Surviving months after months of dating with no success at finding anyone of ‘boyfriend-material’ can get a little frustrating. After the beginning of freshman year, it becomes a common occurrence to ask your friends, ‘Why can’t I find a decent guy?’
It can be hard not to wonder if the man of your dreams is nowhere to be found simply because he does not live in the apartment or dorm room next door. Perhaps he lives in an apartment next to the Eiffel Tower. Or, maybe he is waiting for you outside a café in Italy, his moped parked beside the table, complete with two helmets, just in case you happen to stop by. And so begins our quest for love abroad.
Maybe the boys are better in (fill in the blank)
Dating specialist, and relationship expert on the hit TV show Blind Date, Dr. Fayr Barkley, says people often fall for foreigners because of romantic ideals created by movies and romance novels. “The clichés and stereotypes that prevail about the ‘smooth Italian lover’ or the ‘romantic Frenchman’ or the ‘hot blooded Latina’ further add to the intrigue,” Barkley says.
Barkley says that these ideas can encourage someone to have wild behavior abroad they may not necessarily have at home.
Julie*, a senior at James Madison University (JMU) who had a relationship with a Maltese man while studying abroad in Malta, says “the idea of meeting someone whose life is completely different than mine was intriguing for me.”
“The hook-up with no strings attached has great appeal for those who want to have one last hurrah before buckling back down for the rest of the year,” Barkley says.
“I really liked the idea of absolutely no strings attached since I was only going to be in Malta for four weeks,” Julie says.
But what is it about being in Italy, or Spain, that could make us act outside of our normal behavior?
Why the study-abroad-fling happens, even to the best of us:
“When we first visit or live in a different country,” Barkley says, “it is natural for us to want to soak up as much as we can about it: the food, language, customs, fashion, culture, and of course, its people.”
All of the new sights, sounds, smells and feelings of a new environment create a completely different mindset. These new ‘stimuli’ are processed and “the brain secretes Dopamine and hormones that can have a euphoric effect,” Barkley says.
Ashley Palmateer, a senior at JMU, says it’s appealing to fall in love with someone from the States while in a different country together. When the guy is not a native to the country, “you are both out of your element,” Ashley says. “Everything around you is different to the both of you and it adds to each moment.”
A person in a new country may find herself doing things she would not necessarily do in her home-country. “If the person does not put boundaries around her choices and behaviors, she can find herself making decisions she may not have made otherwise,” Barkley says.
Ericha Forest, also a senior at JMU, says it's easy to find a fling when studying abroad. “You are constantly around your group and you spend so much time with everyone,” Ericha says. “At first, [a boy from JMU and I] were just friends hanging out, and the next thing I know we were always sitting next to each other on the bus and going on dates.”
Barkley says, “the brain can get bored with the same old same old, and the newness of a different land is stimulating and invigorating.”
For Julie, part of the excitement about meeting people in Malta was that the Maltese men were not used to seeing American women. “We got a lot of attention from the locals who had never met an American before,” Julie says.
Although those European men can be quite appealing, sometimes the cutie you met on the steps of the Louvre wasn’t a Frenchman at all. In fact, he happened to be a junior from Boston University, just like you. What a small world.
What happens in Rome stays in Rome
Ashley met her first love, another JMU student, on a study-abroad in Ireland. On New Year’s Eve, the two began talking and shared their first kiss together.
“Ireland will always be special to me because it was the place I started to fall in love with someone for the first time,” Ashley says.
Ericha also met her study-abroad-love in Ireland. Ericha says she didn’t arrive in Ireland anticipating meeting anyone. “I really just wanted to experience my time in Ireland with no distractions,” she says.
But, regardless, there happened to be boy in her group (a recent graduate from JMU) who caught her eye.
Caitlin Deleonardis, a recent graduate from Loyola University in Maryland, didn’t think she would meet her current boyfriend, Matt, while studying abroad in Italy. “I was too excited to just be going away for that long and exploring,” Caitlin said.
But she too, fell in love with someone from her home college, but hadn’t known well before traveling abroad.
But after the semester ends, what happens to the relationship, and the boy?
Saying your Goodbyes:
Barkley says that along with being in another country “comes the excitement, anticipation, and ‘fling effect’ of having a romance far away from home that no one has to know about,” Barkley says.
Sometimes, however, it lasts longer than a just semester abroad.
For Ericha, when the time came to finally leave Ireland, she and the boy she had been with decided to keep the relationship on good terms, but not stay a couple.
“We have kept in contact but we both didn’t want to leave Ireland in a relationship because he would be going back to his hometown and I would be going back to JMU,” Ericha said.
Ashley’s relationship from Ireland is still going strong. “I was worried it wouldn’t last because he was a grade older and graduated that May,” Ashley said. “Fortunately our hometowns are only an hour apart and he attends law school close by.”
Caitlin’s boyfriend, Matt, couldn’t help but wonder if things would be different when they both left Italy and returned home. “Neither of us thought about breaking up but we figured we would just see what happened,” Caitlin says. She and Matt happen to live only two hours apart and continue to visit each other as often as possible.
“There is sometimes that glimmer of hope with women,” Barkley says, “that perhaps we'll find ‘the one’, fall in love, get married and move to the castle in some exotic land and live happily ever after.” Well, Cinderella can’t have all the fun.
Check out these love stories from abroad:
Language Barriers: “When he first introduced himself, I turned to my friends and said ‘hey guys, this is Kate (for some reason I thought it made sense that a boy in Malta would be named Kate. Maybe it was a common Maltese name?) My friends looked at me a little funny. Later, after he found me on Facebook, I discovered that his name was actually Keith. His accent had totally thrown me off and it became a joke between the girls, and we continued to refer to him as ‘Kate’.” – Julie*, JMU
You had me at ‘Hello’? “The summer before we went abroad during our junior year we talked online but our relationship remained platonic. When we were at the airport leaving for Italy, Matt says he said hi to me and I completely ignored him- I swear I don't remember, ha. He always reminds me of this.” – Caitlin Deleonardis, Loyola University Maryland, Graduate
A Date fit for a Princess: “One night, Boris (my boyfriend), took me to a restaurant on the beach in Tel Aviv. Our table was in a white tent on the sand looking out at the Mediterranean Sea and it was just so magical. There were strings of white lights surrounding us and we split a bottle of wine. I thought to myself—this is too good to be true!” – Cassandra Potler, JMU
Dr. Fayr Barkley, Human Behavior Research Psychologist and Relationship Expert
Caitlin Deleonardis, Loyola University Maryland
Ashley Palmateer, James Madison University
Ericha Forest, James Madison University
Cassandra Potler, James Madison University
*Name has been changed, James Madison University