How traveling for work has changed contributor Emma Glassman Hughes’ sex life…for the more interesting…
“Are you married? Do you have children?”
When my tour guide in Guadalajara, Mexico, asked me these questions out of the blue, I felt a wave of shock overtake me.
“Oh, no no no,” I said, indignant. I am, after all, only 23, not even two years out of school, focusing most of my energy on my career — the thing that brought me to Mexico in the first place. Long-term monogamous commitment and raising offspring are at the bottom rung of my personal ladder of life, at least for now.
“Oh, I see. It must be really difficult for you to build relationships with all the travel you do.”
And while I found her unsolicited analysis of my love life wildly inappropriate given the context — we were both working and I had met her for the first time about 15 minutes prior — I had to admit that she was right. I’m a writer and editor for a travel magazine — an actual print one — which means, even when I’m not traveling, I’m working long hours and devoting quite a bit of brain space to an all-consuming creative project. That said, I have always been proud of my ability to compartmentalize; just because I’m “focusing on my career right now” (we’ve all heard that excuse) doesn’t mean I can’t also foster meaningful relationships, romantic or otherwise. I will concede, however, that it is hard to foster those relationships when you’re barely ever in the same physical space, which is often the case for me. Last year I took a total of 22 work flights, plus, like, an additional 18 for personal trips. You could say I don’t stay put for very long. And I know what you’re thinking: Yes, I am always tired.
I guess it makes sense, then, that my most notable sexual and romantic experiences of the last few years have all taken place abroad instead of at home in NYC, where the act of meeting people falls somewhere in between impossible and Dante’s sixth circle. There was the bartender in Oaxaca who told me to wait for him to get off his shift at 1:00 am in stuttering Spanglish (we communicated mostly with real-time Google translate) and then took me and a friend to the bar in town that he thought two Americans would like the most. It was big and empty aside from a rowdy group of middle-aged Mexican men singing along to old Beatles and Eagles songs. I typed “do you want to kiss me?” into the translate bar on my phone and whispered the Spanish version in his ear. He kissed me right there in front of my friend and the middle-aged men. It wasn’t a very good kiss but the experience was sweet.
Then there was my mountain guide in Peru — an older man, divorced, had a daughter. He was flirting with me the whole time, sitting close to me in the hot tub, touching my knee next to the fire, looking deep into my eyes when he would launch into the history of whatever very old rock we were looking at. Eventually on my last night, he invited me to go to his friend’s apartment for a party he was throwing. I knew what was going down, so I agreed. I met his friends, had some snacks, drank some wine. We left and went to a club, which was mostly awkward because the floor was packed with drunk 20-year-old backpackers. We went to the back room and talked for a bit. He finally kissed me and I joked about him doing this with all of his clients. We went back to my hotel and spent the night together. The sex was good but the whole experience was a little disorienting (the altitude didn’t help).
Next was Puerto Rico, where I learned how to salsa dance from a very sweet, very good-looking doctor who grew up between Pakistan and PR. We danced and made each other laugh for hours until we decided to go back to his place. I met his dog and stood on his ocean-facing balcony and stayed until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, just messing around, before he drove me back to my hotel. “New York isn’t that far from here,” he said, and I agreed, encouraging him to come visit. But I knew even as I said otherwise that the chance of ever seeing him again was more than slim.
Back in Mexico a few months later (is it obvious that I have a favorite country?) I tried Tinder, which I use frequently at home in NYC but never really used seriously while traveling. I was only in Mexico City for two days, so I didn’t have much time to meet someone organically anyway. I matched with this drummer with curly hair and kind of mischievous eyes — in a sexy way, not a creepy way. We met up that night, along with my roommate who had traveled with me and a guy she matched with on Bumble (we complement each other so well!), and went to go hang out on my guy’s roof. We talked for a while and drank a few beers before I took him over to the balcony and told him to kiss me. The chemistry was actually really strong between us, but our flight back was that morning at 6:00 and it was already closing in on 4:00 am. My roommate and I called an Uber to get us back to our hotel so we could “pack”— otherwise known as frantically throw everything in our bags because we had 20 minutes to get to the airport—and he walked us downstairs and kissed me goodbye. Now every time I’m in Mexico I secretly hope he sees it and sends me a message, but I think he unfollowed me on Instagram.
Coincidentally, I fell deeply in love with someone I met while studying in South Africa a few years back, too. So, ok. Maybe my Guadalajara tour guide was onto something. Maybe my chosen career path makes it easy to be avoidant. But maybe being avoidant is the best thing for me right now — there’s never been another time in modern history when it’s been easier and safer (though, like, obviously still be cautious) for young women to exercise their promiscuity at home and abroad. It’s cliche, but if you’re interested in something or someone, even if you know it won’t last forever, life really is far too short to not take action.
A theory that I have for myself is that it’s easier to meet people abroad because the pressure of having to see them every day is automatically alleviated. I just have to be exactly who I am in that moment, without worrying about who I’ll be and what I’ll be like tomorrow, next week, or in 10 years. Right now, in this moment, I’m fun and curious and open to new experiences that present themselves, which is a beautiful thing. Marriage and kids won’t be on my radar for a long while, if at all; but in the meantime, keep the adventures coming.
+ More of Emma here.