Part One of Our Travel Series!
Next Week: London for Singletons!
Hooking Up at 35,000 Feet
or, How to Get Yourself into an Upright and Locked Position
by Lori Gottlieb
I never listen to my mother when it comes to the notion of dating, but she
was right about one thing: "You always find it when you're not looking." I once
tried that strategy to find an earring in my apartment, and I'm still waiting
for it appear... but recently I did find myself on an early-morning flight,
dressed "comfortably" (read: devoid of style), and minding my own business when
-- Ta da! -- I met a guy.
it turns out, air travel can be an unexpectedly effective way to meet potential
dates. At airports, of course, you're surrounded
by people from all over the world, not just your own city (where you've
probably exhausted the same ol' bars, coffeehouses, clubs, and party scenes).
Next time you're on the "people mover," look around: amidst all the touristas
and family units, there's a whole new crop of Singletons to check out. But before
you prepare for landing a co-pilot, you should know that dating is a little
different at 35,000 feet.
On the ground, the first date is rife with need-to-entertain-him/her angst:
Do I invite him over for a drink before dinner, or can I just meet him at the
restaurant? Do we hug when we greet each other at the door? Should I take her
to the movies or the beach or a museum or a romantic dinner? Yikes! Suddenly,
dating anywhere else starts to sound good.
Preparing for Cross-Check...
The game begins in earnest with your seat assignment. In my case, this was
a good thing: when I arrived at my seat, there happened to be a really hot guy
in the one next to mine.
Sadly, that won't always be the case. Across the aisle, for instance, there
was a not-so-hot-guy-with-a-look-of-abject-horniness-on-his-face, and I could
have ended up seated next to him. For five hours! Imagine yourself stuck at
the XYZ Bar next to this guy and NOT being able to ditch him by saying, "Excuse
me, I have to go the bathroom," and then high-tailing it out of there. You can
only kill so much time in the galley before the attendants get terse.
Fortunately, the guy next to me (whom I'll call Dave) turned out to be not
only hot, but also witty, smart, and creative to boot. And because we were on
a plane, there was none of that first-date awkwardness. We could talk about
anything. In fact, I learned more about Dave's life and past relationships between
San Francisco and New York than I'd learned about the last guy I'd dated over
the course of four months.
Would You Prefer a Window or a Lap?
Since your seating assignment doesn't always work out so well, let me give
you some tips on weeding out the losers:
Loser: Reads Playboy, Stuff, Maxim, any other adolescent frat boy
Winner: Reads The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper's, Fortune.
Loser: Eats mystery meat on tray. Possibly even enjoys it.
Winner: Pokes at mystery meat with revulsion like a normal person.
Loser: Orders a bunch of drinks and gets trashed. On an 8:00 a.m.
Winner: Makes a witty champagne toast, then shares milk and cookies
Loser: Uses the pick-up line, "So, are you a member of the mile-high
Winner: Uses any other pick-up line!
So... Are You Deplaning in Marrakesh?
Let's face it, activity options are limited while trapped in a metal tube (however
suggestively shaped it may be). Once you've made visual contact with a prospective
co-passenger, you have the advantage that virtually anything is better than
an in-flight magazine.
And of course, if you're brave like that, you can reinvent yourself any way
you want. You can give yourself a new name (Esmerelda/Balthazar), or a new place
of residence (Anchorage/Lake Como), or even a new career (NASCAR driver/CIA
director). And it won't matter because it's not like at home where you might
run into a friend who'll shout across the bar, "Hey, Lori!" forcing you to pretend
you have no idea who she's talking to.
Here's your chance to live out an exotic fantasy in which the following words
might actually pass your lips: "So, that was after our second White House
gala and before our plane almost went down in Nicaragua."
On the flip side, of course, you can also be as revealing as you want, because
if you decide never to see this person again, you won't have to. Statistically
speaking, you're probably safe telling this person all about your crazy parents
and your vexing siblings. (At some point, of course, it stops being a faux date
and becomes faux therapy, but you could still do worse.)
Fly Me to the Moon...
those basic guidelines in place, we can admit that the true beauty of plane
dates, is that there's absolutely zero pressure to impress. The games, the misunderstandings
-- they all seem to disappear with a little altitude. Once the right person
is on your radar, so do our inhibitions. What might have passed for a cheesy
pick-up line at a Macy Gray concert seemed hilarious next to the dissonant din of humming motor
Which leads me to share my hypothesis regarding the physiological impact that
flying has on the psyche: being in the air can cause Airplane Nostalgia Syndrome
(ANS). A classic case is the last guy I dated, who used to call me from airplanes
and leave the following messages: I miss you; I can't wait to see you; I wish
you were here. Once on the ground, however (a mere six hours later!), he'd call
and say, "I don't know why, but I think I'm ambivalent about you."
So whether it's the engines' effect, the oxygen they're pumping in, or the
lack of blood flow to the brain from sitting so long, being in the air frees
us from our inhibitions and anxieties. In other words, it allows us to become
more like our true selves -- less prone to self-consciousness about our vulnerable
feelings, or over-analysis of our behaviors.
If you still aren't buying my ANS theory, take this simple test. On the ground,
...pop open a box of Ear Planes and unabashedly stuff the dorky-looking
blue spiral plugs into your ears, not caring that you closely resemble somebody's
grandma and/or a character from "Star Wars"?
...make no excuse whatsoever for a hideous, shredded, plaid fabric
suitcase that you've had since the Seventies? I repeat: the Seventies. (Think
disco, feathered hair, and The Brady Bunch.)
...not care that you haven't showered and are wearing the most unflattering
gray flannel shirt in your entire wardrobe? In fact, not even notice until
hours later when you get to your hotel and are shocked by your reflection
in the lobby's mirror?
...have no qualms about sharing your most intimate, private thoughts,
even if they make you seem completely psychotic?
Of course not! You'd be freaking out! Which is why the first time Dave
and I got together on the ground, to take his black Lab Thelonius (canine pseudonym)
for a run in the park back in San Francisco, we acted like we were on a, um,
date. Which is to say, we were so busy trying to act charming and "do something
fun" that we forgot to have, um, fun.
But the key was to have gotten the date in the first place. Flying,
rather than just a dehydrating way to get from Point A to Point B, is another
opportunity to make the most of your single life.
One final piece of advice: don't settle for your seatmate if you're unsatisfied.
Like the guy I was stuck next to on the way back from New York, who insisted
on talking to me even after I put headphones on. Scope out any available seats
and locate your call button the minute you get on board. Then, in a pinch, you
can ask the flight attendant about switching seats. (Think of this as your own
personal "emergency exit.")
At worst, you may have to sit in the very last row next to the bathrooms. But
who knows? You might also unexpectedly end up next to a winner back there.
And, like Mom said, "You always find it when you're not looking."
Lori Gottlieb is going to Maui with a guy she met on a plane. They have
reserved adjacent seat assignments. Her new book, "STICK
FIGURE: A Diary of My Former Self," an LA Times bestseller, has been
optioned for film by Martin Scorsese.
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