Relationship Best Before: My Experience Expiry Dating and Breaking Up to Travel

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Relationship Best Before: My Experience Expiry Dating

When we made the decision, we had months before it would affect us. It was winter and we wouldn’t be saying goodbye until summer.

Suddenly, I was saying goodbye to co-workers and we were starting a seemingly unending parade of lasts. The last day at work was followed by the last dinner at the place we liked, the last time we had a couple date with so and so, the last run, the last episode of Game of Thrones…

…and just like that those months had become weeks and, all too soon, they were days.

We spent our last night together in bed watching movies, as if our lives weren’t going to change dramatically the following day.

By breakfast, the hours had become minutes and all too soon it was a taxi honking or a flight number being called.

Then it was last kisses, last hugs, last goodbyes, and that last long, lingering look at a person leaving your life forever.

And then the tears really came.

Breaking up to Travel

It may seem like an odd phenomenon to somebody who hasn’t spent a great deal of time on the road, but being in a relationship with a predetermined expiry date is something that many of us with the travel bug have had to deal with at one stage or another.

In my case, my two most significant adult relationships have – at some point – been given an expiry date. Neither person was the ‘love of my life’, but both were the only girls I ever loved for more than a few months; so that’s something.

I’ve written in the past about finding a relationship on the road and about dating while traveling, so it seems natural that I’d also write about breaking up on the road too.

If you’d like to read a post from immediately after a break-up on the road (one of the two that inspired this post), you can read all about Goodbyes.

Why Expiry Date?

There are a great many reasons why you might choose to ‘expiry date’, but the reason that leaps out at me is a simple one: because you care for the person and want to spend more time with them.

I remember when my girlfriend of two years and I announced to our friends that we’d be splitting up at the end of the year, a number of people asked me:

Why wait? Why not just break up now?

I guess in a conventional relationship, when you typically break up with somebody because you’re unhappy in the relationship, it must seem odd to have a reason other than ‘I am no longer happy with this person’ behind the break up.

My ex and I were not unhappy. Far from it. I look back fondly upon our last months together as some of the best of the relationship.  It was strangely liberating knowing that we had a finite amount of time together and that it was up to us to make it special. Rather than let the sadness of our imminent separation wear us down, we went out and got adventurous.

In the final months of that relationship, we:

In the other relationship we were no less adventurous. We visited Qingdao and Jiuzhaigou, and spent a wonderful month together backpacking in Thailand and Cambodia.

Sounds Crazy to Me, Chris

I can understand, though, why some people might think it’s easier to just break up when you realize that the relationship has a ‘best before’ sticker attached to it. After all, aren’t you only going to fall more in love with the person before they leave?

Won’t it save you a lot of tears if you end it now, rather than in a few months time?

I guess I can see the appeal in that route. Certainly, I didn’t stop caring for my partner in that time, and it’s safe to say that I continued to learn things about them and love them all the more as time went on.

It came down to a fairly simple sum.

Did I love this person enough that I wanted more time with them?

Was staying with them going to make me happy enough to justify sadness down the line?

To me, it was an easy decision to make. I’d let future Chris deal with the sadness, and present Chris could continue to be happy sharing his life with somebody he cared about.

Why Break Up, Then?

If this person made me happy and we weren’t unhappy, why were we breaking up?

I could take the easy route and say that it was a simple case of a visa expiring in both cases. That would certainly be a part of the reason.

The deeper reason, though, is that (in both cases) we wanted different things long-term. While we were both generally happy within the relationship for the time being and cared a great deal for our partner, we knew that the relationship couldn’t last forever.

One of us wanted to settle down while the other wanted to travel.

One of us wanted to spend another year in one destination while the other wanted to move on.

Relationships are about compromise, it’s true; but sometimes you have to acknowledge that compromising on something so fundamental would be doing both people in the relationship a disservice.

It was better to bid one another farewell and part on a high, rather than letting that compromise become resentment and, eventually, a sad ending to something that had been bright.

It’s the Seinfeld theory, really. Do you go out on a high while you still love one another? Or do you let it continue knowing that one of you is going to be giving up something that they love?

Maybe it seems cowardly to end the relationship, rather than take the time you have together and enjoy it, knowing you’ll hurt all the more at the end.

