Saying Goodbye: The Ugly Truth About Romances Abroad


He wrapped one arm around me as we walked through his Harry Potter-like neighborhood and avoided the puddles that had gathered on the ‘pavement.’ I joked that he looked dumb in his ‘trackies.’ It all seemed so normal in a moment that was anything but normal. When we arrived at the station I put the few ‘quid’ that remained in my wallet into the machine and out came my ticket back to the airport—leading me away from Dor. We had our last romantic goodbye kiss before I walked through the gate to the platform. He waved to me from the other side. I sobbed the entire two-hour tube ride from one side of London to the other.

We might as well have been stars of a cheesy British Romantic Comedy.

That moment was close to perfect, but our relationship in Edinburgh was anything but. Consistently seeing someone while abroad is difficult. The relationship came with many uncertainties, and I often found myself questioning whether it was worth it.

I wanted my study abroad trip to be a learning experience—a sort of find-yourself-time. I wanted to travel, taste new foods, and drink new wines without needing someone else to make it feel special. I had just ended a long relationship before I left for Scotland, and I did not want to deal with the effort and commitment of seeing someone else.

Maybe it was the English accent, or the romantic old city, but Dor ruined my plans within the first week.

There he was—a dark, handsome, Israel-born and London-raised hipster who caught my attention when I met him in the doorway of our building. The next night I was even more intrigued when I overheard him having a phone conversation in Hebrew with his parents. His passion for music and playing the drums continued to impress me during my time in Edinburgh.  He’s naturally clever, always relaxed, and has a great sense of humor. And while he often puts on a ‘too cool’ and uninterested front, he is one of the most caring and understanding people I have ever met.

He became one of my best friends in Edinburgh. We spent countless nights watching movies, playing cards, and talking together. I was prone to homesickness. He would always come over and tell me about his own Jewish family; he knew it helped me feel like mine was nearby.

Mixing friendships with romance is confusing, and things get even more complicated when one of the two is on exchange. I still struggle to define what we had. Were we dating? Not really. Were we seeing one another? Ehh, I guess you might call it that. Were we hooking up? That doesn’t really capture the full scope of our relationship.

There was no point in labeling what we had since it would have to end in a few short months. I was not put off by this idea. The thought of no boundaries was carefree and exciting. But this attitude was so different from what I witnessed around me in Edinburgh.

The British people who I was friendly with began intense and defined relationships quickly. They established clear dos and don’ts after hooking up for just a short period of time. I think I was judgmental of this at first. I felt they were committing themselves too fast to people they couldn’t possibly know well enough to do so. On the other hand, many of them thought I cared too little about how the lack of labels can affect someone’s image.

Perhaps this was the appeal. Maybe the idea of something casual—and so different from what he was accustomed to—with an American girl is what drew Dor in. But this meant that besides all the great times we had together, we also spent a lot of time hurting one another.

I was abroad for four months; I never expected or wanted Dor to be committed to me, and I never wanted to be committed to him. He was a first year student, and it did not seem fair for either of us to be tied to one person when our relationship was bound to fail anyway.  But we were also friends who shared everything with one another. That meant that I would watch Dor with other girls at clubs and he would hear my stories about meeting guys in different countries when I travelled on the weekends. We both had to act like we didn’t care—because after all, I was only around for a few months.

The worst part about having a relationship while studying abroad is not having to see someone you care so much about grinding up on another girl on the dance floor. Those moments are trivial when you think about the relationship as a whole.

The worst part is returning home and not knowing if you will ever see this person again. Not only did I leave behind a dreamy, foreign romance, but I also left one of my best friends.

We shared so much while I was abroad, but once I returned home it was different. With the five-hour time difference, it would be nighttime for him when I would try to tell him what it’s been like to transfer to Brown.  He would be out at pubs or clubbing with friends, and his priority was not to listen to me complain about harder classes. Then messages and Snapchats started to go unanswered, and I knew he was over our Edinburgh fling, so I should move on too.

But then I started comparing everyone I met to him. Friends, guys, everyone couldn’t live up to this glorified study abroad boy. We had ups and downs just like anyone would with her best friend; maybe the ups just seemed extra amazing because I was in Europe.

Despite all the negatives of this relationship, if I could do it all over again, I would not change a thing. I wanted a learning experience while abroad, and I could not have learned half as much as I did about the British culture or myself if it weren’t for Dor.

Brits and Americans are known for their similarities, but I wanted to learn more about their differences. Having an intimate relationship with Dor allowed me to ask questions that may have been offensive with someone else. We were open and accepting of each other’s differing values. I could better understand his perspectives and attitudes because we got to know each other so closely. He also gave me the support and friendship I needed to absorb and immerse myself into this new world.

So while I am in the process of moving on, that is not synonymous with forgetting or letting go. I will forever treasure the memories that Dor gave me. I value the honesty and understanding we shared. And while the distancing stage has been tough, I know that our friendship is tougher, and we will remain a part of one another’s lives.