UT couple shares story of long-distance relationship, immigration struggles

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Several inches of snow coated Austin’s roads, power lines were down and everyone stayed in bed, confined to their homes.

But when Alex woke up, he threw on his snow gear and made the trek from the snowed-in valley that surrounded his apartment to the nearest wi-fi signal. 

“Good morning!” he began in an email to Celiné, his pen pal of three years, his long-distance girlfriend of seven, his future wife. 

When Celiné and Alex Felan were first introduced via email in 2003, it was all they had. The Pacific Ocean separated them, and international calling was simply too expensive.

A mutual friend facilitated their pen pal-ship, hoping the two would get along when Celiné, a Netherlands native, eventually visited her in Waco, Texas. But her hopes weren’t high, as she merely thought their correspondence would entertain Celiné for a day during her visit to an otherwise sleepy town.

  • Photo by Mary Pistorius

Alex took her to a rock concert in Austin as a test to see how cool she could be. She passed. So when she went back to the Netherlands at the end of the month, their online correspondence continued. 

The emails turned into a flirtation, and two years later, they met again in Seattle, where Alex jokes that Celiné fell for him on the dance floor.  

“After we got together, I didn’t realize how much we were a part of each other’s lives,” Alex said. “It was almost second nature to be emailing every single day.”

This time, when Celiné flew home, she and Alex embarked on a six-year-long pattern of back and forth travels.

“Here you are sharing your life stories and getting to the point where we were using the ‘I love you’s’ and you’re like ‘Okay, now I’m going to go see you, I haven’t seen you in four months, I don’t even know if you leave your dirty socks on the floor,’” Celiné said.

They didn’t know if they were ready to get married — they wanted to live together first. But without a green card, Celiné couldn’t stay in the U.S. for an extended period of time. So, after years of seeing each other in three-week spurts, Alex proposed to Celiné on his couch during an episode of CSI. 

But the process to becoming betrothed wasn’t easy. First, they had to prove their relationship’s legitimacy through photos and letters, and then immigration officials interviewed Celiné and put her through a series of medical tests. Once she passed, she was given three short months to leave the Netherlands, and three more after arriving in the U.S. to tie the knot.

They got married in the Central Texas church where Alex was baptized. Twelve people sat in the pews, including Celiné’s mother and brother, who flew in for the occasion.

For seven years, 5,000 miles separated Celiné and Alex. Today, as they approach their fifth anniversary, just a weekend apart makes them feel off balance.

“You look at it now and you’re like, ‘Man, that was terrible,’ but at the time, you didn’t even think about it. It was just natural,” Alex said.