Or maybe it’s more cowardly to give the relationship an expiry date rather than seeing if the compromise could work.

I don’t know. I can’t.

The Pros and Cons of Expiry Dating



You get more time with the person You fall more in love with the person
You go out ‘on a high’ Tearful airport goodbye
More kisses and sex Sadder kisses
No bitterness and arguing Wondering ‘What If?’

I’m sure there are more pros and cons to it, but these are the ones that leaped out at me back in 2010 – and they’re the ones I contemplated when I made the decision to expiry date in 2012 too.

Did I miss any?

So, You’re Expiry Dating…

Perhaps you’re reading this and you’re in a situation where you know the person you love/really like has to leave somewhere down the line. You’ve chosen to give it a go and you’re wondering how you’ll ever come to terms with the idea that this wonderful person is going to leave your life in the not too distant future.

I won’t lie and say the decision always sat well with me. There were nights that I’d kiss them goodnight and my heart would swell with love. I’d suddenly realize how little time we had left and it would all prove to be too much.

There were times when I’d realize we’d done something – even something as innocuous as riding the bus – for the last time and it hurt like a punch in the stomach.

But those times were outweighed by the extra memories I got to create with the person by sticking it out.

Surviving Expiry Dating

What would my tips be for surviving?

  • Don’t talk about it too often. It’s healthy to share your feelings, but if you’re talking about it every night – it’s only going to hurt you both.

  • Make new memories. Get out and do things together that you enjoy. Try things you’d always wanted to. Make those last months awesome, rather than sad.

  • Keep saying ‘I love you’. (Assuming you’ve already been saying it).

The most important tip?

  • Say goodbye

You’ve been blessed with something that few relationships that end have – a chance to say goodbye and end on a positive note.

If You Love Something, Set it Free

While others have to deal with angry phone calls, slammed doors, accusations, and unanswered questions that keep them up nights; you’re able to say goodbye to the person you love, hug them goodbye, and send them out into the world the happier for having had you in their life.

If you love something, you set it free – and sometimes, though it hurts to do it, that’s exactly what you have to do.

I’ve had relationships that ended with shouting or drunken arguments outside Gwangju bars.

I’ve asked myself ‘Why did she leave?’ or ‘Is she with somebody else?’ and kept myself up nights worrying over it.

I’ve also shared one last, tearful goodbye with a woman who changed my life for the better and been able to kiss her and say ‘I love you’ before sending her on her way.

I’ve sat, teary eyed in a coffee shop at a Nanjing airport and read a heartfelt letter to a woman who had been in my life for so long that the idea of her not being in it felt alien to me.

I got to bite back tears as she read hers to me, and give her a dozen kisses goodbye because we kept finding time for one more before her flight boarded.

Those tearful, heart-breaking moments were painful, I won’t lie.

They were both moments I can still recall with absolute clarity. Moments that reaffirmed that I was alive and that I had been lucky enough to love. Moments that, I’ll admit, I’ll never be able to recall without a hollow feeling in my gut.

But they were worth it for the extra time we had, and because in both cases we got to part with happy memories.

What I Learned Expiry Dating

I don’t ever want to die wondering.

My past is so full of ‘what ifs’ that I’ve long stopped beating myself up over missed opportunities and the things that could have been.

While it might have been easier in the long run to cut and run when we knew our time together was finite, I’m glad for the extra time I got to spend with the person. I’m glad for what it taught me about love and sacrifice.

Instead of two ugly, angry break-ups and a thousand unanswered questions, I got extra time with a person I loved and, perhaps more importantly, closure. We didn’t die wondering. We played right up to the whistle and got to say our goodbyes with sad but smiling hearts.

Both have also given me some valuable perspective when it comes to love and life. Sure, there’s a teenage touch of drama to the ‘lovers that can never be’ feel of it, but both experiences have both opened me up and hardened me.

They’ve opened me up to loving completely and openly without fearing the consequences.

They’ve hardened me in that I’ve experienced those sad moments, survived them, and can now look back at them for what they were: the ending of something great that, ultimately, wasn’t ‘the one’ for either of us.

And both were one helluva ride.

Your Say

Have you ever made the tough decision to stay with somebody despite knowing they would have to leave?

