My flight from Berlin to Salzburg is delayed, and I had to gate-check my bag, and I have a middle seat. But as I make my way back to row 11, I see there’s a silver lining – the guy in the window seat is cute. Really cute. He has dark brown hair and thick forearms and a crisp, angled profile. His knees are hitting the seat in front of him, which means he’s tall. He looks to be a few years younger than me.
Stealing sidelong glances at him, I see he’s reading a magazine in Spanish, which is odd because he doesn’t look at all Latin. He looks like he just walked out of a poster advertising Oktoberfest, or polka, or something similarly German and traditional.
He doesn’t glance in my direction, absorbed in his magazine. But we’re in the exit row, and when the stewardess gestures at the emergency door during her safety demonstration, he suddenly turns to me and says with a grin, “I guess it’s all on me.” I laugh, surprised, and taking this as an invitation to talk, I ask, “Where are you from?”
“Germany,” he says. “Southern Germany, not Berlin. I was here for a family reunion.” Now that I can see his whole face I confirm that he is, indeed, very handsome.
“But you’re reading in Spanish,” I point out, “And your English is perfect. You sound like an American.”
He grins again, his cheeks dimpling, and I decide he has one of the most charming smiles I’ve seen in a while. He tells me he spent two years studying in the US. He’s trying to learn Spanish because he wants to go to South America next year, and he’s also learning Russian because he’s going to Moscow and St. Petersburg next month.
He’s dressed smartly in a polo and khaki shorts, his hair neatly combed, and I start to wish I’d taken more care with my appearance. I have a bad habit of looking like a homeless person when I travel, and today is no exception – I’m wearing comfy but mismatched clothes, my uncombed hair is in a frizzy, tangled braid, and my eyes are bloodshot from the two hours of sleep I’d managed to squeeze in between coming home from a nightclub (because, when in Berlin) and heading to the airport. Patrick is definitely not seeing me at my aesthetic best.
He doesn’t seem to mind, though. He asks me about my trip, and tells me what differences I can expect between Germany and Austria. I wait for him to drop mention of a wife or girlfriend into the conversation – a guy this cool must be taken – but he doesn’t.
We start talking about politics and history and religion, and it turns out Patrick is a wealth of knowledge on all three of these topics. Embarrassingly, he knows more about American politics than I do, and he rattles off historical facts like he’s reading from an encyclopedia.
“How do you know all this?” I ask, impressed.
“I read a lot,” he says with a modest shrug. Now I’m the one who grins. The effect on me when a man says he reads a lot is what other women must feel when men disclose that they’re rich, or really good in bed, or they own a plane or a boat.
“Do you also have a photographic memory?” I ask, only half-joking. He laughs, and blushes, and I think his blushing is adorable, and we spend the next twenty minutes geeking out about our favorite newspapers and magazines.
After landing we walk to baggage claim together, and I’m hoping he’ll ask for my number. We both linger, and to me it feels like we’re both hesitating, but then we wish each other well and part ways.
Watching the automatic door whoosh shut behind him, I immediately start kicking myself. Why didn’t I ask for his number?
Salzburg is a small city, and for the next three days I’m constantly hoping to run into Patrick. I scour LinkedIn and Facebook for him, searching his name combined with the small handful of details I know about him.
It turns out there’s a lot of Patricks in Germany and Austria, though, and I don’t have a clue what his last name is. After spending more time looking for him than I care to admit, I give up.
I console myself with the thought that it was just physical attraction and one hour of good conversation. That’s all – nothing to act out a Greek tragedy over.
But… don’t most relationships start with physical attraction or good conversation, or ideally, both? What are the odds I’d happen to be seated next to the cutest guy on the plane and we’d hit it off? Opportunities to meet men not involving an app these days are few and far between, and I’m still kicking myself for bypassing what seemed like an ideal scenario.
That saying about regretting the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did really holds true in love.
Not coincidentally, love is also where the stakes are highest; nothing hurts more than heartbreak, and being or not being with someone can change the course of your whole life.
If I’d asked Patrick for his number, maybe he’d have said “I have a girlfriend” or “I’m not interested.” I would’ve had a moment of mild embarrassment, then I’d have gotten over it within hours. At least I’d know what his deal was – knowing is so much better than wondering – and at least I’d have tried.
There’s also the possibility he’d have been glad I asked, and we’d still be in touch now.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson, but the truth is there will probably be future scenarios where I’ll stand there silently and bite my lip instead of saying, “You’re cool, want to hang out?”
As a reminder, though, I keep a list of quotes in my phone for instant courage. This is one of them:
“Continually risking rejection is a sounder strategy for success in love (as in life) than waiting for a guaranteed outcome before trying.”
In other words: when it comes to love, always, always go for it.
Say ‘I love you’ first. Approach someone you think is out of your league. Ask the cute guy from the plane for his number, then make plans to see him again. There’s so much more to be gained than there is to be lost.
And, to Patrick from southern Germany who sat next to me on the flight from Berlin to Salzburg: if you ever happen to read this, I hope you’ll write me.