Raise your hands if you are a solo female traveler and have been successful with dating apps.
I wish I can see you raising your hand right now but I also wish there are some of you who can’t even open their palms. Well, I’m part of the former. I have been zipping around the globe using Tinder and Bumble. These apps never disclosed that I will have a fairytale happy ending but I still went for it. When you are traveling solo, these are the go-to apps for meeting locals and for some, it could also be a way to have hot lonely sex – a thing that many of us loves to do but refuses to talk about.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about sex, STD, condoms, or how a solo female traveler can use dating apps safely. You’re a big girl — I am sure you know your responsibilities to your body and to your future. Whatever your reason is, dating apps can be a good channel, most especially if you are in a foreign country.
Going back to dating apps successes, I never really met anyone on these apps who eventually became my boyfriend. All of my exes are from personal encounters wherever I was in the world. I probably have 4 foreign exes (since I was 22) and all of them are not of the same nationality. I did not ask them permission to disclose their identities in my stories but you are very familiar with two of them. I wrote about them frequently but they are very irrelevant to this article because I did not meet them through dating apps.
Every time I go on a date, I have no expectations on living happily ever after but there was an exemption. One. Only one. I cannot label him “the one that got away” because I don’t even know what that means. In the stories to come below, it all focuses on this one guy who has made me lose faith in dating apps for relationships. I will also be giving samples here and there from my life with my exes but the bulk of this story is about “that guy.”
Full disclosure: I am not in love with that guy from 4 years ago but I do regard that as one of the most intense feelings I had towards something I couldn’t have.
What pushes us to use dating apps when traveling?
Most of you know the story of my first attempt to go with someone I loved on a whirlwind round the world trip. It ended up badly. If you think you have experienced the worst heartbreak of your life, picture this: you are 22 years old. Your foreign boyfriend asks you to go travel with him and you, the super in love b*tch who has a good career decided to go June Carter and Johnny Cash-ing, Bonnie and Clyde-ing, John and Yoko-ing, Jay Z and Beyonce-ing to Africa – a continent that is so far away from your home in Asia.
Honeymoons always go well in the beginning but then one day, Johnny Cash (let’s use this code. Johnny’s my favorite) woke up and said he can’t be with you anymore. Without trying to fix it, or even really talk about it, Johnny drove his Mustang to the neighboring country where you are required a visa to enter. And mind you, applying for a visa to that country is not easy, especially for Philippine passport holders like me. There was no way I could have easily entered that country. If there was, you know I would.
Now that I am writing this, I am realizing how smart Johnny is for running away to a country where I couldn’t follow him. Fecking visas!
So there goes June Carter, alone in a country where she doesn’t speak the language, super fecking broke with a heart shattered to 10,000 pieces. If you feel like this is a bit exaggerated, I really felt like I was Lyanna Mormont being squeezed to death by the massive fists of one of the Night King’s most fearsome assets, the club-wielding giant. None of us know what that’s like but you get it. It was fecking painful.
I did some crazy stuff, flew a considerable amount of miles, drove without a driver’s license with so much determination to ride Johnny’s Mustang again (wow, that sounded a bit sexual). None of those efforts worked. I didn’t know how to deal with the pain I was feeling. I mean, who does when they are 22?!
Eventually, I did. After I yielded, I dedicated training my brain and heart to focus on my well-being. To take care of myself. To recognize and process how I felt. I was in Brazil then and ignored every stare, every hello, every “can I buy you a drink,” every proposal, every dinner invite. I was fully committed to focus on myself. It was as if I had horse blinders that prevented me from seeing on the rear end and the side. I even bought a deterrent ring to keep the men from talking to me. It always worked! Try it and let me know how it worked for you!
After dealing with my overpowering anger and abandonment issues for 2 years, I went to Buenos Aires (where Johnny is from) and we had that closure we both needed. Today, I could say we are friends but not really good friends. I mean, we’re okay, right, Johnny? We’re just in the middle. And that’s more than enough for me because I have genuinely forgiven him and have moved on with my fantastic life. That thing with Johnny actually made me a better human being who has so much intense love for the world. Whether he likes it or not, that awful pain he inflicted in me will be forever part of who I am. In a good way, of course. Because of that, I traveled Latin America on my own for 3.5 years! Who wouldn’t be happy with that outcome?
That same year (2015), I was in Peru and discovered Bumble for the first time. I was scared to be involved with someone but I programmed myself to treat these apps as a way to know people. I signed up for Bumble and the “connect to Facebook” feature did all the wonders for me. I never had to come up with flowery words for my bio nor set profile pictures where I am the prettiest. It was really easy. I started swiping and learning about the app. For years, I was only using Tinder.
