simplified things immensely. We didn’t have to invite people just to be polite. Nobody got hurt that they didn’t get to be the best man or the maid of honor. Our guest list was limited to those related to us by blood.

So how did it go? Well, the reception went great. Everyone had a good time. Okinawa was an okay time too, in case you were wondering. But since this is a money diary, we're going to stick to breaking down the various costs of holding a family only, destination wedding in Taipei, Taiwan: 

What We Spent

Six Multi-City Tickets to Taiwan and Vietnam ($2,000)
Wedding Rings ($1,000 purchased two years ago for our elopement)
Clothing for Wedding ($200)
Photography ($0 - our families took some great candid photos) 
Homemade Wedding Invitations ($50)
Four Day Okinawa Mini Moon ($1,000)

Total Cost For Us: $4,250

What Ivan’s Parents Spent

Hotel Accommodations ($2,000)
Pre - Reception Tea Ceremony and Dinner ($500)
Lunch Wedding Reception at Taipei 101 Restaurant ($4,000)

Total Cost for Ivan’s Parents: $6,500

Total Cost for Wedding: $10,750
Total Value of Red Envelopes Received: $8,000

This left us with a $3,750 surplus after expenses. After returning a portion of this to help recoup Ivan’s parents, and considering that the wedding rings ($1,000) were a cash expense incurred over two years ago, we wrapped up the whole affair slightly ahead. 

Family obligation? Check. Now we move on with our lives. You know, the part that’s actually important: our day to day marriage. The one that’s supposed to end when one of us dies - not when they close the bar.

Expense Breakdown

1. Rent and Bills ($1,674.90)
Nothing new here. 

2. Travel ($558.41)
Okinawa expenses. The airfare and hotel costs (around $400) were logged to prior months. 

3. Groceries ($226.50)
About 2.5 weeks worth of groceries due to travel. 

4. Eating Out & Entertainment ($262.50)
It was a lot cheaper eating out in Taipei. 

5. Savings, Education, and Investments ($329.21)
Ivan ran his first marathon in October. Included here are registration fees, a one night hotel stay and other marathon related purchases. We also bought a cheap video camera to document our Taiwan and Okinawa travels. 

6. Miscellaneous ($155.79)
Mainly souvenirs, parking, and airport food. 

7. Life Happens ($180.00)
Last minute blazer from H&M and Jennie’s wedding dress. We bought items that we would wear again (as opposed to thousand dollar museum pieces). 

Why Eloping Was the Best Decision We Ever Made

Jennie here.

Ivan and I are leaving for Taiwan in a few weeks to have our “official” wedding reception with our families (a small tea ceremony and lunch). This reception comes two years after our unofficial “elopement” at Cambridge City Hall in 2014, where we signed our marriage paperwork (unbeknownst to either of our families).

“We made the decision to elope not because we thought it would be romantic but because it was practical and the right choice for us. ”

We made the decision to elope not because we thought it would be romantic but because it was practical and the right choice for us. The courthouse ceremony was a no-nonsense affair with just a few of our friends in attendance. It cost us $35 to secure a marriage license and the ceremony lasted ten minutes. After it was done, we went and had some ice cream at Toscana’s at Kendall Square. Then the next morning, Ivan flew back to Toronto.

We thought it would be best to celebrate once Ivan moved down to the U.S. Unfortunately, we had no idea that the immigration process would take 17 months. The trauma of bureaucratic limbo left us both exhausted and resentful. Which is why it took us two years to finally organize a simple reception so that are families could meet for the first time.

Here are the three reasons why elopement
was the best decision we ever made:

1. It saved us a boatload of cash.

Did you know that in 2015, the average cost of an American wedding was $31,213? That’s insane. Having experienced a lot of financial hardship growing up, spending even a third of that on a one-time party just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

“Marriage shouldn’t be about what you can afford - it should be about what you actually want.”

And you know that rule about the groom having to spend X months of his pay check on a diamond ring? Well, that’s the single most arbitrary fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It makes me angry that some people actually buy into this stupid marketing scheme. Marriage shouldn’t be about what you can afford - it should be about what you actually want. If you truly need that $15,000 ring to feel appreciated, then okay, you do you. This is a judgment free zone. But with societal pressures these days, I feel it’s become harder for couples to separate the expectations of others from their actual wants and needs.

