They meet on a tropical island in the south Pacific. Sultry glances across a beachside bar turns into steamy sex on the beach, swimming in breathtaking waterfalls, lying on their backs staring into a star-filled sky and then the screen fades to black. And they lived happily ever after….Except, what happens after the fade out? Is it possible to continue a travel romance in the ‘real world’?
It seems everyone who backpacks or travels has had at least one affair along the way and they always seem like something out of a romance novel. Dr. Laura Turner, a licensed psychiatrist, says that people are more open to romance when traveling because, “People are more relaxed. They are not subjected to daily pressures.” However, according to her, a lot of times the situations people find themselves in while traveling are exceptional and somewhat artificial. While every relationship contains an element of idealization it can be amplified in travel romances.
Dr. Turner says “People have expectations that they want to fill, and are driven by these expectations.” It is hard to differentiate between the person and the place. That is why a lot of times it is hard to continue the romance outside of the unique circumstances that it takes place in.
Kira*, 23, from Massachusetts lived one such romance. She was working for a summer in Lagos, Portugal as a promoter when she met Ilias* from California. Ilias had just graduated from college and was traveling around Europe for the summer. Kira says, “We only knew each other for two weeks but they were the most intense two weeks.” They met one night while she was working, “My friend introduced us, we were going to be on the same team for a cocktail drinking competition.”
After winning said competition the pair ended up hooking up. From that night on they were inseparable. “It was really weird, I found myself telling him so much and I had only known him for a week.” Dr. Turner says that people tend to be more open when they are traveling because “There is a relaxation of some repressions and they feel more anonymous.”
Over the next two weeks the pair did many things that deepened their bond. “There was this trail that went along the top of the sea cliffs, we walked that together, we went to Sagres, this point where Europe used to think the world ended, and we slept on the beach under the stars. The whole time just talking, confessing and philosophizing.”
Then he left. “After he left I thought about him all the time and in my head he became like this perfect guy to me.” Ilias bought a ticket to come visit her at the end of the summer back in the U.S. She looked forward to his visit for the whole summer, unfortunately, when the time came, it was a letdown.
He came for only two days because he had to start a job back in California. “It was so strange, partly circumstances (he had to stay at my parents house with me and I had another friend visiting at the same time) and partly because it was like out of the context of Lagos the bond wasn’t as strong.”
This tends to happen to a lot of travel romances. Dr. Turner says “The artificial (situation) gives way to more idealization and that can lead to disappointment.” Also, although you have more anonymity the ‘real world’ is still a part of who you are. According to Dr. Turner “The self has to do with personality and circumstances.” When you’re back in those circumstances it can be hard to bring someone in that you met under different circumstances.
While there is a lot standing in the way of the success of travel romances, sometimes with the right person and the right circumstances it can work. Dunja, 29, from Serbia met her husband Esteban, 27, from Argentina, while traveling. As a last minute decision Dunja, who was backpacking around Europe with her girlfriend, decided to fly to Barcelona instead of Marseille. They used Hospitality Club, a web-site like Couchsurfing.com, to find a place to crash and “Basically, I walked into his apartment.” After spending four intense days together Dunja left for Finland.
The night after her arrival after having a commiseration dinner with some friends she came home and found a text from Esteban. It said, “The feeling (between us) was so strong. Let’s keep in touch.” They ended up talking frequently and he bought a ticket to come meet her in Finland.
Twenty days later he came, and while at a concert told her “You’re going to be my wife. I don’t know where, I don’t know how but it’s going to happen.” Even though they had known each other for little time Dunja thought “Jesus Christ, this feels like it’s supposed to be.”
When he left to go back to Barcelona he left a letter that he had written to her in Spanish because his English wasn’t that good. She had it translated by a guy staying at her hostel and it basically said: How can two people just have met and have this kind of connection? But despite all of this they never made future plans or made it ‘official’.
She went back to South Africa and began living in the ‘real world’ again and searching for a job. When she found one, as congratulations, Esteban offered to pay for a plane ticket for her to come visit him in Barcelona. She went, lying to her job in order to get time off, and they rented a place in Barceloneta, a small town near Barcelona. “He took me out everywhere; it was the craziest seven days ever.”
During this trip they decided it was for real, and they wanted to be together. They made plans to move to China together. Esteban had been thinking about it for awhile and Dunja was ready for a change so she said “Man, I don’t care. Let’s just go.” After, she returned to South Africa and began the separation they had to do in order to save money. And, six months and a lot of Skyping later they were off to China. And they lived happily ever after…
So what’s the difference? Why do some relationships work and others don’t? First of all, above everything else, it has to be the RIGHT person. The ONE shall we say. Long-distance relationships are much harder than normal ones so for it to really work there has to be that underlying connection that makes it all worth it. For Dunja, Estaban was and is the ONE.
However, there are still other factors involved. One of the reasons their relationship worked was the timing. Dunja says, “I was ready to (make a change) before I met him. He was just the catalyst.” You both have to be in the same place mentally for a relationship to work.
Dr. Turner believes it is important to try to be as objective as possible when it comes to the relationship. “Weigh the pros and cons.” Dunja agrees, “I was having internal conversations. (Asking) ‘Am I infatuated again?’” But for her the answer was no, this is for real.
Another important part is to not let the long-distance portion of the relationship go for too long. Turner says that a long-distance relationship can become “an excuse to avoid commitment. It is like a virtual commitment.”
So, if you are going to do it, then do it fully. For a travel romance to end ‘happily ever after’ you have to jump and not worry about what’s below you. Dunja says she thought, “I have to go for it. If I fail I fail, at least I did it.”
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
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