It’s not a ‘real’ relationship: Others’ Views of distance relationships

With more and more people migrating for work or in search of better lifestyles, it’s perhaps more likely that love relationships are formed between people from different countries. But do relationships end or continue over distance? And how might distance affect people’s romantic relationships and their families and friends perception of them?
Globalisation might have played a role in creating these situations, but it might also offer some solutions; air travel is relatively cheap, and the world seems to be smaller because of social media. So, maintaining relationships over distance might be easier. However, I know through my own research at the University of Sussex that being a couple separated by geography, but connected online still has its downsides: ‘We spend a lot of time in front of the computer’ said one couple who admitted that they often neglected spending time with friends so they could be on Skype.
Being apart also puts pressure on time together to be special. It imposes a time limit and creates ‘the Sunday dread’; the feeling that your time together is coming to an end which makes the whole day ‘sour’. Dominque, from France who is in a relationship with Freya who lives in London said: “The only day you have is Saturday. Saturday everything is great. Saturday night everything is great. You get up Sunday morning and…” Freya agreed, “It’s a bit of a countdown.”
Another couple Carol and Daniel talked about the boredom of travelling. Carol said, “Yeah, it’s a bit monotonous after a while. Two days a week travelling really’ and her partner Daniel noted that this has an effect on the kind of relationship they had: “It’s a different sort of relationship as well.  Actually living together is quite different to seeing each other on weekends.  It’s much better actually being joined up constantly.”
Couples who are having distance relationships are also often subject to interrogations from bemused family and friends about the authenticity of their feelings for each other. One Alice and Frank would have dinner dates via Skype when they were living apart. They didn’t find this easy because it was deemed ‘strange’ by Alice’s mother who thought it was very odd behaviour and did not recognise it as a ‘real’ relationship.
Similarly, Louise and Mark faced much questioning about their long-distance relationship between the UK and Canada. Mark said: “Yeah, the one thing that always made me smile was how occasionally you’d get people who kind of thought that because of the distance it was sort of something that we both were mucking about with. And it wasn’t a serious relationship, whereas actually I think the opposite’s true.”  
Mark and Louise got married, but decided still not to live together at this point. As Louise pointed out: ‘I think quite a few people thought, “Oh, well it’s not a real marriage.” You know, I had an Aunt who used to say things like, “If they were serious about it, they’d live together.”’ Marks’s parents had health problems and Louise’s career was well established in Canada. This helped to make their distance relationship seem more ‘legitimate’ to others, but did not entirely convince. Like other couples who maintained distance relationships, they tended to explain their choices through practical reasons rather than personal preference. Others’ views of our relationships can have a profound impact.
Sometimes the doubt people cast can impact on the way couples who are living separately judge their own feelings for each other, creating a need to be nearer. As one man, who I spoke to, put it: “At a distance I had the feeling that I couldn’t go past a certain point of affection without being more physically close, which in my case proved to be right. I didn’t really feel like I really loved her until we were I was actually here [living together].”
So, interestingly while the tedium of budget travel might really put you off distant love, it is more likely to be Great Aunt Maud’s sideways glances that compel you eventually to migrate.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the participants.

Couples: Freaking Nutella

freaking nutella


I meet Camilla and Rolf at an independent café on a weekday morning in Barcelona. Camilla is a 29 year old American who came to Barcelona as a student, and who stayed on so that she and Rolf could pursue their relationship. Rolf, a 27 year old Swedish man, had recently moved back to Barcelona from Sweden, and was working on his master’s thesis.

The café is still quiet at this time, and we have the place almost to ourselves apart from the postman who stops in not long after we arrive for what seems to be his usual morning coffee. It’s a trendy café in the bohemian part of town, which Camilla tells me she likes. She often goes there, she says, as they have good WiFi and it’s not far from where she works. As we talk, the enormous, chrome coffee machine hisses brashly in the background, at times making it difficult to hear. Rolf eats a croissant filled with Nutella, and we all sip our artisan coffees. While Rolf gets on with his much needed breakfast Camilla begins to recount some of the early part of their story. As she speaks she glances in his direction continually, as though to check that he agrees with what she’s saying. His chewing seems to go in time with reflective nodding, which indicates that he has no objections so far.