In contrast, our elopement cost us less than $1000 including the wedding certificate, swanky hotel room, clothing, pre-courthouse sushi, and post-courthouse ice cream. It was fantastic and I’m never going to look back and regret any of it. There’s still many more years to continue celebrating our marriage.

2. It gave us time to plan a zero cost international reception for our families.

The other added strain for us was that both of our families lives on different continents. So, we knew we'd have to either choose one country to celebrate or do multiple receptions. In the end, we chose to do just one reception in Taipei, Taiwan (Ivan's hometown). We bypassed a lot of unnecessary tradition in favor of giving our families time to finally meet and to go an on an extended vacation in a new country. With Ivan's foresight, we managed to pay for entire family's flights and hotels almost entirely through frequent flyer points. And with the "red envelope" money, we received from our extended families, we expected the small tea ceremony and family-only reception to pay for itself.

3. We wanted to focus on being together, not succumb to social pressures of how things ‘should be done’.

"By skipping the wedding in favor of a city hall elopement, we embraced what our marriage was supposed to be about: us.”

Spending six years apart in a long distance relationship helped us clarify the things that we actually wanted as individuals and a couple. A formal wedding just didn’t make our list.  Marriage was never going to change what actually mattered: living our lives together. For us, a lavish wedding takes away precious time and energy from focusing on the things we actually value (e.g. traveling and exploring new places together, financial stability, etc). By skipping the wedding in favor of a city hall elopement, we embraced what our marriage was supposed to be about: us.

In October, we’ll have a brief tea ceremony and reception with our families. And after that, comes to real fun — spending time with our families, more traveling, exploring, and delicious food in another country!

We’re coming up on our three year anniversary of our elopement in January 2017 — still exploring, still happy, and still in love.

Jennie & Ivan Take The Proust Questionnaire

What's your favorite virtue? 

Jennie: Honesty. I spent a lot of time abroad and what I found was a lack of transparency with what people wanted.
Ivan: Simplicity. I prefer everything and everybody to be as straightforward as possible. 

What are your favorite qualities in a man?

J: Consistency. Knowing exactly what I signed up for. Managing expectations is sexy. 
I: I admire people who stay true to themselves. Comfortable with who they are. 

What are your favorite qualities in a woman? 

J: Humility. A lot of women I meet are pretty amazing. Sometimes they don’t realize just how amazing they are.
I: Independence, ambition, and drive. 

What do you appreciate most in your friends? 

J: Effort. Putting any effort into any relationship is tough. The people who take the time and put in the effort to see me, email me, or even just think of me, I appreciate it a lot.
I: Low maintenance friendships is a really big thing for me. Being able to pick up where-ever we left off, even after a long absence.

What's your main fault? 

J: My stubbornness. It always gets me in trouble.
I: Arrogance. I've only recently realized that humility is probably a better strategy. 

What's your favorite occupation?

J: Sketching, painting, and ordering people around. 
I: Reading, writing, and being left alone.

What's your idea of happiness? 

J: I think happiness is a transient thing. It changes for me on a daily basis depending on where I am in my life. It depends.
I: Leading a time-rich life. Being able to come and go as I please. That means no boss, no office, no commute. 

What's your idea of misery?

J: That’s easier. When my personal relationships are a mess, that’s a really big deal to me. I don’t enjoy arguments. 
I: Always taking the safest and conventional route. Letting life happen to you instead of making conscious choices. 

Where would you like to live? 

J: I’d love to live in Seoul.
I: I'd move to Tokyo tomorrow. 

Your favorite authors? 

J: Don’t have a favorite author but I enjoy reading a lot of personal management and time management books about entrepreneurship. 
I: From the dead, I'll read anything by Fyodor Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler. From the living, I like Haruki Murakami, Toni Morrison, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? 

J: Sailor Moon dayo! 
I: Luffy from One Piece

What characters in history do you most dislike? 

J: Hitler is usually my go to. But there’s a lot of despicable people in history. I don’t know.
I: Pol Pot. He was an underrated douche-bag and all time fuck-up. 

Your favorite meal? 

J: Korean ramen and chai latte. 
I: Chicken pho, banh mi, and a fresh coconut or Cherry Coke.  

Natural talent you'd like to be gifted with? 

J: Dancing. 
I: The natural talent of needing less (or no) sleep. That'd be awesome. 

How do you wish to die? 

J: With the penguins. 
I: Honestly? Assisted suicide. I want to drop the mic and leave on my own terms. 

What is your present state of mind? 

