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Matador Life is kicking off its newest relationship series, Love in the Time of Matador, with insights from traveler Kelsey Freeman.

As a frequent traveler, one of the most important criteria I look for in significant others is a love of the world and a well-traveled past. So you can imagine my joy when I found a guy who was raised in the foreign service and grew up in places like Yugoslavia and Botswana. A guy who was familiar with chicken-buses, endless train rides, and language barriers.

But, there was a problem. This guy was all traveled-out, and I was about to leave for a year in rural South Korea. We were really well-matched in a number of ways, and the chemistry was all there, so this was quite the stumbling block for us.

Our Solution

We talked.

I told him that I would have no hard feelings if he didn’t want to get involved with someone who was about to move 10,000 miles away for a year. We could put things off and give it a go when I got back if he wanted. He surprised me with his persistence when he said that he wanted to give our budding relationship a shot; the distance be damned.

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A little over two years later, we’re still together. We both feel that our relationship was actually strengthened by being separated so soon after we got together. We made it through the difficulty of 10,000 miles apart for a year, so everything after that seems like a cakewalk.

What Works For Us

One of the reasons my boyfriend and I are able to make things work is we take advantage of each others preferences. In having a boyfriend who has a career that ties him to our location here in Washington DC, I have gained a trustworthy caretaker for our cats and our stuff. In having a girlfriend who likes to travel around the world, my boyfriend has gained a partner he can boast about, who does neat things like motorcycling around Korea or horse trekking across Mongolia.

He is my rock, my home base. I like having a boyfriend and two wonderful cats to come back to and tell about my travels, and he likes living vicariously through me and not having to give up the career he has worked hard for and enjoys.

Through my traveling, we also end up getting our necessary time alone – something crucial in a relationship between two independent people. Our time apart allows us to maintain our identities as individuals, rather than be two halves of a whole.

We love each other for who we are, and we respect our differences. Just as I understand his need for a stable job and location, he understands my need to wander off into the unknown.

Our Additional Agreement
I had been in a very short open relationship back in college, and while I feel they’re not for everyone, I also feel that they have a time and place where they can be successful.

He and I have one additional relationship tactic to help smooth over potential rough patches: when we’re apart, our relationship shifts from closed to open. We’re each allowed to see other people while one of us is traveling, so long as everyone involved is aware that when the trip is over, so is the fling and the openness.

I had been in a very short open relationship back in college, and while I feel they’re not for everyone, I also feel that they have a time and place where they can be successful.

The conversation started when we were on a trip to Québec City the January before I left for Korea. I told him that I was very touched by his decision to stand by me through my upcoming move, and that I didn’t mind if he slept with other girls while I was gone. I told him that so long as he was safe, made it clear that he wasn’t available for relationships, and maintained his emotional loyalty to me, I couldn’t care less what he did with the equipment in his trousers.

Knowing my relationship history, he was not surprised by this offer.

The whole conversation lasted about two minutes and then we went back to drinking our Québecois beers. It was probably the shortest logistics discussion in the history of open relationships.

Us Today

And you know what? It worked so well that we decided to keep it as a general policy for when we’re apart, even after I returned from Korea.

We don’t consider ourselves polyamorous because we don’t have multiple serious relationships at a time. We barely consider ourselves to be in an open relationship. We prefer to see it more as having a respect for and understanding of each others’ wants and needs.

We don’t have a bunch of rules. If something works for us, we do that. If something doesn’t work for us, we don’t do it. In many ways, our arrangement mirrors the rest of our relationship: it’s not formal, it’s not rule-bound, and it shifts and changes as our own needs do.

If I had to sum up the reasons that our relationship works, I’d say that it has to do with respect, communication, understanding, and positivity. I feel that if you have a good, strong relationship, it’s worth a little compromise.

Community Connection

Leave a comment for Kelsey or ask her a question below!



