Skip to content

#79 Long Distance Relationships

August 5, 2011

This guest post is from Max Baldwin

There is no real specific training beyond a generic masters degree for Expat Aid Workers, but a number of initiation rituals have been established so that the EAW can achieve true professional status. These rituals include the long-distance relationship.

Inevitably, during his or her first post abroad, the EAW will be leaving someone special back home, like a young soldier heading off to war: “Sorry darling, I know you can’t understand, but the poor people of Bundustan need me.”

Indeed most friends, family, and even local staff from the office that the freshly minted EAW is travelling to will fail completely to understand the logic, but this is because they don’t get the nomadic  spirit which is at the core of the true EAW.

EAWs like long-distance relationships.

Upon arrival in the new country, the long-distance relationship serves as one of the most useful tools for establishing field cred. Having had no previous technical experience or visited other developing countries can be counterbalanced during those awkward first weeks with the repeated statement that you left the love of your life back at home (along with listing your volunteering positions, publications, and motivating factors to become an EAW).

There is no faster introduction to the cruel world of EAWs than the standard reaction during that time, when everyone nods understandingly and then tells you that after 3 months you’ll split up. They’ve all been there before.

For a male EAW, the long-distance relationship has other practical uses, such as in countries where liaisons with commercial sex workers is common amongst regular, married family guys. You could be on a work night out with the Operations Team, say in Vietnam, and have it suggested that you join them for a “massage”. Of course you’d love to — you’re one of the team — but you have a partner back at home.

Female EAWs often take it further and wear fake wedding rings as a totem to ward away the worst of the macho attention lavished on them every day.

Inevitably the long-distance relationship will reduce to e mails that are shorter and more infrequent, and impossible Skype calls in which it sounds like you’re speaking to a cross between R2D2 and Cher, inevitably at 7am on a Sunday morning (which is probably 9pm Saturday night back at home, and so your soon to be ex-partner doesn’t want to be on the phone either). This is the only time that you can find that you’re both available across such distant time-zones.

Time goes on and even Skype becomes too awkward or stressful. Your life is too different from life back home and the energy to explain it all disappears. Your soon to be ex- doesn’t understand your new values and perspectives quite as well as that chick you met a few weeks ago at the EAW house party, or perhaps she’s not quite as pliable as the local woman who’s orienting you to local culture and helping you ease entirely into a new form of male-female hierarchy.

Eventually, you find yourself having a beer with the new guy who just arrived off the plane, telling you about his masters thesis, his commitment to being the new volunteer reporting assistant and his girlfriend back at home.

You find yourself giving him three months, tops.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2011 10:12 pm

    Irony of this post is that since I wrote it I got married to another expat aidworker, only to find ourselves apart because of visa issues back in the country where we work/live. Only 10 days after the wedding day and back to sad phonecalls (don’t even bother with Skype).

    • August 7, 2011 10:28 pm

      give it 3 months…. ;)

    • Melissa permalink
      August 8, 2011 8:15 am

      see I was going to say that this was only true (the article) when the long-distance is with someone you left behind at “home”… NOT when it’s someone you meet overseas :)… or at least, as someone currently in a long-term relationship with someone met overseas (almost 2 years long distance at this point – with hopefully an end to the long-distance in sight!) I really hope it doesn’t apply to those relationships :-).

  2. The Rachel permalink
    August 8, 2011 5:52 pm

    I’m not broken up yet!!! HA. I’m going on 7 months long-distance with my boyfriend. We’re both fortunate to have strong internet connections, so we can waste hours upon hours playing games while video chatting on Facebook Video Chat Rounds (here you are, fellow glamorous EAWs, you’re welcome: ). It’s not very romantic, but I’ve had worse dates…

  3. Keely permalink
    August 9, 2011 2:54 am

    Just did a year and a half of distance (Argentina to Haiti) with another EAW and we’re now blissfully happy together in working with Burmese refugees in Thailand. I agree that maybe EAW couples are exempt from this this “three months tops” rule- and I know some non-EAW couples who’ve made it too. There IS hope! True love is real!

    Love the bit about Skype: the robot/Cher voice is SO TRUE! We thought for a while that maybe the CIA was tracking us, especially after he was working in Indonesia, but now I realize the program is just terrible.

  4. August 10, 2011 8:08 am

    As a recently-ish separated all I have to say in response to this article is OW fing OW OW OW. OW. Have I mentioned OW?

  5. August 11, 2011 1:42 am

    In my experience, even more than long-distance relationships, EAWs like intentionally obscure relationship statuses. There’s nothing like sharing a house with someone for six months before discovering they secretly have a wife on assignment on another continent. I now just assume that every person I meet is married, until definitively proven otherwise.

  6. August 12, 2011 11:49 am

    I’m the white crow: 14 years for my own long distance relationship with/between EAW ! :)

    Yeah, I know.

    You say?

    Yea again.

    Shut up.

    • August 15, 2011 7:00 am

      ‘perhaps she’s not quite as pliable as the local woman who’s orienting you to local culture and helping you ease entirely into a new form of male-female hierarchy.’

      Excuse me while I go throw up on something. This is disgustingly, sadly true… I only hope the writer is not endorsing it.

