Monday, March 12, 2012

Expat Relationships: Is There Room For Romance?

Dear Readers,

As some of you may know, my romantic relationship of 2.5 years crashed and burned the night I got back from my six month consulting adventure in Nigeria. It’s taken me most of the last...year..to get back on my feet emotionally...and it is probable that I’m still not quite all there (here?), yet.

Luckily, I have great friends and some gracious and understanding suitors. ;)

Now that I’m in the thick of preparing for my first foreign service officer gig (2 years in the DRC, for which I am studying French full time right now), it occurs to me that my career is hell on relationships. Further, it seems to encourage two types of relationships: marriage or undefined (and with a deadline that closely resembles your pack-out date).

For marriage, you need some time—for courtship, to run a background check on them (hey—we’re always being told by AFN that we’re being spied upon), a year to plan the wedding and another year to deal with all the new paperwork (not exactly romantic, I know). :)

Undefined relationships are not that easy, either, since these also involve aspects of the heart, their, and your feelings, etc. Also, deadlines are decidedly unromantic. It helps to communicate clearly, but most outside of your weird fso culture might not comprehend the acronym-ruled world you come from—more paperwork than adventure, more executing policy than saving the work, more isolation than exposure to exotic locales...

Of course, you might meet someone at post—and many do. However, it is tricky to date coworkers, trickier to date employees/ers, dating foreigners involves the above-mentioned background checks, potential conflicts of interest plus paperwork. PLUS they must want to give up their normal life, follow you around the world and love paper.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic, I’m just curious about how this works for the other unmarried expat-types? I’d love to hear your story!

Thanks!
Tukpa-Imi

115 comments:

  1. A Wellesley reader sent me in the direction of this article:

    16 Points: Advice on Intercultural Relationships

    My favorite points of advice (applicable to all dating):

    16. And last but not least, your mate's country is like his mother. He may hate or criticize both. You may not. Period.

    13. Examine your own country. Is it really paradise, or is it just familiar? We are more tolerant of our own flaws than of those very same flaws in another person.

    11. Avoid friendships based on whining or nostalgia for your native country. Sharing pain and survival strategies is a great comfort, but talk to your friends back home instead. You may be surprised to see their problems are the same as yours (See point 7). Negative people who dwell on Italy's defects may set you against your mate and keep you from finding the strategies that are right for you. Seek people who support your strengths, not indulge your weakness.

    10. Learn the language. Sounds obvious, but it isn't. A thorough acquaintance with your partner's language will create greater intimacy and help you understand deeper emotional and cultural cues. It will give you an Italian life and friends all your own.

    1. Before you move to Italy (or enter a relationship with an Italian), discuss the fine print. Every relationship has unspoken conditions and rules. Bring expectations about living in Italy into the open. All of us know of mono-cultural relationships that failed because one partner never truly expressed his ideas about wanting/not wanting children, or having an open/not open relationship etc.

    2. Don't be a victim. No one shanghaied you to Italy. You came for some reason. Be an adult, take responsibility for it and don't blame your partner for being here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. wow, tough situation, and probably tougher for a heterosexual woman as there is surely a higher % of women willing to give up their careers for their husbands than there are men willing to give up their careers for their wives...and we tend to be critical of those that are willing.

    Are you flexible enough mentally to be happy with and respect a husband who would follow you and sacrifice his career for yours? If you are, you may increase your chances. If you aren't, by all means, do not try to make yourself be.

    My friends who are married and in international development tend to go for longer postings and only those that allow their spouses to accompany them. They recognize and accept that there will be some professional consequences for at least one of them but enjoy the international adventure.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Make it easier on yourself by not expecting to take a year to plan a wedding or taking a year for all te paperwork (is this because you assume you are taking your husbands name?) I dated long distance for 18 months (we managed to see each other every 3-4 months). We were literally half way around the world from each other. We then did have several years together in the one place (engagement to wedding in 5 months). He followed my career to two countries, I've followed his career to another country (we had 2 kids and I decided to scale back for a bit). We're from different countries but I do have family ties with his country. He asked me to turn down one country because he wouldn't have been able to do any work there and I agreed. And I vetoed several options he had as I didn't want to be in those countries because of my options. So we have had compromise. We're private sector not govt but have lived / worked on four continents so far. I definitely found the right person. I never changed my name so no additional paperwork required. We are celebrating 20 years of marriage this year.

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