Dating and relationships are tricky enough to navigate in your hometown, but dating abroad as a long-term traveler or expat? While some challenges can still be the same (who should call who first? Is it too soon to text?), there are also some unique situations that arise from being in a foreign country and dating someone whose culture/language/perspectives are completely different from your own.
You've uprooted your entire life. Everything that you know and that provided the context for who you are is on the other side of the world. Your current experiences and the newness that surrounds you could be forcing you to question what you've known up until that point, aspects of your culture, your country's approach to deeper issues, etc. For me, as solid as I felt in who I was and where I was going when I got to Spain, all of these questions led to my feeling overwhelmingly lost in the sense of having to find my own answers and form my own definitions and beliefs.
So, if I could go back two years and give myself some tips for when I unexpectedly entered into the world of dating abroad and my international love affair, here's what I would have told myself.
Stick to & actively pursue your hobbies/passions/tastes
When my boyfriend and I started dating, our schedules clashed quite a bit. Because I was in a small town with nothing to do, we ended up traveling a lot, and since Mondays were one of the few days we both had the afternoon free, I quickly forgot about orchestra rehearsal, which I was supposed to start the same week we started our travel adventures together. Though I hadn't been as dedicated to the cello as I should have been to begin with, I loved playing with an orchestra and I had really worked hard to get involved with it. But with the enticement of escaping the battered streets of Linares, missing just one rehearsal turned into missing all of them. Make sure you hold on to doing the things that you love doing for yourself.
Friends, friends, friends - yours, not just his
Along with solo travel it's also important to remember to travel with other friends too. I fell into the cycle of him being the one person I turned to for company, travel, etc., and it's just not healthy. And while obviously it's great to go out and socialize with his friends, it's also important to foster your own friendships and your own community. He's had his entire life to build those ties, but you've left yours behind. Make sure to start building your own, because that's why you came to this new country to begin with.
The whole reason I had moved abroad in the first place was to travel and learn to be strong on my own. It's beyond awesome to have an incredible travel partner, and once he and I realized how well we traveled together, it's no surprise that almost every single trip I took from that point on was with him. Without going into the incredible benefits of solo travel, suffice it to say that even when you have great travel partners handy, solo trips can never hurt. The solo trip helps to maintain, and continuously foster your self-confidence and independence, which are so important for each person in any relationship to have, dating abroad or not. So pick a place and strike out on your own once in a blue moon!
Have WAY open lines of communication
Expect cultural/linguistic/etc., misunderstandings to happen. Open lines of communication are crucial to dating, period, but most especially when it comes to intercultural dating. Misunderstandings are bound to be more frequent with someone whose culture and lifestyle is different from your own. Patience from both parties is important to help tackle the bumps along the road. A frequent frustration for me and my boyfriend was making plans. As a New Yorker, plans need to be made in advance because people's schedules are always packed, but in Spain planning anything beyond tomorrow is way too much in advance. Eventually we found a middle ground, but it took us a while, and a whole lot of communication.
Remember why you moved to begin with
It all boils down to remember why you embarked on this huge life-altering adventure to begin with. I went to Spain with no intentions of dating at all. The journey was meant to be for me. I have no regrets at all for the way things worked out, but while there, I had forgotten my original goals and determinations for living abroad and experiencing the expat life. And I'd forgotten the most important key to any healthy relationship: independence. Establishing your own life is vital, and while living abroad can be very challenging, and it's a beautiful thing to have a partner to support you through the process, my biggest takeaway from my experience dating abroad is learning to find that balance between living my own life and sharing it with someone else.
What tips do you have for dating while abroad?
Nina is a dessert fiend, Nichiren Buddhist and elementary school teacher. Born and raised in the one and only Brooklyn, New York, she’s thrilled to return to Spain, landing this time in Madrid. She shares openly about all of her experiences from love to friendship to the ups and downs of life, in the hopes of connecting to and inspiring others. Discover more of her stories at WorldintoWords.com.