How I Fucked Up My Dating Life Teaching Abroad



As I write this, I am sitting in a cheap $3 hostel a night in Siem Reap. I’ve been trying to write this article for two weeks. I first tried during a break at school and then again on a 12-hour train ride to Bangkok, but each time I got stuck. What started out as a rant piece about all the bullshit inspiration dating advice for travellers quickly turned into something else. The more I wrote the more I began highlighting my own problems that I had suppressed. So I decided to scrap the piece and leave the ranting for another day. Instead, I’m going to do a much more personal piece than you would usually find on my blog.

Being an expat in a Tourist Dead Zone in Thailand sucks.

I have never felt more isolated in my entire life. For the past six months, my dating life has been non-existent. Instead, I’ve had a lot of time to think. To mull over past relationships, to stress about missed opportunities and pine for an actual human connection with someone who isn’t behind a computer screen.

Living in a small Thai town is not something I regret. But it has come with downsides that I didn’t consider in my excitement to live abroad. The biggest one being the need for human relationships.This wouldn’t have been such an issue if I was newly single and wanted a break from the dating scene. But I am going on three years of being single and it’s starting to get to me. I can’t recall the last time I had some romance in my life.

My tinder constantly says “there is no one new around you” and the only person I have felt any sort of attraction towards in real life was during a long weekend trip to Chiang Mai.

As an introvert, I never thought I would be having this problem. I love being alone. Social interactions become exhausting and it’s not something I can do for extended periods of time. So when I arrived in a semi-rural town 45 minutes outside of Ubon Ratchathani to teach for a year, I thought nothing of it.

Fast forward six months later and I can’t wait to return home. Homesickness, cabin fever and loneliness are driving me up the wall.

March cannot come soon enough. But December is going to the worst month for me to get through. I want nothing more than to go home and spend New Year’s Eve with my best friend and someone I have feelings for. I spent last New Year’s alone at the Vic Falls Carnival in Zimbabwe, and while that was an amazing experience, I hadn’t had six months of isolation before the event. Spending another New Years alone and with people I don’t know that well is depressing.


 The Shit Side of Living Abroad

It doesn’t help that I feel alone in this feeling. There aren’t any other travel bloggers talking about this. It’s all tongue in cheek pieces about how travel has made them “updatable” because they had an Oprah moment about not needing a man in their life. I think there are two reasons for this:

  1. We are obsessed with these motivational inspiration posts that show the positive side to any shitty situation. Because it’s a distraction and who wants to actually talk about the shitty things in life?
  2. Other travel bloggers tend to hang out in high traffic touristy areas.  There are ALWAYS tons of other people around them. So if they ever do feel lonely all they need to do is go hang out at the local pub or join a group tour.

The town where I live doesn’t have a single bar and sees zero tourist activity.

Actually living in a country as an expat in a semi-rural town is a different ball game. I find myself indulging in too much introversion and my social life is completely fucked up. The worst part of this being that I can do fuck all about it.

I am in a small town where everyone knows who I am and there are only five other foreigners. If I make the mission into the nearest big city I can hang out with more people but they all end up being the other English teachers and the handful of locals who speak English. There is no influx of new people. There is no room for anonymity.


Small Social Circles = Cabin Fever

I don’t hate hanging out with the other foreigners, all of them are rad but it is just an impossibly small social group. As someone who has grown up in two of South Africa’s biggest cities, I am used to being able to meet tons of new people and my Tinder always having someone to swipe. For the two years, I lived in Cape Town, I hardly met people with mutual friends and it was pure bliss.

I don’t have that in Thailand and it is driving me insane. I just want a normal dating life and to be able to travel. But no matter which way I look at this something has to give.

Yes, I could hand in my month notice to my school, make up some crazy excuse and try to still get away with a good reference, but I’ll be returning to South Africa with little money and the stress of having to get a normal job.  But I’ll have a social life again. Or I can tough it out until the end of next semester in March, go home and then put off my plans to go backpacking through the SE Asia.