Camilla’s glances at her boyfriend’s face soon become focussed on something more than agreement though, as unbeknownst to Rolf, the Nutella is slowly spreading itself around his mouth and beyond. She giggles. ‘You’ve got it everywhere’, she says in a gentle tone, laughing as she pulls a paper napkin from the holder to gently wipe it off. He tries to wipe it himself, but without a mirror he can’t see what he’s doing. She carries on with their story while she wipes, but the Nutella is still making its presence felt, ‘You’ve got chocolate here…it’s everywhere!’ she laughs. He laughs too ‘freaking Nutella’, he says. Camilla starts a sentence, ‘I just wanna..’ then hesitates, ‘A wet-wipe?’ I suggest. ‘Well, that, yeah. And I wanna lick it’, and I then I realise I may not be on the same wavelength. Camilla carries on with the story, but croissant devoured Rolf is free to ‘chip in at any time’ as Camilla suggests. So he does, ‘Well, that’s not entirely correct…’ he begins.

The Stuff of Love Migration


When couples move across the world, there are often some difficult decisions about what to bring with them and what to leave behind. In my research on love migration, I am asking couples to talk about an object which has some meaning for them. The objects chosen range from photographs to hand-made paintings; from glass vases to a lump of rock. It has been interesting to see that the sorts of things which people choose are often not their most expensive possessions, but things which embody an important memory, capture the essence of their partner, or which they use in their everyday life together. As they packed their cases and moved abroad, the love migrants kept all sorts of momentos close at hand. These are some initial thoughts about the kinds of objects which have been selected.

Moments and Events

Some objects which the love migrants have chosen represent an important moment or event in the life of the couple. Some examples are a painting given as a wedding present, a knick-knack from the place they met, or in the case of one couple, the doorway where they had their first kiss. In the couples’ narratives, the object itself is less important than the memory associated with it.


Where They Went Public

The Melbourne tram, below, which attaches to a straw is significant because it was given on the night the couple met. While it is inexpensive, they have kept it, and brought it with them to a different continent. They like it because it reminds them of the start of their relationship. It is dear to them also because it is ‘frivolous’, fun and a bit silly, which they both agreed, are words which could be used to describe Andi’s personality, who gave it to Sarah.

A Melbourne tram straw attachment

A Melbourne Tram Straw Attachment

 Emotional Work

Doing things together is an important part of the on-going emotional work in relationships. These next objects represent that which the couples do to maintain and nurture their relationship. One couple do crosswords both when they are together and when they are apart, comparing the answers later.

Making Connections with Belgian Crossword Puzzles

Making Connections with Belgian Crossword Puzzles

Another couple chose an Ottolenghi cookery book. Dan enjoys cooking and often makes things from this particular book for his girlfriend, Sophie. It is her favourite recipe book, and they have particular recipes which they love. As they showed it to me they spoke enthusiastically about lamb with artichokes, and many other recipes. Many of the ingredients for the recipes are international, and they enjoy being able to find them all in the local shops, as the area they live in is multicultural and diverse. Sophie often calls Dan to find out what is for dinner, and she commented that while she can cook, she doesn’t get as much joy out of it as Dan does. She appreciates his efforts to make things which she wouldn’t, and he relishes being able to provide delicious food, which his girlfriend loves. This book of recipes is indicative of the ways which they care for each other, and of the things which they share.

Ottolenghi's recipes bringing love migrants together

Ottolenghi’s recipes bringing love migrants together

These objects are part of practices of loving and caring which the couples use in their daily lives, and the physical qualities of them are not important.

Physical Properties

However, some of the objects were chosen precisely because the physical properties of the object are as important as what the object may represent. This is most noticeable with some of the textile objects which are given as a physical stand-in for the body of the absent partner.

Teddy Bear

A Teddy Bear Given to Cuddle at Night

A Sheep called Potato

A Sheep called Potato

The soft toys were explicitly talked about as body substitutes, which were intended to hugged and slept with when the couple were not together.


He gave her his towel when she lost hers


A T-shirt given in a lost bet

The T-shirt and towel are also objects which encase the body, carry the smells of the other. They both became ‘stand-ins’ for the absent partner, rather than the soft toys which were bought and given with this purpose.

Transcending categories

Clearly, there are overlaps in the categories which these objects could fit into, for example the portrait below was given as a gift from one partner to the other on their 15th anniversary, which is clearly an important moment.

