How to Have Fulfilling Relationships as a Digital Nomad
The freedom to work from a laptop and go anywhere you want, whenever you want… what is there not to love about the digital nomad lifestyle? For many of us, becoming a digital nomad can be a dream come true. Just when we think that we have achieved everything we’ve ever wanted, we learn the grass is always greener on the other side.
The lifestyle doesn’t come without its own set of issues. One of the main struggles many digital nomads face is loneliness. Unlike most people, we don’t necessarily have a fixed home. Our fluid definition of “home” consists of anything between the houses we buy to AirBnBs we book for the week. But home is not just where we live.
Home is where we feel a sense of belonging - somewhere we have a friend to hit up for dinner, somewhere we know whom to ask for help, and somewhere we know the owner of our favorite happy hour spot. In the digital nomad world, home is not a place; it’s where we know and connect with people.
Unfortunately, the majority of the people are not digital nomads, and it’s easier said than done to maintain your relationships when you are constantly moving and leaving people behind. As someone who moved often across continents over the past decade, here are some of my best tips for managing relationships as a digital nomad.
Real Friends Will Always Be There
At the end of elementary school, my parents announced that we were going to move from Taiwan to the United States. I cried and protested for weeks, thinking that I would lose everything and everyone. Fortunately, I realized over time that my true friends will always be there regardless of the distance, and in today’s world, they are often just one call away.
Distance doesn’t turn our friends and family away. In contrast, it helps us discover who is meant to stay and who is not. With the right people, we can meet up after a decade and pick up the conversation where we’d left it.
Slow Travel for Immersion
In Chinese, there’s a proverb called “admiring flowers while riding a horse.” It’s meant to be ironic in that we simply cannot see any flowers when we are going too fast.
In today’s world, we often go too fast. The ability to brag to your friends about having visited X countries within Y months seems more appealing than taking the time to get fully immersed in a new community. We are more obsessed with sharing our Instagram photos with friends online than sharing real experiences with friends around us.
Slow down. Take the time to meet people and connect with them. Stay a little longer.
Does Distance Really Matter?
My social circle spans across North America, Europe, and Asia, but I’ve never really given much thought about how I keep up these connections. For one, I don’t really consider them far away to begin with.
How often you see someone doesn’t depend on the distance. I’m sure you can name someone who lives close by but whom you rarely ever visit, and someone across the ocean that you would happily hop on a plane for. Distance isn’t all that matters - effort is.
Treat People Like You’ll See Them Again
How connected we feel with others doesn’t have much to do with the quantity of our connections, but rather the quality of our connections. If you are meeting people at a club abroad, you’d probably approach them as if you’d never see them again. But in today’s world, you’d be surprised how often people’s paths cross. I’ve met up with Taiwanese elementary school classmates in the US and UK. I’ve hosted European friends in both Asia and America. I’ve gotten lunch with friends of friends whom I’d never met in person, but just because we connected online once.
So build relationships like these people will continue to stay in your life because if you treat people like you will see them again, you will.
Leverage the Power of Social Media
Social media may have a bad reputation for being a cesspool for self-absorbed, selfie-addicted millennials. However, social media is just a tool, and how you use it is going to determine what you get out of it. So use it for what it’s intended for: connecting with friends and family.
I am someone who likes to share my life updates, not to show off or push my political views, but just to connect and catch up with people. Over the years, I realized that because of my active presence on social media, people tend to reach out to meet up, get advice, or catch up. When I reconnect with them, it often surprises me by how much they already know about what I’m up to.
Without social media, we would not have the opportunity to connect beyond our real life interaction. I am a firm believer that, when used effectively, social media is a great way to keep your friends and family close when you are away.
What About Romantic Relationships?
The traditional rules of dating, getting married, and settling down just may not work in the world of digital nomads. How can you plan to spend the rest of your life with someone just to go separate ways a few months later?
First, be extremely clear about what you are looking for. What are your priorities? What are your deal breakers? What are the places in the world you’d like to live, and what are the places you’d like to stay away from? Would they need to be a digital nomad too, or are you willing to settle down with the right person? Compatibility is the foundation to a fulfilling digital nomad relationship, or any relationship. A life partner needs to be someone you can grow with.
Finally, why is it that society places much more emphasis on “ending up together” over “enjoying life together”? Why is it that the goal of relationships is to get married, rather than to be there for each other even if not forever? What is more meaningful: spending the best time of your life with a summer fling or staying for a decade in a loveless marriage? We have been chasing the wrong things.
Don’t date someone to be in a relationship. Don’t get married to settle down. Life is short, and some of our relationships may not last. When we recognize the fleeting nature of our relationships, we will cherish it more while they last. Quite often, we found that we are able to stay with someone for much longer when we focus on the journey rather than the destination.
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