I’ll be trading having a love life sooner over a massive desire to travel.


What Happens When I Get Home?

It has also occurred to me that as I get home, I’ll be over it once the urge to get out and explore takes over again. What does that mean for my love life then? I can’t see myself sitting still and having a normal relationship. I want to see as much of the world as possible – preferably longer than a two week holiday.

Isn’t that inherently selfish to expect a monogamous relationship out of someone else? Long distance relationships are bullshit and completely defeat the point of just wanting to have someone there. And the chances of finding someone who wants a nomadic lifestyle is something that doesn’t feel possible.

To appease this desire to have someone special in my life feels like I would need to change how I travel. It might mean doing more local travel, visiting neighboring African countries or going on two-week stints. Which there is nothing wrong with but come with their own sacrifices.

But living abroad has RUINED my dating life because I have made poor decisions.

If I want to live abroad I have to be more careful about selecting locations and I can’t accept teaching jobs just anywhere. After almost three years of avoiding romantic relationships, having the option taken away from me is a bitch slap from reality that I wasn’t expecting.

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7 Comments

  1. Sandi Ferreira Melnick
    November 1, 2016 / 7:09 pm

    I was captured by your title, and impressed by the content. You very quickly summed up the "lie" that fellow travelers profess when they claim to enjoy the move to a new city: be it for a long term, medium term or short term goals. IT IS simply NOT EASY!
    Without a support structure in friends and family, without the comforts of the places we know, and without the norms we have become accustomed to – life can be very LONELY. I am sure your NOMADIC soul mate exists, Lauren, your paths have yet to cross. Thanks for a great article and welcome home albeit for Christmas and New Year with your adoring fans 🙂

      • James Wong
        November 6, 2016 / 1:07 pm

        Hi Lauren, good article. I’ve been abroad for the last 13+yrs, the last 9 here in Thailand. Thought you might like to know about a facebook group called ‘I am a triangle’. Its members are all expats and repats https://www.facebook.com/groups/IAmATriangle/ . It has a subgroup specifically for ppl travelling solo, many of whom would share your same issues. The groups are all very supportive. Maybe it’d interest you https://www.facebook.com/groups/687420251406946/

        • November 6, 2016 / 4:26 pm

          Hey James!
          Thanks so much for this. I’m back in South Africa for the next few months, but I’ll definitely take a look at these groups and make sure of them next time I’m abroad.

  2. Erin Perkins
    March 30, 2017 / 10:16 pm

    YES. Everything about this I can relate to. I lived abroad and even though I was in large cities with a good amount of expats that I hung out with I have never felt so alone. Half of the year I was hoping to meet someone and the second half I was hoping I wouldn’t so I could go home without having to make a decision. Nothing in my dating life has changed since I’ve been back but I don’t feel as hopeless about it.
    I want to hopefully live abroad again, but after I meet someone. It will make the separation anxiety and introvertedness easier. Fingers crossed, at least.

    • March 31, 2017 / 8:40 am

      It’s really great to hear you can relate to this!
      When I published this I got attacked on Twitter by old foreign men living in Thailand telling me I what I was feeling was wrong because they haven’t had a problem. :/
      I hope you do meet someone and go on to have awesome adventures living abroad 🙂 I’ve recently started dating someone from my home country, but I leave in two months for another half of the year stint abroad. It will be interesting to see if I still experience these feelings and if so, how I will cope this time around.

  3. Clemens Barnard
    September 29, 2017 / 4:21 pm

    Hi Lauren,
    I am also from South Africa (CT) – and been living in Thailand the past 6 years – it does help if you work offshore and get a break every 4 weeks to get away 🙂
    Just came across your article while reading up about Ubon Racthathani – might possibly relocate there. Will go see for myself in December and decide – growing tired of Chiangmai.
    All of the best with your new adventure 🙂

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