About The Author

Kelsey Freeman

Kelsey is a semi-nomadic photographer, writer, and jack of all trades in Arlington, Virginia. She is passionate about exposing society to cultures, people, and events they might otherwise never think about. She spends her spare time participating in historical reenactments, working on her Russian sidecar motorcycle, and blogging at DriftingFocus. She's a former expat who has moved 28 times in 8 years and has more projects running at a given time than anyone in their right mind should.

  • Michelle

    Great article! Kelsey, thanks for sharing your experience, this was so interesting.

  • Kelsey

    Thanks for the compliments! It’s not an aspect of traveler relationships that gets written about all that often.

  • Candice Walsh

    I agree Kelsey, something you don’t hear about too often! Just goes to show that any kind of relationship can work though, with just a little cooperation and communication.

  • Russo

    Great article and thanks for sharing Kelsey! I’m really glad you were able to find someone who was compatible with you and willing to make the small compromises needed to make it work! Great to read and hear about a relationship that made it work as best they could. Firm believer that communication is key!

  • Kelsey

    Communication is really the backbone of relationships, and I feel that it’s a skill that has really been lost in recent decades. Instead of a core skill, it has become an afterthought.

  • Reeti

    This is a great article Kelsey. All the best in your future endeavors- individually and together :)

    • Kelsey

      Thank you!

  • joshua johnson

    this was a great read…a year apart is no joke. You two must be exceptional individuals, lucky to find each other…

    I don’t know, i think i would melt into a blubbering mess if i had to leave Bridget for year!!

    • Kelsey

      I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re both very confident, independent individuals. We love eachother very much, but we’re not co-dependent, and we know that if we were to break up, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. When you no longer fear a breakup, you can really start to have a deep and meaningful relationship with someone. It’s kind of like much of the rest of life; when you no longer fear failure, you really start to succeed.

  • Turner

    I don’t know, maybe I’m just immature about these kinds of relationships, but I don’t consider open relationships when you’re apart and sleeping with other people as healthy, regardless of how you might both feel when you’re both back in the same country. Sounds like it works with you, but I’d need someone to be completely loyal, which obviously can never happen because people have needs. Thus, my conclusion that long distance relationships can’t work after so long a time.

    • Kelsey

      @Turner: Let me ask you this: where do you get your need for loyalty from? Is it a fear that the person will leave you? I think that ultimately, that fear is what makes people shy away from open relationships. The reason that I don’t mind him sleeping with other people is that I know that he’s still emotionally loyal to me, and that’s what matters to me. I’m not saying that I am positive that we will never break up, but simply that I know that if we were to break up, it would be for reasons unrelated to the open relationship. Some people (myself and my boyfriend included) are attracted to other folks on a physical level, but know they have no interest in being in a relationship with them. When you learn to evaluate your relationships critically, rather than emotionally, you may learn that people can be a lot more flexible than you might otherwise realize. Sleeping with someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you love your partner any less. It can, but it doesn’t have to. In our case, it’s merely about fulfilling a need for temporary companionship.

      I’ve had a lot of experience with long distance relationships, both open and closed, and I do think they can work. I kept one up for 4.5 years, but eventually decided to let it go because it became clear that my partner wasn’t going to leave Texas, and I couldn’t stand to move there. That was a closed relationship, and neither of us ever slept with anyone else. As I said in the article, really, it’s all about respect, loyalty, and understanding.

      • Turner

        “When you learn to evaluate your relationships critically, rather than emotionally, you may learn that people can be a lot more flexible than you might otherwise realize.”

        I like that argument, but I don’t think I fear someone will leave me… rather, I guess I’m just a little possessive; if someone wants to be with me, then they should be with me, body, mind, and soul, not whichever part of them is most convenient at the time. I know there are plenty of sexual encounters that don’t lead to love, but I think it’s a mistake to say they can ever be truly meaningless.