Do you have any tales of goodbyes on the road?

Or do you want to state a case for acting differently? Does expiry dating lead to more heartache than it’s worth?

Featured photo by Danny Howard, who somehow captured three couples saying goodbye at the same time.

From Facebook


  1. Wow. Interesting way to live a life. Married 39 years, four kids, two grandkids. Hardly any travel unless you count the nearly seven years (over the last 25) spent in China, plus a wide swath of Europe and a bunch of trips to Indochina, nearly all with some or all of the kids.

    • G’day Tom! If I’m being honest, this isn’t how I’d like to live my life – it’s just how my romantic situations at the time worked out.

      In the first occurence, she was ready to settle down in rural Idaho and I was still intent on exploring Asia. I’ve been doing that for the last seven years while, as far as I’m aware, she’s kept her travels specifically to the US and Mexico in that time.

      In the second case, she was done with life in China, but I still had a year on my contract. I didn’t have enough faith in the relationship to go long distance, so we parted amicably.

      I’ve since found a girl who loves travel as much as I do, but who also shares my hopes and ambitions for the future. She’s just moved into my apartment here in China and we’re making plans to set up a more permanent base in Taipei next year. Fingers crossed!

      Out of curiousity, what have been your favourite spots in China so far?

      • A nice response to a slightly snide comment. You for the win.
        China? Gosh. Beijing is home-in-China, But I love Wuyuan in Jiangxi, we had an amazingly lovely nine days in Chengdu January of last year. Xian, especially outside of town is great (love the old museum inside the city walls, far more than the newer fancier museum. Don’t care for Shanghai. Inside ErHuan in Beijing is great. Enjouyed Suzhou once, Kashgar is pretty amazing.

        • Ah! I live in Beijing with my brother, his girlfriend, their son, and my new world-traveling style girlfriend. I am enamoured of the hutongs, although they’re in the process of bricking them up and robbing them of their soul right now.

          Chengdu is a nice spot. Did you make it up to Jiuzhaigou and/or Songpan?

          I *still* haven’t made it to Xi’an, but I’m headed over there and to Yunnan with my girlfriend’s family this September.

          Xinjiang is amazing, and I loved Kashgar and Tashgorkan. Shanghai… not so much.

          • The siheyuanr are some of the priciest housing in town. But you can still find undeveloped places, harder than it used to be.
            You want at least five full days in Xian, more is better. The goofy zhogmianboa that take you outside to see the little museums are great, usually 5-9, and generally end at famensi, which is fab. Go during pomegranate season for an extra good treat. (not essential). The overnight train used to be ideal for getting there. Now with gaotie and dongche the fast trains might be a better option, dunno, haven’t been in a while. The yangroupaomo is fab, and you’ll want at least one dinner at the enormous jiaoziguan.

  2. Exactly the read I needed. I am currently going through this and its tough but all the positives certainly make it worth while! – the old its better to have loved and lost theory certainly comes to mind.

    I guess in the end I see it as, you never know when any relationship will end, you just have to enjoy it.

    Just because the roller coaster ends, doesn’t mean your not going to ride it right?

    I had countless discussions with friends about the whole compromising argument and you have summed it up the best way. Some things are not worth compromising, its best to find someone on the same page.

    • I’m glad I could put it into words adequately. It was a hard concept to verbalise, but I figured I couldn’t be the only one out there who has done it before and would do it again.

  3. Well said I think when you’re a traveler or a nomad. I get into these type of situations and glad others can relate. Thanks for providing some reassurance on my past situations 😉

  4. This is perfect. I always get myself into these situations, but I’ve never heard it justified so well. Thanks for reminding people that it can be worth it 🙂

    • A fellow sucker for punishment/romance, eh?

      It’s a bit odd to me that both of my long term relationships have been of this kind, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. In both cases, the extra time was a lot of fun.

      Here’s hoping we eventually find one *without* the best before date 🙂

  5. Hey, really enjoyed reading this – came at a perfect time for me as currently in a relationship with an experiery date and been thinking about it a bit. So thanks for the advice and thoughts 🙂

    • Best of luck, May! It can be tough at times, I know, but I found that the sad times were far outweighed by the good in the long run 🙂

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