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Cross Border Love

Couples battle geography and the immigration system to be together.

With the advent of modern times we now truly inhabit a planet which is increasingly more of a collective "global village" — the Internet serves to bring us closer together, and more and more of us travel to far-flung parts of the world on a whim. And with this growing trend comes an inevitable expansion in cross-border love.

Whistler and Squamish are perched a mere hundred-plus kilometres away from the American border, and with the region renowned as an irresistible magnet for travellers from all over the planet it comes as no surprise that it's also a Mecca for budding international relationships too.

Yet entering into a relationship with a partner from another country, even with someone from our neighbour south of the border, while romantic, can dredge up some pretty formidable challenges.

Just ask Sarah and Eric.

Sarah Weinberg, 40, is Canadian and Eric Gindlesperger, 41, is American and theirs is a story that could easily be a film script. Fate brought them whisker-close to meeting when they both lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they had many mutual friends. But it was a passion for the ski lifestyle that finally drew them together across the northern border.

"I wanted to ski and check out the West Coast and mountain life," says Eric with a grin as we huddle around a small table at the Tim Hortons in Squamish. He tells me of accepting a job in transportation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. A mutual friend suggested he look up Sarah, who lived in Squamish. And from the moment they met, the unstoppable force of their connection was set into motion.

"I don't know quite how it evolved," says Sarah, smiling, "but it was definitely intense from the start."

Adds Eric, "We hit the ground running."

And then they hit their first bump in the road of their romance.

Eric held what's called a Labour Market Opinion to work the Olympics — essentially he was sponsored to work a specific position.

Two months after their romance blossomed, Eric encountered "logistical immigration challenges," and he was told he had five days to leave the country.

"I did everything I could to stay," says Eric. "I got a lawyer, and as it turns out I had to voluntarily leave Canada, not knowing if I would come back."

Forced to leave right before the Olympics kicked off, he laid low in Bellingham, Wash. and after an agonizing wait of more than a week, was told that due to the backing of his company, he would be granted a temporary resident permit.

And so Sarah and Eric's relationship entered another phase as they lived it up in the midst of the Olympic fever, but it soon became evident there were more hurdles yet to jump. Given a date to leave Canada, Eric initially expected to finish work and ski tour, but then he discovered his departure date was set for the day after the Olympics finished.

So instead, they went to Mexico.

"I had always said I would never marry a man until I had travelled with him," says Sarah, chuckling.

For two glorious weeks they surfed and lived it up in Mexico before reality hit and they had to go their separate ways. Eric headed to Ohio to do an internship with his father in blacksmithing, while Sarah drove north to Squamish.

"That was the second time our hearts got ripped apart," says Eric. For another two months they were separated — a time period they agreed was the maximum they could stand to be apart.

Sarah agreed to visit Eric in Ohio over the July 4th long weekend — a make-it or break-it trip, they noted — and their relationship passed with flying colours, as she mingled with his family and shared in the holiday celebrations.

The infamous Burning Man festival in Nevada was on the agenda on their next two-month self-imposed deadline, where they combined the festivities with a celebration of their own. Within what's called The Playa — an area in the middle of the desert looming with large, funky art installations and a large dome structure — they got married in a colourful and exuberant wedding.

But, before they knew it, they were once again forced to separate.

"That was heart wrench number three," says Eric.

Knowing that Eric wasn't going to be able to return to Canada anytime soon, they proceeded to Salt Lake City two months after getting married. After working on it all winter, they submitted his permanent resident application to the case-processing centre in Buffalo.

"And, as it turns out," says Eric, "somewhere in the process, I find out if I try to go to the border and get a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) issued to me... it doesn't jeopardise my case in Buffalo, so I think, 'Hell, I've got to try, why not?'"

It is now May 2011 and they set off for the Canadian border on a mission. Eric is issued a visa for six months, which helped relieve a lot of the pressure off Sarah who was coping mostly alone with their house-building project in Squamish. Now Eric could jump in and deal with the contractors.

"We found out that on the same day, ironically enough, that I was granted the TRP, Buffalo rejected my permanent resident application, so had I been one day later I would not have been allowed in. The mail crossed each other," he says.

Adds Sarah, "It was pretty amazing, it was definitely a karmic sign."

Eric also discovered that once he was in Canada, he could apply for another TRP while staying in the country under an "implied status" due to the long processing time.

Then another fateful thing happened.

Eric works for the Super Bowl every year in transportation management and, not willing to give up that opportunity, he informs the company he may not make it as he cannot leave Canada while his TRP application is being processed. He is told the deadline to pull the pin is Dec. 20, 2011.

"I was plugging along working," says Sarah. "Dec. 20 comes and Eric asks: 'Have you been to the post box?'"

She opens the post box, "and there is the work visa, there is the extension of the TRP and a cheque for $200 from the Canadian government, which was for an application we made that they didn't give us."

