I sat on the wall at Ao Nang beach, watching the sun sink below the hills across the bay. Thai longboats raced across the horizon towards shore and the sky turned fiery as the sun dipped out of sight. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be the only single one around enjoying the view.
Down on the sand below I observed couples holding hands as they watched the light fade; some strolled through the waves, some leaned into each other, and others stole a kiss as the darkness took over. I watched from above with a small smile on my face and had a momentary pang of jealousy. I thought how nice it would be to have someone beside me right then. To hold my hand, wrap their arms around me, and kiss me when they thought no one was looking.
I let myself get caught in a daydream for a minute, and then snapped out of it. Who was I kidding? Here I was pitying myself when, really, what I had was great. In the past four years I had visited more than 30 countries and spent over 10 months travelling. From swimming in waterfalls to exploring archeological ruins, dancing at island clubs and grabbing lunch with locals. I was living my dream.
I stood up and brushed the sand off my pants. With thoughts of where I would go next on my mind, I wandered back to my hostel. Alone. Sure, I was single but I was also having (yet another) adventure of a lifetime and there was no way I was going to trade that just so I didn’t feel lonely watching a sunset.
So what is the deal with my (lack of) love life? It’s non-existent because I end up friend-zoning every good guy I meet. To be completely honest, the thought of having someone important like that in my life right now terrifies me. In a world that pushes marriage before thirty, high-flying careers, and children, I’m afraid that a serious relationship would put an end to my travel. That it would make me ‘grow up’ and start thinking about houses and mortgages when really all I want is to wake up at 4am to climb temples to watch the sun rise and spend my afternoons scuba diving or exploring fairytale villages.
As it is right now, all my extra money goes towards travel. I don’t have a house fund, wedding savings, or a hope chest. I have a map on my wall full of possibilities and destinations that I’m dying to stick a coloured pin through. I worry that, by being in a relationship, I’ll have to give that up. That my three month travels will have to become a two week vacation, or even worse; just a rare weekend away. I’m afraid that by choosing love I’ll have to give up what makes me really happy, and I’m not ready to do that. Yes, future Hannah wants a family, but present-day Hannah is quite happy running around the world on her own and worries that a life without travel will make her miserable.
While my friends stress about finding ‘the one’ and getting their dream home, I cringe at the thought of being locked down. So when it comes to men at home, I rely on avoidance techniques; from avidly refusing to meet anyone’s ‘great, single, guy friend’ to creating made-up boyfriends so the over-friendly suit on the bus will back off. I actually spent a week changing the positioning of my Irish Claddagh ring when I went to work so it looked like I was in the relationship I claimed to be when he first asked about it. I didn’t have the heart to tell the poor guy that I just wasn’t interested. That his office job, lack of travel experience, and the new apartment that he was so excited about did absolutely nothing for me.
I’ve been told that I’m being too picky. I think that’s probably the nice way of putting it. I know what I want and what I don’t, and because of that I’m sure that sometimes I come across as self important, and maybe even cold-hearted. But the thing is, as much as these men aren’t right for me, plenty of guys have made it clear that I’m not right for them either.
I first realized this after returning from my time abroad in Ireland in 2011. I’d been home a couple weeks and was out with some friends at a downtown bar. I got talking to a cute military guy and it was going well until I told him I liked to travel. Alone. What started as a fun conversation fizzled out almost immediately when he questioned why I would do that. I did my best to answer him truthfully. I described how amazing it made me feel and how I loved being in control and being able to fend for myself. I could feel myself smiling as I talked about doing what I loved. But it completely backfired.
The more I talked the more he pulled away. He was clearly uncomfortable with my self-empowerment and no longer interested in talking, much less pursuing me. In a matter of minutes he excused himself, moving on to chat up some other girl. At first I was shocked, but those feelings were quickly replaced with anger and maybe even a little bit of hurt.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the last. Over the past four or so years I have become more and more aware that my travel lifestyle and habits; the ones that make me feel so empowered, strong, and just plain good about myself, also somehow make me threatening, unapproachable, and unattractive to the majority of men in my city. Even my male friends roll their eyes when I tell them of my plans, or send them a photo of a new destination that’s caught my eye. “There she goes again.”
I find it ironic considering there are countless articles that talk about how amazing travelling women are. How we are sexy and mysterious and, if given the chance, men should absolutely go for us. We are praised for our ability to embrace our natural beauty; scars, bug bites, and all, and for our sense of adventure. But my personal experience doesn’t reflect this. I might be the the cute girl with a pretty smile and the awesome stories, but my down-to-earth charm only lasts until a Kardashian or Barbie Doll walks into the room.
Of course things could be different when I travel. After all, most guys on the road have the same interests as I do, and God knows the world of backpackers is about as loose and easy as it gets. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to ward off loose hands and wanna-be Casanovas. And, while I admire my fellow travelling women who have no issues with falling into bed with every handsome, foreign stranger that they meet along the way, that’s not my style. I’m not looking for a quick hook-up. I’m not looking to add a notch to my belt, or have a raunchy one night stand story to share at the next girl’s night out. What I want is something long term. I want someone who can appreciate my values and ideally have the same ones. I want someone to share adventures with, someone that will be around in the years to come to reminisce with. I want forever.
So here I am at 27, thinking of future Hannah who wants someone to spend her life with but currently avoiding relationships like the plague because I’m afraid it means settling down and losing what makes me happiest. The only problem is future Hannah is a whole lot closer at 27 than she was at 22. And future Hannah doesn’t want to be alone.
But I haven’t given up. Because despite the ‘threatening’ facade I’m actually a romantic at heart, and I’ve met enough amazing travel couples on the road with a similar mentality to believe that there might be a happy ending for me too. It might not happen tomorrow, or even this year but I’m keeping an eye out. It’s not like I’m looking for Prince Charming on a white stallion. Indiana Jones on a motor bike will do just fine.