I was never particular with the physique. And I’m really sorry because I also don’t look at occupation, educational background or religious beliefs as the Bumble app offered all these things. I base my swipes on the vibe of the person. I do believe they emanate a vibe through their pictures. But I am undeniably particular with facial hairs.
YES, GIRLS. BEARD IS SWIPE RIGHT NO MATTER WHAT. Just like men with selfies and mirror pics on their profiles are swipe left no matter what. Well, those, and d*ck pics, too.
One afternoon, after finishing my shift at work in Cusco, I decided to open the app. What I like about Bumble is that it’s one-way: the girls are the ones who will send a message first, even if you matched with a guy. There is no way that a guy can send you a message unless you start it. This was important for me as I already received a lot of traumatizing d*ck pics and indecent proposals from Tinder. I don’t think guys know this isn’t cool?
Sean, 29. Swipe right. I hate chatting on the phone. My remote job demands me to be on the phone 12 hours a day so it would be really nice to talk to someone in person. I sent a message to Sean, 29. I felt a lot of pressure because I needed to write to him first. With all my creativity, I type, “wow, this is so much pressure.” I swear, if the app could talk and meddle, it could’ve told me, “come on, you can do better than that!” I literally felt judged when I clicked send.
But Sean, who is from Australia did think it was bloody creative. He went along with it. I think he was shocked when I asked to meet right away. As I said, I am not really good at chatting. I mean I can be if I want to. However, we were in the same city so I think sitting down over drinks is the best way to go.
“I can’t go out tonight. I have to wake up early tomorrow” is what he said. He told me he has this work thing really early in the morning and it’s better for him not to be sh*t-faced the next day. I didn’t ask what kind of “work” that was. I preferred to reserve it for the face-to-face encounter. With that, I guess chickening out was good. Even if I initiated the meet-up, I didn’t think I had the balls to jump on a first date after years of not being in the game. But I do believe I am a pleasant person and can come up with conversation starters. After all, that’s what I do for a living. I am paid to talk, to be friendly, to be chatty, and to be nice to every doomed soul around me. Talking to strangers and making them feel good about themselves (PR) is one of my strengths.
“Okay, so let’s meet tomorrow night then!” I said. But the chat went on and on and on. Sean was automatically upgraded to Whatsapp. I am very selective about giving out my personal number but Sean deserved it by an indescribable qualification. We went on and on Whatsapp chat and even sent a lot of voice notes. My friends say I sound like a gay man on the phone but the first words Sean told me was “damn, your voice is beautiful.”
The chat ended at midnight. He still slept late when we could’ve personally chatted til 12 am in some bar in Cusco. There was so much to talk about and I don’t usually get that from dating apps. Ladies, if a man doesn’t have anything fruitful or sensible to talk about via chat, please unmatch. Guys like this just want sex. But who am I to tell you to unmatch if you also want the same thing? It’s really unfair to point fingers on guys going on Tinder just to have sex but don’t we, women, want it? Really?
Okay girls, first things first: if you are going on a date, choose the place. Be in control. I was in Cusco for a while so I pretty much know all the bars there. I also know all the bartenders who will come to the rescue when I raise the flag. It always worked. This only happens when I feel like it’s not going well. Sean didn’t know anything about Cusco. He just arrived 2 days before we matched so it was a home court advantage for me. That was my third week in that city. I gave him two places to choose from. I have friends in both cool bars I recommended so no matter what he chooses, I will be fine.
Second, be 7 minutes late. Or 9. Something odd. Be a little late but not too late. You need to spot the target from afar. I don’t know why I do this but I do know that it always helped me start a conversation with a stranger whom I agreed to meet with.
“The eagle has landed.” Fernanda, my friend who was waiting tables that day texted. “And the eagle is bloody good-looking but without a beard. I thought we liked beards, Trish?” Fernanda always speaks in third person when it comes to me. She feels like she’s part of my “getting back in the game” shenanigan.
I laughed while reading her message but I did not respond. A second message from Fernanda came: “Just so you know, since you bothered to be late, we’re full. No table. He’s standing by the bar being entertained by Mario.” A third message came. God, Fernanda can’t hold her horses. I opened it and found out it was from Sean: “Good: I’m here. Bad: no table.”
I came in. Fernanda winked. I was looking at her, eyes wide, saying, “you do not know me. Do not beso (kiss) me or saludar (greet) me.” She winked back as if she interpreted my mental message well. I came to Sean who was standing in front of the bar, table-less, slightly chatting with my other friend, Mario. Mario’s easier. He knows he cannot talk to me unless I ask for it.
You might think I’m a psycho for making my friends pretend they don’t know me but apart from the SOS from a date that’s not going well, remember that was a time that I was out of practice in the dating game. I felt like I could chicken out any minute and I needed my friends to be around. It also helps with safety. If you don’t know the person, it’s better to be in your territory with extraordinary allies.
