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5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

I just discovered Julia’s blog last week when she left me a novel of a comment on my Breaking Up to Travel post. A girl after my own heart, not only has she traveled and lived all around the world at a young age and writing about it on her blog, Nowhere to Go but Everywhere, she has also had to go through dealing with international affairs of the heart. Bonding via email, I begged her to write me a guest post while I am in Turkey. What pinged in my inbox the next day did not disappoint. In this post, Julia explores the little-discussed side of falling in love abroad.

How many travel and expat bloggers out there have wonderfully successful international relationships that they are more than happy to share with the world? As much as I love reading those stories, from my own years spent in Spain I have learned that dating abroad is not all sunshine and fairytales, and it has been idealized online far too often. From her own experiences, Julia breaks it down for all of those starry-eyed youngsters hoping to fall in love while abroad.

Have you ever dated, had a fling or fallen in love abroad? Tell us about it! How did it end?

falling in love abroad

It seems like a dream…you move to a mysterious new land, meet a handsome stranger and fall hopelessly, passionately in love. Soon enough, you’re riding on the back of his Vespa through winding roads to watch the sunset from a spot that only locals know about thinking, is this real life??

That’s exactly what happened to me when I studied abroad in Granada, Spain last spring and, BOY, do I wish I had someone warn me that such a romance isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I wouldn’t trade in my experience for the world, but I want to share some of the darker sides of falling in love abroad that no one talks about.

 First, some upsides to international love. I met a fantastic guy, I became fluent in Spanish from constantly conversing with my novio and his friends and family in their language. I learned colloquial terms and sayings I never would have  known and got an insiders look into lesser-known spots in the city.

Oh, and I got to fall deeply in love in one of the most romantic cities in the world…I guess that’s pretty cool too.

But, just like any relationship, there are some aspects that are extremely difficult and painful. The difficult parts are often exacerbated in a foreign land as you are introduced to new cultural practices, beliefs and values. A language barrier doesn’t help things. So, I’ve put together a list of things that either hindered my relationship directly or have happened to my friends.

This should serve as a caution to starry-eyed girls who go abroad looking for a fairy tale…like a certain 20 year old I once knew.

falling in love abroad

1.This isn’t his first time at the rodeo

If you met at a disco/bar where study abroad students tend to flock; Rico Suave came with one thing in mind. Use your head, chica. Each year, thousands of Americans and international students move to these hotspot cities looking for an adventure, and men absolutely take advantage of this.  Most women let loose, and rightly so, it’s a time for fun and few obligations. But, unfortunately for many women, this means doing things they normally wouldn’t back home. If a man picks you up in one of these situations, be wary. Oftentimes, the men that frequent these places are just looking for a fling, banking on the fact that a ton of girls are hoping to fall in love. We go in thinking it’s love, a story to tell our grandchildren, while we’re more than likely just going through a revolving door of American girls.

{If he pursues you outside of the nightlife atmosphere, doesn’t try to sleep with you immediately, and especially if he involves you in his life with his family and friends, however, he could very well be an exception}

falling in love abroad

2. You may not be in love with him

Moving away from home to a foreign land presents a multitude of new experiences that could influence your feelings during this time. When choosing where to move abroad, most women choose charming and  romanticized places whether it be Rome, Barcelona, Buenos Aires or New Zealand. With the history, natural beauty and exciting culture, it’s easy to fall in love with the place you’re in and the life you live there. Between the yummy food, flowing drinks and new adventures, your pleasure center is constantly stimulated. Mix in a relationship with all these feelings and emotions and it becomes hard to distinguish how you feel about the person versus how you feel towards life in general at this time. Would you be in love with this guy if you were back in your home town? Would you want him to meet your parents? These are things worth thinking about if you’re interested in more than a fling.

falling in love abroad

3. You’ll never 100% understand each other

This one pertains solely to relationships where there is a language barrier. You could be as fluent as a non-native can be, but it is nearly impossible to truly understand humor or complicated emotion in a language that is not your mother tongue. Things like dry humor, sarcasm, and goofy jokes are extremely difficult to accurately translate. Combine that with the difficulty of conveying exactly why you’re mad/hurt/upset in a new language, and a lot of important things get lost in translation. This makes for a lot of frustration and, more than likely, many unnecessary fights.