        • Kelsey

          Neither he nor I have ever been particularly possessive, which is a key trait to making this work, I think. I would hate to feel “owned” by someone else, as my independence is very important to me. I have never taken advantage of our arrangement myself, but it would really bother me to know I was not able to. People are people, and to try and lay claim to them is kind of like sticking your flag into foreign soil and claiming it for yourself: people do it all the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for the person being colonized.

          As for the sex, it’s not meaningless. I’d say that what we look for in potential partners for our open relationship is a sort of “friends with benefits” arrangement. He most definitely has a degree of connection with the people he sleeps with, but it’s not a relationship-based one. The key is that he looks for people in similar situations to our own, or for women who are looking for a friend and some companionship between the sheets, but who aren’t looking for a relationship. I agree with you that sex is rarely ever meaningless, but you can have sex with a person without the intent to continue forward with a relationship with them.

        • Candice Walsh

          I actually share much of your sentiments Turner, the open relationship would NEVER work for me. But I think it’s fantastic that it works for other people. I like how you have it worked down to a fine science Kelsey, like you said in a comment below about how you contact the girls yourself to let them know it’s just a “FWB” situation…smart!

          • Kelsey

            Haha. Yes, see, I trust my guy, but I don’t always trust the other girls. A little reminder every once in awhile does wonders.

          • Christine Garvin

            Never say never, Candice. That’s when the universe decides to prove you otherwise ;)

          • Candice Walsh

            Very true, Christine!

          • Kelsey

            This is indeed very true! I never thought I’d be dating someone who wears a suit every day, but here I am, loving it!

  • Tim Patterson

    Very true.

    • Kelsey

      Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Anne M

    I give you huge props for finding a way to stay together long-distance. I could never do it for a year. Good luck to you both!

    • Kelsey

      I have a pretty extensive history in long distance relationships, so a year, while it sucked, wasn’t the longest I’d been in one. I was in a LDR for 4.5 years once (we saw eachother twice a year for a few weeks at a time, after an initial 6 months together).

  • Sophie

    Interesting perspective, though I would think there’s always a risk what’s meant to be a meaningless one-nighter could become two nights, then three, then much more. Might be a risk worth taking, of course.

    • Kelsey

      Oh, I never said these were one-nighters. In fact, they rarely are. Some of them have lasted for weeks at a time.

      What it’s most similar to, really, is a friends-with-benefits arrangement. The girls he sleeps with understand that he is not “on the market” (and if he sleeps with them more than once, I usually contact them myself to make sure they are clear on that), and so once all that icky relationship crap is out of the picture, most of the girls find that it’s actually quite liberating to be able to just have a guy around as a friend with benefits, without having to worry about whether their behavior will jeopardize a relationship or not. Then again, as you said, sometimes it’s worth the risk. He and I are a really good match, and I’d rather risk the relationship failing than not give it the flexibility it needs to work.

      As I said to a commenter above, I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re both very confident, independent individuals. We love eachother very much, but we’re not co-dependent, and we know that if we were to break up, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. When you no longer fear a breakup, you can really start to have a deep and meaningful relationship with someone. It’s kind of like much of the rest of life; when you no longer fear failure, you really start to succeed.

  • Andi

    Haha, I was SO not expecting the second half of the article! But, I think it’s fantastic you’ve found a mate that compliments you so well. I wish you both nothing but a lifetime of happiness together. :)

    • Kelsey

      Haha! I organized the article that way specifically for that purpose – to lull people into thinking it was just another run-of-the-mill relationship article, and then surprise them. I’m glad to know it worked!

  • Joel

    Great article, Kelsey.

    I can’t even imagine trying to sustain a relationship like that for so long. I know a lot of others have already said it, but it’s great that you two have found each other and able to share so much despite the distances.

