Romania from the outside: Love over the wires
Guest writer Leon Schnell takes a detour, telling the story of how he met his Romanian wife and what the pitfalls of their journey up to now have been.
If there’s one common critique I’m getting at the moment, it’s that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to Romania because I don’t live there yet. Very well, let me take a short detour through something I do have a lot of personal experience of: meeting your partner online and managing that relationship.
Why now, specifically? Well, this past week I happened to get a comment on my blog (link in my bio below) from another South African guy, who sounds to be exactly the sort of boat I was in. He’s my age, in a relationship with a Romanian woman, and they’re living apart. Brace yourself, Romanian women: it seems there’s a run on you from the southern tip of Africa (no pun intended)!
He wanted to know how my wife and I had met, and if we’d managed to have a long-distance relationship. It was time to write this column, and everybody loves a good little soap opera so ... tune in, for the latest episode of the Young, still in South Africa and Restless.
These days there are countless dating sites, sure. All promise untold love or some other things* (*family friendly version). Maybe if I say that while my wife and I met online, we did not meet on a dating site, I might redeem myself in the eyes of the people who are rolling their eyes and saying, “Go figure.”
Back in the old days, I was a newspaper reporter working in my first job, living by myself for the first time. Couple my lonely evenings with my laptop and my internet connection, I discovered the wonderful world of Internet Relay Chat.
This period reminds me a lot about my first year in High School when I was introduced to e-mail for the first time, and I immediately started e-mailing penpals overseas. Who needs to discover your little town when you’ve got an open line of communication to the whole world?
For those who aren’t familiar with Internet Relay Chat, it’s an outdated form of Internet chat relying on people using a computer programme (IRC client, like mIRC) to connect to an IRC server (like dalnet) and join a channel of their choice (when you join just type /list and then /join #channelname). Be warned: most of the people online are either middle-aged (i.e. started using IRC in its early heydays) or out for other things.
As it happens, I met my wife in a trivia channel, which is about as close as you can get to intelligent conversation online. A computer script – bot – asks random trivia questions at a regular interval, and the human players answer the questions and accumulate points. You might think this is a bit of a weird meeting place for your future wife, and I’d agree: I wasn’t out looking for a wife, you have to remember.
I think that’s my main lesson for anybody who’s lonely and looking for love online – it’s just like finding love in real life. It won’t happen until you find the right person, say the right things, and get to enjoy each other’s company. If you have that spark, it’ll translate online, and the benefit will be that you’ll know that you can actually communicate instead of just engaging in getting drunk and other things*.
My wife and I started talking in ‘private’ – one-to-one chat – and the rest is history. Our holiday in London isn’t important, nor is the fact that the UK Government turned down my visa application for settlement, but happily retained my hefty application fee (the equivalent of a month’s salary at the time).
The second important message is this: if you do find yourself in a long-distance relationship, don’t ever get comfortable with it. To put it another way: if it’s not hurting, you’re maybe not invested enough. Skype, MSN, Facebook, sms, phonecalls (oh man – prepare to have some huge phonebills!) ... hell, my then-fiance and I even played online chess against each other just so spend time in a shared activity.
At the end of that day, trust me, it’s all window-dressing until you can live together. The thing about long-distance relationships across borders: everything gets real serious real fast. Do NOT even think about this unless the person you’ve met online blows your mind. A casual fling is A: not going to lead to long-term happiness and B: not going to get you married – or at least, should not – and without marriage you’re going to have a hell of a time with immigration laws to join up.
Yes, I realize I lucked out. There were countless things which could have gone wrong. My internet connection could have died. My ‘partner’ could have turned out to be a transgender serial-killer in real life. After we got married, everything could have gone south rapidly. None of these things happened.
That’s not to say that it was easy. Getting together required some huge changes in our lives (I moved from the small town I’d been living to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, and she moved countries). Getting by financially at the start was nearly impossible, with her unable to find a job for nearly a year.
Working our way up from scratch has been difficult, because we’ve had to pay off debt incurred, get her University studies re-started here, slowly work our way through different jobs ... and you know what? I don’t regret a thing. We’re going on for our third wedding anniversary in April, and I’d say that we’re happier as a couple than ever.
Why share all this? Because it’s an important part of being an immigrant, I think. In a perfect world, we’d all have loaded bank accounts, huge skills lists and be completely single and mobile. In reality, it’s not that clear-cut. We move to join our partners, give up jobs and leave behind families, look for new friends, struggle financially, try to acclimatise to new cultures (I’ve seen a lot of what’s in store for me in Romania by helping my wife adapt to South Africa).
If you’re in a long-distance relationship at the moment, the best advice I can give to you is to tread with care but to listen to your heart as well and move as quickly as possible. Moving countries often necessitates giving up a lot of safety nets, but real love is worthwhile pursuing no matter where you find it. Somebody from a completely different culture can also present completely new points of view, and open new horizons.
Too many people treat the Internet like a one-way platform. They log on silently and consume vast quantities of useless information and mind-numbing YouTube videos. The alternative is to become a content producer: to comment on stories, to chat to strangers, to participate in debates, and who knows ... maybe find your better half. Good luck!