How traveling taught me how to date
August 11, 2015 at 2:00 am
Call the last 10 months the closest I’ll get to Eat, Pray, Love.
Since last October, I packed my life into a 7’ x 5’ x 8’ cube in San Francisco, stowing a year’s worth of what remains into a three-suitcase set. I left Oakland for work between D.C. and Cameroon. And over those few months, I’ve managed to figure out a few things: new ways not to be able to fit into my favorite pair of red pants, learn my name in another tongue (Bassa), have enough jet lag to feel either a day ahead or behind at any given moment, quit my job (or allow myself a one-year hiatus), and be comfortable finding solitude in a web of temporary housing.
Without a doubt, I’m in transit, or, as I like to say, “always on the way to somewhere in the world.” I’m creating my life, one that treats home like more of a condition than a place, as James Baldwin once wrote.
But being on the verge of a new career and new city has given dating another kind of valence. Or, rather, I’ve learned a lot about the types of things I needed to do differently. Here are a few ways traveling taught me to adjust my old habits to meet new potential baes.
Cliché is Overrated and Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s “Part II (On The Run)” Is The Anthem
I think of my life in terms of a soundtrack. When I’m in a mood, there’s usually a song or playlist attached to match or help me make it through the moment. Dating is no exception, especially when trying to date in and across time zones. While my mom had Luther telling her home had to do with having a house and someone to hold her in it, he’s not helpful for me when I’m in between AirBNBs and trying to figure out what to do when a person I met at a wedding in Douala who lives in Milan ends up randomly being on my eight-hour flight to Brussels. Some of us aren’t going to bear the cross of convention, and sometimes the hands we hold are going to be those that are as frequently on the move as we are.
Give Permission to Be Present Now
I didn’t fully appreciate this until I found myself more likely to have an international plane ticket than a permanent address. I used to do a lot of waiting: for the next date to kiss the girl I was trying to kick it with, for my professional life to fall into place, for my body to be the right size, etc. I spent more time deferring to a perfect future, denying myself the opportunity to just say “yes” to what I want and who is in front of me, even if it was my own reflection. Say yes now, because quite frankly now is the one and only consistent thing we’ve got. That point just becomes more salient when you’re getting ready to catch a bus tomorrow or approaching the boarding gate.
Let Go and Let’s See
In terms of dating, traveling’s forced me to stop giving energy to the idea that partnership or “love” is about attachment. Just as a reminder: It’s not. We get a lot of images on what it’s like to follow someone or immediately dispose of them under less-than-ideal circumstances, especially in search of the proverbial “one.” We don’t spend as much time talking about what it’s like to invest in potential relationships with other people by letting someone else and yourself be mutually free and seeing what could could happen without expectations of grandeur. So many things are out our control. Traveling throws that in stark relief. And just as we find a hand to hold on the run, we’ll, at some point or another, have to let those hands go. Does it suck? Yes. But does it have to get in the way? No.
Dating is about learning about what you want and need with people you manage to collide with in this life. You never know what lessons someone has to teach you, and you can’t ever learn them if you aren’t humble enough to surrender to the unexpected. It just happened to take me trips halfway across the world and back to finally get that.
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