July 28, 2019

So you Fell in Love Abroad: Maintaining your Happily Ever After (even if it’s time to Go Home).


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In the span of eight years, I moved to a new country four different times.

Without fail, every time I was preparing for my next move, I was fending off comments that maybe this time, finally, I’d meet a nice man.

Rolling my eyes inwardly, I’d remind whichever well-intentioned friend or relative had just made that suggestion that that wasn’t the point of this move, and that I was excited about a new job or new opportunity to grow.

So, imagine my chagrin a year into my fourth move, this time to Turkey, when I realized I had done just what those friends and relatives had suggested and met a nice man.

Love can be equal parts exciting and terrifying, and that was only amplified by the thousands of miles separating us, our families, and our future plans.

It seems like these days, more and more young people are taking the opportunity to travel just like I did. Before, during, and after college are prime times for many of us. Whether they are volunteer opportunities, careers, or short-term contracts that take us abroad, the allure of travel is ever present.

We’re aware that access to this kind of mobility is a privilege that not all of us are able to afford, whether financially, because of family commitments, or passport privilege or lack thereof.

With this increased mobility and access to other cultures, more and more of us find ourselves in situations where our future plans get complicated because maybe we fell in love with a person or, to put it in a less romantic way, we decided to begin a committed relationship with someone who’s from a different country or a different part of the globe than we are.

This is an exciting thing to have happen, but it can certainly cause stress and anxiety, because the decision to be with someone who might be from the other side of an ocean isn’t something that we can take lightly.

It’s not a matter of saying, “Well, let’s just see if it works out”—instead, we might have to decide to commit more quickly than we normally would with someone who is geographically more convenient.

When this happens, hope isn’t lost. We don’t have to give up just because the odds feel like they’re stacked against us.

There are, of course, a few things that we definitely need to discuss with our love interests to help us decide what the next right step is. For me (and, spoiler alert, my now husband), it was important for each of us to think through the decision on our own and feel our way through it as individuals first. We didn’t jump right into making a decision together, nor would I suggest anyone do that if they’re not yet in a clearly committed relationship.

Each person can start by considering his or her own values in this situation.

>> What’s the most important thing to me in a relationship? Is it communication? Is it monogamy? Is it kindness or respect? 

>> Am I willing to commit to someone even if it’s not convenient? 

>> Am I interested in pursuing a long distance relationship

>> Would I prefer to be able to keep my options open and date around? 

>> What about my own career goals or other goals that are really important to me? Am I trying to build a business, train for the Olympics, or record an album? What are the other things that were driving forces in my life before I met this person, and are those things that I’m willing to compromise in order to be with this person?

Some of these answers may not preclude relocating or staying longer in another country, but that raises another set of questions.

>> Am I willing to move to be with that person? 

>> Am I willing to relocate to their country or a third country that neither one of us is from? 

>> If I relocate, am I okay with seeing my family less often than I would if I didn’t relocate? 

>> Are there deep cultural values that are important to me that I’m not sure are important to this person? 

So, all of these things are pretty serious, and they aren’t things that I recommend discussing on a first or second date by any means. But if you’re thinking about making a big change in your life or allowing your partner to make a big change in his or her life in order to be with you, then absolutely they are going to be important to talk about.

We had the luxury of some extra time to figure these things out together in Turkey. I changed my plans at the end of my second year there and renewed my contract, entirely because I didn’t want to give up on our relationship. At the end of that year, we were in a better position to make a decision together, and at that point, we opted to move together somewhere different. It felt appropriate by that time to be making decisions as a couple, and that level of commitment led us to talk about marriage and immigration and all of the unique challenges that face couples with mixed passports.

Even without that extended time living together, it’s still possible to continue nurturing and growing an international relationship long distance.

The end of a contract or study abroad program doesn’t have to be the end just because that’s what we’ve always seen in the movies. There are many couples who have made it work where one has relocated to another country or they both relocated to a different place or they are location independent and make their way around the globe from place to place.

There is peace and comfort in not being the first one to do something, and today we benefit from so many examples around us of couples who’ve done just this.

Look to relationships around you that you admire, especially if you can find any that are international or intercultural, and then write your own story. Don’t let anyone else, including me, dictate what your relationship needs to look like.


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