The Rules of International Romance

Been there, loved that.

“Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.’” -Lisa St. Aubin de Terán

There are few things sweeter in life than the thrill of freshly-sparked infatuation. Regardless of whether the affair ends as tragedy or comedy, the very first bar, cafe, and park bench where you exchange those looks seem forever etched into your memory.

Perhaps there is something sweeter, though: when those bars, cafes, and park benches are located in other countries. Somehow, the sexiness factor is elevated when both the object of your desire and your current location are begging to be explored.

Call it a matter of circumstance or a personal predilection, but many of this writer’s past romances have been multinational affairs. Some people fall for muscles or freckles or fast cars; I seem to fall for foreign passports, and that intoxicating sense of newness that comes along with them.

Romance of this kind—synonymous with delayed departure dates, “I may never see you again” goodbyes, and cute moments where you have to decode each other’s slang—has unfortunately changed since the days of Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca. Posting letters of longing to a former overseas lover has given way to Facebook messaging, which tends to read as more desperate than romantic. In addition, being able to observe your short-lived lover’s ongoing life via social media can be more haunting than nostalgic. Clearly, international romance comes with its own set of—forgive me—baggage. Here’s how to navigate the terrain.

  • Few things are more fun than expiration dating, that is, moving way too fast by normal relationship standards with someone you just met because there is a pre-determined end date. Appearing too eager is not a present concern, nor are blatant signs of incompatibility, as long as the present tense is smooth sailing. At best, your truncated romance will serve as a fantastic story to be shared over mid-week cocktails when you’re back to the daily grind. At worst, you’ll have a harder time than expected getting over it and the thousands of miles between you and your once-lover will make the whole thing seem like it never happened. This last case is an occupational hazard of any world traveler, but is by no means a reason to avoid diving head first into a short-lived, yet intense and unforgettable, romance. After all, if you find out that the feeling’s mutual, you can always go back.
  • Being a damsel in distress is never a good look, but there’s no shame in an independent woman seeking a little local flavor in the form of a combination tour guide and temporary boyfriend. It’s funny that travel books and language courses never mention the best method of really getting off the tourist path and of learning some local dialect: finding a local lover, of course. In this mutually beneficial relationship, they get a respite from troublesome local girls and you get to go to bars and beaches and clubs you’d never otherwise find. Though, for your own sake it’s worth remembering that it’s highly likely the local guy you just met in a quasi-touristy bar has played this game before, so don’t get in too deep.

  • So, you think it’s the real thing and you’re preparing to book a plane ticket, quit your job, and live off your savings to prove it. Tread carefully there. Thousands of miles and different time zones tend to make break-ups all the more dramatic and gut-wrenching (I should know, I’ve been broken up with via Skype while still jet lagged). Of course, doing something brave and life changing like moving to another country is always advisable, just make sure your doing it for yourself as well, and not exclusively for another person you haven’t known for that long.
  • Your bag is packed, boarding pass is printed and it’s time to say goodbye. The question is, should you keep in touch? Don’t make promises you can’t keep; long distance relationships are notoriously difficult and once the travel euphoria dissipates, you might find that you’d prefer to keep this chapter in a mental scrapbook. However, while Facebook has essentially killed the art of the love letter, it’s a pretty good tool when it comes to keeping in contact in a non-committal kind of way. Down the line, you never know when you might be back. After all, friends (or former lovers) are good things to have at any and all latitudes.
Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.