We are familiar with how traveling together as a couple can make or break a relationship. Any episode of The Amazing Race can testify to this reality.
Moving to a foreign place on a much-longer term as expats is a whole other relationship test. It has the typical challenges of couples moving in together for the first time or married couples post-honeymoon phase. However, the expat angle means you are dealing with these challenges all by yourselves, because your entire support system is left back home. That can really rock the boat.
On our first year here, my husband and I not only had to deal with the adjustments to the new environment and lifestyle, we had to deal with other life events, far from our loved ones. He had to deal with a first-time pregnant wife, who had to find new outlets (to replace the friends left behind) for her new hormone-driven emotions. We had to deal with the loss of his parents and the grief of the rest of the family back home. It was a tough year. We changed. We fought. We had to learn to love the new us.
Single expats also face a different set of challenges. I am familiar to some of these realities, first-hand or otherwise. When my first expat stint ended, I also found myself at the end of a relationship. It was a bad ending.
3 COMMON SINGLE EXPAT ISSUES (based on personal observations):
- Temporary Mutual Arrangement. This was quite rampant among the single expats in our company before our time. What happens: 2 single expats agree to be in a relationship, exclusively but privately dating, while in the foreign country, as a means of surviving homesickness. The relationship ends before they return home, usually to their pre-existing relationships, as if nothing happened. However, I knew of a few TMAs that developed into a serious relationship, some as far as ending up in marriage. The casualty: the girlfriend/boyfriend who endured the long-distance relationship (and it is usually harder for the one who gets left behind) only to endure a much-more painful break-up (or betrayal, if the TMA was discovered).
- To Stay or Not To Stay. Some expats had to confront a tough relationship decision — to stay or to end a relationship. This happens when one of them is not willing to go through a long-distance relationship. It is harder when it involves breaking up with a fianceé. In most companies like ours, trailing partners are only sponsored for married employees. It makes me wonder about friends in the LGBT community who can’t legally marry. Sometimes, the question thrusted into the expat is whether to stay or to get married and live abroad together. It makes me wonder how much of these decisions are bound to happen to a couple merely by the quality of their relationship and how much of it is expedited due to an individual’s decision to take on an expat opportunity.
- To Commit or Not to Commit. An expat friend has been single for years. She dated once in a while. But it never leads to a relationship. This year, after 6 years, she requested to return home so she can prioritize her relationship (or work on the lack of it). This was her words. I guess, for some single expats, they put a pause on dating. They hold off meeting potential partners because of the thought that their (expat) situation is temporary. Avoiding dating saves them from the painful break-up later on. I don’t know. Is this true?
In the time before wifi and decent internet connections, the success of an expat’s long-distance relationships can be pretty costly just basing it on the long-distance phone call expenses.
//What are the other relationship issues that an expat typically faces?