Relationships While Abroad: The Meaningful, the Networked, and the Ephemeral

old telephone

Relationships in a Networked World

Maintaining Relationships from a Distance

As many of you expats and world explorers know, technology has made being away from home and your loved ones much easier. Phone calls are less expensive, letters arrive much quicker, and with an Internet connection and video cam, you can actually see the person you are conversing with while being physically thousands of miles away. Technology has made the world a much smaller place and has made staying in touch with loved ones near and far much easier.

Established relationships are maintained with more ease via technology (albeit they are no replacement for the real deal), but new relationships require a bit more TLC and elbow grease. Whilst relationships are easier to establish and maintain online, they require just as much (if not more) work to maintain. I’ve found the quality of online relationships somewhat degraded. I fear that some of this may be an issue of my generation (Y). Those who have grown up with technology have not had to work as hard to maintain relationships (I understand this is a broad and sweeping generalization, stick with me). Interaction with one particular individual may be accomplished instantly via a variety of technologies (e.g. telephone, online chat, Skype).

While reading through expat blogs I’ve noticed a common theme (particularly in the blogs of those who have married someone from outside their home country); they had to work harder in order to maintain their long distance relationships, particularly because communication technologies weren’t as advanced ten or even five years ago and long-distance calling was expensive. There are several articles by the ladies at She’s Not From Yorkshire, that deal with this topic; one in particular, by Yankee Bean, describes networking a long distance relationship across the pond, quite well.

Oh, the places you’ll go! Oh, the people you’ll meet!

I’ve found that relationships are easier to develop in our networked world, but they are often fleeting.  As an avid explorer of the world, I have met and made friends with many people from different countries and cultures. Some of these people have made long lasting impressions on me. Those which I would consider friends are the ones with which I usually exchange more than just the occasional Facebook message. Even if we don’t write traditional letters by hand with pen and paper, we write e-mails, chat online, or arrange to meet for the occasional Skype call.

Technology has changed the ways in which people interact. We are always connected, but the quality of these connections, of these relationships, isn’t necessarily the same. It’s easier to send someone a random message because they happen to be online than thoughtfully engage in conversation. I recently deactivated my personal Facebook account for one month. This was not premeditated, it just happened. I’m still not sure what triggered it. The next day I realized I had cut off my main source of communication with someone very dear to my heart, and without any explanation. What would he think? Would he notice? (Obviously, I was being a wee bit dramatic). About a week after I deactivated my account I started to feel a bit of regret. There are many people with whom I keep in primary contact with via Facebook. Deactivating my account cut off my lifeline; when did Facebook become my lifeline?

Ok, so I lied…

Writing the above paragraph made me realize that I do know why I deactivated my Facebook account. This is the part where I confess something terribly embarrassing.

My name is American Burd and I have a crush, a bad one, on a lovely man who lives 4,000 miles away. - I like you exactly as much as won't freak you out

Although it defies logic (something I really hate to do), it’s true. I have a completely irrational crush (for many reasons besides the distance). I am nearing 30 and am going through a phase of my life where most days of the week I throw myself into work in order to ignore the thoughts (which bear a resemblance to those from my junior high days) that infiltrate my dreams, day and night. After 8 months of networked communication with my Scottish Beau, the magic started to fade. Our interactions became more routine, less sincere. Although I felt a connection to him unlike any I’d had before, we really hadn’t known each other that long. It still felt wonderful to chat, but our conversations didn’t feel as genuine; messages and e-mails came with less frequency. Was I mistaken, we had an amazing connection, didn’t we? Why doesn’t it feel the same? I think I left Facebook in an attempt to disconnect from him, one person out of a few hundred “friends”; that particular networked connection had become a bit too depressing.

More connected but shorter lived?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love that it is easier to maintain the relationships I make while abroad. I just can’t help but feel, however, that there are a few drawbacks to this ease of access; some of the romance and excitement, which stems from not knowing when or if you’ll ever see or talk to someone again, is lost. I know this will make me sound like a cynic, but the moment is easier to lose through prolonged interaction. Technology makes it so we don’t have to work as hard and, consequently, it’s easier to put less effort into maintaining these relationships. When you know you can always send a quick message or may, by chance, be online at the same time as someone else, there is less planning involved and less excitement at the chance encounter.

Think of the beautiful, untainted memories and romances…

I’m interested to know of your experiences with technology-mediated relationships. How are they sustained? How do you stay in touch with loved ones far away? How has technology made them easier, better or worse? What technologies do you use?


One thought on “Relationships While Abroad: The Meaningful, the Networked, and the Ephemeral

  1. Pingback: Live and love in the moment | Live. Love. Travel. | Not a Scottish Lass

Leave a Reply