An anniversary gift

An anniversary gift

The painting was made from a photograph taken on a holiday for a previous anniversary celebration, which is another important moment or event. However, the practice of gift giving in this particular relationship is very important. One of the partners feels that choosing a gift is part of showing the other that they have listened and remembered things, and is a way of demonstrating closeness and that they ‘know’ their partner. So while this one particular object could be located within the first category, it could also fall into the second when seen within the wider practices of this relationship.

Some couples I have spoken to commented that they are not really the kind of people who have a lot of stuff, which is unsurprising as love migrants are often highly mobile. And yet, all of them were able to find something which they held dear, sometimes surprising themselves that they really had kept and travelled with these objects for so long.

See more Love Migration Objects here

Step on it: The Technicalities of Transcribing

Typing Pool

Transcribing interviews can be a mammoth task for Phd students. Estimates floating around on the internet have it that transcribing one hour of interview takes between 2 and 4 hours. Getting the job done professionally can be prohibitively expensive, so it becomes an unavoidable task. Transcribing 60 2-3 hour-long interviews seems like the kind of work that could keep a team of people occupied for a couple of weeks.  It takes so long, that I felt there must surely be an easier way. Apparently there isn’t, but having the right tools for the job helps. This post is about finding those tools and setting them up.

My Preferred Tools

I had done some transcription using Scrivener, but when I had a look at the transcription options in Nvivo, it seemed like the better option. Nvivo has the key things which make transcribing easier; time stamps are added automatically; the transcript is indexed to the sound file making it easy to find the bit of audio you want; and you can slow the audio down.  Also, as I am using Nvivo for storing files and organising my fieldwork, I wanted to continue using the same programme; everything in one place is my preferred organisational method.

As I had found using the keyboard to control the audio file while typing a bit cumbersome, I decided to use a foot pedal. This involves getting the foot pedal to work with the pre-programmed keyboard commands which are set in Nvivo, and usually requires a bit of software to do it. For PC users there is a software called Pedable, and Mac users can use EasyScribe, however it’s not cheap and it means that you have to transcribe outside of Nvivo. The rest of this post is a guest post by Justin Clarke who set up the Infintiy USB-2 foot pedal with Nvivo using USB Overdrive.

How to set up the Infintiy USB-2 foot pedal for Nvivo for Mac with USB Overdrive software

There seem to be a lot of people who are interested in using a USB foot pedal with NVivo on the Mac, but when Yvonne and I looked into it, there didn’t seem to be any simple or straightforward guides on how to achieve this. Hopefully this fills that gap:

Getting Started

Firstly, we are using an Infinity IN-USB-2 USB footpedal that we purchased from Amazon. We chose this model as it seemed to have good reviews from the majority of people using it, although most people seem to be using it with EasyScribe instead of what we want to do with it – use it with NVivo. We’re using NVivo for the Mac, version 10.2.0.

As opposed to software like EasyScribe, which comes with software support for a number of USB foot pedals, NVivo doesn’t. Therefore we needed some software that would translate the presses of the various “buttons” of the foot pedal (the Infinity pedal has 3 different “buttons” that we can program – a bigger central button, and two smaller buttons on either side) into keyboard shortcuts that NVivo can understand. The software that we found that will do this on the Mac is USB Overdrive, a $20 shareware program.  We’re using USB Overdrive 3.1.

Getting the Infinity Foot pedal Setup with USB Overdrive

After installing USB Overdrive, you’ll be prompted to reboot. After your Mac reboots you should have the USB Overdrive helper application popup, which will allow you to configure your foot pedal. This helper application can later be run from the System Preferences panel installed by USB Overdrive.

Screen Shot 1

If you click on the “Status” button at the top of the interface, you can see that USB Overdrive has recognised the Infinity foot pedal as a VEC USB foot pedal with 3 readable inputs:

Screen Shot 2

At this point it took us some time to figure out how to configure the various inputs on the pedal, however we configured as follows.

Configuring the Pedal ‘Buttons’

1) With the foot pedal plugged into the Mac, we selected “Any Other, Any Application” from the drop down menu, as the Infinity foot pedal doesn’t appear to be classed as a mouse, gaming device or keyboard by USB Overdrive.

