Solo – Not Single

The boy on the street looks devastated when I tell him – just as I’ve told a long line of suitors before him – that I can’t kiss him because I have a boyfriend.

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Solo in Bagan, Myanmar

‘What, here?’

‘No, back at home.’

‘Then it doesn’t count. It’s another continent. What happens in Carnival, stays in Carnival!’

A few weeks earlier, a fellow backpacker had given me That Look. ‘Shame about the boyfriend,’ he said. ‘You can still come join me in my bed.’

The Brazilian man working in my hostel looked downright shocked when I told him of my intercontinental commitment. ‘You have a boyfriend in Europe, and he lets you travel alone?!’ He shook his head in disbelief. ‘No man here would let his girl do that.’

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Paris selfies
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Solo girls take their selfies on self-timer in Porto, Portugal

Some people have this funny idea that when two people get into a relationship, they melt together like Siamese twins of sex, love and rock’n’roll. Somehow individuals turn into one entity of we, and that entity is expected not only spend all its spare time together but also plan its life according to other parts of that entity.

Oh boy, do I have shocking news for you! You see, two people in relationship still remain two individuals with their own, separate hopes, dreams and fears.

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Quality couple time on the Thar Desert, India
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Solo&strange in the Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil

I’ve always been independent to a fault. When I was younger, I used to dream of romance and love, but finding that fairytale ending was never my primary goal. I liked my own company – in fact, at times I preferred it. I could never be in a relationship with someone who demanded that I give that independence away. Balancing the amount of energy you need to invest in yourself and in your relationship is not always easy, but what in life really is? Real life romances are not one-way Hollywood movie scripts. Instead, they are an intricate map of two very different lives entwined with each other.  I have enough respect and trust for my partner to let him live his life, and I expect the same of him.

The worst part is that I catch myself making excuses. I tell people that he can’t travel with me because he’s working and couldn’t get the time off, I’m gone for a long time anyway, and don’t worry, he’s still coming to see me… I don’t understand where this need for other people’s approval stems from. It’s like I have to find justification to my desire to engage in my personal hobbies and to explain, why I’m not with my man. It is 2017, for crying out loud! A woman should be able to do what the hell she pleases, whether she has made a commitment with a man or not. So when I catch myself making excuses, I stop myself. I currently travel alone, period. No explanations.

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Forever making weird faces in Delphi, Greece
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Solo in Athens, Greece

To me the idea, that just because my boyfriend is living on another continent I could freely cheat on him, is downright insulting. I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for two and half years now. While the distance, now that I’m studying in Brazil, is arguably longer than before, it doesn’t change either the core of or the commitment in the relationship. I’m not here looking for a temporary boyfriend – I’m here enjoying a foreign country that I have wanted to visit for years.

The notion that people in a relationship belong to each other is not only problematic because it implies that a woman (or a man) only has personal freedom while they’re single, but also because it suggests that a relationship where the partners take some distance is somehow faulty. I should want to dedicate my life to the relationship, and if I don’t, there must be something wrong with me, him, or the relationship.  Of course that idea is absurd. I don’t travel solo because I’m running away from some imaginary love problems, nor am I running some devil’s test on the strength of our bond, nor am I looking to cheat on my partner in a place he’ll never catch me red-handed. I travel solo because I love travelling solo. I explored the world on my own long before I met him; back then it was one of my favourite things to do. Why should I have to give it up just because I’ve met someone?

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Romantically staring at his ears on the Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

Don’t get me wrong. Travelling together with a boyfriend is an amazing experience and has opened many more options to me – for example, I don’t think India would have ever been on my radar if it hadn’t been my boyfriend’s idea to travel there. It’s great to be able to share all the unique experiences of a foreign place with someone you love. But at the same time that same sentiment hides the pitfall of travelling together: you share all of the experiences. For two people who both used to be solo travelers, this kind of attachment can feel smothering.

A healthy relationship gives space to both partners. While a strong relationship is a constant riptide of compromises and negotiations, you should not be expected to give up your interest and personal dreams. A good partner shouldn’t be your whole life; he or she should complement it.

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Solo and badly lit in Tallinn, Estonia
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All the selfies in Dorset, the UK

And in truth, travelling solo even if you are in a relationship can even help make that bond stronger. Spending time apart allows both partners some personal growth and a chance to focus on their interests and hobbies for a while. Have you been meaning to start that manuscript for months but haven’t even outlined the characters yet? Have you wanted to take up taekwondo but previously found yourself too comfortable cuddling in front of the TV every night? Now’s your chance! After some time apart you might find that getting back together is even more exciting than ever, and on top of that, you have a plethora of new stories to replace those that you‘ve exhausted over the course of your relationship.

So please, stop wondering how a woman with a boyfriend can travel without him. I can, I do, and I will – and I owe no one an explanation for it.

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We’re a 90’s romcom. Siem Reap, Cambodia

As always, thanks for reading! This is a subject that I’m particularly passionate about; I just can’t stand the idea that a woman couldn’t do certain things because she has (or doesn’t have) a man. Have you encountered attitudes like this when you’ve traveled without your partner? Would you still continue travelling solo if you ended up in a relationship?

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