1 travel bug + 1 back-to-schooler + love = ???
September 29, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

My long-term, wonderful partner wants me to be more flexible, to put off school, and to travel the world with him. At 33, I'm sick of moving, love my current city, and want more education. What’s the best way for us to negotiate our differing goals for the future? Has anyone out there been in the same situation, and if so, what did you do?

My partner Ben and I have been together for 2 ½ years. We’re both 33 years old. We’ve lived together for a little over a year, but we were friends for 6 years before admitting our mutual love for each other.

Ben is hilarious, compassionate, creative, responsible, loving, and an excellent communicator. He brings great joy to my life, and there’s nobody I’ve ever met that lights me up the way he does.

Here’s the rub. Ben grew up in a very small Southern town, and stayed there most of his adult life until he got a job in the Bay Area in '06. He’s a very intelligent, creative person with a high school education who basically taught himself graphic design, video editing, management, you name it. He’s brilliant and my kindred spirit in many ways.

As for me, I spent my early 20s exploring and traveling the US and Europe after undergrad, and would have finished my MA had my father not been diagnosed with terminal cancer. (I’m an only child, and took on a great deal of responsibility during and after Dad's death.) At this stage in my life, I would really like to stay in the city where Ben and I currently live (a place I love) and continue my studies in the hopes of completing my degree.

Ben has a great job, and actually makes more than I do. He loves where we live, but he’s still got the serious travel bug, basically because he never had the opportunity or means to do so until now. Every time he brings up the future, it involves both of us quitting our jobs, teaching English, and traveling the world. If I am 100% honest with myself, this kind of life appealed to me in my early 20s, but I’m in a different place today.

Whenever I talk to Ben about my wishes to stay in one place for a while and go back to school, he says he’s supportive. At the same time, he advises me that what I need to do is explore the world and "be open." I love traveling as much as the next person, but I honestly feel as though I’m just in a different stage of my life. Every time I talk to Ben about this, I feel like we get nowhere. I feel like he's cajoling me into occupying a different life stage or being a different person. I want what’s best for both of us, but I’m honestly at a loss. We get along well, have a fulfilling life, and are very compatible otherwise. Is there a win-win for both of us long-term?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Could you agree to take one or two trips a year?
posted by orange swan at 8:03 AM on September 29, 2008

It seems like he's got some wild oats to sow and won't be able to relax until he does. The only thing I can suggest is that he goes off for a year or so while you finish your degree and you see if you want to pick up where you left off. The way it is now, nobody's really happy and it'll turn into a festering pile of resentment before you know it.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:04 AM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

I agree with youcancallmeal but it doesn't need to be that long a period, at least initially. One solution might be that he starts up a project for himself, say a three-month trip. He could maybe negotiate some sabbtical time with current job, or quit outright, but either way do a bit of planning first. In the meantime you take a short-term course and see how you feel about going back to school, but agree to meet him for a short-term vacation during his trip. This way he gets to travel both alone and with you, you get a holiday and a chance to look seriously at continuing your education.

The good thing is that you both want to learn - his preference of medium doesn't trump yours - it takes just as much (if not more) courage to go back to school. This way you get to sample both, and see which both of you want to pursue.
posted by freya_lamb at 8:20 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could you guys go on a trip together for a few weeks and then you can return and he can keep going? You could meet up with him again for spring break or something, unless he is ready to come home by then.

Sounds like he needs to go, and you need to have a home base but could still vacation. If there is a way that you can support his desire to travel and join him for parts of it, I think that would work best. It doesn't need to be an either/or situation, you can both do what you want and make it work.
posted by rmless at 8:21 AM on September 29, 2008

Well, ideally, you'd both compromise. You feel like your partner keeps cajoling you to be a different person, but what alternatives have you given him? He could give up and accept that he can't both be with you and travel the world for a while, which means, he can either leave you to travel the world, or give up on traveling. Since things sound good between you otherwise, neither one sounds like a good option. That leaves trying to change your mind. That's completely fair and it is fair for the two of you to meet each other in the middle somewhere. It might help to think of what a compromise might look like.

