Beyond The Woods
Editor: R. Bail
Love, Online and Overseas - Part 1 of 3
If you went back in time to 1999 and told me that I would meet my future husband
over the Internet and through the art community I was on, no less, I would have
laughed and not believed a word of it. Yet that is exactly what happened to me
- I met my husband, Juha
Unhola, through Elfwood and its chatroom #lothlorien - and had Elfwood not
existed, I doubt it would have ever happened.
Our relationship has happened over a period of five, nearly six, years - the
bulk of it spent online - yet we've only spent about 4 months of that time in
each other's physical presence. For the first two years after we met each other
- and liked each other almost immediately! - we chatted online, sent e-mails,
even talked on the phone once or twice. But there was more to it than just
talking - there was a willingness to apologize when one of us hurt the other,
to see each other as more than just words on a screen to play games with. There
was sharing, and trust, and compassion, despite the limit of text on a screen,
and one day, despite the distance between Portland, Oregon and Finland, I hoped
to meet him.
That chance happened in the summer of 2001, as Juha was planning to visit
Toronto, Ontario, and I was thrilled that he'd be on the same continent as I
was, but deeply saddened that the man I'd come to consider my best friend was
still too far away for me to visit - I was a college student, which, if you are
familiar with the American college experience, you know equates to 'dirt poor'.
I explained, sadly, that I could not even afford plane tickets. The words
appeared on the screen: "I could send you the money."
And he did, and after making some arrangements to stay with another very
generous online friend, Suz
Bateson, I was all set. Juha and I hoped... oh, we had an unspoken hope of
how everything would work out, for our friendship ran deeper than we cared to
admit to even ourselves, sometimes. We knew, however, that we had to meet face
to face, to see if we really were who we presented ourselves as through text.
We both knew (and openly admitted) that we may not get along in person, that we
may even dislike each other.
But oh, we hoped not.
And as it happened, our deepest hopes were realized. Our courage to be
ourselves online and to see each other as actual people and not just
words on a screen, to show each other real compassion when it would have been
all too easy to dismiss hurts as false, played true. But those hopes would not
have been realized, I think, had we not met each other face-to-face, and laid
those doubts of "Is s/he really who I think they are?" to rest.
Of course, there was the fact that we were soon parted again by a continent and
an ocean, and again reduced to text on a screen. Again, it would have been easy
to let our new-found relationship slip and let things go wrong. But we
didn't... as hard as it was, we didn't. Communication is key in any
relationship, and it is even more important when you have to communicate
through text. We found out quickly that how much worse arguments felt when they
dragged on for days, and that being happy was much better than being
And most importantly, we had to persevere. Juha and I didn't see each other for
nearly six months after our time in Toronto, and then for only two weeks, and
not for six months after that. It could have been all too easy - painful, but
easy - to decide it was too much effort, not having each other for such long
stretches of time. But... we didn't. To say it was 'love' seems too simple, but
what else could it be?
When he asked me to marry him on June 23rd, 2002, I of course said yes. This act
of commitment also served to show ourselves, and the world, that there was no
backing out now. We knew we faced a hard path ahead of us - not just wedding
planning, but deciding who, eventually, would move where. Who would release
most of their ties to their home and culture, all that was familiar, and settle
in a strange new place.
It was made all the harder by unexpected resistance from friends and family. No
newly engaged couple wants to think that anyone will naysay their choice, and
we were no different. Juha, at least, expected the resistance from his friends
and family, who clamored that he couldn't leave them despite the fact that no
decisions on who would move where had been made. Unexpected was the resistance
from some of my friends and family - my grandmother, who seemed upset I was
planning on marrying a 'foreigner', was perhaps the biggest shock and biggest
disappointment for me.
I can't say that it's been simple or easy in the slightest since we got engaged.
Strengthening our commitment to each other has made it even more difficult to
be apart. Also difficult have been the decisions on our future. Juha and I have
had many discussions (and even arguments) about who would live where. That our
engagement lasted two years shows part of the difficulty of deciding. Both of
us had to look inside ourselves and figure out what we really wanted, what we
were willing to give up, and what would be best for us.
You know that old saying, "You can't have your cake and eat it too"? I found out
what it really meant through these two years. I had to ask myself what I was
willing to give up to make this relationship work, and what I would not be
willing to let go of. I had to find out what I really wanted out of life
- besides Juha. He was now a given, and any lingering doubts of that were
erased when he visited me in February of 2003. I came down with the flu two
days after he arrived, and he uncomplainingly nursed me back to health the rest
of the time.
We couldn't make any real decision until I visited Finland, which I did in June
of 2003. I met his parents and siblings, his friends, and even a few relatives,
and got a good, if brief, feel for the country. The Finns seem to be a
taciturn, but friendly enough people, a bit of a relief for an introvert like
myself. Interesting and pleasant food (although I won't touch the fish). And
the trees - so many trees. The city Juha lives in, Espoo, makes the Tree City
USA award given out in America to cities with 'lots of trees' look utterly
laughable. I think it was the trees that helped me make my decision, in the
Juha made one more visit to me that winter. We both managed to avoid crying when
we parted at the airport, but it was still hard to part. We knew we had to
start moving towards a life physically together soon, for the sake of our
mental health. And for various reasons, we decided that I would, eventually,
immigrate to Finland. Most of these were immensely personal, which I won't
detail here, but I did have to make some hard choices - the possibility of not
seeing my family for years at a time, in favour of starting my own, was a big
decision, and I had to overcome my fear at trying to learn a new language.
Ultimately, though, my love of wandering, and those trees, helped me to decide.
Everything I truly loved and could not live without - writing, art, my books,
my cat - could come with me, after all, and I would get to do what I always
wanted to do when I was younger - explore a new country and travel and explore
even more. And all of this, with my dearest friend and love, Juha.
We set the wedding for June 23rd, 2004, two years after our engagement.
Continued next month in Part 2 - International Marriage.
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Although based in Sweden, the realm of Elfwood encompasses the entire planet. We speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, and our daily lives are led differently. While we are all artists and writers, some of us are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Islamic, or Atheist. We come from countries with different political policies. Some of us live day to day with war while others live in blissful peace. In spite of events that embroil our world, Elfwood goes on - but we are not left unaffected.
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