Attraction: When Travel Distorts The Lens Of Reality
Sometimes people appear in your life and cause you to question your own perceptions. Amandine was one of those people for me.
Last summer I was invited to attend a press trip at a luxury hotel in sunny Southern California. Our group was a mix of social media influencers and traditional journalists, and she was a photographer who had been hired to document the trip with her camera. We met the first night at dinner, as we browsed the outdoor buffet and made small talk about the decadence of the spread.
Walking over to the long dining table set up near the pool, we took our seats next to each other, continuing our conversation. I was intrigued by her French accent, and drawn to her in a way that surprised me. Androgynous with short blond hair and a petite frame, she oozed sex appeal. Emboldened by the wine I was drinking, I steered the conversation to a more flirtatious level, and she played along, keeping up the casual banter. I thought that I sensed something in her body language that indicated a mutual attraction. She didn’t seem surprised by the fact that I was drawn to her, more like something that she expected.
So the next day when I noticed her hovering near our group with her camera, something shifted in me. I became constantly aware of her, my body tracking her every move like a hawk observing its prey. Except in this case, I felt like I was also the one being watched. Knowing that she was always around, I became more conscious of how I looked through her lens, my own deepest insecurities reflecting back at me. Does she think I’m fat? I wondered. Or maybe I’m too feminine for her taste, I taunted myself, becoming so distracted with constant thoughts of her and my attraction that it became impossible to concentrate.
The last evening of the trip, we had dinner at a restaurant on the property, and I took my time getting ready that evening, intent on impressing this woman who as my friends would say was geographically undesirable, as she lives on the opposite coast. But she did invite me to visit her, I reminded myself, thinking about how she had offered to take me around New York and stay at her home. I took that invitation and her enthusiastic greeting that evening as encouragement. So when I noticed her pointing her camera at me I didn’t get flustered, I instead looked directly into her lens and smiled.
After the trip was over and we returned back to our respective coasts, we kept up a casual correspondence, and I learned more about her life (as much as that is possible) on Instagram. I became enamored with her feed, her ability to capture so much about a person with a candid portrait. Her enthusiastic comments that were sprinkled with flirty emoticons on my photos just fueled my attraction and crush. I fantasized about visiting her on the east coast, spending more time with her. I had enjoyed our conversations and was hoping that we might explore something more than friendship.
That opportunity revealed itself when I booked a press trip to Baltimore, and, realizing that it was only a two-hour train ride from her, I mentioned it in my next message. She immediately extended the offer to stay at her home, so I booked my plane ticket and didn’t look back. And when we reconnected again we picked up right where we left off. We’d stay up past midnight each night, having philosophical conversations as we stared into each other’s eyes. In my mind, she’d already hitched up a U-Haul filled with all of her possessions, and we were preparing to drive back to California together.
We kept up a frequent correspondence once I returned home, our emails becoming lengthier as we delved into each other’s lives, sharing our joys and frustrations. I began to anticipate her words, knowing that they would make me laugh but also that she would have something profound to say, something that showed she paid attention.
A couple of months after we had last seen each other, an opportunity arose again to visit her coast. We made plans to spend the weekend together, and my feelings as the trip approached reached a fever pitch. I planned to tell her about my attraction and how I felt, that I wanted to be more than just friends with her, and see if a relationship was possible. Not usually being the type to initiate these kinds of conversations, I was hesitant to tell her how I felt. I feared that she would reject me, or that it would change the dynamic of our friendship. But I also knew that I couldn’t risk not saying anything at all.
This time when I saw her, I could tell immediately that things were different. She seemed distracted, aloof, and not really enthusiastic about me being there. I knew that she was dealing with some difficult things in her life, which amplified the feeling that I was imposing myself on her. One day she had a photoshoot, and while she did her work I sat alone in her home, wondering why I had even bothered to come.
As the euphoria of being around her began to fade, so did my confidence. She made it clear with her behavior that she was not interested in anything more than friendship with me. I began to reflect on the short time that we had actually spent together and realized that I had adopted a false sense of intimacy and attraction with this woman. She was a flirt, yes, which may just have been a symptom of her French upbringing. Everything else I had somehow created in my mind, and I was instantly filled with shame. Why had I become so intent on creating something that so clearly wasn’t there, and was simply just a figment of my imagination?
Discussing it later with a friend, she pointed out that travel often heightens the feelings that erupt when you meet someone who you are drawn to, whether that is romantically or platonically. It’s the same reason that people can feel like they’re best friends with someone they just meet on a trip, with an almost rhapsodic response to the bond that is created. Had these feelings just been manufactured by my wanderlust, a product of my desire to find someone who understands me?
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the week after I returned home I received a text from an old flame, asking if I wanted to meet up. Feeling the need to assuage my bruised ego, I agreed. This was someone who I knew wanted me, and although we only connected on a physical level that was enough for me at that moment. That had to be enough to wipe away the shame that I had felt about Amandine.
If nothing else, it was a momentary salve to help heal my emotional wounds.