You talk of a desire to settle down and continue your education, but you don't mention any concrete plans. Have you applied to any programs yet (or for readmission)? Maybe you'd feel better about a period of some travel if you actually had a solid anchor on the other side. Perhaps you could apply now, and then defer your entrance for a year and spend that year traveling with your partner.

Your partner might be satisfied by a year of traveling, or he might not. That's fine. He could continue traveling for a while. You could join him for stretches as your courses and workload permit.

What would you prefer? To loose your partner now? To have a partner who feels for the rest of your relationship like you've denied him a chance to spread his wings for a few years? To stay with your partner spend a bit more time traveling with him on the way to going back to your studies and making a life together?
posted by Good Brain at 8:43 AM on September 29, 2008

Would you be willing to try a long distance relationship?

I know, they suck, and they are difficult. But if he wants to travel, and you don't, but you know he's the one for you, it could be worth it. The best relationships let us grow as people, even if it means exploring the world apart for a time. As rmless said, you can definitely visit him for parts of it--in fact, I'd advise visits every six- to eight- weeks if you guys can swing it. After you complete your studies, you can make plans to be together either in the city you are now, or some place mutually agreeable. Sometimes being long distance with someone you know is right for you is better than being local with someone who isn't.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:46 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

youcancallmeal has it, but like freya_lamb I don't think it needs to be a year. He has a major itch to travel and explore that will probably need to be scratched and if he doesn't he'll possibly end up resenting you. Him going off for a year (or however long) could be a mixed blessing though. While he would be able to get out and see the world, it could put strain on your relationship (more than if he had just waited until it made sense for you as well).

If he isn't willing to travel alone and do that live abroad thing without you, then maybe you can do it for a shorter period than a year. Maybe 3 or 4 months (ie. one term). That way you don't have to put your life on hold so completely, and he gets to travel as well. Or you could agree to do multiple trips in different areas every year so that he gets to see the world. There has to be a middle point, I guess is what i am saying. I think it is completely fair for him to want to do it, but it has to make sense for you as well.

I get the sense he feels this is a "now or never" thing, when it completely isn't. I know people who went and did this exact thing when their kids moved out. They went on year long sabbatical and lived internationally for a year teaching english. They both have said doing it at that point in their life was perfect and allowed them to enjoy it completely without worries about putting their future on hold. Just something to consider.

on a side note, I personally fully agree that while that life of global nomadic poverty seemed exciting when I was younger, it holds absolutely no interest to me now and actually seems remarkable unappealing. It sounds like you're kind of like me, where having some normalcy to my life is important to me now, as is setting down some roots... this might be something you should talk to him about.
posted by gwenlister at 8:49 AM on September 29, 2008

At the same time, he advises me that what I need to do is explore the world and "be open."

No, that's what he wants to do. You've done the whole ramble 'round the world and you want some time in a fixed place to complete your studies.

You need to gage his seriousness about this. What is his time line and plan? Lots of people say they are going to chuck it all and travel, but never do. If he's really going (and good for him), then you can look for opportunities to meet up during his travels and your breaks. Can you see a point where the lifestyles you both want will align? For instance, he may decide to travel for a year while you're in school. Following that, you can plan to be together (either in one city or traveling.)

In the end, it seems that neither partner is happy if one sacrifices themselves for the other. If he stays for you, he'll resent it. If you travel for him, then you'll resent it.
posted by 26.2 at 8:56 AM on September 29, 2008

Maybe you (or both of you) could apply to schools abroad, depending on your field of study. Ideally, you could pick a city with a school that is also a transit hub for other locations (and is also a good school for your major).

