I came to Los Angeles as a foreign student from Germany to study acting, and I wanted to stay a little longer to dodge bad weather at home and add acting credits to my résumé. I didn’t have much in the way of funds, no work permit, and my command of English was spotty at the time. I worked in a Venice Beach hostel as a cleaning woman for room and no board, and I studied the English vocabulary on my bus rides to the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatre in Hollywood. I mostly lived off peanuts, literally.
I needed a green card.
I had a dream that I would get married in August. I told my mother back home on the phone. “Where’s the man going to come from?” I said. Same-sex marriage wasn’t in the cards yet, and the man I was madly in love with was on hiatus from our relationship.
“You’ll see,” she snickered.
I began interviewing eligible men in the clubs on Sunset Boulevard or in Venice Beach, and the offers ranged from “Pay me $5,000 and I’ll do it” to “I never had a girlfriend, but I want one” to “You don’t mind the drugs, do you?”
“This isn’t going to work out,” I told my mother. I wanted a green card and a bit of romance, not to commit a crime while being tied to a psychopath for two years. I pinched pennies to see an immigration lawyer. Every time I got in my beat-up car to sign the fishy contract, my car broke down, and I had to start saving all over again.
I had a dream that I was going to be in a relationship with a man who gave me a kitten even though he didn’t like cats.
A letter arrived from a friend in Australia. She was spending a year as a foreign student at UCLA when I visited her and fell in love with Southern California. She had broken up with her college boyfriend, and he was headed back home to L.A.
I remembered him. He was a nice guy who drew me maps for bus rides and was patient with my lack of English. She introduced him the first day I stepped off the plane at Los Angeles International Airport. He wanted to live in Germany for two years. Perhaps I could help him?
I sure could.
He agreed to marry me and live together for the required two years of wedded bliss. We’d head to Germany soon after.
The night before the not-really-wedding, I got cold feet and almost changed my mind.
“We won’t be married forever,” my not-really groom reassured me.
We were married at City Hall in Van Nuys, dressed up as punks with fetish bridesmaids to mock the ordeal. Afterward, we barbecued in Topanga State Park with friends to celebrate that I could stay.
We moved into a studio in the Fairfax District and furnished it with finds off the street, added my name to his bank account because his account had funds and mine didn’t, and took lots of pictures of good times together across Southern California to show during the green card interview.
My not-really husband gave me a kitten. He didn’t like cats until they changed his mind.
Acting school didn’t yield a living wage. My not-really husband offered encouragement and money, so I could pursue my Californian passions and start a personal training business in Silver Lake.
His art degree from UCLA didn’t yield a living wage either, so I supported him through university by finding creative solutions on a budget and moving us from Fairfax to Long Beach and back to Silver Lake until he became a teacher.
We never shared a last name.
After a decade of not-really being married, I got angry when he called me his wife. I hadn’t gotten a ring, so he gave me one.
I began fantasizing about going to college as well. Attending university was out of reach in Germany because my grades had been poor, and by then, I was well into my 30s and “too old” to gain admission to higher education by German standards.
My not-really husband helped me learn English so I could read textbooks. He says I taught myself, but his unyielding support opened doors in my mind that had been shut. He tutored me, and I received my first A in math. I followed up with a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and he tutored me in statistics. He supported me with his shiny new wages so I could attend school, work part-time and still fly home to see my aging parents.
My parents died shortly before the pandemic, and I lost my personal training business to the COVID-19 shutdowns.
The time had come to make good on the agreement that my not-really husband could live in Germany for two years. We shipped our belongings and five pets to my mother’s home in a small German town during the shutdown. We decided to live as expat digital nomads, and I embarked on completing a telehealth internship as a mental health therapist.
I never said, “I do.” He never proposed.
We haven’t been married forever, but we celebrated our 23rd anniversary last summer. I’m starting to think this might turn into my forever. The idea is giving me cold feet. Official commitment is just so traditional even if you love someone. Tradition isn’t what I was looking for when I boarded that fateful first flight to Los Angeles, but I’d go for serendipity anytime.
The author is an EMDR therapist and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She is currently a digital nomad who divides her time between Los Angeles and Germany. Her website is: vivistutz.com.
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