2) With this profile enabled, we pressed each button on the foot pedal. As these weren’t previously recognised by USB Overdrive it added 3 new buttons – called Button 1, Button 2 and Button 3.

3) At this point, we deleted all the other configurations out of the configurable controls window on the left, leaving us with the following:

Screen Shot 3

4) We then configured each of the buttons to be one of the NVivo keyboard shortcuts we wanted. Button 1 is configured as a press of the F7 function key (skip backwards in NVivo), by selecting “Press Key” from the menu of actions, and selecting F7 from the list of untypeable keys in the dropdown menu at the bottom.

Screen Shot 4

5) Equally we setup Button 2 as Command-Shift-I (add a new transcription line) and Button 3 as F8 (play/pause transcription audio in NVivo). NVivo has a complete list of keyboard shortcuts that you could use here  – you could change any or all of these to fit what you’d rather have your various foot pedal buttons do.

6) Lastly, we created a specific configuration for the foot pedal using the drop down menu at the top, selecting “New Duplicate Settings”, setting this to use the foot pedal with the configuration we’d setup.  In our case we didn’t limit this configuration to specifically working with NVivo only, however that is an option you could try if needed (for example to avoid accidentally starting/pausing iTunes content).

Screen Shot 5

7) Once this was done, we made sure that only the new configuration was enabled (and all other configurations were disabled), and voila – it works!

Screen Shot 6

Hopefully this helps all of you who might be trying to use NVivo for the Mac for your transcriptions.

Finding Love Migrants in Brussels

Place de la Monnaie

When I arrived in Brussels in January, I was cold, and I didn’t know anyone. But I needed to find people who might take part in my research about how migration affects love relationships and vice versa. There was no immediately obvious place to target as lots of people are in love relationships which made it quite overwhelming at first. The upside is that everyone in Brussels was potentially a participant, so I could pretty much publicise the project anywhere. I’ve used a variety of ways to find people to take part in the project. Here is what has worked, and what hasn’t.

The website

This has undoubtedly been an essential part of the process. It is not so much a way for people to find about the project, but it provides a place where, once they have heard about it, they can find out more. It’s quite confidence boosting when you’re trying to sell your Phd research to be able to say ‘have a look at the website later’, it shows competence, organisation, and that this is a serious project. It provides a way for people to contact you, so they can go and have a think and get back to you. The title of my project helps here, because it is memorable, and Google takes you straight there. Many of the people who have done interviews said it made them want to be part of it, because they could see others like them doing it when they looked at the website, and wanted to be part of that community.

Twitter and Facebook

Neither of these two social media networks has been particularly productive for finding people to take part. I was tweeting to accounts which people living in Brussels might follow, but I don’t think I found any participants through Twitter. This is similar for Facebook, although I can’t say I have particularly spent a lot of time on the Facebook page. These two social media platforms still raise the profile of the project though, and perhaps I’ll dedicate more time to them for the next phase of the project.

Email mail out

The first few days I was here were spent in front of my laptop sending out emails to the organisers of the cultural groups and institutions which exist in Brussels for people who live here. I was trying to get people to include something about the project in their newsletter and I had a good amount of success. In each email I included a short blurb which could be copied into a newsletter, or forwarded in an email. This led to several interviews. I was also invited to do an interview on a local radio station on the back of this newsletter, which led to three more participant interviews. This also got the website a lot of hits.


I was surprised to find that these worked. They were quickly-made flyers, put together in Word and printed out at home. I left them in various places and assumed that I had just contributed to wasting paper and creating litter. In fact, only a couple of days after distributing them, I was contacted by people who wanted to take part. The flyers had a very brief, to-the-point description of the project, helped in part by the title, and stated clearly that I was looking for couples to interview. They directed people to the website, which I am sure helped to build confidence and convince people to take part.  On reflection I would have used this method earlier had I thought such a low-tech thing would work, but now I  know that it does, I will be using more flyers, of a slightly better quality, in Barcelona.


In the planning stage of the project I had designed an online survey to get people to answer some questions and then leave their email if they wanted to do an interview. My conclusions about this are that mostly people who do surveys are not the same kind of people who do interviews. The responses were often only half done, and more people didn’t leave their email than did. Also, when I was publicising the project, it made it more complicated – do I want them to do a survey or an interview? – so I focused on the interviews and put the survey to one side. I am utterly glad that I made this choice.