J: Ambitious. I’m 27 now,  there’s a lot that I still want to accomplish.
I: I'm okay.

Your favorite motto? 

J: Don’t wait till tomorrow. 
I: Do less, better. To live a life that flows in quiet. 
5 Lessons We Learned After Six Years of Long Distance

Ivan here.

Jennie and I spent six out of the seven years doing long distance, separated by borders and oceans. For months on end we were thousands of miles apart, fourteen hours away. Years passed, as the Earth spun indifferently around the Sun. 

It takes a certain type of personality and mindset to make long distance work. Though it may seem romantic looking back, trust us when we say that in reality, it’s a torturous grind. Technology makes it easier, but communication between two human beings is and will always be a flimsy, makeshift thing. 

There are no short-cuts. Here’s what we’ve learned having come out of it (relatively) unscathed:

1. Start with the end in mind

Distance is a cold bitch. It doesn’t care what your relationship deserves. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably fail. 

We were college students when we met. When we graduated, both of us needed jobs and the idea of going through the long (and expensive) U.S. immigration process while looking for our first full time jobs seemed like an unnecessary handicap to place on ourselves.  

Instead, we decided to pick a coast for our job search. I ended up in Toronto. She was hired by a company in Boston. A two hour plane ride wasn’t so bad, in the grand scheme of things. We had a plan in place to sign our marriage paperwork and start the immigration process within the first two years. And aside from the soul-sucking, wrist-slitting, bureaucratic shit sandwich that is US Customs and Immigration, that’s pretty much how it went down. 

2. Be ruthlessly practical

At the time we started long distance, we’d only been together for about three months. Our time abroad in Kyoto was nearing an end and we sat down and talked about the current and future state of our relationship. 

The thing about a LDR is that you’re either all the way in or out. There is no middle ground. There’s no waiting to see what precious flower will blossom from your relationship. 

More important than the decision to be in a long distance relationship was the fact that we wrote down (on a piece of paper) some hard rules about not dragging on a relationship if we were unhappy. If it wasn’t working, we’d give each other an out. We kept ourselves accountable by doing monthly check-ups to discuss what went well or poorly; it kept us honest. 

3. It’s better to over-communicate (but be kind)

Communicating is probably the #1 contributing factor to the success of a LDR (or any relationship for that matter). Of course, we love each other and that’s important but without the basic foundation of communication, we would have never made it through the six years apart. Early on, it’s tough to be honest because as individuals, you’ve probably kept the majority of your personal views/opinions to yourself. That doesn’t jive in a long distance relationship. 

Unless you’re telepathic, your partner isn’t going to understand what you think, want, or need. So do yourself a favor and be honest with each other about when you’re happy, upset, surprised...pretty much every emotional component of the spectrum should be verbally communicated as soon as it surfaces. And be honest if you need some  space from each other as well.. We’ve had plenty of arguments go from bad to worse in less than 5 seconds because one or both parties wanted to be as hurtful as possible in the heat of the moment. 

4. Be prepared to make hard sacrifices

Although we knew that sacrifices were an inherent part of any relationship, we weren’t 100% prepared for how much it would cost (in time and money) or the toll it would take on our social lives.

Time and money

LDRs are expensive time and money sinks. For our first year, we had to navigate the distance between North America and Asia, and then Canada to the US for our last five. As two broke students, we tried to see each other every couple of months. Those round-trip tickets alone would cost at least $300 - $400 each, not to mention trying to cram every minute of quality time together into the span of a week. 

Social life

Our LDR meant a lot of Skype/video time together in the evenings, almost daily when we could manage it, or emails/phone calls on days that we couldn’t “see” each other face-to-face. It meant we had to really prioritize or plan around our social life that made us both happy and that was tough at times. It forced us to strike a balance together and apart. 

5. Be honest with yourself

Finally, it’s important to try to distinguish between what you want and the lies that you choose to tell yourself. 

Are you only in this relationship because you’re afraid of hurting the other person? Or that it might jeopardize your mutual friendships? Or that you’ve invested too much time and energy into it to back out now? Are you only in this relationship because you’re scared of the unknown?  

It’s not OK to live your life on someone else’s terms and there are no legitimate reasons for you to stay in an unhappy situation. In our experience, living for appearances or making decisions based on the expectations of others is responsible for a lot of unnecessary suffering.  That’s why it’s important to be able to look yourself in the mirror and really hone in on what you want.