It's a fling thing
// Heather Welsh

“Fancy going for a drink tonight?” one tall, dark, and handsome guest coyly suggested to a girl sitting next to him, flipping through a magazine one afternoon. “Sure, I was thinking of going to this show at the Commodore downtown if you fancy it?”

And just like that, the holiday fling has begun. The following night I hear about how they’re going to the cinema, and the one after that, he cooks her a meal.

Most recently, two guests hooked up right before my very eyes; wining and dining in our shared kitchen and dining room, hiring out bikes for day trips together, even moving into a private room for more alone time. The guests were both from Germany and looking to live and work in Vancouver – and now they are searching for an apartment together. I am fairly certain that if these two had met in Germany they would have been taking things a bit slower, so arguably it has something to do with the shared circumstances, or the romance of meeting someone who is also traveling and happened to cross paths with you.

“We met on the slopes in Lake Louise,” said a couple who had just checked in to the hostel, “and we’ve been traveling North America together ever since!”

With a fling abroad, there are usually little to no consequences if the dating period doesn’t end well: the two lovers can part ways without ever having to see the other again. The sense of a shared connection is heightened by the vulnerability of traveling alone and experiencing new things at the same time. Quite often, I get asked to take notes for or pass on email addresses to a guest who obviously decided they didn’t want to stay in touch with their fling and conveniently left before they could swap details. “Is the brown haired Australian guy still about?” one girl asked me. “I can’t find him anywhere and he was supposed to be meeting me at breakfast!”

Tracey Cox, love and sex expert for the Guardian, wrote an article entitled, “How to have a holiday romance: the five golden rules”, in which she states that “the person you meet on holiday does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the person they are at home.” She adds that “all the normal rules of dating are put on fast forward on holiday.”

The man who has so many stories to tell about his wild lifestyle back home may well be the quiet one who wants to live out his fantasy in the only way he knows how – to fake it. Being on vacation turns cynics into hopeless romantics; brains turn off and libido switch on, and this is what drives the confidence out of otherwise quiet travelers. “

I don’t usually do pub crawls, but hey, I’m on vacation!” one guest told me after signing up for my hostel’s weekly drink fest around downtown watering holes. “It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do tonight; do you think there’ll be many single people on it?” The same girl woke late the next afternoon and came to report that she had somehow spent $100 buying everyone rounds. She was the most popular girl on the crawl, but in being that girl, she was probably the least like herself.

Cox’s advice also suggests that you should “forget about subtle flirting. The gorgeous person you spot at a bar could disappear in seconds if you don't act now.” As Cox’s advice recommends, groups of travelers gather together, and I watch them sizing each other up quickly before stealthily making a move. This sizing-up could also be synonymous with flirting, and is evidently a vital stage in beginning a holiday romance, or any relationship for that matter.

Joann Ellison Rodgers wrote about the science of flirting for Psychology Today, and noted that it is “the coquettish behavior indulged in by men and women alike is actually a vital silent language exchanging critical – and startling – information about our general health and reproductive fitness.” So, when guests toss their hair, sway their hips, and giggle, while others arch their back, flick their tongue over their lips, and clasp the back of their neck, they may actually be signifying more than just sexual attraction.

She makes it clear that flirting is nature’s solution to the problem of choosing the “right” mate: “We all need a partner who is not merely fertile but genetically different as well, and healthy enough to promise viable offspring, provide some kind of help in the hard job of parenting, and offer some social compatibility,” she explains.

Steven W. Gangestad, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico studied how people choose their mates: “Flirting is a negotiation process that takes place after there has been some initial attraction … Two people have to share with each other the information that they are attracted, and then test each other on an array of attributes. Simply announcing, ‘I'm attracted to you, are you attracted to me?’ doesn't work so well. It works much better to reveal this and have it revealed to you in smaller doses," explains Gangestad. "The flirting then becomes something that enhances the attraction."

Evidently, the life-mate part of this theory doesn’t apply to travelers who are just looking for some short-term fun. But the way in which one guest will choose another guest or local is still affected by these reasons; it’s just that in a strange new country, with weeks and weeks of free time ahead of you, hooking up with the French guy with the cool hair suddenly seems like a good idea. He’s going to leave for home in a week, so if he’s a bad kisser, you’ll never have to tell him, and in the meantime, you have a partner to explore a new city with. The best part for me is watching the stupid, successful, and unsuccessful mating rituals unfold right in front of my desk.

//Heather Welsh, columnist
//Illustration by Britta Bachus

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