The Trials And Tribulations Of Dating As A Gay American Expat
I’ve always said that the best education possible is traveling the world. Experiencing new cultures, new people, new ways of life, and seeing things you never thought imaginable when back at home. I wasn’t wrong in thinking this, but I did realize that living abroad took this learning to an entirely different level. Vacationing is completely different than working, cooking, grocery shopping, going to the gym, and LIVING in a foreign land. It’s exciting because everything is different than it is back home. It is frightening at times. And dating, as an expat? Well, that’s an entirely different animal, especially for a gay man in his twenties in countries like the U.K., France, Australia, and Costa Rica.
I never looked at myself as exotic until I lived overseas. Somewhere along the lines, America became a power house in media and entertainment. So, no matter where you look or listen, there is influence from the United States everywhere. Our pop-stars are always playing, in English, on the radio. A song from a US artist is at least every 5th or so piece played in the clubs. American movies are what dominates the foreign box offices. To me, I was just a plain-Jane gal (guy) originally from the Midwest coming to a country near you via Los Angeles. But to foreigners, I was aberration: part of a complex machine from the biggest power house nation on the planet.
Sure, I have dirty blond hair and blue eyes. But at 5’7” (I might be stretching that a bit), these features just make me another boy-next-door type while in the states. Nothing special. In Latin America and southern Europe, however, these genes, plus my American nationality, often help me feel like a very mini-superstar. I’m different looking than a lot of the population and opposites attract. And an expat living in their country meant that I was an exotic foreigner available like some kind of banned pet that garnered oohs and aahs at elementary school show-n-tells.
Not everyone abroad feels the same way. There is definitely deep-rooted cynicism from many foreigners about what the United States stands for and its role on the grand world scale. We are taught in America that we are the greatest country that has ever been. That the United States was the first of any nation to do a lot of things: invent the telephone, the television, first in flight, the internet, smart phones, the works. Some of these are true, while others aren’t totally, completely accurate.
Our presence in world conflicts doesn’t get lost to many foreigners. We Yankees are often considered by many peace-loving nations as the bullies of the world, inflicting our beliefs and principles on other nations at war, whether they liked it or not. This doesn’t always garner us the greatest of reputations, especially with ethnocentric leadership in office during the Bush Jr. and Trumpian era. I met a few foreigners—most of which were friends of friends or visiting from other countries—that just outwardly admitted a distaste for Americans. That’s a tough egg to crack.
But for someone like me, I try and always will be the epitome of what a good American is and should be: We are a great nation full of fabulous people. Most of us are trying to get through our days with as little headache and as many laughs as possible. When I lived abroad, it was imperative to me to not only be on my best behavior, but to persuade the foreign masses that Americans are the real deal. Not the best, not the worst. But some of us ARE some of the best people you’ll meet.
So, when it came to dating as an American expat, I was on a mission to have as authentic of an experience as possible. Grindr virtually took away that blissful moment of love at first sight, but I didn’t let that phase me. I learned quickly to take off the little Stars and Bars emoji from next to my half-naked front torso profile name and replace it with something more culturally apropos… like the bicep emoji…
Grindr, Scruff, and Europe’s Planet Romeo were all decent resources when trying to meet someone. Though these applications often destroy that initial spark you feel upon first laying eyes on a total hottie, they did help to weed through potential suiters from the duds or ones that just don’t match. Let’s face it: gay men are picky. Many of us already have fixated types in mind. On top of that, pun intended, lots more gay men have one specific desired position that they are often convinced they cannot stray from: top or bottom.
When I ended up dating in Australia and Europe, being versatile never felt like a problem. Maybe I am mistaken, but Europeans and their Aussie counterparts just seemed to be more open to the idea of sexuality and owning it. In the United States, in my humble opinion, I find a definitive line that many gay men are just not willing to cross. They are either bottom or nothing. And, tops won’t attempt bottoming. But in Europe and Down Under, sexuality just seems to be a lot more fluid. More fun, less drama.
That’s just the sexual positioning. Dating dating abroad as a gay expat has plenty of amazing quirks as well as some, at times, serious drawbacks. On the negative side, for starters: many of the guys I dated abroad assumed that anything we started could never be substantial because I would end up moving away.
This wasn’t necessarily always the case. I dated several guys in Sydney and England who were very non-committed for this reason: they thought I would eventually move back to America. What was really emotionally difficult was coming to the realization, in some instances, that they were correct. My mother always says: a fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they make a home? A Brit and an American can fall in love, but eventually, someone has to leave their previous life behind to move to be with their bird. Or reconcile to live in both.
On the positive side, meanwhile, me being an expat for the most part didn’t really differ so much from dating an American in the States. I found certain nuances of dating people from other cultures to be quite charming. I would never go water skiing on a date in America. Or crabbing. “Meeting the parents” can be such an event in the United States, but in countries like Costa Rica and France, bringing you around to their family and friends was often a first-date experience. “Going out dancing” in the States means getting a few drinks then going to a club to dance. In other countries, going out dancing means going out all night long and into the morning hour: dinner, drinks, dancing, drinks, dinner, dancing, drinking, dancing, rinse, and repeat.
In the end, what really matters is the company you keep while abroad. I would make the assumption that dating is easier for someone who has permanently emigrated from the US, but in reality, dating is difficult for everyone.
I ended up moving back to the United States every time, each for different reasons, of course. There is a lot to think about when getting serious with someone while living abroad. But really, these are some of the same trials and tribulations in dating someone back “home”. If I had any advice to give, I would suggest that anyone wanting to date as an expat should be open to any and all possibilities that come your way. You could meet the man of your dreams or just simply learn a lot about other cultures, and yourself, along the way.
Written by Koelen Andrews