Or, get into a school in your city and travel with him the summer before it starts, then let him go off on his own for a bit, while you go back to school. Hopefully, you'll both be busy enough during your first semester that you won't go through some of the difficulties of a long distance relationship.
posted by hooray at 8:59 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've both decided that your goals are mutually exclusive, when it doesn't seem like that at all. For example, Ben's desire for: "quitting our jobs, teaching English, and traveling the world" are three different plans. One or all of those could fit in with your plans, depending on what your plans are (which also sound similarly vague--MA in what? how long will it take? etc.).

First goal (quitting our jobs): You're both looking at quitting your current jobs, whether it be for school or traveling, so you both have the same goal here.

2nd goal (teaching English): Chance of him being able to find a job teaching English abroad without a college degree is very very very small. If he wants to teach English abroad, he'll need to get his BA, and perhaps even a Masters or a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This means that he'll need to return to school. So there you go, you're both in school, so same goal for both of you. And if he can't wait until he's done with school to travel, he can do a semester abroad or other similar programs. And depending on your program, both of you can do the semester abroad together.

3rd goal (travel the world): This can be a goal in an of it self, and not necessary one that has to accompany No. 1 and 2. And accomodated a lot easier if you are in school, since you'll have summer vacation and winter vacation during which you can accompany him on his travels. Also, unless he is independently wealthy (and it doesn't sound like he is), he can't travel indefinitely. If he wants to travel, but doesn't want to go back to school in order to get the qualifications he needs to teach English, this is probably what he'll need to do. So, he can be working when you're in school, and both of you can travel together when you're not.

Once you are done with school, then the two of you can again think about what it is that you want to do with your life together. There are plenty of jobs you can get "abroad" in lots of different sectors, not just in teaching English. I think that if you (and Ben) start think of your positions as being the opposite of each other, you'll start seeing solutions that allow both of you to achieve your goals.

Good luck!
posted by jujube at 9:58 AM on September 29, 2008

My girlfriend and I are in our early 30s/late 20s and quit our jobs to travel about 3 months ago.

I think doing this at this age is much different from the backpacker trip of youth, which I've also done. Though we haven't settled in completely yet, we will have a real apartment which feels much more like home. We originally thought we would be doing minimum wage jobs (we do have work permits) but it looks like we will be able to get jobs easily in our field and/or freelance. What this means is that we will be living in close to the same comfort level as back home, not like a couple of college kids, which makes a big difference.

What I'm trying to say is that your bf's wishes may look better to you if you consider it as "quit your jobs and move abroad" rather than "quit your job and travel the world". You could attend school and he could work. Pick somewhere with good connections to other places you'd like to see.

I think I'm probably like your bf, although I did lots of travel when I was young too. He probably sees now as the last opportunity to do something like this before he will need to settle down and do the whole house and kids thing.
posted by dripdripdrop at 12:01 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Friends of mine have just found a way around this issue. It's slightly different from you in that they both wanted to travel, but the girl of the couple was half way through a PhD. In the end, they made a pact to save like hell for a time while the girl finished her doctorate, spend a chunk of time travelling, then settle somewhere else in the world for an indefinite period of time (they might never come back, they're not sure).

They got through the time that she was doing her degree by going on some smaller trips and spending a lot of time on the planning. Now they're half way through six months in South America, and have work visas lined up for a year (or more if they decide to try and stay) in New Zealand.

Alternatively, you could consider doing a year or more abroad at a foreign university. Maybe in the UK, which benefits from a common language and strong ties to the US, and is awesome as a base for cheap exploration of Europe and North Africa (I mean, you can get Eurostar return to Paris for less than $120, or fly to Marrakech for under $200).

I really don't think it's a case of letting him go and explore the world without you or having to give up on travel. He does need to examine his assumptions about TEFL teaching (frankly, with his skills and experience, he could freelance over the web or in other countries far easier than he could TEFL teach, trust me there's stacks of English Lit grads already doing this, and it's a lot harder work than you'd think), and I think ultimately the compromise may involve you moving away from this city you love, even if only for a year or two. Not everything has to be an absolute choice between backpacking penury and comfortable suburbia, there are plenty of points along the spectrum where you could make a happy life together.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:11 PM on September 29, 2008

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