{Upside: with all the passion and excitement surrounding you, makin’ up ain’t haaaalf bad}

4. You’ll miss out on experiences

If you’re only living abroad for a limited amount of time, having a man in your home base can and will distract you in some way. This isn’t some feminist “sister, a man will only hold you back from becoming the woman you should be” speal. It’s a fact. If you’re in love with someone and know your time together is limited by your visa, you will want to spend as much time with him as possible. This means turning down weekend jaunts to Ibiza to stay with him and nixing girls’ nights out of shameless bar-top dancing with your friends for quiet nights with your man. Many people only get the chance to live abroad once, and though you don’t think so in the moment, turning down exciting opportunities could be something you may regret when you look back on your life.

falling in love abroad

5. There’s an expiration date on your relationship

This has been a theme in each of the previous points. You have a visa, and visas expire. This means one of two things. You have to either accept your romance as nothing more than a fling, or, you have to commit. Commit to making a bi-continental relationship work, commit to a permanent  move at some point, or commit to staying together with no plan at all. To know that you’re in love and these things have a way of working out. This is, of course, up to you.

My point is that in order to protect yourself from heartbreak and disappointment, there is a lot to consider before entering into a love affair abroad. My friends like to refer to what I had with my love as “the fairytale,” and, in many ways, it was. When I look back on my time with him in Granada, I remember the most intense feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life; passion, pain, confusion, excitement, desperation and intense disappointment. I think I could have avoided some of the darker bits had someone made me conscious of the facts I’ve listed above. So, I hope that I can help at least one person to make the most of their time abroad. To immerse yourself, to love, and to explore, but to be aware, conscious, and smart.

falling in love abroad

My two biggest pieces of advice:

Don’t go looking for love, go looking for yourself and if love finds you, then love. You may find the man of your dreams. And if it’s a fling, go for it, girl.

I don’t think anyone ever regretted a tryst with a mysterious stranger.

{Disclaimer:  I know people who have successful international relationships, so there are absolutely exceptions to this list}

Julia is a world traveler who has spent time living on the Cote d’Azure and Southern Spain. These days she calls New York City least until September, when her wanderlust will relocate her to Madrid in search of new adventures. A sociologist and linguist at heart, she is passionate about seeking out new lands and cultures. She recently started blogging at Nowhere to go but Everywhere to chronicle past, present and future travels. Be sure to follow her out on Instagram and Twitter for real-time updates!

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69 Responses to 5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

  1. SD February 18, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    I feel like this could have been me writing this blog! I too met my Rico Suave in Granada, Spain. We had many more ups than downs I think largely because we talked about my inevitable return to the U.S. early on and decided to “just be friends” when I left. Needless to say, that was still hard and our friendship eventually fizzled away as the left over emotions (and my commitment to stay in the U.S. after graduating from college) and a lot of what was discussed in #2 became too much.

    Now, a couple years later and at a very different point in my life (but again, just recently back from a semester abroad), I’ve found a wonderful Brazilian guy who I love very much. Knowing that I would return to the U.S. (once again) made us talk about the future early on. We are very happy in our intercontinental relationship and know when we will be visiting each other and when one of us will buy the one way ticket ending the long-distance!

    This post has great advice and I’m all for falling in love abroad if and when it happens. Whether it turns out to be a quick fairytale fling or what I’m hoping will be my happily ever after, it’s so worth it. :)

  2. Sarah February 19, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Well, stumbling onto this today might have been fate. I studied abroad in England this past summer and met the boy that I’m sure all others will be compared to for a very long time. We left England very confused and upset about our time being cut so short- agreeing that we’d continue to talk but not enter into a serious relationship. For the past six months we’ve talked nearly every single day and have both had a very hard time of not knowing what to really make of our situation. We talked about visiting and were planning on him coming to the states very shortly, but our plan didn’t work out the way we wished. And today, we had the conversation that it would be ok for him to start seeing someone else when the practicality of our situation is so low. Honestly, I’m heartbroken today and have cried more than over all my previous breakups combined- but I want him to be happy. Distance, especially when you’re on two separate continents, is ridiculously hard. But don’t be afraid to have that romance abroad. It was the best summer of my life and while I’m licking my wounds today and cursing the day we met, I know in the weeks to come I’ll just be glad that it happened.

