At first blush, we look pretty much like any other couple. In fact, when we first started the relationship, we looked so comfortable that people assumed we were together. We had to keep saying that we had just met and that we were not a couple.

But I get ahead of myself.

Our story began almost two years ago on a cruise ship departing from Rio de Janeiro Brazil, bound for a trip around South America and across the Pacific to Tahiti. It was my first major cruise as a widower and I had decided to force myself to attend a solo travelers cocktail reception being held on the first night out. I arrived fashionably late, not wanting to look too much like I was just there for the free drinks. Truth be known, I had just lost my wife six months before and I was still struggling with socializing of any kind. I entered the lounge expecting to see a number of people standing around with a drink in one hand and a canape in the other. To my surprise it was almost an empty room. At a table off in the corner, I caught sight of the cruise director sitting at a table with 11 or 12 women. I approached her and introduced myself and told her I was looking for the solo traveler reception and wondered if I had mistaken where it was being held. She stood up with a big smile on her face, pulled up a chair and said, “It’s here, please, won’t you sit down”! I was, at least for the next 15 minutes, the only man at the table. Luckily, the group was almost all on their second drinks, and luckily still, though not yet known, another man was eventually going to arrive. I sat beside the cruise director thinking to myself that this was going to be a quick drink – and an early exit. The conversation was polite and filled with the usual “where are you from” and “how many cruises have you been on” kind of banter. I was sitting between the cruise director and a woman named Pat from Arizona. Pat had been a widow for almost four years and had some empathy for my situation. She had also been on a lot of cruises as her way of coping, saw that I looked tired and way out of my comfort zone. She suggested that if I were interested, she would show me where one of the restaurants was and assist me with an early exit.
We met up by accident a few days later on a shore excursion. We sat together on the bus ride from the cruise ship to the museum. With a comfortable polite banter, we exchanged more information. She was an Ohio farm girl who went to Virginia Tech and finally settled into retirement in Arizona. She had two grown children and two teenage grandchildren. It was a nice easy flow of conversation, and a welcome relief from my personal sorrow.
Neither one of us were looking for a relationship. Neither one of us pushed to meet again. Yet we found ourselves on the same shore excursions or at the same restaurant every third or fourth day. The introductions around the ships restaurant table would be the other couples , and then us. I would say I am a Canadian and Pat would say she is an American, and the other couples would say but where do you live now and Pat and I would say we just met, we do not live together and we are not a couple. Most often the people at the table would say, wow, you two look so comfortable we would have never known you were not together. Pat and I would often continue our conversation out on the deck and laugh about the assumptions. Conversations about our deceased spouses evolved into where we both felt we were going as individuals. Neither of us thought our future went beyond the ships cruise. I even at one time in the conversation said things like, “while I liked many American individuals, I disliked the generic American culture”. When you feel you have nothing to lose, you say some pretty tough things. We started to get invited as a couple to join the same trivia teams and to ship events. We resisted, as much for our own lack of interest as to make a statement to others. We made it a point not to go to the same New Year’s Eve party telling ourselves that this was simply a nice short-term experience. We did talk about staying in touch. Two weeks before the cruise was scheduled to end, the friendship turned into a relationship. A relationship neither of us had wanted or knew what to do about.

Eighteen months later we are still together. We have not been apart for more than 45 days during that whole time.

Which gets me back to cross border relationships.

When are you an official couple? Is it up to the couple, the State or Province they live in, their country of citizenship, or their family, that determines when you are officially a couple?

Crossing the border -Our first test was a country test. At a border crossing at an airport. When the sign says, Citizens line and visitor line, which line do you choose when you are travelling together but on the opposite side of that question? When you get to the customs desk, do you go up as a couple or do you approach the customs officer one at a time? Same country couples travelling together never need to make that decision. What seem like trivial decisions, especially pre-Covid-19, are not so trivial in the first few weeks/months of a relationship.

Buying things and sharing expenses – It never takes long before the sharing of expenses comes up in any relationship. But in cross border relationships things are more complicated. There is the daily exchange rate between currencies as a minor starter. A month of expenses shared coming to $1000 Cdn is only $750US! The accountant in all of us is challenged by calculating not only what expenses you share, but the exchange rate.

Buying on-line – Buying things on-line can be complicated. People who winter in another country know that many purchases are disallowed if you want them charged to a card that does not have the same address in the same country. Paying a cell phone bill in the US cannot be done on-line with a Canadian credit card. Getting a shared credit card seems like a good idea. Did you know that credit card companies do not send credit cards across borders? We eventually got around that by getting an American card with a supplementary card in my name for her place and a Canadian card in my name with a supplementary card in her name for my place. It does not solve the exchange rate and it does not solve on-line purchases but at least it keeps most of the shared expenses on the same statement.

Living in each other’s country – The total number of days we can spend in each other’s country is normally 180 days. It takes some major accounting to keep track of the number of days you spend in each location if you make multiple trips back and forth. In order to spend more time in each other’s country, a couple must request a visitor extension or apply for residency or even citizenship.

Moving toward common-law – The more you do together as a couple, the more you begin to move toward common-law relationship. The closer you get to a common-law relationship, the more you get toward a legal sharing of assets even if you do not want that to be the outcome. With two different families in two different countries, two different States/Provincial jurisdictions, and two very different portfolio balances, the consequences of sharing take on legal ramifications that can impact wills, inheritances, and a host of financial implications.

COVID-19 has kept over 8000 couples apart by accentuating the complicated rules for those who live together as a couple.

I really did not think at my age, I would ever have to understand all of these rules. All because a nice woman rescued me from a solo traveler’s free drink reception!

When did life get so complicated?