Travel opens the door to changes in some of the most fundamental, unquestioned parts of life. Your concept of relationships with other people will expand – friendly, professional, familial, romantic, or otherwise.
All relationships are built upon a shared sense of identity, and non-travelers are unlikely to understand your lifestyle and priorities. That can drive a rift between you (as it did with my former friends and me). It can also have a strengthening effect on your relationships. Indeterminate time apart makes the rare opportunities to see the people you care about in three-dimensional space all the more meaningful.
Distance is a terrific litmus test for the strength of a bond. If someone in your life can’t be bothered to keep in touch with you, maybe they weren’t all that close to begin with. Webcam-based relationships aren’t fun for anyone, but if you’re still excited to see your partner’s face each day through a grainy video feed, it’s probably a pretty good indicator you actually really like this person.
Dating a traveler can be either thrilling or threatening.
Some people assume that a mobile lifestyle leads to having concurrent romantic partners all over the world. My struggle has been to find the rare gems in any given location whom I felt I could connect deeply with. Almost everyone remains foremost a product of their culture, so an element from outside it can confuse or appear outright threatening.
Alternatively, some women find the prospect of dating a traveler from another part of the world thrilling. White men are fetishized in some of the same parts of the world where the women are, ironically, fetishized by white men. I don’t consider myself a particularly attractive man, but in the Philippines I found that I could hardly walk down a public street without young girls giggling and shyly turning away from me. They’d compare me to famous American movie stars who no one back home would ever have made the same comparison to. These childish flirtations never turned into anything meaningful.
It makes it harder to trust other people’s intentions.
Because I travel so much, women enter into relationships with me carrying no sense of obligation or long-term goals. It took me too many failed relationships to realize that while I had been trying to look past culture and race to build meaningful bonds, most of them only saw me as a passing novelty to spice up the monotony of their lives.
We’d get a few months into the relationship and suddenly they’d forget all about me, ignoring everything we had built up to that point. Or they’d feign interest for the sake of casual dating and fun flirtations, but drop the ball and run the moment real action was needed.
Sometimes, it can really screw you over.
My most embarrassing non-starter was a slightly older Greek woman who I met online. We got to a point where we were talking for hours on Skype every other night before going to sleep, sharing increasingly more intimate details about ourselves and our past relationships. She was a therapist. She wanted kids as much as I did.
When I booked an apartment in Athens for a month and flew out to meet her, her entire attitude toward me changed immediately. I had to twist her arm into even seeing me in person, despite the fact that I had specifically flown out to spend time with her exactly like we had discussed. I saw her in person for a grand total of a couple hours before she suddenly became too busy to see me again or even keep talking to me like we had done so frequently up to that point.
I was never given an explanation why there was such a drastic shift from her the moment we shared the same physical space. I can only tell you my interpretation, which is that she thought of me as a fun novelty to enjoy from afar. The moment our budding relationship became too real and she was forced to deal with the consequences of my existence, she withdrew.
You might even start to lose hope.
These repeated occurrences led me to wonder if it was even possible for me to have a normal relationship with women from any culture in the world. I kept looking, but it seemed more and more hopeless that there was someone out there who shared the values I had earned for myself through the frequent smashing of boundaries. With three billion women on the planet, I knew I had to remain open to the possibility.
There is no right way to date.
The problem is that every single person on Earth views the concept of a romantic relationship through the lens they were given growing up in their culture. Their ideas may be totally different than yours. They may be trying to build an unfamiliar kind of structure with you. Unless communication between the two of you is exceedingly good, these invisible differences in your goals may go unnoticed until a breaking point is reached and you are violently forced back onto your own separate paths.
Furthermore, both of you must know yourselves well enough to be crystal clear on what you are actually trying to achieve. The general concept of a relationship is just far too nebulous for you to assume that your desires are in line with those of your partner from another culture unless you have both explicitly stated where you stand and where you are going. In this way, as in many others, a multi-cultural lifestyle forces one to mature beyond the arbitrary limits of self-knowledge that others have settled for.
About Gregory V. Diehl
From living in a van on the streets of San Diego, to growing chocolate with indigenous tribes in Central America, to teaching in the Middle East and volunteering in Africa, bestselling author Gregory V. Diehl has followed a worldly and unconventional path. Leaving his home in California as a teenager, he went on to live and work in 45 countries across the globe by age 28. In his new book, Travel as Transformation, he asks the reader to question how their identity has been shaped by the lifestyle they live.
Are you spending a lot of time by yourself? Wouldn’t it be nice to find your like-minded partner to share your adventures with?
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