Personal Contact

Coffee mornings turned out to be great ways of meeting people, not just to take part but to spend time with generally. There are coffee mornings for all sorts of groups, and I’ve been to lots including ones for ‘expats’, ones for women in Brussels, ones for Phd researchers in Brussels. The morning socials were more useful than the boozy, evening ones. I found going on my own attracted all the wrong kinds of attention, and people weren’t particularly interested in hearing about a Phd project.

I also met several friends on French course I did which, as luck would have it, had several people in who fitted the Love Migrant profile who took part. While personal contact is one way of finding participants, I didn’t find that meeting people personally meant they were more likely to take part. In fact there was a high number of people who said they would and then never did. It is, I think, best to let people know about what you’re doing and then let them contact you, which they will if they can and want to take part.


Once someone has done an interview, they can personally recommend you and the project to others. This is known as snowballing, when one person leads you to another and the number of participants keeps getting slowly larger. It has been the most effective way of finding people, followed closely by the newsletter. This is unsurprising as both of these methods come with the backing of a person or an institution which the potential participant already knows and trusts.

This mixture of approaches to finding participants seems to be working, so I intend to keep using it for the next phase in Barcelona, albeit with a few changes; I’m going to start the email mail before I arrive in Barcelona to try to get some interviews started as soon as I arrive; and I’ll be out with flyers earlier this time. Overall it seems that the more traditional methods have found me more participants than social media. I’m not starting from zero this time though, as I have some contacts there and one interview scheduled already. I am also hoping that I won’t be cold.

International Embraces


Much research on couples and migration focuses on marriage migration and tends to examine how the migrant partner integrates (or not) into the native partner’s country (Koelet and de Valk 2014). What I’m finding with the couples I’m interviewing, though, is while they do make connections with the local community, they are equally interested being in an international community. This has the effect of the local person becoming part of a global community, rather than just the migrant partner being absorbed into the local.

International Nationals

Jessica, Canadian, and Boris, Belgian were both already quite disposed to international travel, Boris having lived in several countries when he was young, both of them having done exchange programmes at university. Boris had friends from different countries, but his social networks in Brussels were largely made up of local people. When Jessica, moved to Brussels, her desire and need to establish friendships of her own led her to meet people from elsewhere. She made friends with people from many different countries and her husband became involved with these networks too. So for them, creating social networks in Brussels has not just brought Jessica into Boris’ networks, but she has played an important role in creating new opportunities for both her and her husband. In this example, Boris was already quite internationally connected, but a similar thing happened to Frank, who had not had much international experience.

When Frank, a young Belgian met Aranxta, a young Spanish woman he said it ‘opened his eyes’. He had not travelled a great deal before he met her, and his previous girlfriends were local. Meeting Arantxa exposed him to her culture, and way of life. He feels that because of this, his life trajectory has changed from what was quite a predictable course. Since he began a relationship with Arantxa different options are open to him, and there is less obviousness about his future, in part because there is no precedent for this in his immediate family. They have lots of friends now from the international community in Belgium and their relationship has made him feel part of an international community.

Not wanting to be Local

Couples who have different nationalities, but neither one are Belgian, have talked about needing an international environment because they don’t want to be local. They actively seek out an international community, and living in a country that neither of them is from is one way of doing this.

Sophie, a German woman mentioned her concerns about moving to London, her partner David’s home. She was worried about having to ‘integrate’ into his world, and about losing access to an international lifestyle. London is a very international city, but Sophie felt that by no longer being on ‘neutral’ ground they would become too easily absorbed into local life. She would be positioned as the foreigner, among a host of locals, which would include her partner, and their nationality would be more salient than in an international context, where it matters much less where you are from. She wanted not to be local above all else.

Having an international viewpoint is important for Kirsten, a Belgian, who has lived in the U.S. for many years. David, her husband who is American talked about how he was finding that now they were in Belgium, if he criticises the country, she gets defensive. Kirsten said she doesn’t feel particularly Belgian as she hasn’t lived there for much of her life, but is disappointed that her husband couldn’t adapt easily to their new environment. So when David criticises the country, he reveals himself as someone who is not adaptable, not a ‘world citizen’ which is at odds with her view.

