WHILE TRAVELING THROUGH EUROPE, I met a man named Peter. He was an Australian who had an energetic personality I found incredibly attractive, and he liked all of the same indie bands that I did.
“You know Architecture in Helsinki?” he asked one day, while we shared a set of headphones between us on a coach ride through Austria.
“Yeah, but you should really listen to Girl Talk, his mixes are supreme,” I replied.
We had sex in various hotel rooms across the continent. During our last week together, somewhere in Rome I think, I told him I loved him.
“I love you too, Rosie,” he replied, looking straight at me. I adored the way he used my middle name instead of Kat, the name I made everyone else use. It was like I truly was his, and this was his way of expressing it.
He returned to Australia, and I went back to Prague. We added each other on Facebook. For one week, I thought about moving to Australia to be with him. But then I realized that, to be honest, I never really loved him at all.
In retrospect, I knew Peter was all wrong for me. He had money and confidence issues, and he lacked perspective. I think he was afraid to go after his aspirations, because it would mean loss of control, to a certain degree.
We said we loved each other because, well, what else was there to say? There is no word for when you feel so strongly about a person you’ve just met, and you know it isn’t love, but you know it’s beyond the initiation of emotion. We used the L word out of context, but I think we always knew our European escape would always be just that — a temporary rush of what we thought we were supposed to feel, but really didn’t.
We become hyper-sensitive while traveling; our eyes open a little wider, our nostrils inhale a little deeper, we touch objects a bit more firmly, and taste with less apprehension. New sights and sounds energize us in new ways, causing us to temporarily forget what’s familiar, and replace it with new perspective.
And with it, our emotions are also heightened. This sensory overload causes us to fall in love in new ways, with a greater ease that we might otherwise not experience back home.
When we experience excitement, or even fear, the adrenaline in our body kicks in and energizes us, makes us shake and diverts our focus, and sometimes makes us do things we’d otherwise never do. We become vulnerable in these times.
And I know from experience, it’s easy to fall in love when you’re vulnerable.
Sometimes I wonder, is it really the people, or myself in the place? Why is it so much easier for me to open up my heart while abroad? Why can’t I obtain the same satisfaction back home, where everything is familiar — the people, the places, the ideas and the actions?
To be sure, Peter is not the first and only person I’ve fallen in love with while traveling. There was Russell, a tall, lanky hipster from Mississippi studying the stories of Sherlock Holmes in London. There was Sara, a woman I’d met on a plane while traveling to Ghana; we were volunteering at different sites across the country, but I fantasized about her every night. Tom was a man in Prague who challenged my patience in every respect, yet there were times I laid in my bed thinking how wonderful it would be if I were to become pregnant with his child.
I’d never fall in love with the counter person who sells me a whole-wheat bagel with low fat tuna salad back home. But in Prague I fell in love with a doorman because he said I had “a face like a superstar.”
I thought I loved Peter because I fell in love with the places we traveled to. I felt something interesting inside of me the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower; Peter just happened to be holding my hand as I tilted my neck upward, staring at the intricate ironwork.
My brain registered different emotions when I searched for cuckoo clocks in Wiesbaden, Germany. I used to think it was fate, that Peter happened to find a model I adored, but looking back on it, I would have found the same clock whether he had been there or not.
None of these people really meant anything to me. I was enraptured with ideas of them, formed from opportunities in certain places. If we had met back in New York, I might never have noticed them. Something about our shared experience caused me to feel an overflow of emotions, and yet, I remember the places more vividly than the people themselves.
There are success stories of people finding love on the road. And there is power in such experiences, especially when we are so ready to set aside who we are and what we know, for someone who has made us think a little differently for the first time.
When there is so much emphasis placed upon finding “the one,” would it have felt the same way if you had met them somewhere familiar? Or was it the fact that the two of you were experiencing something new together for the first time? If he didn’t have an Australian accent, would I have still been drawn to Peter? If she hadn’t been traveling to the same West African country as I, would I have still thought about Sara?
In a different life I’m sure finding true love on the road — or at least, something like it — would have happened to me. And I suppose I’m still open to those sorts of experiences. It’s exciting to feel in love again, like it’s the first time, with someone you connect with in a different place. Knowing what the boundaries are is a different story. I’m a little wiser now, I try not to be so open and vulnerable if I can help it.
But that inexplicable feeling, well, sometimes that’s just something you can’t control.