“So where did you guys meet?” The question sounded friendly, but the person sitting across from me was about to make an important decision: was my daughter an American citizen?

“We met in Mexico,” I said hurriedly and without any added information. My tone was decidedly less friendly. I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about or hide, but these sorts of legal situations just make me nervous.

“Oh, so are you Mexican?” The woman asked my wife Deborah, again with an amicable tone.

“No, I’m Swedish,” Deborah answered with a relaxed look on her face. I was starting to think I was the only one who was nervous.

“So you guys met on holiday?” The woman inquired again.

We both looked at each other, as if to ask the other person if we should be more specific. The answer in each one of our eyes was a pretty resounding “no.”

“Yes, we met while on holiday,” Deborah replied.

“Interesting, I didn’t think those holiday romances ever worked out,” she said with a bit of a smirk in her face.

The statement was blunt and maybe a bit rude, but she made a good point: holiday romances do rarely turn into anything. It’s not difficult to see why. Boy meets girl. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy has to go home. Reality sets in for both. Boy has a job. Girl has a job. Holidays are fun, while jobs are not. Boy and girl live nowhere near each other.

But, does it have to be this way, or is there just a missing ingredient? I would argue the latter.

What’s Missing?

When you start a holiday romance, you’re often doing spectacular things that you just wouldn’t do at home. There’s nothing quite like cage diving with sharks to create a bond with someone. There’s not much that compares to sunset-beach wine dates with a beautiful stranger who has an accent you’ve never even heard before. Perhaps most importantly, under normal circumstances, you’d never spend 16 hours a day, ten days in a row with someone you’ve just met, thereby turning 1.5 weeks into 9 months worth of dates (for those of you counting, that’s 10 days X 16 hours = 40 weeks of two, two-hour dates/week).

Now, you might be thinking, well obviously, that’s what’s missing: the thrill, the adventure, the romance! Maybe I was just in love with the experience, rather than the person. That might be true, but it also might not. Only you can answer that question, but I have to ask you this: is love at home really any different? Do you not fall in love with someone because they enjoy doing what you enjoy doing? Moreover, because they enjoy doing it with you? Don’t you fall in love with someone because of the intimate conversations you share? If that wasn’t true, why haven’t you fallen in love with Steve down the hall from where you work? You know Steve, the guy with pasty skin, a light brown comb-over, and a short sleeve button up shirt that he wears with a Pink Panther tie? Come on, Steve’s a nice guy. Sure he’s a little older than you, but what stable guy isn’t?

You didn’t fall in love with Steve, because he’s not interesting to you. He has his thing, and you have yours. He doesn’t want to swim with sharks, and it’s as simple as that. He hardly even leaves the building if we’re being honest, and just forget about having an intimate conversation. I really don’t mean to diss Steve. He’s a nice guy who would drop everything to help you move, but there’s a reason you fell for Esteban, and it’s not just his looks. If you met Esteban in your own town, you’d still be doing the same stuff you did abroad. It probably wouldn’t happen at the same rate, because you know..you guys both have jobs. But a characteristic of a person who took your trip in the first place is liking people like Esteban. People who enjoy new experiences, people who take risks, and perhaps most importantly, people who aren’t afraid to fall in love with a stranger.

I fell in love with everything about Deborah in a matter of weeks (even if she took a few months). In those few weeks, we spent almost every minute together. We experienced things that neither of us had never experienced before (all of it very romantic).

The old adage I’ve heard time and time again is, “holiday romances don’t last because you have to come back to [the monotony of] real life.” I’d say if your real life is so monotonous and boring, there’s a problem. Deborah and I have continued that romanticism, not just through travel, but in our daily lives. Why shouldn’t we try that yoga class on Saturday? Why not write her a poem on the bus when I go to the store? And if you do both love to travel, what’s to stop you from surprising your SO with a surprise trip to Paris or Greece (or San Francisco, depending on where you are)? I see a return flight next week that costs less than dinner and a movie. It’s not just holiday romances that have this problem. “Regular romances” (there’s no such thing, but bear with me) do too, and it’s something of a sad epidemic if you ask me.

Sacrifice & Compromise

Within two weeks of meeting, Deborah and I were met with our first real test: my flight home was leaving the next day. “So, I was thinking of just staying here,” I told her. It was 3am, and my brother Caleb was asleep in the hostel. Deborah and I had done karaoke earlier, but by this time we were just sitting on the curb, talking the night away. She knew I was supposed to leave Playa del Carmen in about four hours.

“If that’s what you want to do..but don’t do it for me,” Deborah implored.