    • Kelsey

      Thanks Joel! I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re both also solidly independent people. I touched on that in the article with my “not just two halves of a whole” remark, though if I had had more room I would have expanded on that a bit. We’re both pretty different from eachother: I’m a free spirit, raised in a family of artists, he enjoys office work, and was raised in a family of bureaucrats (literally). We are certainly an unlikely pairing, but I think that we work out so well *because* of our differences. Since we had to learn very early on to accept and work with our differences, it also means that we have a much greater respect for eachother as individuals (unlike a lot of couples, who merely try to change eachother). Here’s what he had to say, himself:

      “I love Kelsey, and I understand that travel is an important -nay, CORE- part of her being. As such, I recognize that sometimes she needs to be gone for weeks or months at a time. And that’s ok. I love her, and I know that she loves me. Fish need water to breathe and for me to deny her such an integral part of her identity would be cruel.”

  • Chris M

    Kelsey, that reminds me of Buddhist idea that I have been trying to come to terms with for a very long time, “love without attachment.” Basically, love another with all your soul but do not be attached to that person, for if they leave or die then you will be without them. It is a fact of life that is unavoidable so why become attached?

    It seams as if you have perfected this, no fear of failure or a break up.

    • Kelsey

      You hit the nail on the head there, Chris. I have always felt that one of the biggest barriers to having a true relationship with someone is the fear that it will end. People hold back from being themselves because they’re afraid the other person will leave them for it, and they hold back from truly connecting because they’re afraid that if the person dies or leaves, they will be “half a person”.

      I genuinely feel that one of the reasons that our relationship is so good is that we’re not afraid of it ending. If it ends, it ends, and it was good while it lasted. If it lasts, it lasts, and that’s great. To become too attached is unhealthy (think of all those couples you see who end up becoming one person in two bodies, each resenting the other for changing them), and really, we have found that when you let go is when you really have the freedom to love someone for who they are.

  • questforstarfish

    I enjoyed your article a lot and also enjoyed reading about your views on open relationships. I agree that people should not lay claim on each other, and have the black-and-white, all-or-nothing approach to human relationships which can be so complex. While traveling (before I met my current boyfriend) I’ve had plenty of partners; we meet in a hostel or wherever else, have a great connection, sleep together, then go our separate ways. Very few of them were what I consider “one-nigh stands” because we had such a great connection, but it never developed past a friendship or crush.

    My current boyfriend and I have had the discussion a couple of times and have ended at the conclusion that no matter how many different ways he thinks of it, he would never be comfortable with me or him sleeping with other people while dating each other or if I were traveling (travel is one of my top 2 massively deep passions in life, and is on the bottom of the list of things he wants to do). I’ve explained my views on it, which run perfectly parallel to yours, but he can’t wrap his head around it and I wouldn’t want to push it too much because I think eventually he would just break down and say “yes” as not to “hold me back,” but inside he would have a big problem with it for the rest of our relationship.

    I wish we could look past the innate desire for possession of another person, the fear-driven need to bind them to ourselves alone and not share them for risk of losing them. I wish more people could be open to and understand your views on it, but alas we’re definitely attachment-freaks. I don’t have any real desire to be with someone else but the idea that it’s him or them, that I “can’t” do it without breaking his heart and ruining the relationship, is something new and a little scary to me. But sometimes you can’t help who you fall in love with, right? ;)

    Thanks for this article, it made me think and smile! It’s lovely to read your story because my boyfriend of a year and a half and I are very much in love and have been pretty much since day one, but he really has no aspiration to travel when it’s all I want to do, so it’s nice to find someone in the same boat who can make it work so well. That’s what I’m hoping and trying for! I wish you guys all the love in the world and keep up your writing!

  • Rebekah

    I found this to be a very disappointing article. I was hoping for something more insightful into the difficult life of living a long-distant relationship, as that is something I am about to enter into. I was hoping for helpful advice about ways to make it work, but the main point of your article is “have an open relationship.” You snuck those last few words in at the end with, “I’d say that it has to do with respect, communication, understanding, and positivity,” but then you ended, again, with the open relationship idea, as if that’s what makes the relationship work, “… it’s worth a little compromise.”

    Your article’s main point isn’t how to make a long-distance relationship work. Rather, you’re arguing the point that having an open relationship does not damage a loving relationship and, in fact, aids in maintaining your relationship, which is a point I feel many people, including myself, will disagree with.

