“You have a boyfriend?” he asked, pointing at the ring on my wedding finger.
We were sitting at a restaurant on plastic chairs, outside on the dirt patio. It was around 4pm. The sun was no longer scorching and the shadows grew longer as we talked. I had arrived last of the group and everyone else was already one bottle of beer into the conversation. My Savanna cider arrived as one of the other expats squinted across the table at me.
“What’s that like?” he asked.
I took a sip of my Savanna. It tasted like dancing in Cape Town. “Well,” I hesitated. “It’s like having a friend except sometimes we –.”
“No,” he interrupted. “You’re here and he’s in Canada. How’s it going?”
“I’m only here for 3 months, not 3 years,” I laughed.
“So you’re not going to tell me,” he obviously didn’t think I was funny.
“It’s going good.”
“Of course.” He seemed skeptical.
His doubt made sense because – as everyone knows – long-distance dating is difficult. The internet is full of blog posts and articles by better writers than me who fully explore every aspect of long-distance relationships. My attitude is that if you can’t survive 3 months apart, then you won’t survive a lifetime together. Breaking up right now is not a tragedy. Breaking up in 7 years when we have 2 children is much worse. So if our relationship ends, I’ll cut my losses and think “At least it happened now.”
Despite my attitude, every now and then people still ask me for relationship advice. Sometimes they’re not even joking, which is silly on their part.
But this is what I will say: I was single when I left for South Africa and it awesome. My friends and I had tons of fun dancing and flirting as only single girls can. I also casually dated a South African, we had a good time, it was a messy breakup, but that’s the way dating goes sometimes.
Now, though, I’m in a “serious” relationship so I don’t flirt anymore. But I’m also getting older, so flirting with 22-year-olds has less appeal (unless it’s with my boss, Lindsay. As the only person I’m officially forbidden to get involved with, she’s obviously the most attractive person in Ghana).
That being said, I had one request before leaving. I made my boyfriend promise that if he wanted to break up, he would tell me right away. No waiting until I’m back to do it in person. Why? Because I can be a little crazy. I’m relatively sane for 95% of the time, but for that remaining 5% it’s like my brain disappears. My insecurities grow to gigantic proportions. I convince myself of thoughts like, “He’s fallen for someone else! He doesn’t love me! NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME AGAIN!”
But I also know that most EWB Junior Fellows that are in relationships don’t end them while they’re overseas, but once the JF returns. Couples find it hard to reconnect. Plus, most JFs are in their early 20s which is the prime time for breakups.
I hope that doesn’t happen to us.
Being apart is difficult, but my boyfriend is wonderful, supportive, and rational (a quality that seems increasingly rare as the news spreads lies about Ebola). He has never once suggested that I come home. Every time someone emails me one of those messages, it’s like being told “I don’t believe in you.”
Being with him makes me a stronger, better person. My first two weeks in Ghana were challenging and it really helped knowing that my boyfriend, bestie, and family support my decisions – even though they’re geographically far away.
This has been a shocking revelation, because I used to think that being single is way easier than being a girlfriend. But this man has changed my opinion: being with him is actually much better than standing alone.
So what do I tell people who ask my advice?
Don’t worry about dating because it all depends on your life stage, regardless of where you are in the world. If you’re happy being single, be single and don’t let others stress you out about it. Your friends can provide way more love in your life than most men anyways.
However, if you’re in a healthy and happy relationship, then you can make it work while apart. You’ll miss each other, but there’s beauty in the pain because it shows how much you both care.
If you break up, it’ll be tough. But you’ll get through it.
As Shakespeare said, “All’s well that ends well.”
And you’ll end up well.