Embracing the Global

An international community is similar to, but subtly different from an expatriate community. A typical expatriate community is mono-national or mono-lingual and tends to live in an isolated niche, avoiding the locals, seek out home comforts and want to return home (see for example Eric Cohen’s work). The couples I’m interviewing speak a number of languages, enjoy meeting people from all over, often avoid co-nationals, and want to extend this outlook to their children.

For these couples, being an international or ‘world citizen’ is not about rejecting the local, nor is it about one partner becoming an undistinguished part of the other’s world. It seems what it is about, is embracing the local and making it part of their own global, cosmopolitan outlook.

People whose lives have been their marriage: Book Review of The Lovers, Lauren Fleishman


The title of the book, The Lovers, calls to mind passion, intensity and deeply felt emotions. The couples in this book represent emotional depth of a more enduring kind; relationships which have lasted for more than 50 years. After finding a letter which her grandfather had written to her grandmother, the photographer Lauren Fleishman decided to find more couples whose relationships had lasted for 50 years or more. The images are combined with extracts from interviews, presenting the couples’ own words verbatim. The images vary from couples posing for the camera, to shots of the interiors of their houses, to them going for a walk in the mountains.

Of the 55 couples in the book 3 are from France, 2 from Italy, 2 from Turkey, 2 from England, 1 from Sweden, 1 from Scotland, and the remaining 44 are from the United States. This does leave one wondering whether relationships which last a long time are far more prevalent in the US than elsewhere, though I suspect this is more to do with Fleishman being American and thus having easier access to people there. One couple, from Bradford, UK were married in 1925, another American couple in 1938, but most of the couples have been together since the 1940s or 1950s. The snippets from their interviews are telling of the social climate at the time of their marriage, reveal racial tensions, homophobia, using a coin toss to decide who would marry the younger sister.

One of the features of the book is that there are no chapters, and the reader can dip in to any couples’ story in any order. Primarily a photography project, the images are allowed to speak for themselves, which is a strong point of the book though I wanted a greater understanding of these couples’ lives. My desire as a reader/ viewer to want to know more is testament to the fact that Fleishman has chosen a fascinating topic to explore, and in this collection to have tantalises the reader with what seems to be the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Being a study in 50-year relationships, it is also a study of love in older age. This is one of the more fascinating aspects of the book. The way the couples present themselves, and are presented, in their photographs is a fascinating exploration of love and the aging body. Tender moments have been captured – of a wife wiping ice cream of her husband’s face, of a man with his head on his husband’s shoulder, of another who sits with his hand on his wife’s thigh as she knits. The Swedish couple appear on a tennis court; symmetrically posed with their rackets ready to strike a ball. They look youthful, jovial and strong. A couple from New York appear in their bathing suits on a not particularly warm-looking beach, she whispering into his ear. He gazes at the floor while he listens, in their own world Several of the images feature couples kissing, some tenderly, some playfully. Each image is a contemplation on social attitudes to love in older age.

What the book reveals most perhaps is that there is no particular secret to the longevity of these relationships, and that each one takes place in a specific time and place, with its own difficulties to overcome and deeply personal ways of dealing with them. The strategies which these couples adopt to maintain their relationships involve a sense of humour, as Yaakov Shapirstein, who appears in the book with his wife, Maria in their swimsuits on a not very warm looking beach illustrates by saying ‘What is the secret to love? A secret is a secret, and I don’t reveal my secrets’. Another couple Alibey and Esma Kudar, from Turkey say that in their 57-year marriage they have never had an argument. This might be the passing of time putting some perspective on the past, or it may be that over time perhaps couples ideas and wants align, reducing the potential areas for conflict, or as Esther Redliz (p.56) puts it ‘you sleep on one pillow you get one idea’.

Focusing on these long-term relationships, picks them out as special and as such perhaps desirable. Archiving them in this way almost seems to suggest that they are a kind of relationship, which is dying out. Unfalteringly romantic, and often moving, the book is an enjoyable mediation on, to paraphrase Arnold Tenenbaum featured in the book (p.122), people whose lives have been their marriage.

The Lovers, by Lauren Fleishman. 2015. Published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam and London.

