“Hi,” I say, giving the dark-haired, t-shirt clad boy a warm smile.
Over the past few months, it was an introduction I had made a few times. It wasn’t too different from any other first date, with one glaring exception: every date I had gone on was in another city.
With someone I didn’t know, and had never met.
Travel dating isn’t a thing. While apps like Tinder and Bumble, as well as sites such as OKCupid support long-distance dating (a virtual singles bar, if you will), not a lot of people are comfortable with
a) Meeting up with someone they’ve never met
b) Going out with someone who lives in a different city
c) Going out with someone on a date in a different city
Yes, by design (and as alluded to in one of my previous posts), I’ve been exclusively dating guys who live in the cities I visit. I did it in New Orleans, I did it in Charlotte, I did it in Raleigh, I did it in Asheville, and I almost did it in Detroit.
For reference, “did it” means went on a date. Just wanted to make that clear.
A lot of my friends didn’t understand.
“Why don’t you just do that in Wilmington?” they asked.
I never really have a clear answer to that question. With my 30th birthday looming in the distance, all I can say is that one thing I’ve realized over the years is how much I need variety. While I’m very enamored and appreciative of the life I’ve built here in Wilmington, there’s a certain level of excitement and discomfort I need to get to, on a regular basis.
I thrive in the unfamiliar. I thrive in the excitement. I need to occasionally wake up in a hotel bed in Charlotte, and grumpily venture out to find coffee. I need to wander around a market in Detroit. I need quiet, and space, and adventure, and anything and everything in my life needs to have that element of novelty and wonder to it.
I decided to apply this mindset to dating.
So I made a profile and a blog post explaining the premise, linked it to Tinder, and started swiping in different places. I got a lot of responses. I met a lot of people, in real life, and on the internet.
Not to sound naive, but I was surprised at how many men were out actually there. I went out for po boys with a photographer in New Orleans, and had a five hour date with a sky diver in Charlotte. I went bar-hopping with a fellow travel enthusiast in Asheville.
I found a flirtatious pen pal/internet friend in Kentucky. I exchanged dating woes with an aspiring politician in Detroit. My world opened up, and at the risk of sounding incredibly naive, my heart opened up a little bit, too.
(Insert gagging sounds here.)
So after multiple first-time explanations about what my tattoos mean, what my day job entails, and how great my dog is, here are some general learnings I’ve gotten from travel dating.
I am great.
The array of kind, interesting men I’ve gone out with confirms it. I’m not single because I’m some kind of forever alone Frankenstein. I’d just rather be single than date someone I don’t feel enough of an attraction to, and I rarely go out with someone a second time if that initial spark isn’t there.
It’s time to break every single fucking rule.
Travel dating has brought my love life back from the dead… and has led me to make my own rules. I’ll text first, I’ll ask someone out for a drink if I like them. Fuck it. Life is too short for all of these standards and expectations.
If I want to go home early, I will. If I want to stay out until 5 AM with you, I’ll do that too. You’ll never have to wonder how I feel, because I’ll always tell you.
It’s so refreshing.
People are ok.
People aren’t actually the worst. Not every guy will get pissy if you tell them no. Some guys will surprise you. Some guys are good. They’re not all for me, but they’re still generally decent people just looking for someone to spend time with.
There’s still magic out there, it’s just not easy to find.
That sounds so sappy, but love is real. It exists. You just have to try. And try again.
In some movie I saw once (not blanking on the name, just don’t want to admit I’m quoting it on my blog), where the guy says that each and every person has the type of life they want.
I think that’s accurate. Right now, I want to search because I haven’t found what I want. The kind of love life I want is a single, free experience where I get to see all of my options, and choose what I really, really want.
Anything less than special, unique and rare isn’t going to do it for me.
I’m pretty okay solo.
I’ve built something pretty special for myself. I like meeting people now, much more than I used to, because I can finally be like HEY! CHECK OUT MY HOUSE AND MY DOG. CHECK OUT MY WRITING. CHECK OUT MY LIFE.
I have a lot to be proud of, and that makes me feel really good. Being single for so long has just encouraged me to take up new hobbies, go to new places, and invest more in my personal, platonic relationships.
I am special.
Not weird, not eccentric. Special. Not more or less special than anyone else, but a certain brand of special that needs to be preserved for another equally special kind of love.
Special people need special love. Some people just have it. My friends and co-Huifyers Sara and Josh Harcus come to mind. I’ve never met two people more suited for each other, in the most wonderful and admirable ways. I can’t imagine either of them with anyone else, and I hope that someday, someone can say that about me.
Love is surprising.
I’ve been attracted to people (over the past year or so) that have surprised me. I’ve gone out with people that I never expected to, ranging from a male nurse with a thing for classical music, to a CEO that was more attracted to my hustle than anything else.
The more I travel date, the more I realize that my taste and type has room to expand.
People aren’t replaceable.
The grass yes, always seems greener on the other side, but sometimes, people just can’t be replaced.
Getting out in the world and dating new people has made me so incredibly grateful for the people I’ve been with before. Connections are rare, and I think historically, I’ve kind of taken that for granted.
It’s okay, we all take things for granted.
But moving forward, I’m going to be so much more appreciative of the connections that come my way. People are difficult to meet, let alone, have some kind of spark or commonality with. Love, even when it’s hard, is definitely worth fighting for.
It’s been a difficult lesson to learn, and one I won’t forget.
Saying “no” can be pretty damn liberating.
I won’t name names, of course, but there’s a lot of pushy people out there. Dating in such an unpredictable environment forces me to constantly assert myself. My confidence in what I want (and don’t want) has never been stronger.
It’s okay to go home alone if you want to. It’s okay to cancel on a date that you’re not feeling right about. It’s okay to say “fuck it, I can’t,” and move on with your life. Just say no. Just walk away. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I’m the most Melissa I’ve ever been.
When I tell people I was married once, I talk more about the person I was in that marriage, instead of my ex. He was a great guy, and if the Melissa I was back then was who I was going to be forever, he would have been an awesome match for me. But I wasn’t that person, and now, years and years later, I am the most wandery, weird, silly, salty, and adventurous version of myself I have ever been.
It’s pretty fantastic.
My brand of singleness has taught me a lot. It’s reminded me, every single date, every single day, that after all this time, I’m still looking for the same kind of person. That person, while probably not in Wilmington, is out there, and continuing to travel and explore, wander and wonder, will get me there.
And finally, last lesson…
While a soul mate is worth waiting, adventuring, and blindly dating around for…
…they might not actually exist.
I’ve considered that I might be single for the rest of my life. Standards are too damn high, expectations are too high. There may not be someone matched to my particular sense of salty, sarcastic humor. There might not be someone who feels like a bird in a cage if they’re in the same place for too long (even in the same chair).
There might not be someone with that particular kind of life ADD.
That’s okay. I’d rather bet big. I’d rather just go for the big one, put myself out there again and again. At least I know I exhausted every option. At least I tried.
In the meantime, it’s pretty awesome not having to worry about running into an awkward date out at a bar or coffee shop. #traveldatingforthewin