Good news: Sean is not one of those creeps. In fact, he’s a fecking doctor in the US. He’s funny, kind, a gentleman, super clean, smells good, neat hair, super Australian (you know they speak in slangs), no beard. I mean he shaved the beard for work so I let that go. I’d be half freaked and half turned on when faced with a full-bearded doctor in a hospital. That’s kind of unhygienic for docs, right? So girls, in this case, we are giving Sean a free pass. He can be beardless and we’re going to be okay with it. It will grow fast anyway.
Fecking Fernanda was making faces from afar and we still didn’t get a table. We talked over sh*t tons of drinks until we realized we need to move to another place. I can’t stand all night! Cusco bars are always full no matter what day of the week. Mario gave us the bill, with the oh-you-look-like-you-are-going-to-have-sex-with-this-guy grin. On the other side of the bar, I saw Fernanda with the yes-we-like-him-I’m-happy-you-are-finally-dating wink. We headed out to another bar where we had more drinks.
While we were walking to the next bar, I quickly called my Executive Assistant, Rona, who’s also a good friend: “I’m with this guy and we’re going to this place. If I don’t text you within 12 hours, that means you need to send a search team for me, understood?” I sent pics of the guy because maybe, just maybe, he’s not the person I thought he is. I wasn’t being paranoid but solo female travelers like me always need to protect themselves.
If you’ve been to Cusco, you would know that this city has an altitude that will make you drunk with one beer. The altitude is too high that getting drunk is cheap. Even if I was already there for 3 weeks, I still couldn’t acclimatize. I get very drunk easily. As far as I can remember, we had at least 7 tequila shots for each of us. He also had beers. I had a lot of lemonade with soda water but that didn’t help me in staying sober.
I couldn’t believe what a pleasing first date that was. I really got lucky with that. After that night, we were together 24/7. He was only in Cusco for 2 weeks so I know, like me, he would eventually leave. I tried my best to detach but we were so good to each other. We treated each other right. We shared the bills. We spent days working on the computer together. We had amazing Peruvian food. We explored the city together. He’d stare at me all the time for minutes it made me feel super conscious. I’d stare at him when he’s not looking. He grew his beard in those two weeks. We didn’t have to argue about anything ever.
Until the 8th day, 3 days before he was going back to the US, he started to become cold and stupid. By stupid, I mean speechless. Not saying anything even if I already was almost punching him so he could talk. I grew up with 3 brothers and a sister. I know men really well. Some sh*t is about to go down. Every night, I prayed each of my brothers would get a woman who would understand their weakness in communicating how they feel. That some woman would accept their lack of words.
Ladies, this is how boys are. Calling them “boys” semantically takes power away from them. They’re mute. We need to direct them in the best way you know how otherwise, we can’t milk them. I know it’s something we did not sign up for but the men in our lives, our boyfriends, our husbands, our fathers, our brothers — most of them don’t thrive in an emotional relationship. Us, women, always have to point them to their expressive direction.
Of course, I cracked him, only to find out that he was just out of a relationship a week ago. He managed to open this up after we’ve already built a small foundation of what could turn out to be something beautiful. I mean, him in the US and me in Peru was another thing to consider but it’s very minor. We can always do something about that. I think that’s the easiest thing to deal with as one of us (meaning, me) can easily move where the other is but we weren’t getting ahead of ourselves. It was just an idea.
Me. It’s always me who has to move. It’s always been me who has a flexible schedule. Because I work online, I can work anywhere. And that is something all my exes have imposed on me without even asking. It’s as if their jobs are more important than mine. That I have more room for sacrifices than them. That it’s me who has to do it in order for the relationship to work.
I’ve done it a lot without regrets. I’ve tried four times, with different men, to make it work. It was something I’d willingly do. After all, I love living in new places. I’ve always been a firm believer of the till-I-try-I’ll-never-know adage. I mean really, none of us know what happens the minute we take a “hard” decision but we go through it anyway because we have faith. Faith is always something I had whether the Universe decides to be good to me or not. I blindly traveled to Africa with Johnny and went to Buenos Aires for closure. I got engaged with Jay Z and Beyonced my way through his country only to find out I cannot legally stay there without religious conversion. I moved to Hong Kong for Clyde because he was offered an Executive Chef position in a Michelin star restaurant there. And now, John Lennon probably wants me to Yoko Ono my way to the USA which all of you know is impossible as I was already refused a US visa twice.
