In the beginning, travel blogging is sexy. I tell guys I’m a freelance writer who speaks French, traveled through Asia by myself, lived in Australia and they’ll buy drinks just to listen to the stories. I’m deliberately vague about my future plans. It ups the “hard-to-get” factor, increases the speed of the chase: without the worry of it becoming serious, it’s the carefree fun that’s difficult to find.
A few dates in, and we fall into the rhythm of a relationship: the all-day text sessions, the good night phone calls, the inside jokes and patio drinks and hand holding. I bask in the attention, while anxiously awaiting the inevitable conversation.
When’s the right time to say this won’t last—can’t last—I’m leaving? Is it pretentious to assume that you’ll fall in love with me, to warn you now not to get too attached? But if the basis of any healthy relationship is honesty, then how long can I lie about my true intentions? I’ve mastered the indirect answer to any question about how serious things can get: well, I mean, isn’t every commitment-phobe just searching for a reason to settle down?
The thing is, I’ve done this before. I know how it works. I’ve gone on perfect first dates. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve cried on airplanes (Email sent to my best friend on my last goodbye flight: It’s Monday morning, I’m in a middle seat between two businessmen and I’m bawling and look like a strangled raccoon. Remind me not to date foreigners ever again). I’ve endured the worst type of break-up: the type when absolutely nothing is wrong, except location and timing. Those are the types of break-ups you constantly question, the what-ifs and wonders on a continuous loop.
My mom studied abroad in France in high school and college, and she shakes her head talking about the girls who chose to date Frenchmen in the 1970s. She loved–still does love–visiting France, but she’s never had any desire to cut through the red tape to live there. “Why take the risk of falling in love,” she explains, hinting at where she wants me to end up eventually. “There are plenty of nice American boys.”
When I was a senior in college, I was determined to work in London after graduation. I started dating someone in the fall of that last year of school, told him cautiously on our first date that I was actively seeking employment abroad and that I wasn’t going to sacrifice that dream for a relationship. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard about my time working in London, it’s because I fell into the relationship trap, swapping out that dream for the idea of an early wedding and babies. Our dreams of together slowly fell apart, with that break-up becoming the catalyst for my move to France, the wakeup call I needed to follow my own dream.
Since then, I’ve been cautious (in a confused way) about relationships. I’m all or nothing: I’ll fall head over heels, until my departure date rolls around and I stickily untangle myself from a we-never-officially-got-together-so-how-can-we-break-up situation. I romanticize the idea of cross-cultural relationships, rationalizing that it’s easier, cheaper, faster than ever to travel and thus to keep in touch with a life at home. I secretly hope that someone will give me a reason to stay in a new place—but then again, I also secretly hope for a few more years of compromise-less exploring.