When you think of travelling, do you think of romance? Not the heady heights of a booze-infused orgy, of course, but the kind that sweeps you off your feet with its inexplicable intensity. The kind that sends electric flutters up and down your spine. The kind of whirlwind romance that somehow lingers long after your respective tans have faded and leaves you breathless.
Well, I do.
I’m sure the vast percentage of us have had our brush with romance on the road (perhaps more than we care to admit, even to ourselves). Sometimes it is not important whether the event itself leaves us singing its praises, or goes down in the annals of history as another episode of Hangover. What takes precedence is the belief that it is better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all.
So what is it that makes us particularly easy pickings for the romance bug while travelling?
And yet, why does it almost never last?
…Why it is easy to fall in love.
1. We are unshackled and unencumbered.
As the great French philosopher Rousseau once famously penned: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” While some are screamingly visible, others are less so, and yet, they all act in one way or another to conform your behaviour to the social expectation. Being on the road changes all of that, and with it, the ordinary rules of engagement.
The pursuit of emancipation is one of the most commonly cited reasons for travelling. The benefits of emancipation are self-evident; just as a sprinter who has trained with manacles all his life is suddenly let loose on the Olympic stage. As you physically and mentally unchain yourself from life’s manacles, you too, discover the immeasurable lightness of being. You are open to new environs, cultures and its people, and in turn, you exude confidence and charisma. Subconsciously, you have already primed yourself for love. The gates to the fortress you have built up over the years are wide open – the sentries have taken their leave – and the possibility of a white knight (in whichever shade of armour) is no longer as quixotic as it once appeared.
2. We can be beautifully anonymous.
The further you venture from home, chances are that you won’t be bumping into any familiar faces and that’s probably just the way you like it. Travelling incognito, you can be anyone you wanted to be, even flaunting the free-spirited sides of you that you could never truly give free rein to back home.
The veil of anonymity provides the perfect safety net and empowers you to tread above and beyond your zones of comfort. The suave guy by the bar whom you would normally never have the courage to look at, much less speak to? No sweat, you’ll shout him a drink. The sun-kissed beach babe whom you have secretly admired for days on end, but would have shrunk from if he ever suspected your intentions? Nothing too daunting either, you’ll match him stroke for stroke.
I guess what I am trying to say is that anonymity, in itself, is liberating. When the eyes of Judgment are not beating down on you, even the perennial fear of rejection loses its sting. After all, it is unlikely you will ever see or hear from them again. Living in the moment, and loving in the moment, has never been more within reach when one is on foreign soil.
3. We feel safe when we travel.
There is another phenomenon which is potentially at play when one is on vacation. Ever wondered at the seemingly impossible romances blossoming between travellers and those assigned to accompany or otherwise be of service to them? Admittedly, there are young, dashing, fun-loving coach drivers / tour guides / bartenders / waiters aplenty, but the allure of the middle-aged, balding, pot-bellied locals have hitherto baffled me. That is, until I did a little soul-searching of my own.
We all assume numerous roles in the hectic harbours of home, yet oftentimes the one role we are excused from assuming when travelling is that of the protector. Under their wings of protection, it is not difficult to see the silhouette of love enveloping you in a deep embrace. Your vulnerabilities are slowly given air time, and you experience almost a feeling of redemption in pouring out your past in the audience of a virtual stranger. The more you feel looked after, the more you are willing to let go of your fears and insecurities, in the faint hope that your protector is still there to catch you when you fall. Against such backdrop, you become defenceless to love.
That is not at all to say that to accept romance on the road is to take the road to perdition. In fact, on many levels it can be just as nourishing as the journey itself, and over time, it may even come to epitomise the journey you have taken. It just pays to be cognisant of the limitations of love developed under such circumstances and that it is unlike the love that you will ever experience at home.
… And why it never lasts.
1. But we fall victim to distance and time.
As with all things of beauty, holidays inevitably end. Whether you belong to Camp “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” or Camp “Out of sight, out of mind” is of little consequence. Through the tearful goodbyes and wishful promises to stay connected, you are nonetheless staring at the uncompromising trails of distance and time.
Distance breeds distrust; and time breeds self-doubt. The combination of the two is lethal in its impact on budding romances. It drives you to distraction and makes you question whether what you have had was real, or was it all just an elaborate hoax to test the various figments of your imagination (like Now You See Me, and now you don’t).
The saddest truism about distance and time is not that some things can’t be as enduring as others. Perhaps the sad truism is that we take so much comfort and liberty in revealing our innermost sensations to those we know are merely transiting through our lives.
2. But there are blurred lines of real love.
How can you tell whether you are genuinely in love, or merely head over heels with the notion of being in love in a foreign place? Holiday romances are almost purely the by-product of finite time spent together exploring the exhilarating unknowns. Taken out of this setting, such recipes for romance can quickly disintegrate in the ordinary confines of homeland.
There is never an easy transition from jumping out of helicopters, or diving into the depth of oceans, to adapting to the minutiae of life back home. What existed as a purpose for fulfilling an odyssey of a lifetime can pale in significance when stripped of its power to ignite adrenalin. The thought of your holiday romancer as the permanent fixture in your life has the potential to turn any vestige of romance to dust.
3. But life goes on – without us.
Almost before your very eyes, life has sped on, just without you. No matter whom you have fallen for while on the road, chances are, you will likely fall for another adventurous soul when embarking upon your next journey. It would be equally naïve of you to think that they are holding out, only for you.
When all is said and done, sometimes it is enough just to hold onto the knowledge that you have loved someone, and that they have loved you back. Sometimes it is a plain fact of life, that capturing a lifetime of defining moments can be infinitely more satisfying than capturing just a lifetime.