Breaking Up On Exchange

There are certain times when Singaporean couples are susceptible to breaking up: as a girl enters Uni and her man enlists as a soldier; when she enters the working world while he finishes up school; when one half of the pair goes on University exchange.

For me, leaving my partner behind for exchange resulted in me cheating on him and tearing our relationship apart.

Going on exchange

I left Singapore for Europe several months after I got together with my then boyfriend. From the moment I received the acceptance letter, right up to when he waved goodbye as I cleared immigration, we were sure our relationship would survive the 12,000km.

We made plans to travel Europe together, and figured a 6-hour time difference wasn’t so bad. With regular Skype calls and Whatsapp texts, what was three months apart?

But what I never factored into the equation was the overwhelming sense of isolation. Neither did I consider the feeling of helplessness in the face of being unable to speak the local language, nor the everyday racism I had to deal with.

No matter how many plays I watched, art museums I visited, and bottles of wine I drank, I couldn’t keep the unhappiness at bay. One too many lonely cigarettes on my balcony later, I cracked.

Meeting the other guy

Waiting for the train home one day, a boy my age asked me for a pen. No harm being friendly, I chatted with him on the ride back.

When we alighted at the same stop, he asked me out for dinner. Knowing that accepting his invitation was treading the borders of unacceptable behaviour, I explained I had a boyfriend. But, his persuasion to be “only friends” swayed my weak resolve.

I reasoned what boyfriend know wouldn’t hurt him; and I convinced myself it was alright by telling my friends the falsehood, “Yeah my boyfriend is fine with an open relationship.”

At dinner, I got drunk on shots. He walked me home and I kissed him on the cheek before I fled up the stairs. High on the thrill of knowing what I did was exciting and wrong, I went out with him again.

This time, I caved in and kissed him, and we carried on the sordid affair.

My boyfriend finding out

I never planned to tell my boyfriend of my mistake. To me, the kiss was a mere spring fling, nothing compared to the summer warmth my boyfriend brought me.

We’ve been travelling for a couple of weeks and he felt tired from the non-stop travel. Choosing to stay in, I left him with my laptop for entertainment and promised to return soon.

That was the day he discovered my infidelity, having scrolled through and read the incriminating Facebook messages.

Then began an ugly, grey period where we’d fight and I’d beg him to stay and forgive me. When he eventually left for home early, I decided to continue travelling solo.

What I learnt about long distance relationships

Hiking alone in the mountains with nothing but the sound of my own beating heart to keep time, I realised the reason why doing a long distance relationship caused me to falter.

The loneliness caused by separation served as a magnifying lens on the relationship. Being alone amplified the already existing problems: the feelings of unfulfillment, the unhealthy dependence I had on my partner for validation, and the inability to enjoy my own company.

I guess that’s why a lot of University couples on exchange break up. Being unable to relate to each other because of different experiences is one thing, while realising geographical convenience as the only glue which held the relationship together is another.

Distance forces you to examine who you are as a person and if you were right for your partner in the first place.

Truth be told, I think if I didn’t cheat, the relationship wouldn’t have lasted when I got back home. Going on exchange just sped up the course of our relationship.

Being away revealed I wasn’t grounded enough and didn’t have solid morals to guide the course of my actions. It revealed every character flaw–my impatience, selfishness, and stubbornness–and how we had different life goals.

With him, I knew I’d have to play the supporting role to his big, corporate dreams. We’d live in big, multi-storied house with two dogs and three kids. And I’d be the housewife who kept house and greeted him with warm meals when he came home from work.

With him, my future would be fixed and I’d be trapped in something I never wanted.

Being A Better Person For My Next Partner

We were two different people who fell in love too quickly, and I was too immature and cowardly to break off the relationship directly.

More importantly I was too afraid to leave the safety net of his love.

I see now I simply wasn’t right for, or good enough for him. Still, it doesn’t change how he was one of the great loves of my life and will remain one of my biggest ‘what if’s.

The only thing I can do is learn from my mistakes and be better for my next love.

If you’re dating someone and are about to go on exchange, it’s important to ask yourself these questions:
-What are both of your love languages, and how can you change your dating practices so your partner will still feel loved despite being apart?
-Will you both be okay if you aren’t physically fulfilled, or be alright with setting up alternative arrangements (e.g. having an open relationship, alternative methods of being intimate)?
-How much communication do you both require (e.g. texting “good morning” and “goodnight” or only Facetiming)?
-Will you stay together if someone cheats?

Cover image: Source