Let’s get real for a second. Like, really real.
We all know that. Even if you’re in one place, settled with an apartment/house and a career, dating over the age of 25 is miserable. It’s hell. It’s all one big fucking game.
So try dating while travelling.
Actually, don’t. If dating is hell, dating while abroad is the inner circle of hell, where all the weirdos lurk, where different nationalities and cultures have different dating expectations, and where trying to get a straight answer is like answering a complex math equation.
I hate it
(I see you, over there in your comfy armchair like, “well Sarah, you could be settled with someone if only you would just settle someplace.”
Save your soapbox for someone else, please. I was settled for a long time, and I didn’t meet anyone then either.)
Over the course of my year and a half abroad, I have met some ah-maz-ing men. These guys all had potential. Have, for that matter, if only I was in the same place. I don’t talk to them anymore, mainly because what we had, for a brief time, was good and fun and that was enough. What’s the point in trying to prolong something that wouldn’t survive distance? Because when you’re dating while abroad, that’s one of the only options.
Of course, on the flip side, I have also met some real disasters. These guys had red flags all over them like a bad Lady Gaga dress, but for some reason I still tried to pursue something. What the hell was I thinking?
I recently met someone that I clicked with. We met naturally, not through Tinder, and while I only spent a few days in his company, I fully enjoyed every moment we had together. But as these things go, once we weren’t in the same place we never spoke again. That’s a tough thing to have happen when you have an amazing time with someone and then you leave, and they move on.
Because I recently opened up about travelling with depression, a natural segue is to talk about different aspects of travel and life that can push you into moments of pure self-hatred. Dating while abroad is one of those things (okay, I think dating in general is one of those things).
why is dating while abroad so bad?
I think the first thing to say is that actually, it’s not really dating in the proper sense of the word. It is meeting people while abroad, going for dinner/drinks/coffee, maybe in a group, and then seeing if there is a connection. If there is, things move faster than they do in the “real world,” since the expectation is that one or both of the parties will be leaving soon.
So dating while abroad is more like, having a string of flings while abroad. Some of these never progress further than a dinner or drinks meeting, maybe a kiss on the street before you leave. Some of these are intense, passionate affairs where one or the other catches feelings.
catch flights, not feelings
It’s easier said than done to not catch feelings. If there’s a connection, butterflies arise, imaginations run wild, and then [generally unrealistic] dreams get crushed. One of you leaves. One of you changes your mind about hanging out. Meets someone else, for that matter, another traveller. It’s pathetically stupid but it’s all one big game.
The first few dates are always amazing. First date giggles, the thrill of knowing a new person. Wet hot kisses, new touches, an entirely new person to know and understand, from the way that they drink to what they like to eat. Do you know easy it to pick up on someone’s habits? To be able to read their mind? Know what they’ll order? Sense how they feel? It is too easy.
And then, when they leave you. Whether they leave for something new or because “it would be better for me,” it sucks. It is painful. It kicks a hole in your chest. In what you thought you knew. I get it – dating in general is like this. But when you are on the road and you think you meet someone worth staying in touch with, it is doubly painful to watch them go away because you know you don’t get a second chance to see if they will change their mind.
So why do we keep doing it? Why do I continue to meet guys, over Tinder, in person, only to get slammed back down to the ground when they (and it’s always them) decide to tell me they just “want to be friends.” “We moved too fast.” “I’m not ready for this.” “I don’t want to do long-distance.”
There are the guys you date, met through Tinder, funny ones. The ones that are cute through the first few dates and then get you home and voila! there’s a picture of a kid. Their kid. That they didn’t tell you about before getting you into bed.
The ones that turn out to have some really screwed up mental issues that you wish you’d paid attention about two months before, who continually call their most recent ex “crazy” and also compare your relationship to the ex before that, who apparently shit rainbows and glitter.
Or the ones whose profile says they’re into “chocolate and coffee, and I produce both from scratch.” When you meet him at his brother’s coffee shop (local, organic, fair trade, of course) he buys you a coffee and then when you’re halfway through your soy latte he tells you about his Malaysian girlfriend, his wife, his wife’s boyfriend, all three kids, and the fact that they live together and you should come “meet the gang.” (And how I wish I still had that screenshot for you!)
The guy you go on a spontaneous adventure with, kiss on the beach with a bottle of wine, and talk the whole time… then find him on Facebook and he’s got two kids… but there is no mention of a wife (but someone clearly takes the pictures), and your conversation on the beach was about how his life is too busy for dating. Some guys are scumbags.
The guys who you talk to and friend on Facebook, only to have one of them message you asking how you know the other one, because its his cousin. Yes, that happened to me. Only in New Zealand.
So I ask myself again, why do I do it? Why do I let myself get close to a guy – have some of the most amazing days and nights of my life – only to have him defriend me on Facebook within a week of me leaving? Let a random guy buy me drinks, kiss me, convince me to come home with him? Why not sit there and wait for Prince Charming to come along?
And so, we go back to the Depression. It is one thing to be completely alone and be aware of it. It is another to hit it off and enjoy someone’s company, thinking they might be the one to make a difference in your life, only to have that whipped out from underneath you at an unexpected moment. To feel at ease in someone’s company at lunch and awkward at dinner, mere hours later. To let your mind wander at a chance for the future only to have the iron gate of dismissal slammed in your face.
When these things happen, I have to suck it up. No one is there for me to cling to. The person I want to cling to has gone with someone else. The person I want the most is smiling at someone else. Is buying drinks for someone else. Is dancing with someone else.
And I am – as always – alone.
I have two stories that continue to resonate with me, months after they happened. They are cautionary tales, ones that remind me to guard my heart with my life. The first is the guy that I met and clicked with, who came to see me in one of my random travel stops along the way. He said long-distance would be hard but he really liked me so he was willing to have a semi-open, stay-in-touch, keep-talking relationship once I left. We enjoyed a really amazing day at Byron Bay, a beautiful hike to the lighthouse with stunning views out over Australia’s East Cape.
A week later, he texted me to tell me about a girl he was going to meet from Tinder. They hit it off and initially I was happy for him. I hadn’t told him to stop dating, but when he started posting photos on Facebook and his mother commented saying what a nice girl she was, I texted him: “really? you didn’t put a single thing about us on Facebook.” His reply? “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
Right, stupid, because you DIDN’T tell me you wanted to visit me in the US. You DIDN’T say that I inspired you. GTFO.
When that girl broke up with him a few weeks later because he was too intense, he texted me to say that maybe he was too quick to push me aside and he “should have realised” what he had. You’re damn right you should have, because I’m already gone. Where’s my peace sign emoji?
The second story is about catching feelings for someone over the course of a night. How easy it is to let their smile, dry humour, the way they dance, influence your feelings.
These are the guys that I click with, have an intense connection with, feel butterflies when we text, feel something when they smile at me. But we aren’t in the same place and long-distance is hard. Why on earth date someone when you are only going to move on? (These are also the ones I don’t want to write about!)
I share these stories to remind you – and myself – that dating while abroad is a tricky situation. I am moving constantly; no matter how long I remain in one place, I am not staying there. I am taking my life around the world and I haven’t yet met anyone that wants to take on that crazy ride with me. (But if you do, please apply within. ;))
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