You’ve been following me since my Johnny Cash days in 2013 and you know very well that if I like someone, I would fly everywhere for that person. The only problem is my passport does not allow me to go anywhere as I please. That makes the unruliness of all these and it’s a common dilemma I always encounter when I’m in a relationship. Our citizenship always dictates who we are, who we should be, where we can go, and who we can love. It’s fecking ridiculous.
Nitch writes, “when you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
I would like to live and see the day that the world finally wakes up realizing cross-cultural relationships is the answer to our deeply divided wretched world. Imagine what kind of kids mixed cultures produce? I can see the world in unison, full of love, acceptance, kindness, and hope.
Anyway, let’s not forget that John Lennon just dropped a bomb about his very recent break-up. Something he failed to disclose before we even had intense feelings for each other.
So what fecking now?
We let go. I yield. I don’t think having a US visa is something I can control but if it was visa-free for me like Mexico, Peru, Colombia, even Iran, you all know this b*tch would jump on a plane in a heartbeat. That I would want to try before giving up. That I would want to see if it works before saying no. But I can’t. So that’s how my story with Sean ends. You might say he should move but he’s a freaking doctor in one of the best hospitals in the United States, young and still at the possible spike of his career. I don’t think I’d move to Peru if I was in his shoes. And yes, he already said he won’t. So that’s done.
“Feck this s*ht” was all I can say from my helplessness. On the day he left, tight hugs were given. Passionate kisses were reciprocated. I would be lying if I don’t tell you I didn’t fight. I did. I just hoped he did, too. He said such kind of relationship doesn’t work unless we have future plans together. And we didn’t. But we could’ve had one given the chance. Or 3,000. He just seemed very determined to convince me it wasn’t going to work. I felt I was the only one who wanted it, who wanted us. I couldn’t do that by myself. And I won’t.
And so, we agreed not to do the long-distance relationship because none of us can ever keep up with that. I haven’t done that in a while but I am 100% willing to try. I’m not sure if I can although I am very curious about how I will handle it. I don’t know myself in that department. I also don’t feel he was ready for the digital love, most especially he just got out of a relationship a week before we met. It sounded fecking unreal. Like it was a fecking joke.
There is a thin line between willingness and being ready. They’re two different things, really. He is, however, the opposite of both: unwilling and not ready. I will not put myself in a position where I need to be in it while he is dealing with his emotional sh*t with his ex. I mean, who does that?! Only people who are unkind to themselves will be involved in that kind of a crazy whirlwind. I’ve done it before and I am definitely way past that, thank you very much. We don’t commit the same mistake twice, right?
I processed that for 2 full days. I really had very deep emotions for Sean. I found him to be a very delightful man. But I learned that some things are better left beautifully. It was easier to move on anyway as we were worlds apart. I meditated. I was kind to myself. I stopped blaming my passport for my fate. I accepted that Sean and I will do that in another life. I thought, maybe when I become a bird in my next life, he’ll be a bird, too. Birds can fly without passports and visas so I am very much convinced I will be one.
Despite all that letting go, I will never forget how we were so good to each other. I cannot begin to tell you how for the first time in my life, I felt I was the one being taken care of. I always watched out for myself (and exes) but this one? He was really good at giving and receiving love. He was capable of knowing real love.
We also said when we are 40, and still single (oh God!), we will definitely get married. But how many indecent proposals like this have we promised to all the men (and women) we’ve loved before? Seriously? Look back and be realistic.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
I deleted the apps 2 days after Sean went back to the US because I lost faith in it. Not because of that “failed love” but because I am so so so so tired of starting over with a stranger. Like what I mentioned in the first part of this article, these dating apps never promised us a Cinderella story and I really can’t put myself out there if I wasn’t ready. I know it worked for some people so I am only speaking for myself: dating apps suck. From that moment, I swear I will only engage in real-life interactions.
At present, I am in Mexico. My friends from Guadalajara have relentlessly encouraged me to Bumble again but I am not sure I would swipe in a place where I am only staying temporarily. I am very sick of that. I am too old for the momentary fling. I am so tired of the Universe playing with “timing”. I think I’m really traumatized by everything that happened to me relationship-wise: with Johnny, with Clyde, with Jay Z, with John, in so many different levels and unique forms. Every freaking relationship had a different story but it all boils down to one thing: my passport sucks. And that’s my curse.
I vowed to not use dating apps until I am permanently living in a place that I love the most (well, the visa thing will still come no matter what). For now, that’s Mexico and it’s slowly growing in me. It is very determined to convince me that I am meant to live here. I am starting to be close to myself and part of the goal of traveling to Mexico is to listen to what my body needs – physically, emotionally, mentally. But who knows? You don’t know. I don’t know. Nobody knows.
All I know is that, for now, I am exiting this exciting, unruly, awfully beautiful world of solo female travel and dating apps.