Anywhere but there


Deciding where to live involves a number of considerations, and when moving means migrating to another country those factors might be things like  which languages are spoken there, and proximity to our families. The importance of these things might alter over the course of an individual’s lifetime. At some points people might prioritise school systems for their young children, at others they might be more interested in job prospects, and sometimes it’s the weather and lifestyle that they are after.

Many of the love migrants I’ve interviewed have felt that they could live pretty much anywhere in Europe. There was no allegiance to any particular city or country; Berlin, Brussels, Barcelona were, as one participant put it, ‘the same, but slightly different’. In terms of culture, while there are certainly local ways of doing things, these don’t seem to have much impact on many of the mobile people I’ve spoken to. Lots of them speak two or more languages, which must help. There also seems to be a strong feeling that, in European cities, so many people speak English, that it is easy to move around within this international, global strata of the migrant community.

And there are times when only matters of the heart are what decides. An interesting restriction which couples are self imposing on where they will or will not move to, is based on their past love relationships. The assertion that they could more or less live in any European city was made by one couple, who also said that Paris was off limits because one of them  had lived there with a previous partner. This, in fact was the only definite limit which they placed on where they could potentially live. They had similar thoughts about choosing which city to get engaged in, as they wanted to find a place which was ‘theirs’. Maria didn’t want their relationship overshadowed by feelings which might linger from other relationships.

I mentioned in a previous post, the importance which place had for one couple. They needed an anonymous, international city like London to be able to foster their relationship. So, whether it is the feeling a relationship has  in a particular place, or if it’s a need to preserve a sense of newness, or to keep the ‘us-ness’ of a place the relationship between place is strong. Love, it seems, is an important force which compels people to move, or stay, and guides them in where they want to go.

Making a Move


In an interview with a couple which had been going well, I asked what seemed like an innocent question – ‘were you a couple at this point?’. Rather than getting a simple answer, my question created a moment of awkwardness as they struggled to define at what point their relationship became official. This problem is not unique to couples who migrate, as the starting point of a relationship might be fluid for many people, migrants or not. What makes love migration distinct seems to be that the migration itself is sometimes seen as a marker of relationship status.

Eduardo’s first visit to Britain was to improve his English, which is where he met Olivia. Once this visit was over and he went back to Spain, he made an effort to stay in touch. For three more years their relationship grew through email contact and infrequent visits. Olivia visited Spain, they travelled to Paris together for a holiday, and then eventually she moved to Spain. During this gestation period Eduardo described their relationship at that time as more than friendship. Olivia said that she sometimes behaved as though she was in a relationship, but was unclear about whether Eduardo felt the same.

But once they started discussing and planning Olivia’s move, their relationship status became more certain to both of them. When Olivia moved to Spain they moved in together, which , along with her migration, created more certainty around their relationship. But the migration to Spain was significant in itself. In this sense, migration might have something in common with other ways of publicly marking a relationship, such as an engagement, marriage or moving in together. It signified a point of clarity for this couple, the beginning of an official relationship.

It seems that in migration for love, the move is not incidental or just for practical reasons, but becomes part of a wider, more public declaration.  Jim moved from the US to Brussels to be with Sabine. While the move for him was enough of an indication of his feelings, Sabine felt it strange that he would move across the world and not want to live together. For both Jim and Sabine, the migration was a significant marker of their status as a couple, but one which they understood as having different ramifications. For Jim, it is the migration itself which indicated his commitment.

Another couple, Jennifer and Mubarak, split up because Mubarak did not want to move. When Jennifer and Mubarak met, they were both living in Africa. They agreed that they wanted to move to Europe to continue their relationship and Jennifer returned to start preparations for their life in Brussels. Mubarak encountered a number of difficulties with his visa, but  in the end he decided that he did not want to move. They tried a long distance relationship and got engaged. Jennifer ended the relationship after four years, as she felt that his decision not to move to Brussels revealed his lack of commitment to the relationship.

For these migrants, moving, or not, is framed entirely within the context of their relationship and has significant meaning for its advancement. Migration is more than a practical way to overcome distance. It is a declaration of intentions for the relationship, of commitment and of surety. The significant upheaval involved in migrating because of a relationship is seldom interpreted by the State as a sign of commitment. There are without doubt numerous people who move with no intention that signifies anything for their relationship. And yet the negotiations of cultural, linguistic, and gustatory boundaries can be indicators of much more than a desire to travel.