As our world—and the concept of what a typical career looks like—become increasingly global, crossing state lines and even oceans multiple times to build a new life seems more and more like the norm, especially for people in their 20s.
Wanderlust, exciting job offers and a desire to soak it all in pull us towards new cities, countries and continents. But relationships are not always so eager to adapt.
For those of us who thrive on travel and new experiences, the typical idea of what makes a great relationship (stability, togetherness) hasn’t caught up with our idea of what makes an exciting life and career (diversity, adventure, growth, authenticity).
For a while I thought it was a problem with me; that I was the only one moving thousands of miles away and disrupting my relationships. But I looked more closely at my friends and people I admire and saw others making the same decision: to leave love for a great career opportunity, or simply to build a better, more dynamic life.
What happens if the other person follows you? When does the resentment settle in? I can imagine it creeping into the small, pointless fights couples have from time-to-time. Suddenly me not wanting to go to a party turns into a fight about how my partner is always the one doing stuff for me that he doesn’t want to do, and not the other way around.
The subtle undertone being that he moved to a new country just for me.
Then again, if you decide to stay together and have a long-distance relationship, the person who got left behind starts to resent the person who did the leaving—it hangs over every late-night Google Hangout and fuels the bickering that surfaces whenever you visit each other.
More and more it seems that relationships require a global mindset and a willingness to not see each other for a few weeks at a time. WhatsApp, Skype and email replace dinner conversations and long weekend-mornings in bed together, at least part of the time.
The truth is, I’m more okay with this kind of relationship than any of my partners have been. I kind of like the idea of a few weeks apart followed by a few wonderful weeks with the person I love. I think it gives us the freedom to live independently for a little while, to focus on our ambitions and passions, but with the comfort of knowing that love is just around the corner.
A while back I read an article on Medium by a successful entrepreneur who lives between New York and London. She talks about life between two cities, and what it’s like to have a partner in one of those cities—basically a part-time relationship, although it’s never really that part-time because the other person is always on your mind, right?
While reading the article I thought to myself, “Wow, she’s lucky. She’s found someone who is okay with having a relationship with a woman who doesn’t always want to stay in one place. They seem to be making it work.”
Is it realistic to think that we can find a partner with a tolerance for distance—do we just have to look harder—or did this women get really, really lucky? Or, maybe making it work is more difficult than she lets on.
The way I see it, there are two possible scenarios: couples become more open to not always living in the same city, and they build relationships that involve both time apart and time together. Maybe at some point one person moves for the other, and then vice versa, but they agree to accept being apart some of the time in order to pursue their dreams.
(Apparently there’s an actual movement around this type of relationship called Living Apart Together.)
Conversely, they prioritize being together (in the geographical sense) over their careers and dreams of experiencing other parts of the world, and they each vouch to move for the other whenever necessary, or they simply decide to stay put no matter what opportunity comes along.
I’ve done it twice now. A little more than four years ago I left a boyfriend in New York City to move to Mexico City. We tried to make it work for a while, but we just kept fighting. He was immensely unhappy in a long-distance relationship; I, on the other hand, was okay with it. We broke up, and eventually I fell in love with someone in Mexico.
Then, four months ago, I took a temporary break from Mexico to chase happiness, better health and more clarity in my career, with a plan to return to Mexico in the Fall and build a life that allows me to go between Mexico City and the U.S. Again, this drove a wedge between me and my partner. Again, I chose my career and personal well-being over love, at least temporarily.
Why? Because relationships don’t exist in a bubble, untouched by the circumstances around them. No matter how deeply in love with someone you are, if you find yourself in a city or job that just aren’t working for you anymore, sticking with them so you can be with someone is going to damage the relationship eventually.
Here’s what I’d like to know: Will it ever stop feeling like a choice between one thing and the other? Maybe it’s a matter of finding the right person—the romantic in me wants to believe that when a relationship is truly right, there will be times when my partner follows me and others when I compromise and follow my partner, but the compromise won’t feel like a loss because we are both 100% committed to building a life together. Of course, togetherness will mean physically being in the same place some of the time and living apart some of the time.
Or maybe there will always be a tug-of-war between love and location.
For now, I’m waiting anxiously for relationships to adapt to the reality of how many of us live life: moving to new cities or continents to chase our dreams, sometimes setting up shop in more than one city at a time, never settling for apathy, seeking to balance loving relationships with personal fulfillment and refusing to accept that you can’t have both.