Born in Bangkok and raised in different countries all over Southeast Asia, the wanderlust gene is deeply instilled in me. I have always considered myself a bit of a modern nomad, as the urge to break out and “set up camp” in a different country hits me every 4 to 5 years. By the age of 34 I have lived in 6 countries on 2 continents for longer periods of time, not to mention the countless cities and places I have traveled to. In fact, I have never lived in the same place for longer than 5 years at a time, and the thought of spending my entire life living in the same town or city is as foreign to me as the idea of living in an Amish community.
This lifestyle is admittedly all fun and games until you meet your significant other and realize, living the life of an expat is not his cup of tea at all. What do you do? Do you try to suppress that part of your identity and resign yourself to living the life you so dreaded at the risk of one day regretting it and resenting him for it? Or do you opt out of the relationship, because you know you’d be lying to yourself if you agreed to settle down permanently?
You try desperately not to paint a black and white picture and rack your brain for solutions. (where the hell are the fifty shades of grey when you need them?).
Believe you me, my husband and I have been there and have tried every possible scenario in the book – with me agreeing to settle down in a small provincial town, only to inevitably get bored out of my mind after four years. In the years to follow, I accepted job offers, which had me living overseas for months on end, while my husband was perfectly content continuing with his job and living in our apartment back home. Before long, we had settled for a long-distance relationship.
I’ll tell you right off the bat that it’s not exactly a walk in the park. It can be tough at times and definitely requires a fair amount of “work” from both sides. But, what can I say? It worked for us and I’d even go as far as to say, that it actually did wonders for our marriage.
We are both extremely independent and unwilling to compromise on that (why should we anyway?). We both have successful jobs and my husband is not one to travel, never mind move abroad. Instead of me staying home, dreaming of going abroad and becoming increasingly restless because I couldn’t and taking it out on my husband – I was now able to do what I felt was right for me. Luckily, I had a husband who supported my choices. “Forcing” him to leave his job and join me on my missions abroad was not an option either.
I truly believe that we would have become one of those bickering couples if he hadn’t given me the freedom of living my dream of working abroad for a couple of months at a time and then returning “home” to settle down before taking off again.
That being said, it obviously wasn’t always all peaches and roses as not being able to see your partner everyday isn’t easy. After a difficult day at work, I found myself yearning for his comforting hug often enough, only to come home to an empty room. I know he felt the same way as we were always very open about our feelings in that regard.
As cheesy as it may sound, the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder, certainly proved to be true for us. The memories of us falling passionately into each others arms in those crowded airport halls after months of separation, still manage to bring tears of joy to my eyes. I learned to really appreciate every single moment I got to spend with my husband. So, from that point of view, having a long-distance relationship proved to be a blessing, really.
If you’re in a long-distance relationship or considering having one for whatever reasons, you’ll soon find that, as with politics, EVERYBODY (and I mean everybody!) around you has an opinion about it. They will offer their view and advice, regardless of whether you asked for it or not. This is something that you’ll just have to accept, just like the fact that everybody has an opinion on Trump.
Most of our friends and colleagues probably thought we were out of our minds and for sure some of them felt sorry for us. But that’s their reality and has nothing to do with ours. Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors and so nobody knows what your relationship is like, and what will and will not work for you. Thus, don’t give too much thought to others’ opinion on the subject. More importantly, talk things out with your partner. His and your own opinion are the only ones that should matter to you.
Whether or not to have a long-distance relationship and how it should play out, is something every couple will have to define and make out for themselves. I don’t believe there is a universal rule for the successful long-distance relationship. I’ll stress the obvious though, that maintaining a continuous and open communication is key. No matter the time difference, make time for those phone and video-chat dates because they are the only way you are able to connect with your partner. Even if it’s just a quick call to say “goodnight”, sometimes it’s all you need to make your partner feel appreciated. Talking to each other every day proved very important for us. We’d have our ritual of calling each other first thing when each of us woke up (whether it was in the middle of the night for him or for me) and when we went to bed.
My last assignment took me all the way to Mawlamyine, Myanmar. A place with no working internet at the time (I have been told, that it has improved since I left) and a really bad communication system. So, on top of the time-difference of 4.5 hours, skyping and video chatting was not an option. Those were the toughest months of my life as I felt completely detached from my husband.
After six months spent in “exile”, which to me felt like a year, I couldn’t take it any longer and returned home. Eager to settle down a bit for the first time in a very long time, I was looking forward to living happily side by side my husband and enjoy each other again. As interesting as the last 2 years of traveling and living abroad had been, I had now reached a point where I wanted to make living together with my husband a priority again.
As it is, life however had different plans in store for us. The moment I got back, my husband was offered an incredible job opportunity in South Africa, which was simply too good to pass on. Funnily, in a matter of a week our roles were inverted: my husband suddenly bitten by the “travel bug” could hardly wait to leave, whereas I on the other hand found myself in the role of the “resisting one” for the first time ever.
So, here we are, about to embark on our journey together (because this time we are leaving together). In a way, this goes to show that you can plan all you want down to the very last detail – in the end life has different plans and you’ll have to learn to roll with it. The only thing you have to figure out is, whether you’re committed enough in your relationship to tough it out together or not.
Doing long-distance is certainly no piece of cake but it’s definitely feasible and might even contribute to building a stronger relationship as you’ll inevitably have to learn to trust each other blindly. Have faith that things will work out in the end. If I can do it, so can you.