Welcome to Canada.

But they're not completely on dry land, yet.

The couple have a hearing set with the immigration appeal division to appeal the original denial of the permanent residence application. The hearing is on March 6 in Vancouver and they hope it will streamline the whole process. If successful, Eric will get permanent residency.

So what makes it worth the hassle?

"Maybe we both love a challenge in a sense," says Sarah. "It has been tough, but it doesn't seem to have made either of us want to stop doing it. Somehow, I guess, we just see a future together and have common goals. Obviously there is lots of love there, and love conquers all, right? If you are in a relationship and you make a commitment, then in my view, this is probably a minor bump in the path of life."

Eric agrees. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy but wanting to continue to move forward with the relationship, it seemed like a natural progression. I knew (the relationship) was worth fighting for. This is a great area and it has a future for us, and (Sarah) is awesome."

They maintain that determination was key to their success.

"We would finally clear a hurdle and put the immigration stuff away and then something cropped up again," says Sarah. "It is taxing and tiring. Now we can do something more interesting in our evenings, instead of work on immigration stuff.

"It is super expensive to swap countries, you have no credit rating and you have to start from scratch," she adds. "I feel it gives me incredible insight to the people who are coming to Canada from all over the world — people must be working so hard and sacrificing so much."

Love on the high seas

And then there's Jade and Ryan.

Jade Dumas, 36, is Canadian and Ryan Kinser, 28, is American and they met during a sailboat trip. But this was not your every day type of outing — it was an epic voyage stretching across the globe. Setting sail from Santa Cruz, California in April 2009, Jade and Ryan worked alongside each other as crewmembers, sailing a Norwegian sailboat all the way to Ireland. With an ever-changing crew, Jade and Ryan were the only ones to work the entire trip from start to finish.

The sea voyage took six months, peppered with stops along the way, including a repair stop in San Diego and a surfing break in Costa Rica.

A week in Panama saw them preparing the paperwork to go through the Panama Canal and afterwards they shot out the other side into the clear blue Caribbean waters. From there they sailed north, narrowly averting hurricane danger.

"We caught the tail end of Hurricane Phil," recalls Ryan. "There were still gale force winds and rough seas, but we really didn't see anything over 15 to 20 feet (4.5 metres to 6 metres)."

But there were plenty of times when they hit some seriously steep waves.

When you get broadsided it sounds like a gunshot right next to your head when you are sleeping in your bunk, recalls Jade. "I thought it had busted through the hull one night."

Traversing the North Atlantic, their longest stint was two weeks with no land in sight, explained Jade. You get used to it, she says, smiling.

According to Ryan, being at sea wasn't bad, but by the time they reached Europe, they all wanted to be off the boat for other reasons.

He described it as circumstances, such as interpersonal issues, which affected the relationships at sea. "Basically what it comes down to — the captain and the crew disagreed on a lot of things and the crew felt disrespected in a lot of ways. By the end the situation was not ideal, but it's also what brought Jade and I together."

They agree their relationship started out as friendship, but by the last leg of the trip it had developed into something more meaningful.

Jade acknowledges it was the experience of working through things together that was the clincher for her. "I had a lot of respect for him right off the get-go when I first met him."

"I think the whole experience allowed us to see how each of us deals with stress and deals with situations that might not be comfortable," says Ryan. "That was a big part of what attracted me to Jade — her demeanour and her calmness about situations, and also the excitement and willingness to try whatever and to give it a go."

When asked if they had a plan when they docked at a port in Ireland, Ryan chuckles and says, "We have never had any kind of plan in life. When we left the boat, we spent a week together in Ireland travelling around, kind of decompressing."

Then Jade returned to Squamish and Ryan to Seattle.

But they continued to see each other — never scheduled they claim — yet gradually leading to monthly visits south or north of the border.

"It kind of was what it was, you know," says Jade. "We didn't have too many expectations. He was a great friend and it became more."

Even moving to Squamish started as a casual conversation, confesses Ryan.

Once they decided that they wished to live together, the tricky part was to figure out how to make it transpire. With no intention of getting married, they settled on the distinction of a conjugal relationship, which is "marriage-like," meaning that there must be a serious commitment to spend their lives together in a monogamous relationship.

Then, faced with big stacks of paperwork, they started the process of filling it out in August 2010. The biggest challenge, says Ryan, was accounting for all the time from when he was 18-years-old to the present. "They want to know what you were doing, if you were in school, if you were travelling, if you were employed."

After a prolonged thirteen-month wait, in Sept. 2011 Ryan received word to send in his passport to be issued with a visa for Canada. 

"It's funny, I was really excited," admits Jade, "and then I got really scared for some reason — all of a sudden I wasn't ready for it... there were a few days where I was thinking, 'Oh God this is happening.' It was fear of change."