“No, of course not! It was always sort of my plan to stay,” I lied. I had responsibilities back home afterall..work and family, and University was starting again soon. “If my brother wasn’t with me, I would never even have bought a return flight,” a long pause followed. “I do have to take the flight to make sure my brother gets home, but I’ll be back as soon as I can get a ticket.”

Caleb and I had two layovers. I flew with him to Houston, then to San Fransisco, ultimately setting him on his plane home. I had hoped to fly back that same day, but the next reasonably priced flight left San Francisco early the next afternoon (SFO is by far and away the best airport I’ve ever slept in. In case you need a place to crash, the downstairs baggage claim has large cushioned seats with no backs. Throw in a blanket and pillow and you’ve basically got a bed).

What would have happened if I had not flown back? Deborah and I would have resorted to Facebook messages and the occasional Skype call, but when would she have come to visit me? And, when would we ever be a “real couple?” Probably never, if we’re being honest. That’s because things don’t just happen. Relationships take work, compromise, and at one point or another, sacrifice. This is not unique to holiday romances. This is not unique to long-distance relationships. This is true no matter who you are or what you do. The only real difference between a “regular” relationship (there’s no such thing, but bear with me) and a holiday romance is that you might have to make that sacrifice or compromise sooner rather than later, and because of the unconventionality of the whole thing, you might not be comfortable talking about the arrangement. Please talk. Ask questions. See what your partner wants, and don’t be afraid to tell him/her what you want.

 

The Key to a Successful Long-Distance Relationship

Yesterday, Deborah asked me, “what do you think life would be like if we were still long distance? If you were in Oregon, and I was here?” The world I imagined was completely unrecognizable. We have a baby together, afterall.

“I don’t think that could have ever happened.” I knew it was sort of a cop-out answer, but that doesn’t make it any less true. To be clear, we weren’t apart very long, but I’ve been in, and failed at, one other (much longer) long-distance relationship, and I’m convinced the largest single contributing factor to the success of this one, and the failure of the previous is having a very specific plan. Long distance relationships are relentlessly difficult (more on that in a bit). As time flows on, you will ask yourself, “is this ever going to end? If so, when?” You have to be able to say, “yes, by X date.”

Why?

Experiences bond us, as humans, together. That’s not just some general observation, that’s biology. And it’s not just with your life partner, that’s with everybody. Going through successes and failures, blood, sweat, and laughter all bring us together. It’s true that we live in a much more connected world than we did even ten years ago. But, it’s also true that the longer you go on without having those success and failure, blood, sweat, and laughter-type experiences with someone, the less attached you feel to them. Some of this “bonding” can be accomplished using new technologies like Skype, but not everything. You’ll find that talking about experiences just isn’t the same as having them. You’ll find that it’s hard to stoke deep and meaningful conversations while sitting in front of a computer screen: without something tangible to spur them on. You may have meaningful conversations early on, but you’ll find they get harder, more boring and unnatural as time flows. Your SO will have other interests, or maybe even an entire life that doesn’t really involve you. How much longer is it going to go on like that? You’re losing your best years, and if this relationship doesn’t last, you’re only holding yourself back. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where “you’re either together or you’re not, and if you are, then you need to actually be together,” but by that time, it’s altogether likely too late.

The Exception.

Now, some of you may be coming to me and saying, “we haven’t been together long enough,” or “our holiday romance didn’t happen soon enough,” or otherwise, “we haven’t formed the type of relationship where we can make that decision. We need to see how it goes first.” The first thing I’d say to you is, when I flew back to Deborah, I didn’t know what we could become either. I took a big risk, and at first, it really didn’t go well. To some of you, I would say it’s probably better to just leave it a holiday romance, or a short term relationship and forget about it. Others, I may say you can ‘see how it goes first’ in whatever capacity you can, but for a finite amount of time. There should be a specific day when you talk and make a decision, asking “is this going anywhere?” At which time, you break it off or you come up with a plan.

The Plan.

No, you’re not doomed if you’re already in a long-distance relationship, and I’m not saying you should never get into one temporarily, especially if you know that your partner really is the love of your life. But, I am saying that you both need to be committed. I am saying that you need to make a point of doing sweet things for each other anyway. Most importantly, I am saying that you need to write down the date of when you’re going to be together again. Then stick to it. (men, I’m talking more to you than to women in this next part) You should give up your dream job if have to. You should sell your business if it’s necessary. You should move to a different country where they speak a different language and ride into town on a donkey if that’s what it takes, because your family is so much more important.

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