In a move that would surprise none of my friends back on campus, I’ve allowed dates, dating, and people I'm dating to define a not insignificant portion of my Berlin experience.
There’s more than a few reasons for that. For instance, the mere thought of entering a bar alone sets off my flight-or-fight response. That being said, I still love exploring new places and meeting new people. Going on barhopping dates through the streets of Europe’s trendiest cities, then, is two birds with one stone. If you extend that math a bit, it turns into a nice excuse to visit just about any restaurant, club, performance hall, or tourist trap that you don’t want to strong arm your friends into, but aren’t bold enough to tackle alone.
Of course, romantic ventures in a foreign country have their own unique set of pros and cons. Sometimes, these pros and cons are the same thing. For example, language can either be a barrier (like when I was seeing a guy who would phrase his English like his native French) or a bridge (coming from Strasbourg, he spoke a decent amount of German) or both (Strasbourg being Strasbourg, he spoke with an Alsatian accent in German).
Most obvious pro: sooner than later, you’re leaving the country. Most obvious con: sooner than later, you’re leaving the country. Long term commitment is impossible, but also, long term commitment is impossible.
On that note: unlike dating at a small college, that whirlwind romance on your Study Abroad program probably won’t have (in the most neutral sense of the term) repercussions echoing all the way to your senior spring. Also unlike dating at a small college, falling in love with someone who goes about their entire life on an entirely different continent doesn’t saddle you up with a cuddle buddy for the January term, and especially doesn’t fulfill that hauntingly high statistic of 30% alumni of your school marrying other alumni.
Dating while studying abroad is deeply bound by temporality. If you’re seeing a local, there will come a time when you have to leave. If you’re seeing someone else who’s also visiting, then they might just leave before you. Heck, even if by chance you end up dating someone from your own program, there’s no promise that you won’t live hundreds of miles away from each other back home. Unless you’re a college student already able to survive cross-continental relationships, (which I’m certainly not), your relationship has a provided expiration date. That changes a lot.
So, here’s three maxims, drawn from three relationships I’ve happened to have while here:
- Be realistic with your expectations. In October, I was seeing someone who would only be in Berlin for the month. Were they another American? Yes. Did they live on the opposite side of the country? Also yes. While I wasn’t looking for the love of my life out in Germany— and they certainly weren’t either— we liked holding hands, throwing out a flirtatious comment here and there, and basking in the warmth of each other’s company. We liked each other, we had our fun together, and that’s all it needed to be. We geeked out, we went out, and ended it out with mutual understanding and continued friendship. A romance can be simple, short, and fleeting, and still be personally meaningful.
- Be kind to your partner— and yourself. Another time, someone else I had been seeing did something that, frankly, amounted to a serious violation of my trust. Was anyone physically hurt? No—but at the same time, their drunken mistake of kissing a stranger at the bar was the cherry on top of an entire date night full of frustrations. I was distraught, I was angry, I went through a gauntlet of emotions I had every right to feel. Heck, and I still had to take care of them afterwards! But, I recognized that they were still making their way through a raw, vulnerable point of their life—which, apparently, included having developed substantive feelings for me. Respecting their emotions, I explained that I wouldn’t simply disappear from their life. Respecting my own emotions, I very clearly set new boundaries between us—and, basically, broke up with them. It was the best choice for me, and the best choice I could have made.
- Be communicative. With the person I’m seeing right now, I’m not shy about the fact that I’m leaving for the States in just under two weeks. Of course, I told them this the first time we had ever gone on a date, weeks ago—providing transparency, honesty, and emotional availability was what let them make choices that considered their own feelings. When we’re out together, I make sure to check in with them—how are they feeling, how long do they want to stay, and how much energy do they still have in store. Of course, they check in with me, too. We recognize each other’s needs in telling each other our own needs. We know what we both have the capacity for every time we’re together—and, so, we’re able to decide on things that’ll ultimately make us both happy. For instance, the movie night we have set for this weekend at my place. Hey, if we’re only together for so long, we might as well make the most of it.
You don’t have to have a love life abroad. I mean, if you do, it doesn’t need to look anything like mine—everyone’s experiences abroad are shaped by circumstance, from your own positionality to the positionality of the city you’re in. But the relationships you do end up having—romantic or not—are always shaped by the ones you’ve already had. And, with any luck, they’ll help you learn for the many, many others to come in that long, long rest of your life. You’ll become a little more mature with them. I know I have.
And, hey, if you’re the random German dude who asked me out on a date outside of the kebab place the other night—Sorry, I’m not gonna be able to make it. I’ve already got plans with someone else.
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Hey there! I'm Avery Trinidad, a junior majoring in Sociology and concentrating in Global Studies over at Williams College! I think long walks by the beach are an unironic fun time, have made a hobby of writing songs with ukulele accompaniment, and have an apparent talent for making eggs. I'm a big ol' New York native, with a booming voice and headstrong attitude to boot. Though born and raised in Manhattan, I've had the opportunity to take German as a third language since my freshman year of high school. I'm looking forward to documenting my experiences in Berlin, especially after it emerges from such a tumultuous time in not only its own history, but the world's! Bis bald!