  3. Wilfy @ March 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Never give up hope as one of the people you meet while travelling may actually be “the one”
    I fund my soulmate while backpacking through Oz

    It does happen!

  4. William Stone March 20, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    Even long-term, successful relationships spawned from international travel have challenges associated with them that few people realize. I spent a semester abroad studying at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia back in 1997. While there I met Tammy, a beautiful Australian who stole my heart. We only dated for two months before I had to return home. After graduating, I moved back to Perth to live with her until she graduated. We then moved back to the U.S. We will be celebrating 17 years together this May. We are married, own a house and a cat, and have two beautiful children together. But the fairy tale hasn’t been all…well, a fairy tale. The truth is, for any international relationship to work, there can be one of only two scenarios: 1) one of the individuals gives up his or her home to move countries to the other person’s home, or 2) Both parties move to a new country together. The first scenario is by far the more common one. While the sacrifice to leave one’s country behind might be completely willing, it does put great pressure on the relationship. The other party can never really measure up to that significant a sacrifice. And after many, many years, home sickness breeds resentment. The question, “why was I the one to give up my country? Why didn’t you love me enough to insist that no, it would be YOU who would sacrifice your friends, family and home to give our relationship a chance?” In my situation, I would have been willing to move countries at the start, but that doesn’t negate the feelings of resentment. That’s because the resentment isn’t based on logic but on feeling, and my wife feels home sick. Our parents are getting older and both of us realize that only one of us will get to spend these final years with them. Talk about stress on a relationship. Even in a happy relationship, as mine has been, it creates challenges and hurdles I was ill-prepared to face. I just wanted to share my perspective on a side of international romance that, even when successful and long-term, is rarely explored.

    • wonderwoman March 23, 2014 at 4:47 am #

      I am going through the exact same thing. I met this wonderful man three years ago in my country. I was living as a singe mom in the florida keys. Me and my daughter were happy and rebuilding our life from a previous relationship, but were definitely enjoyng life, and then i met an amazing man from Italy and have spent the last three years chasing each other around the world, with the plan that one of us will make the move to be togther. I made the sacrafice with my daughter who is now 10. We spent a long time to decide this one and still have second thoughts everyday. we have been here for almost three months, we have two weeks to get married. But everyday has been a complete challenge to argueing and getting along. There is a resentment for making this sacrafice. the descion i made for my daughter was to give her an oppurtunity to learn another language and have a dad that loves her, and me to spend more time home with her. This may seem so beautiful to A romantic, As much as we love each other, it is not easy, and the impending marriage in two weeks, makes both of us extremely nervous and scared, because we dont know if we can overcome our challenges. And the worst thing is coming into marriage where both people arent happy. Even after all this time invested together, we continue to be terrified of the changes and descions we are making. I hope that we realize either we can make it or realize its to much energy and stop.

      • Louise April 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

        What happened I am fascinated… you are brave to make that move!!!! It could be me in the future!!!!
        Good luck!!!

  5. Margaux April 8, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    I had the same experience. I was on vacation in Belgium, and I met a boy 3 weeks before I left for the US. I really fell in love with him, but I didn’t know how because of the language barrier and everything. Sometimes it would be really hard to have a conversation together, and get each other’s jokes. It’s difficult to express the way you feel or even have intelligent conversations. I spoke some french and he spoke some english, so we managed, but maybe I really did feel in love because of your statement #2. I never thought of it that way.
    And it was really sad when I left, almost like a movie. And I think that’s why it’s so easy to fall in love abroad, because everything’s like a fairytale or some kind of romantic movie. Like everything that you’ve seen in these romantic movies is finally your reality, something that almost everyone longs for.
    It really hurts to leave someone like that, because you feel as though you have finally met someone that completes your heart, and you can’t even be with them. But I assure you that someday, if you don’t find anyone else and still want to find a way back to them, you will find each other… especially now with all the social networking we have today.
    But as for the language barrier, it’s true that even after this guy, I stayed in Belgium for a year and half and did plenty of dating… it’s pretty hard to understand everything even while being able to speak almost fluent french, especially with humor. There are just certain phrases and play on words that we will never understand, no matter how well we speak another language, just like there are in english.
    But at the same time, I wouldn’t get my hopes down too low. There are still plenty of happy couples that come from different countries and cultures. But I suppose you do have to watch out for these rules…


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