5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

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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, our contributor 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}

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199 Comments on “5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

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  1. Oh international romance. 🙂 I firmly believe if it’s meant to be, it’s mean to be, distance and bumps in the road not withstanding. I myself am a product of study abroad romance. My mother met my father her junior year abroad while she lived in France for a year.

    Are you ready for this? My father was her host brother! They lived in the same house for an entire year so my mother really got to know his family and her future in-laws by closely observing the family firsthand. There really isn’t a better way to figure out if the guy is right for you! Of course they didn’t get together right away–they got together around February and my mother left later that spring because she had to go back to college and graduate. Everybody told her it was a fling, but lo and behold my father came to visit her twice before they decided a translantic long distance relationship was kind of ridiculous. So they decided to get married–there was no grand proposal and getting down on one knee, which I think makes their story special (and less cheesy). 🙂

    So yes my father had to leave his family behind since my mother and he decided to live in the US. But they are still together 30 years and 2 daughters later.

    And if you think my parents are the exception and not the rule–my father’s younger brother did the EXACT same thing. He also married an American college student who ended up with my grandparents as host parents! International romances kind of run in the family.

  2. I can’t tell you how many people told me to meet a Spanish beau upon my departure abroad! Despite the anxious singletons awaiting a vicarious romance back home, I left looking for nothing more than a grand adventure and some space from my tired routine at home. Of course, as they say, love appears when you least expect it – it most certainly did for me! I managed to fall head first over a man I met during the second half of my stint in Spain and boy did it do me in. Lucky for me, he wasn’t the typical American-crazy, hookup-hopeful guy you so accurately warn against. Unlucky for me, my return ticket to the states was already staring me in the face and our time was limited. For me, the whole thing was worth it (particularly after the adorable broken Spanish version of asking me to be his valentine last week 🙂 ), but if you’re going for it, ladies, be ready for a heck of a heartache! The theme of our relationship today? Algún día, es esta vida o en la otra, we will get our chance.

  3. How a propos! 😉 I went to Florence, Italy, in 2002, for what was supposed to be one year. I ended up meeting an Italian, and in my quest to be with him (and figure myself out), I eventually enrolled at university for a degree. Alas, he & I mutually broke up after 5 years, while I was still in school. Amazingly though, he’s now one of my best friends. And even though a little over a year has passed since I moved back to the States, Italy is still very much a part of my life 🙂 Plus I ended up meeting another Italian here in LA, so… I guess things worked out after all!

  4. WOW, I just moved to Valencia as an au pair and I met a guy thru a conversation exchange website 1 month after I found out I was moving to Valencia. My first idea was to make friends to hang out when I was here. We always had such a great time skyping and bu the end of the year he told me he liked me and of course I liked him too. So, I finally get here ( 17 days ago) and the first time we met was so normal! It seriously felt like we have seen each other a billion times. We have been going out every weekend and still talk every day thru Skype. I like him as much and much more than I did online, and he feels the same way !

    Wish me luck !

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