This summer, just two days after my divorce, I left for a 10-week solo trip through Europe, visiting 11 countries and dating in most of them.
My ex and I eloped to Hawaii when we were 25. But shortly after we started arguing more, and with more intensity. Despite counseling, neither of us was happy, so I moved back in with my family. That was last winter.
By summer, I was feeling like myself again, but I was falling for a guy I met on Tinder. Will* was a passionate, outgoing PhD student who wasn’t looking for commitment and who was leaving for a summer internship across the country.
So at 26, single for the first time in my adult life, I decided to spend the summer traveling. And dating men abroad.
In mid-June, I landed in Edinburgh and started swiping. I matched with Nicholas* on Bumble, who was 29 and a pianist. We met for cider and he took me to a jazz bar. He said he "liked foreign girls," but it never worked out because they eventually went home. Ok buddy.
On my last day, we hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a hill overlooking the city. I asked for his opinion about Will from home. Probably not normal first date behavior, but this wasn't a normal first date.
Will and I had an instant connection; we’d lie on the couch talking for hours and text daily. I couldn’t get enough of him, and it seemed like he felt the same way.
But when he left for the summer, I asked if he’d want to keep seeing each other in the fall. He responded: “The fall is a long way away, but I can’t immediately think of a reason I wouldn’t want to hang out again.” Ouch.
Nicholas said Will sounded like a prolific dater who’s been moving through girls for years — and that I was too sensitive for quick, casual dating. He might be right about Will, but I didn’t agree with his assessment of me; I’ve dated other guys before and since Will, and I haven’t cared about anyone else.
I was in the city of Faro in the Algarve Region for one night and not expecting any dates. But on Tinder, a guy named João invited me for a motorcycle ride and coffee by the beach; we had a lot in common, and being with him felt easy.
After sunset, we went back to the city and hung out on the roof of my Airbnb apartment — until we got chased off by my host, who was furious I’d brought a strange man there (oops). Instead, we drove to his beach house and had sex for hours. (And, I learned that, in Portugal, they call spooning the “shell position.”)
We stayed in bed, playing guitar and singing until 6 A.M.
I was sad to leave João, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Those were the kinds of experiences I was hoping to have, and I thought about how much my life has changed over the past year, for the better. I felt happier and more like myself than I had in a long time.
In hot, bustling Seville, I rented a studio apartment for a month.
I texted Will a picture of the view from my terrace and asked if he knew where I was — he guessed right. He said his internship was busy but good, and that he was enjoying Seattle. No sign that he was thinking about me as much as I was about him.
There wasn’t much activity on Bumble, but on Tinder I met Pablo*, a biologist from northern Spain with a beard and ponytail and sexy accent. He took me to a hidden “secret bar” for tinto verano (chilled red wine with lemon-lime soda) and vino de pasas (raisin wine) — both were surprisingly good.
That weekend, we went to a music festival with his friends and danced to DJs and bands. His friends were nice, but didn’t really English, and he made little effort to include me in their conversations. His friends seemed more willing to help me translate in restaurants than Pablo, who seemed more interested in flirting with the scantily-clad girl sitting next to him. He couldn’t even help me order lunch, when he was the only one who spoke both languages fluently? I was fed up.
My last week in Seville I dated Mario*, who was half Italian and half Spanish. He took me to a rooftop bar with a view of Seville Cathedral and said he’d bring me to the airport Monday morning when I flew to Paris.
Sunday, I texted him. He said he was stuck in Malaga, hours away. Pissed he couldn’t bother to give me a heads up, I looked up taxi companies and scheduled a pick-up.
I was starting to realize I shouldn’t count on men who know they’ll never see me again to keep their word. But, I was still enjoying traveling overall and spending my days sightseeing. And I was optimistic I’d meet more guys like João.
I met Max*, a 28-year-old British Student (a Tinder match), for lunch. The very first thing I noticed was that he not as attractive as his photos. But he was friendly, and we had fish and chips, then café-hopped and each bought rounds of drinks.
By dinner, I was out of cash (and the restaurant was cash-only); we agreed to find an ATM, but after a few rounds of drinks I forgot and he didn’t mention it, either.
The next day, he texted, asking if I was free for coffee. I wasn’t interested and didn’t respond.
“We never settled the bill from dinner! And I can’t afford the 22 quid,” he texted. At first, I was confused, until I remembered he paid the bill. He then asked me to PayPal him the money from my half; I didn’t respond. Funny how he only wanted the money after he knew I wasn’t interested. He kept texting, so I blocked him.
A few days later, he found me on Facebook and sent me a message: “Is there something wrong with you, or are you just a c*nt? Hahahaha.” I blocked him again, and started to wonder if the mix of good dates was worth the risk of bad ones.
I was in a terrible mood until that night, when I got a notification Will added me on Snapchat. We’d been texting every week or so, but this was an exciting development. Still, I tried not to read into it too much.
In Munich, I met Maddin* (from Bumble) near the Isar River. We sat in the grass and watched people wade in. He was 33 and chiseled. We sat with our feet in the water and he moved closer to me and kissed me. He said he had to leave for a wedding in his hometown that evening, but that he had a few hours, and asked if I wanted to go home with him.
Just as I expected, his apartment was huge and sleek and expensive-looking. And he was amazing in bed.
After, we talked about the wildest places we’ve had sex, our past relationships, regrets, and the future. It was deep and honest and refreshing. He said he’s never been in love and that he’s too picky, and that he finds one flaw and moves on (this seems to be a common pattern in today’s dating-app culture).
He said it was one of the nicest conversations he’d had with someone he just met. I smiled the whole walk back to my hotel, feeling revived and relaxed.
On Snapchat, Will sent me a message: “How’s the trip going? Where are you headed next?” It was clear he was excited for me. I’d noticed he’d been watching all my stories…
I took an overnight bus to Copenhagen. At a seafood restaurant near the city center, one of the waiters smiled every time he walked past, and I smiled back. I heard him talking to my waitress (in Danish), and shortly after, he took over as my waiter. He asked about my trip and was confident, smooth, and flirty.
After dinner, he made me a cappuccino from the restaurant next door and got my number, then we went out for champagne. He said he was surprised I didn’t mind eating alone, “looking like I got stood up.” I told him people can think what they want, it makes no difference to me. Suddenly, I realized this is one of the few times I’ve really meant this.
I also realized until now, I never thought I’d go to a restaurant by myself. Or a bar. Or a club. Now, I’ve done all those things, and they weren’t as scary as they seemed. And the initial anxiety I felt about navigating new places disappeared once I realized it was easy – there are English-speakers everywhere, offline maps with directions and translation apps. And if you miss a train or flight, there’s always another.
End of summer
When I got back, it was September and I moved into my first solo apartment. The idea of living alone used to intimidate me; I thought I’d be lonely, or bored, or that a crisis would come up that I couldn’t deal with. But these last few months have made me feel more comfortable relying on myself.
I still don’t know what will happen with Will, but we’re seeing each other again. He asked me to come over his first night back in town, and it felt like we picked up right where we left off. We spent the whole night cuddling and telling each other about our summers, and have been seeing each other in the weeks since.
I think you can learn from every person and every relationship, no matter how brief (or awkward). I’m building a better picture of what I want in a partner, but I’m also learning that I don’t need one to be happy.
*Name has been changed.
Follow Elise on Twitter.
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