time is finite

Find yourself dating a local while traveling? Here’s how to not let it ruin your wanderlust

Multiethnic gay couple in the park
The best and worst thing about falling in love is how all-consuming it becomes.

One of the most coveted experiences when you’re visiting or temporarily living abroad is finding yourself in an unexpected relationship with a local, you know, the presumably foreign one-night stand that abruptly becomes a romantic love affair for the ages. You don’t know their last name, but you’re willing to be with them forever – or at least until you’re back on American soil. This person was only supposed to be added to your roster of exotic hookups, but there is no PREP to protect you from catching feelings. 

But a promising fling can quickly become a burden when you overthink it. It has been proven that traveling makes you more susceptible to falling into the grey area of love – perhaps, love adjacent. Adrenaline electrified with lust mimics love – scientifically, you’re pleasuring the same part of the brain that reacts to cocaine.

So before contemplating your future together, googling the dynamics of long-distance relationships, or driving your partner bonkers with insecurity, we’ve compiled a list of advice for navigating a relationship abroad (and preventing it from taking over your wanderlust) and not ruining a good thing. 

All might be fair in love and war, but unfortunately, the battles typically happen in your head. 

Remember, they are not on vacation or temporarily living abroad

The most important detail to remember when dating someone abroad is that they are a local living an ordinary life. Your days might feel magically new to you, filled with adventure, serendipity, and blah blah, but they’re only getting the blah blah portion of it.

Do not expect them to tour every nook and corner of their miserable hometown, which may be how they see it. Instead, let them offer to show you around and trust their judgment on where to go. Lovers abroad want to feel like they’re partaking in the adventure with you rather than taking the role of an unpaid tour guide. And don’t be insulted if they bow out of activities, especially if they’re tourist traps! 

Keep your hands on your partner but your feet on the ground

In psychology, excitation-transfer theory purports that “residual excitation from one stimulus will amplify the excitatory response to another stimulus.” You may be transferring the excitement and sensations of being somewhere new to the stranger who just swept you off your feet.

The most common example of this theory is when you meet someone during a memorable night out – sleep with them – but when you wake up the next day, you’re not as into the person as you thought. However, the stimulus doesn’t subside when you’re abroad the next day, so don’t let your emotions get the best of you or become too intense. It’s an uneven dating field because your partner’s emotions aren’t on steroids, so you don’t want to scare them away.

Your time might be finite, but don’t let a lover take over your wanderlust

The best and worst thing about falling in love is how all-consuming it becomes. A person you’ve spent your whole life without suddenly becomes someone you don’t want to go a minute without seeing. But dating this person shouldn’t replace your original plan: discovering the world, in this case, wherever you are.

Time is finite, yes, and your relationship is on a clock counting down. Of course, you want to make the most of every moment with them. But balance is the key to a life worth living, so make sure you’re checking off the bucket list of everything you wanted to experience abroad, especially if you arrived with friends or family.

You can find romantic or sexual chemistry with people around the globe, but every city is unique and bounded by geography. Don’t waste the opportunity to experience life-changing experiences with your chosen family on a lover that might soon become an acquaintance.  

Enjoy every moment without trying to connect them to the future

You’re in that middle ground between lust and love, and there’s a tug-o-war going on in your heart. But we’re only going to say this one: Don’t try to plan for the future – at least not until you’re both confident that you want the relationship to continue, which is impossible after a few dates.

It would be unhinged to do this with a new mate back at home, so why would it be any less absurd to expect such commitment across oceans? Languages might change internationally, but there is always a word for crazy! 

The temporary nature of the relationship heightens your feelings; it makes you want to take action. But keep the art of living in the moment and embracing unexpected but everlasting memories.

Ghosting, breadcrumbing, f*ck boys, and heartbreak transcend culture

This will be a tough pill to swallow: life might seem like a movie (God knows our hearts still need an exorcism from The Lizzie McGuire Movie), but the person you’re considering to be the love of your life could potentially ruin your time abroad. Seemingly from one day to the next, you might find yourself putting way more effort into seeing this person, watching texts go unanswered while they’re online on Grindr (worst nightmare), or them doing the bare minimum to keep the spark alive – on life support.

So first, don’t just use apps to see if they’re active; meet other people! Second, it’ll be a travel crime to use your time being boy-crazy about a person who was never supposed to be part of your itinerary – to let it ruin memories you invested money, time, and effort to create.

We know it’s tempting to glamorize dating people from other cultures, but the playbook of f*ck boys is not unique to Americans. 

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