What’s it like to date someone while living abroad? In a word: challenging. Like any relationship, it takes work, but living on a different continent halfway across the world adds a layer of complexity that could rock any relationship. Looking back at the past several months, there are things that we did really well and there are pitfalls that we definitely learned from, so I wanted to share my experience of what it’s like to date while traveling the world full time, without your significant other.
Full disclosure, this is my perspective (and unbelievably not a Cosmo article) and my experience of how to do (and how not to do) a long distance (okay, really long distance) relationship.
HOW DO YOU TELL YOUR S/O YOU’RE LEAVING FOR A YEAR?
Before you leave, it's important to have an open and honest conversation about the situation and your expectations in the relationship. While this conversation can be difficult to have, it’s necessary.
Jake and I have been dating just shy of five years. When I told him that I wanted to go away for a year, it came as no surprise to him; he knew it was something I’d been thinking about doing for a long time. Though the idea of me leaving wasn’t foreign, having the conversation of where our relationship fit between the pages of my travel itinerary was a different challenge interially.
Initially, I had wanted Jake to come traveling with me, but after some back and forth, he ultimately decided to pursue a law degree, something that has been a life-long goal of his. This left me feeling upset and disappointed, but in an effort to support him in living his own dreams, I didn't open up about how his decision to stay home made me feel. Eventually, it became an issue we could no longer ignore, and I explained how I felt. We were able to have a real conversation about how our conflicting dreams would shape our relationship, and how we would fit into each other's lives while we were apart.
HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE WHAT-IFS?
Of course, we both had a list of fears before I left, "What if we grow apart?" "What if we become different people?" "What if one of us meets someone else?" The list goes on. But when I looked again at my list of concerns, I quickly realized that many of them are “what ifs” that could happen anywhere – whether I stayed home or went abroad, and that made it easier to accept them.
HOW DO YOU GO FROM LIVING TOGETHER TO LIVING ON OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE WORLD?
Like any relationship, you need to put in some effort to make it work, and the work isn’t always convenient. In order to remain involved in each other’s lives, you need to plan time together.
At first this proved to be challenging; we’ve always lived together or at least in the same town, so finding time to spend together was never a problem. Being abroad meant that we had to actually make time: scheduling phone calls at strange hours (13+ hour time zone changes have been fun), adjusting plans to meet each other abroad whenever our busy schedules allowed it, and texting whenever possible. This sounds like such a simple concept, but we learned that it’s easier said than done. When you and your significant other are living on different continents and have demanding schedules, it’s hard. We are the first to admit that we were both really bad at the whole communicating thing when we began this journey. Juggling between my need to make the most of my experience traveling while also working pushed my relationship lower on my priority list than it should’ve been. Jake was simultaneously entering law school and moving to a new city, so he was just busy adjusting to a new life as well.
However, it seemed as though we were talking enough because we texted constantly, but it was mostly surface level conversation. We didn’t really have a meaningful conversation until we met each other in London two months after Rachel and I had left the states. This visit in London was awkward for both of us because, after not having any substantive conversations for so long, we almost felt like strangers.
HOW DO YOU CONFRONT BAD RELATIONSHIP HABITS IN A LD RELATIONSHIP?
It wasn’t until I got to Bali and had some time to process everything (thanks meditation) that I actually expressed my concerns. From this moment on we started planning weekly calls where we could talk for at least an hour to check in with each other and have a real conversation, scheduled shorter chats throughout the week, and (most importantly) emotionally, we made the decision to put each other first in our own lives. It wasn’t until we made that mental switch that we seemed to be back on track.
HOW BEING A CONSTANT COMMUNICATOR CHANGED OUR RELATIONSHIP
Jake was able to visit in Bali four months into our journey and the sentiment was like night and day compared to when we were in London. I was excited to introduce the life we had made in Bali, and to explore more of that part of the world with him.
Through the entire journey there have been many moments where I wished he was with me to experience the things that make me think of him. I know he would have loved to experience eating street food in Seoul or scuba diving in El Nido (after sacrificing 3 days of his vacation in Bali to get certified with us), but I know that we can create moments in the future and travel back to these places together.
MY ~HUMBLE~ ADVICE...
Relationships are hard work, and it’s really easy to unknowingly drift apart. But if you are emotionally present in the relationship, and are a good communicator, it can work out. For us, it was important for both of us to pursue our life goals of traveling and going to law school while maintaining our relationship. We’ve learned that life is never static, but if you can adapt to the change; you can make it work.