How I Screwed Myself Over in Terms of Relationships

January 29, 2011

What can I say? I’ve really been going for classy blog titles. My thinking this evening is probably the result of watching too many episodes of The Big Bang Theory and other shows I used to watch that really made me pity myself.

Let me clarify that. I wanted to show how even though I wouldn’t trade my travel experiences for anything… well, that anything might not include a significant other. A wife, a fiancé, a long-term girlfriend. Even though my time on the road has shaped me into I believe a better and more cultured person, one more likely to attract a mate based on shared interests, I just don’t know if the years involved were worth it. As I was enjoying countless sojourns in Asia, my friends back home were meeting people, forming long-term relationships, and some even getting married. And though I personally believe it’s more beneficial to meet someone later in life – well, a few years out of university, anyway – I can’t help but wonder “what if?” at lot of things in my past.

What if I hadn’t been such a nerd in high school?

Yes, this question is probably a result of me understanding too many nerdy references in BBT, but it did occupy my thoughts for some time during university as I learned there was more to life than studying. I subsequently reasoned for myself why my high school social experience wasn’t I hoped it would have been: I wasn’t normal.

Normal is what you have to be in high school to stay sane and have any semblance of a social life. Normal is not liking science fiction. Normal in high school is not being gay; I should DEFINITELY clarify this, because I don’t have any problem whatsoever with someone’s sexuality. I just think mainstream high school students can’t deal with it; whether you born that way or not, you’re different from the majority of those around you. And, by all means, scream it from the tops of the tallest buildings once you graduate, but if you want to be accepted at a minimum, hold your tongue in high school. Normal is excelling at some kind of athletics, or, if you’re unable, in the arts. Normal is dressing the right way. Normal is not being yourself, but what other people expect you to be. Normal is not knowing too much, or too little: being smart enough to pass classes but not show off your intelligence (e.g. the kid at the front of the class always raising his hand).

Ah, yes, intelligence. I could go either way on this one. In high school, I’d have to say dumber is more appealing to the opposite sex. You tend not to overthink your actions and just rush right into the physical. For men, or rather boys, brawn is superior to brains. Maybe if I had just put all my focus in becoming the fastest runner at my school (I did have the ability, just not the dedication), gone to keg parties, gotten drunk, and killed as many brain cells as possible while making out with your stereotypical blonde cheerleader, I might have had the hope of gaining some experience with relationships before entering college. As it happened, however, all I could do was offer pretense when it came to girls, trying to showcase traits I really didn’t have, and looking like a complete jackass in the process. They must have been laughing at me for four years.

I was the kid at the front of the class. I was the kid who watched reruns of Star Trek when I got home. I was the one who arrogantly assumed he was superior to dumb jocks, ignoring the fact most of them were probably hooking up with half the freshmen girls. I left high school having never been on a real date – kind of – and as a result had to use my time at university to make milestones most of my friends had reached years ago.

In short? I had fallen behind. Guess I could have just said that earlier.

What if I hadn’t rushed in?

When I met Amy my senior year at the University of Texas, I had learned a few things. Not much, mind you, but a few things.

I guess in a way she was my first real love, as we both moved things along pretty quickly. But we were still worlds apart. She had a few years left at college, whereas I was about to finish and head for places unknown. The first month or so we were inseparable, but then I started to notice her pulling away, subtly not responding to my affection. It never occurred to me I could have been pushing her into something for which she wasn’t ready. I felt more during my time with her than I had up to my entire life at that point, but I suppose it was just another relationship to her, and she didn’t feel the same way.

Why do I think travel makes relationships suffer?

I’m referring to people trying to form relationships, not the relationships themselves. That’s a different issue.

Your social skills deteriorate abroad. You will gain some great stories and language skills, but as anyone who’s lived in another non-English-speaking country can tell you, you almost fall out of the habit of speaking correctly. Not to mention the lack of contact with your own culture if you choose to repatriate. You lose pop culture references and the latest trends. Once you do return home, it’s like being a travel nerd who won’t shut up: all you can do is talk about your fantastic experiences in this place and that and how no one has really lived until he or she has done the same.

Your expectations fall due to superficial or short relationships. Take teaching English in Asia as an example. You’re over there for one year. Let’s say you have the fortune of meeting a fellow foreign teacher you happen to like, and she feels the same. Great, while you’re there. There’s a time limit imposed from the start. You’re sure to have fun and not be as lonely, but the relationship won’t really teach you anything about compromise, sacrifice, or any hardships real relationships are sure to experience. And as for purely physical ones with locals who barely speak English or expats with whom you might click, well… there’s not exactly anything of substance, is there?

I didn’t have any experience in high school. I rushed in in university. I started traveling soon. I am so screwed if lasting relationships are built upon the lessons learned from failed ones. I haven’t bothered to try anything long term due to circumstances, and I have a feeling I’ll discover just how much that will set me back when I try to forge something real the next time around.

10 Responses to How I Screwed Myself Over in Terms of Relationships

  1. World Spinner on January 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    How I Screwed Myself Over in Terms of Relationships | Once A Traveler…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shawn Browning, Turner Wright. Turner Wright said: @TweyelyteZone I looked them up in the dictionary. For this: […]

  3. Jessica on January 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with being a nerd and not being engaged or married at 28. I think people who get engaged or married later in life have the opportunity to grow in directions they otherwise wouldn’t have if they were with someone. The reason for this is because you do not have to sacrifice nearly as much and have the time to discover yourself. However, there are rare exceptions when couples grow together. I attended Uni with a gal who was married at 20, but she was wise beyond her years. It’s also possible to grow apart, and that’s exactly what happened to me and my former long-term boyfriend.

    I know quite a few people that got married and had children at a young age (early to mid-20s), and a lot of these people were jocks/cheerleaders in high school (Oh Facebook, there are no more mysteries! I’m skipping my 10 year reunion this year!). What I’m about to say is not applicable in every case, but in general these people discontinue their path to self-discovery because they have bigger concerns: mortgages, marriage and children. Even without the children, commitments tie you down. You can’t get up and go to Thailand easily. On the other hand, I believe getting married to someone you truly love and having children together is one of the most amazing experiences a human can have.

    What it comes down to is what you want in life. There is nothing wrong with marriage/children and never leaving the country. There’s also nothing wrong with traveling and experiencing this colorful and amazing planet. Hah. Clearly you can see which one I prefer. But I think it’s in our biology to worry about being single in our late 20s. Personally, I think you still have a lot of time to experiment with dating and then finding your special lady, but I know from experience it’s difficult to take this advice sometimes (except a man in my case).

    The knowledge you gain from traveling is priceless, and you cannot get that from books or films. You seem to be passionate about travel, so I recommend you keeping doing what you love, keep your chin up and stay positive in the future. Who cares if you were a nerd in high school and didn’t get any girls? High school is a social experiment for everyone, and those who do not admit to that are lying. Raging hormones and trying to figure out how to be an adult are stressful!

    My recommendation to you is to embrace your nerdy years because that is what made you who you are today (I do for myself! I was a marching band nerd who loved science fiction…still do). Keep your heart open and realize when you meet your special lady, you need to make decisions together and stay together. It is not too late to get into the dating game, but you may have to occasionally seek advice from those who might have more experience than you. I think as long as you have a nice flow of communication (aka talking about your feelings and what you are thinking), then most women can overlook your lack of experience. And when you meet her, it will be so much more rewarding b/c you’ve been waiting for so long.

    And finally, I run the risk of sounding like a total nutcase, but I highly recommend “In sync with the opposite sex” by Alison Armstrong for more information on where men and women go wrong with each other: I can email it to you if you’re unable to access it.

  4. Jessica on January 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Oh, and one more thing. You must resist telling travel stories at home because people can only take about 30 seconds on average if they haven’t had similar experiences themselves. I relate to not knowing about the hip things in the States, but now I know what is cool in other parts of the world. 🙂

  5. Sally on January 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I’ve lived abroad off and on for the past ten years (mostly in Asia… and mostly while teaching English). And, yeah, I haven’t dated much while living and traveling overseas.

    And, oh man, I’m all about blaming the country I’m living in for my woeful dating situation.

    But, if I’m completely honest with myself, I’ve never been a big dater. Like you, I didn’t date in high school. I didn’t start dating until I reached college and I never really got the hang of it. When I moved back to my hometown a couple years ago, in between jobs overseas, I dated off and on but nothing very serious.

    It’s handy to blame the place we’re in for whatever isn’t quite working out in our life. (I know because I do it all the time! I can’t find a date — it must be Asia’s fault! I would totally be hot stuff back in America!). But the fact is that’s often what it is — a handy excuse.

    It may be travel’s fault that you have trouble connecting with people. It may be travel’s fault that you find your social skills lacking (which, frankly, I can’t agree with you on — if anything, traveling has made me much more confident & able to connect with people from various backgrounds).

    Or it may not be.

    It may be your own fault.

    (Harsh. I know. I wasn’t too happy, either, when I realized that my whole disastrous dating life might, in fact, be my own fault.)

  6. Turner on January 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I don’t believe travel itself is at fault, but the dating situations available to you, at least in Asia, are consistent: date an English teacher and have a fixed term on the relationship, or pass the time with a local or expat in a cheap superficial relationship. This is the case as I’ve seen in Asia, but certainly it doesn’t apply to all travel. It’s not an excuse; I’m perfectly willing to put my heart out there, but circumstance rules all.

    Thanks for the comments.

  7. Jed Worthen on January 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Great article! Loved it! Found it on Twitter. Can totally relate. Sort of nerdy myself. Not that athletic or into sports. Love books. Want to travel & teach English overseas. Don’t know anybody else interested in the kind of music, movies i like. Or in traveling, teaching English overseas, current events, or reading anything. Much less nonfiction. Haven’t really dated much either. Unmarried & childless at 33. Brother is married & has child. Most of my friends, cousins, peers, etc. are married, have children, or both. Keep up the interesting writing. Sorry for rambling in a long comment!

  8. Andrea on January 30, 2011 at 2:17 am

    I don’t think you should write yourself off yet. When you meet the right person you will know. She will complement you and none of these things that you perceive as issues and shortcomings will matter. I met my husband travelling when I least expected it. Worry less about who you are to other people and focus on what you want and who is right for you. You sound like an interesting and unique person and that means that most of the girls out there probably won’t be right for you. But I’m sure there is someone…the right one. I believe in that…hope this doesn’t sound too trite or naive. And if all else fails, try online dating. Everyone I know who thought they would never find anyone who tried it has found someone good…worth a shot! Good luck!

  9. Turner on January 30, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Heh, I like the way you said that: “You sound like an interesting and unique person and that means that most of the girls out there probably won’t be right for you.” That is part of my concern, that travel has changed me to a point that won’t let me settle for less than a well-traveled, educated, worldly individual. And, as that cuts out a fairly large chunk of the population, I can’t help but think it might be better to be stupid, bulky, and uncultured when it comes to relationships.

  10. MaryAnne on January 30, 2011 at 7:05 am

    As a long time nerd and a long time traveller, I would like to cordially disagree with what you wrote. I’m 36, in a long term relationship with another English teacher I met back in Turkey nearly 4 years ago when we were both teaching in Istanbul. We’re in China now. I know a lot of other couples who met while travelling. Some are teachers like us, others have been backpackers who met on the road and kept on going.

    In my nearly 17 years of living and travelling abroad, I’ve found my social skills improving (I’m not only a nerd but also a hermit, a book worm, a music-fiend, a terrible punner and other terrible things). Exposure to so many people doing so many things has reassured me that there is room for all sorts in this world. I never quite fit in back in my small logging town in Canada. I was never popular. I never really dated until I was 20– when I went to Ireland for a few months after my 2nd year at uni. I’ve slowly gotten better at it. It’s never been my forte but that’s okay. My (American) boyfriend is similar- nerdy, solitary, with odd interests, not much of a dater. We have a lot in common.

    I think you’ll be find. The characteristics you described for yourself don’t sound weird at all. Just not conventional. Do YOU want someone conventional? I don’t think that would make you happy. I think the nerd girls will find you. There are many out there and a lot of us are restless, curious travellers too.

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