The first date started… awkwardly.

Despite having chatted back and forth on OKCupid for several weeks beforehand, it was clear this was going to work differently than other first dates. We ordered some Korean barbecue and tried to see where things went.

Rewind the time machine to Seoul, South Korea. December 20th, 2011…

By this point I had all but given up on OKCupid’s compatibility score, which had produced some interesting first dates but no lasting sparks…. OKCupid noted Laura was “7% Enemy, 78% Friend, 66% Match”, but what drew me to her was the thoughtfulness she put into her answers. She’d been around the block, both as Korea went and traveling around the world. (She had been in a Korea a few more years, and will always be ahead of me as number of countries go.)

I had heard it called ‘expiration dating’.

English teachers in Korea typically sign a one-year contract and get a one-year visa to live in the country. There wasn’t any guarantee you’d be invited back for another year, or that you’d be able to find another job if you weren’t invited back. As a result, people were coming and going all the time, and only a small fraction made it for more than a couple years in Korea… If things went swimmingly, you might have to choose between finishing out your contract (which meant a fair bit of money and a flight home for some teachers)

In any case, the second and third dates went less awkwardly, and two expats who’d spent years living life their own ways began to spend a lot more time trying to figure out a life together. We spent most weekends traveling around South Korea, researching the weird and bizarre places we both wanted to see throughout the country.

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I don’t remember the exact date, but I remember the day I knew I was going to marry her.

Laura and I were traveling to Daejeon, South Korea, about two hours by train south of Seoul. I saw a weird ship on the left as we pulled into Daejeon’s train station. We had a rough itinerary for the city, but as soon as I saw the ship I threw it out the window! We spent close to an hour at the train station, trying to figure out where and what this thing was — we’re nowhere near water, mind you. I looked over, and she was as earnest in looking for information as I was. I thought to myself, ‘this will be the woman I marry.’ We had been dating for about six months and things were getting serious… Eventually, we hopped in a taxi and found the ship — it was actually an abandoned wedding hall of sorts. It’s not technically open to the public, and not published on the blog since I’d rather not encourage people to trespass…

Rings in Hongdae, proposal in Haebangchon

As 2012 was coming to a close, we had talked about getting married, but by this point it was more like ‘the inevitable thing we both knew was going to happen’. We went to Hongdae for some simple silver rings that would be our engagement and wedding rings. We also began to talk about what would happen after Korea; my teaching job was going downhill and she had just renewed

It was Christmas Eve 2012 — a party of expats in Seoul. Laura and I had been dating for about a year, so there was no surprise. In any case, the Christmas party turned to karaoke — with this group, that meant doing Christmas songs in the most irreverent way possible. For my turn, I chose a Celine Dion song — an inside joke, since I have a very high tenor voice (and was, erm, a little tipsy, at the time)…

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Afterwards, the host reached for the mike — I kept a firm handle on it, whispering to her that I was going to propose to my girlfriend. She nodded and stepped back. I mumbled something about it being a very special night, motioned to Laura, and began to fish the ring out of my pocket. Someone in the crowd drunkenly asked ‘oh he’s NOT going to propose IS HE?!’, which prompted a laugh from the crowd.

A few seconds later, I was on a knee and proposing.

She said yes, and minutes later a bottle of champagne was produced — a gift from the bar, I believe — and she glowed briefly as the other karaoke singers went on… As we walked home, a fresh snowfall blanketed everything around…

Since neither of us are religious or were in need of a big wedding, we ended up getting married in March 2013 at a public park in Seoul. The pastor of a local gay-affirming church conducted things (about as far from a ‘traditional’ religious wedding as we could get!)…

Happily ever after?

A week after our wedding we were on a plane for Thailand. We were finished with teaching English (Laura quit her job after the principal changed), and flying by the seat of our pants. She got serious about translating Korean to English, while I blogged and took pictures and tried to make an income stream work.

Since moving to Thailand in 2013, we’ve traveling across Southeast Asia, Europe, spent six months in Colombia, and as I write this up, we’re in Quito, Ecuador. We’ve had our ups and downs as any couple does whether they’re traveling or not. We’ve both learned to compromise and let the other person in. We’ve learned to accept the other for who they are — I’m still the extrovert and end up doing lots of the socializing, while Laura’s pretty awesome at languages and hearing about places that never popped up on my radar.

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In short, we’re a team. A weird-place-loving sort of team.

So, advice for all you lovebirds on Valentine’s Day weekend?

  • Don’t let an algorithm do your matching. If someone sounds interesting, make the move yourself.
  • Know what you want, what you’re ready for — and be honest with yourself. Just looking for friends with benefits? Looking to stay in whatever country you’re in for years to come? Ready to go globe-hopping with someone special? You’ve got to know it for yourself before you can express it to someone else.
  • Recognize language or legal barriers. They shouldn’t stop love, but they can change the plans.
  • Travel, deeply. Our weekends while dating were pretty much together all the time, heading somewhere different most every weekend. You’re going to be figuring out each other’s habits and quirks a lot faster that way.
  • Respect each other. Duh.
  • Stay you. It’s way too easy to lose yourself, your purpose, whatever’s driving you. Don’t lose sight of why you travel.
  • It’s OK to go home, make a new home, or think of settling down somewhere. Very very very very very few people are nomads forever.
  • Spend time apart from each other. Traveling with the same person often puts you two in very close contact, and everyone needs some space to themselves. It helps if the apartment you’re renting has doors that let you blast your music, or if you find habits to enjoy on your own.
  • Celebrate the little things. It might be the umpteenth book I’ve written, but it’s still worth celebrating.

Looking for love as an expat — my personal success story - Behind the scenes, Personal -

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