When I first moved to Uganda, I thrilled at my newfound dating options. Finally, a pool of politically savvy, well-traveled men interested in things beyond dogs, hiking, and marijuana! At first glance, dating abroad seemed eminently easier than dating back home.
But after a few months of going on more Tinder dates than I care to recount, I came to a simple (and possibly obvious) realization; dating isn’t easy anywhere.
So I wanted to write an honest reflection about the pros and cons of dating as an expat. Obviously, your experience dating abroad will vary drastically depending on where you live. So far, I’ve only lived as an expat in France and Uganda, so I can only speak to that.
But universally, I think it’s safe to say that dating abroad is like regular dating throw into a pressure cooker; for better or worse, everything is accelerated and more intense (being abroad has a similar effect on friendships, too).
Let’s start with the positives.
One benefit of dating abroad is that the people you meet tend to be worldly and sophisticated. Almost every expat I met in Uganda, male or otherwise, was left-leaning, well-read, and well-educated.
And because you’re both expats, you probably have at least one common interest – travel. Most expats I met in Uganda were extremely well-traveled and spoke about jetting off to the Seychelles as if it were Sarasota.
Another benefit of dating abroad is that a greater percentage of people seem to be single. Back home, it can start to feel like everyone has already paired off. Living abroad is more like Never-never Land – a place where young (or not so young) people refuse to settle down.
Another fun perk of dating abroad – you can date people of so many nationalities. In Uganda, I went on dates with guys from the U.S. to South Africa to everywhere in between – literally.
Not to mention, falling in love in a foreign country is inherently kind of magical. It can start to feel like a series of romantic cut-scenes out of a Graham Greene novel: riding a motorcycle taxi down red dirt roads, drinking G&Ts while watching the sun set over the hazy skyline, falling asleep together under a gauzy white mosquito net. Not at all speaking from personal experience here.
The problem? Expat life is often so transient. With so many expats with three-month or six-month work contracts, living abroad can start to feel like a revolving door of relationships. So even if you have a connection, sometimes it’s not worth getting attached if you or your love interest is leaving soon.
Living abroad can feel like inhabiting a dream world, like a cross between vacation and real life. Because of this, casual dating seemed like all that was on the menu. Most people I knew seemed to date each other for a few weeks or months, and then move on.
If you live abroad in a small city, the expat dating pool will be smaller too. The expat dating scene in Kampala was small and thus laughable incestuous; everyone had dated everyone. At one point, my friend Kara was living with her boyfriend, whose female roommate was dating her ex-boyfriend. As you can imagine, this made for lots of awkward run-ins around the house. In Kampala, this kind of thing happened all the time.
If you’re dating a local, things are often even more complicated. Having a different nationality and native language can seem exciting at first, but as the relationship becomes more serious, different backgrounds can cause friction. You may have opposing views on everything from what constitutes fidelity in a relationship to what gender dynamics should look like.
Throw different citizenships into the mix, and things get even hairier.
And finally, I wanted to share (or rather, rant about) my biggest Tinder pet peeve from living abroad. When I lived in Uganda, guys on Tinder were often dishonest about where they lived. They said or implied that they lived in Kampala when really they were flying out Monday. And of course, they neglected to tell me this until half-way through the date. So rude.
After almost a year of dating in Uganda, I realized that finding love is difficult, period – it doesn’t matter where you live. Though I will say I had better luck dating in Uganda than in Denver, despite the favorable gender ratio in Colorado (they don’t call Denver ‘Menver’ for nothing.)
I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever lived abroad? What was the dating scene like where you lived?
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