"It changed both of our lifestyles a lot," says Ryan of his move to Squamish, "because she is used to being here, doing her work by herself and having her space." He sweeps his arm around to take in the workshop where we are sitting. Jade runs her own furniture making business and resides in a small apartment above her workshop.

"And then I am moving into this space," he says, "which completely changes the whole dynamics of her life up here.

"It ended up being a much bigger deal that I had initially anticipated it would be. [Squamish is] four hours from where I am from... that is not that far away, yet it has ended up being pretty significant and affected me more than I thought it would. I moved up here in mid-November 2011, but I still feel like I am in transition."

What asked about the unique challenges, which stem from an international relationship, Ryan responds, saying what makes dating internationally distinctive is that you are not seeing the other person in their normal life.

"Whenever you see each other you are on vacation," he says. "Then, once you are in the proximity that we are now, every day is day-to-day life. But the fact that we had lived in such close proximity before that on the boat ... we have something to base it off of. It is not straight out of nowhere. I can see that for some couples that could be really difficult, if they don't have that kind of previous experience with the person."

Jade nods her head in agreement and then goes on to describe this new phase of their relationship like this: "We are forging a new way together. I feel like a pioneer in my own life."

Aussie connection

And a story on cross-border love in the Sea to Sky corridor would not be complete without a mention of a Canadian-Australian couple, seeing as the mountain resort town attracts many an Aussie ski fanatic each snow season, with many permanently settling in the region.

Tessa, 36, is Australian and Adam McLoughlin, 37, is Canadian and their first encounter was at a party on Vancouver Island back in 1998. They describe it as love at first sight, but then, after only a few snatched moments together over the period of a month or so, Tessa had to go back to Western Australia.

Three weeks later Adam landed in Australia.

"I didn't come over to see Tessa — I came to travel, and landed on the opposite side of the country from her," states Adam with a grin. But in due course, he gravitated towards Western Australia, where they lived together for four months before he returned to Canada.

When asked how they knew it was time to take the next step, Tessa admits it just fell into place. "We just liked hanging out together and we were a good team, but then what happened is I wanted to come to Canada to be with him, but I could not get another working visa."

And so, in 2000, they got married at Elk Falls in Campbell River, B.C., and then, sponsored on a spousal visa, Tessa ultimately obtained Canadian citizenship a few years later. Living in Whistler for five years, Tessa and Adam bought a home in Squamish in 2005.

The couple illustrates the characteristics of their international relationship.

"Definitely coming from Australia to Canada, they are very different in their environment and weather patterns," says Tessa. "Long winters in Canada and long summers in Australia — that's really difficult, especially when you're married to a ski guide. It sounded so romantic at the time, but it means eternal winters and when I want to go back to Australia, which is for Christmas, that's Adam's really busy time."

And then kids entered the scene. Xanadu is four-years-old and Devon is two, and both children have dual citizenship.

"And then, once you have kids, you are always debating where to be and someone always has to make the sacrifice or the compromise," she says. "I want to be living here, but a lot of times I'd like to be in Australia, too – but that's not as feasible." Being a musician, Tessa's work is flexible, but, as she points out, there are not many mountains in Western Australia.

"It's a very romantic idea thinking that you can marry someone from somewhere else," says Adam, adding that it can be a very enriching experience by being exposed to other cultures and environments.

But at the same time it does have its challenges, he says, especially with having to go back to somebody else's home as a holiday destination.

"It's hard to be away from family," he continued. With his folks living in Ottawa and Tessa's in Australia, he says the distance causes them to long for that family connection at times.

"They are the kinds of things that you don't think about when you are 26 and getting married."

Tessa says having children altered their travel patterns too.

"You know what, it's actually since we had kids that we've been back to Australia," she says with a grin. "For the first four years I didn't go home. And once we had our first child, I've been back four times."

Tessa laughs when she recollects Xanadu's first trip to Australia when she was two years old. "She went to walk on the sand and she couldn't — she was afraid of it."

These stories are simply a smattering of examples of cross-border love set in the Sea to Sky corridor, where numerous couples have overcome tremendous ordeals in the pursuit of happiness and the goal of living together in Canada.

Michele Davidson, a professional celebrant, knows all about it.

She has been performing weddings in Whistler and the surrounding area for five years and in her experience, she has married Canadians to a bride or groom from "Britain, the United States, Australia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong... you name it," she said.

Davidson sums up this rise in international relationships perfectly.

"We live in an increasingly global culture. The impact is that there are more what I call global marriages and global families."

And with Valentine's Day drawing near, it marks the perfect time to embrace the concept of global love, which will hopefully, in turn, lead to more acceptance and tolerance within this remarkable global village to which we all belong.

Because at the end of the day, love truly knows no boundaries.