      Funny, I’ve managed a long distance relationship for two years. The key is non-monogamy people!

      • August 15, 2011 7:16 am

        An editors addition I take responsibility for. Calling it out, not endorsing it. SgS

      • August 15, 2011 10:11 am

        If ever it’s not a manipulation mistake and so, truely an aswer to my own comment:

        Really very “EAW” reaction: you suppose automatically there is “local woman” in the story aren’t you?
        Sorry, but I’m a woman, and “not local”, neither my companion. And nobody supposes any hierarchy between us -expect perhaps human ressources in recrutment process :( ….

        At least: “keys” are different for every people buddy: personnaly I assume if ever non-monogamy in stable couple can be possible and fun, certainly not in case of long distance relationship, especially in EAW world, where everybody knows everybody: soooooooooooo fun and easy-working to come at your post when everybody know that that your husband/wife has taste the stick/pussy of your colleague/housekeeper/driver isn’t it?

      • August 15, 2011 10:30 am

        @violemmenthumaine – I think Riddidill is responding to the post in general, not to your comment/your situation. Please don’t take it as a personal attack. SgS

  7. August 26, 2011 1:00 pm

    No problem, I did not take it as personal attack :)
    (but it was not possible not to react to as such a big pole lol)

    • September 4, 2011 7:47 pm

      Wow thanks for the presumptions violemmenthumaine. I’m not exactly sure what your problem is. (I have just realised that I accidentally pressed reply to your post, rather than responding to the post in general. I think this has caused the confusion. It was not intended to be a reply to your post at all. But even so, that should be entirely obvious from context…).

      It wasn’t me who was making assumptions about the presence of ‘local women’, I was referencing the post, so you can stop with your knee jerk condemnations. Oooh, spot the white-person-presumptive-universalism! That’s a fun game, about as fun as the Oppression Olympics, or spot-the-agency, favourite of post-colonial academia. You win. I’m not playing.

      Congratulations on you and your partner’s lack of locality and non hierarchy. Why am I supposed to care? Everyone has different situations. I am fully aware of this. Nobody was saying otherwise. The point of these articles is to highlight certain archetypal caricatures of people, which by necessity is a generalisation. A stereotype wouldn’t be a stereotype if it represented everybody, would it? Then it might actually be something closer to reality, but the purpose is to construct and make fun of a caricature.

      What’s even more hilarious is that you try to call ME out on my generalisations, then you make the statement ‘personnaly I assume if ever non-monogamy in stable couple can be possible and fun, certainly not in case of long distance relationship, especially in EAW world, where everybody knows everybody: soooooooooooo fun and easy-working to come at your post when everybody know that that your husband/wife has taste the stick/pussy of your colleague/housekeeper/driver isn’t it?’

      You assume, do you? How nice for you. Assuming things you have zero knowledge of must be so much fun. So much fun you assumed that that is what I was doing, about local women. When in fact you were assuming that I was making an assumption in the context of a lack of knowledge, while in the context of a complete lack of knowledge of whether I was making an assumption at all or what my knowledge was. Confused yet? Amused yet? The irony is killing me. But it looks like English is not your first language so maybe that was a mean sentence construction to use. I’ll summarise – hypocrisy much?

      My remark was flippant and offhand. I did not intend to say non monogamy is the ONE TRUE WAY. But I have certainly found it helpful and thought others might like to try it out. Certainly it takes a whole lot of pressure off the relationship, and actually gets around the control/fear/lack of trust/ownership which poisons so many monogamous relationships (not ALL but MANY).

      You seem to lack the very basic understanding that sexual jealousy is an integral part of monogamy, not non-monogamous relationships, making your comment ignorant, redundant and insulting. In fact, everything you imply I am saying to you. You clearly have NO EXPERIENCE of non monogamous relationships yet you think you have the authority to speak on how and when they should work.

      What makes you think long-distance relationships are not stable?

      Are you really talking to me, violemmenthumaine? Or are you really talking to yourself?

  8. September 4, 2011 7:50 pm

    PS thanks for the clarification, SGS.

  9. April 2, 2012 9:12 am

    Oh so true… you had me at r2d2/cher skype reception…

  10. Happilyeverafter permalink
    April 14, 2012 8:48 am

    In a long term relationsnhip for over 4 years, of which more than 2 spent away in other countries (Kosovo, Latvia, Senegal, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire). I guess the key for my happy situation is that we both knew long distance would have been a part of our life, and we were willing to put the extra effort into it. But if you are not solid, the above is what actually happens.

    besides, when I was in Senegal I saw that virtually all female EAWs were in relationships with locals, but male usually were not, which is weird because it’s the contrary of waht I’ve seen everywhere else. Then again, this could be explain by the fact women don’t find their local BF’s relatives waiting outside their house to kick their ass like it happened to the EAW before me at the organization I worked for, lol


  1. La France nous aime ou on la quitte. Devinez ce qu’on fait?…. « Violemment Humaine
  2. In Which an Expat Aid Worker Talks Long Distance Relationships « WanderLust
  3. introductions: a web, suspended | Tall Nettles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: