Travelers to Asia know the feeling.
A hundred pairs of eyes bear down on you, judging you, observing you. As a foreigner, you’re a tourist, a D-level celebrity, a possible criminal and a source of information on foreign affairs. You’re simply different.
There isn’t a native English speaker alive in Thailand who hasn’t been harassed by a Tuk Tuk driver or masseuse at least once. Caucasian males in Japan can attract women by breathing.
I am a native English speaker. I can learn foreign languages, but real communication can be difficult to attain.
This communication gap is especially troubling when it comes to intimate relationships. Something is lacking when neither person in a relationship can understand the other’s full intent.
Even with attempts from both sides of an international relationship to attempt serious commitment and communication, well-meaning couples tend to fall back on interactions that are comfortable, shallow and uncomplicated.
If both parties desire something more than a one night stand or a shallow travel companion, the couple is forced to find creative ways of getting feelings across cultural barriers.
Without a common language, how can you communicate your feelings in an international relationship? How can you find meaning with someone from a different culture?
Some Good Lovin’
OK, most of you probably think I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself at this point. Sex? Isn’t this about making a connection before anything physical? Well yes and no.
It isn’t so much about the act itself, but how you’re treated before, and during. Sex happens a lot, and people who can barely understand five words of shared language often find themselves in unfamiliar bedsheets in a foreign country.
How is it possible that a traveler who can’t even ask directions to the nearest hotel finds himself or herself in the arms of a local that evening?
Assuming you have been with someone you loved before, you know the difference between a tender kiss and a shallow desire to simply feel another’s lips on yours. After all, most communication is nonverbal.
Actions always speak louder than words. Ask yourself: is this person merely feeding me a line, picturing me in bed, being false with me? What does her face say? What do his or her actions tell me?
Show you care, in any way you can.
Getting In Deep Too Fast
One advantage travelers have over those barhopping back home is simply the fact we’re not leading a typical life. We constantly expose ourselves to situations in which profound connections are quickly formed.
As travelers, we tend to be relaxed, more open, and just, well, more fun. Even cubicle monkeys need love, but I bet more people are attracted to the “hottie going mountain climbing” next weekend.
As a result, language plays an even smaller role in travel romances; you know what the other person likes because he or she was there right alongside you, reading your reactions like braille.
During my time in Japan, I heard stories from a Japanese woman who married a Romanian. Neither one of them spoke the other’s native tongue, so they chose to communicate in English. It worked.
I dated a Japanese girl for two years before we both decided it wasn’t going to lead anywhere, with me heading off to lands unknown, and her not looking to follow. We parted ways as amicably as possible.
Can Travel Romances Last?
I read books like Experience Preferred But Not Required and watch guys high-five after recounting tales of using foreign women for sex and apartment cleaning (yeah, that happens).
I wonder if there are any travelers out there undaunted by foreign romances. Is there a happy middle ground, or is one side parasitic and the other marred?
Can travelers find someone in the world from a completely different background, and will it work? How will it work?
Will you try hard to make the relationship last, or just give up and buy a plane ticket home after a year of teaching English?
What’s your experience with relationships abroad, either with a fellow traveler or a local?