Romance on the Road; True Love or a Summer Fling?

You all know we’re big fans of the #CocoCouples here at House of Coco. But what about those babes among us who are unattached? Free spirits ready to find ourselves, see the world, and fall head over heels for the man, or woman, of our dreams. Well, where better to do so than in a foreign exotic locale?

We’ve all been there; sharing life stories alone on a rooftop in Malta, tossing back cocktails on the water’s edge in Croatia, or wrapping a deadly snake around your neck in Thailand, and its at that moment you find yourself hopelessly in love. And in the moment it seems so perfect. They seem like your dream partner, and when you’re with them nothing else seems to matter. Eventually though, these romances always seem to fizzle out. Perhaps your journeys head in different directions; perhaps you return home only to find that exotic accents and carefree attitudes aren’t the most important things to a successful relationship. Does this fizzle mean that what you had was just a summer fling, not true love?

 

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There has been a whole lot of research conducted into travel romances that seeks to answer this very question. And whilst it can’t tell you why your last on the road romance crashed and burned, there are some pretty interesting insights into why you fell head over heels for that Texan bartender against all your better judgements.

Research conducted by social and behavioural psychologists Dr Dutton and Dr Aron came to the conclusion that when placed in unfamiliar or dangerous new environments, the spike in adrenaline caused their subjects to find others more attractive. Their work has shown that physiological stimulation can cause the lines between romantic attraction and just plain loving your surroundings to become blurred.

Their study focused on a ‘scary suspension bridge’ case and led the researchers to believe that if you’re physically or physiologically stimulated in some way, be that by fear of the bridge, or in awe of the beautiful scenery, and you happen to be standing near a person of reasonable attraction, you could potentially misinterpret this as a love connection. They note that these findings are evident when travelling, because you’re more likely going to be in an environment that provokes excitement. So it’s entirely possible that you’re not in love with the person, but with the situation itself. And when you’re on the road, constantly met with a dazzling array of culture, architecture and food, the chances of you falling in love skyrocket.

 

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Those of you out there with a few travel romances under your belt have a pretty good idea of how these things tend to go. You meet, and in a few short, sharp and hopefully sweet days, you’re enamoured. You’ve crammed at least 4 weeks worth of dating into 4 days; instead of catching up for drinks once a week, you’ve spent all your time exploring a beautiful and enriching place together and the compressed time has led to an intense love affair that has your head spinning.

And science has the answers here too. Studies conducted by the University of Birmingham highlight the similarities between the behavioural effects of the hormone oxytocin – better known as ‘the love hormone’ – and alcohol consumption. Their study concludes more or less that being in love is a lot like being drunk. It inhibits our sense of fear, leading us to trust certain people and certain situations without thinking rationally. Much like you would after a few too many Long Island Iced Teas.

 

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However, these studies, and the multitude more of them there are out there, indicate a particular finding that isn’t explicitly addressed. These studies acknowledge the variety of biological and behavioural scientific explanations as to why foreign bartenders get your heart racing, and whilst they can conclude that these romances on the road are not always legit, they do acknowledge them as love.

We are led to believe, by Shakespeare, Walt Disney, and pretty much any Ryan Gosling movie, that in order to be real, love has to last forever. These studies, and my own personal research into the topic as a chronic travel romancer, negate this lofty ideal. Whether it lasts for 3 days, 3 years or a lifetime; whether it’s the intoxication of your oxytocin or a misinterpretation of your own arousal, travel romances are very much the real deal. Just because it comes to an end, like unfortunately, all holidays do, doesn’t mean it wasn’t ‘true love’ whatever that term means. So next time a rose lands in front of you at a bar in a tiny Italian town courtesy of the man at the table across from you with the beautiful eyes, go over and say hello, even if he doesn’t speak English. Because everyone deserves a little romance, even if it’s mostly science.

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Maddie Clarey

Anthropologist, writer, explorer. Making my way through the world, one language barrier at a time.

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