    This isn’t a travel article. It had no meaningful insight as to how travel impacts a romantic relationship, nor did it discuss ways to make the separation a little less painful. This was just a chance for you to express your opinions about open relationships, and this is not the correct forum to do such a thing.

    • Leigh Shulman


      I’m sorry you found this article to be not quite what you expected, and perhaps we can do another article in this series later on dealing with long distance relationships. It is a topic, I think, many aside from yourself would like to hear more about.

      But I do disagree that a discussion on open relationships is inappropriate for this forum, which is exactly why we chose to publish this article. As editor of this section of Matador, I included this article as one possible choice a person can make. It shows that this particular choice is possible IF you are honest and maintain open communication. Two things that are essential for any relationship.

      I don’t believe Kelsey was trying to sneak any particular agenda into her writing. If anything, I think she is trying to play down the role outside relationships play in her relationship with her current boyfriend. Because ultimately, he is her primary relationship, and that is where her focus goes.

      If you’d like to talk more about long distance relationships or other potential discussions for this series, please feel free to contact me.

  • Sara

    Its all about communication.

    • Kelsey

      It is indeed. One of the reasons I say that this is most definitely not for everyone is that most folks have a hard time with communication within the context of a normal relationship, much less within the complications that come with having an open one.

  • Susan

    I liked your article! Back in the day when I hit the road I just broke up with a guy. Hmmmmm.

    I want you to know that a person can be confident, independent and in love and be allowed to expect monogamy. You have the right to, and you are good enough, to deserve physical loyalty from a partner. You don’t have to give free access below the belt to keep someone. It is the *more* confident person who will take that leap of faith with a partner and expect monogamy…and when you no longer fear failure (as an individual, not as part of a couple), you really WILL start to succeed with your intended partner.

    I’ve never known a couple in an open relationship who is still together after five years, who has not “gone monogomous” at some point. Someone inevitably wants more. However, there are all kinds of couples in this world, all equally valid. Usually the more successful open relationships are initiated by bisexual females. The men are intrigued and more than happy to comply, especially given their newfound freedom. Personally, I think that’s great. But someone in the couple will eventually get tired of it. I’m in my 40′s now. I’ve seen it again and again, so I’m just sayin’.

    So I’m pointing out that while it seems great (and it probably is), it usually doesn’t last forever. Enjoy it while you’re young!

    • Kelsey

      It’s not that I gave him “free reign below the belt” because I was afraid he would leave me (if he did, then it wasn’t meant to be anyway), I did it because I feel it’s wrong to expect that of a person. I wouldn’t want a partner to ask me to be monogamous and faithful while they went off gallivanting abroad for an indeterminate amount of time, so it’s not something I feel comfortable asking others to do either. I don’t view our agreement as a compromise, because it’s something I gave willingly, without him asking for it. I know he would offer the same to me.

      I’ve had a rather different experience from you. I was raised around open relationships, and many of my friends are the children of successful 20-30-even 40 year polyamorous relationships. It can be done, you just have to have open communication and make sure everyone’s on the same page and getting what they want and need.

  • None

    This just shows the oprafication of society is evil.   This “boyfriend” may cheat but he is still nothing but a cuckhold.   The relationship is just two adults who have mere sex.  He should man up and move on.

  • See Colombia Travel

    Love comes in all different forms and can happpen all around the world. People get to stuck to one idea of what it should be – good on you for having it the way you wanted. For us, it just came about at the right time and, although we’re both avid travellers, in the end it just felt right to move to her home city (Bogota) and start a family. As soon as our daughter is old enough, we’ll hit the road again for some short trips.

    A video of our story is here:

  • Tere Estudillo

    I found this article A little over two years after you posted it! I am amazed of your writing, I didn’t expect the end, also I am surprised that you met at a young age someone that shares your beliefs…a keeper! I may change the way I think after reading this article and country ha!

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