Dating a Traveler

July 1, 2014

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Whether you think going abroad as a couple, finding someone to date locally, or being single is the best way to experience the world, there are certain realities one must face when it’s time to come home. I must emphasize that this is my experience as a straight man, as I’m sure that of a woman would be different.

Out there, just existing and being unique is a huge social lubricant. Whereas one might actually have to try in the US, if I were in Japan, I’m only one white face in a sea of millions of Asian people. You attract attention, which can be used to form friendships, line up dates, and even get employment. Even among travelers, the desire to know the other’s story and learn about your path on the road tends to take precedent over “stranger danger”. Facing others who share your nationality and background is no different, as living in a foreign country makes your sense of wonder hyperaware: you feel more, like more, love more, walk around with a stupid grin at everything occurrences and sights. Being approachable is just immeasurably more likely.

I’ve dated women in Japan and had one night stands in several countries, but I’ve also felt alone. As useful as being the foreigner abroad is, it’s not a guarantee you’ll get laid or have dates lined up seven nights a week. It’s an assist, one which can be taken advantage of, or ruined with social awkwardness or entitlement, i.e. “I’m a white guy in Asia; I deserve to have sex thrown at me.”

When I’m back in the US, this advantage essentially vanishes. In its place comes something new which can be utilized: worldly experience (women like a well-traveled man), and probably confidence after having been at the upper echelon of dating norms for a brief period.

This is where I fall. Despite the fact many might think it simple to date after months or even years abroad – you do both speak the same language, after all – there are two sides to this argument. While travel does generally improve your perspective and thus your character as a human being, it’s been my experience that delving too much into the source of this change or wanting to continue to travel is detrimental to your social calendar.

Talking about past travels

Everything should be taken in moderation. If one were to simply spend a week outside the US, even in a developing country like Haiti, there’s no guarantee the experience would open your eyes and cause your worldview to change overnight. But volunteering for months in a disaster area? Seeing how another culture lives day-to-day over a year? Now we’re getting into life-changing moments.

Although I’ve found most women do enjoy hearing tidbits of foreign trivia and stories from the road, no one, male friends included, wants that to be your sole topic of conversation. I’m actually quite terrible at heeding my own advice here; when the discussion even touches upon something I thought about in Asia, it doesn’t take much for me to monopolize other people’s ears and drone on about exploring the southern islands of Japan.

Focusing on life outside your own country

This is the first challenge in returning to the US dating scene: your focus is on life and events abroad, not those at home. You don’t care about the latest viral video or bit of celebrity gossip when Uganda’s foreign minister is appointed president of the UN General Assembly, nor it is a simple matter to get back to the mentality of someone who would care.

I’ll grant you: dating is a complicated process, and you could very well meet someone with no knowledge of life outside the US who finds your stories enchanting and whose company your enjoy. But the fact remains the majority of Americans do NOT own a passport, nor have any intention of getting one. Lack of exposure to anything beyond our own borders is a turnoff to me.

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In fact, I can go ahead and say it: I will not date someone who hasn’t traveled outside the US. That eliminates approximately 70% of Americans. Travel changes you, for better or for worse, and that change is essential for growth as a dateable individual and a fulfilled man or woman. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t have wanted to settle down with pre-Japan me. I can barely remember how I got dates before I used my travel stories (just be careful not to overwhelm them).

How do you date?

Dating abroad is simpler, but it usually comes with a time limit: someone is on a trip or on a teaching contract. Obviously, if it’s serious enough, all rules are out the window, but typically nothing gets in the way of someone’s travels, male or female.

Back in the US, there’s little to distinguish yourself, at least on the surface, from the millions of dateable individuals around you. In fact, for someone like me in Asia, who stood out at 181 cm and in decent shape, I always feel taken down a notch after leaving customs. Many Americans are overweight and some universally considered undateable, but among men, there are so many tall and muscular ones. In Korea, I never really felt weak or fat, because compared to the majority, I was the strong, tall one. In the US… just average. I rely on my speed and endurance to make up the gap.

Because we are still a strongly superficial society, I don’t at all feel confident picking up women in bars or at parties. There are exceptions, but I left a lot of friends behind when I traveled, and with them gone, so too were the connections many people take for granted when it comes to meeting someone special.

Met through a friend of a friend? I don’t have the former.

Friend invited you to a party to set you up with this cute girl? Again, no friends with houses to invite me.

I’ve been relying on eHarmony and OK Cupid for dating. Even this is a challenge in itself, crafting the profile as I would my conversation with a new person: including enough about travel to make myself interesting, but not so much to make the person believe I’m about to hop on another plane next Monday. Again, all in moderation.

Traveling again

Somehow, before I came to this realization, I met someone sweet on eHarmony while I was still living in Korea. We emailed and Skyped before I flew into San Francisco, and when we were both finally ready, started dating in October 2011. When Christmas rolled around and I booked a flight to Texas, even though we had been dating for two months, she asked me: “You are coming back, right?”

Not jokingly. She was genuinely concerned my travel bug would kick in at the airport and I wouldn’t return. The sad truth is, she was right in the end. Things didn’t work out in part because I was always considering the next destination (albeit, for us to go together), and she wanted to be in one place for a long time.

This is the challenge I face most often when dating someone new. For though I want to stay in one place if only to continue seeing her, I keep travel at the back of my mind. Ideally, I would want to meet someone with whom I could travel whenever the mood struck both of us, but then the chance either one of us would grow bored with the time at home doubles. I seek consistency if only to prove to her, someone out there, that I can stick around long enough for both of us to realize what we mean to each other, and then travel the global together.

One Response to Dating a Traveler

  1. Nora on July 26, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Great musings on the topic. I’ve had a broad scope of experience on this level: I started traveling with somebody and broke up with them on the road (travel isn’t easy on relationships), had my share of one nighters, had guys not want to get involved because they knew I’d pick up and leave (to travel), dated fellow travelers who were a wee bit too loose when we traveled apart, and even dated a traveler at heart who had a home and a daughter.
    Moral of the story: After all that, I’m single again…er, still! It’s not an easy game to play on the road, but then again maybe the challenges are just different; I don’t know that dating is any easier living in one place and being immersed in a routine that makes finding somebody new (and compatible) difficult.

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