Is it wise to have a summer fling?
Examining the whys, why-nots and well-I've-done-it-nows
Even before Eat Pray Love embedded itself in our collective consciousness, the holiday romance had been immortalised and sugar-coated in novel, movie and song. (There's a strong case for arguing that Cleopatra and Marc Anthony invented the Ill-Advised Holiday Fling.) Male and female travellers alike have found love in the pages of travelling fiction, and have bred a very 21st-century fantasy of golden Adonises waiting on golden beaches, ready to rescue you from your humdrum life.
Tricia's* first holiday romance occurred "in a peak millennial way," she laughs. "I'd been working my ass off for two years at this start-up. No social life, didn't see my friends, didn't even think about dating or whatever – just working, working, working. Finally after all that it just didn't take off, the investment we were chasing fell through and I'd been so stressed out that I didn't even feel disappointed. I thought, well maybe now I should do something completely out of character and see where that takes me, so I went to do the whole gap year thing in my quarter-life crisis."
Tricia took herself off on a two-month trip around Southeast Asia, tracing the Banana Pancake trail "and behaving like a stupid teenager." She worked her way around the region, staying a few nights in each city and behaving, in all aspects, as polite society expects backpackers to behave. "I've never been a prude about casual relationships," Tricia explains. "Just that the opportunities never really presented themselves. During that time when people normally let loose and sleep around, in college, I was still living at home. And then here it was so surreal, so different to my normal life – suddenly all these tanned, blonde guys everywhere and they were desperate for attention. I was already so far out of my comfort zone that I just went for it. I hooked up with maybe two or three guys over the course of the trip and I still have them on Facebook."
But was any of it more than just casual lust inspired by the heat and copious amounts of alcohol? "I'm not expecting any of them to one day realise I'm the love of their life!" says Tricia. "I think you'd be surprised. I think most girls go into these things with, I guess, a more typically male attitude about it. Definitely none of the girl friends I made were pining for some Scandinavian dude they kissed in Hanoi. It's just fun."
Which, according to Violet Lim, founder and CEO of Southeast Asian dating agency Lunch Actually, is an excellent approach to looking for vacation love. (As long as you're sure said Scandinavian dude isn't pining for you.) "I would not advise singles to go on holiday expecting to find a perfect holiday romance," she says. "When you are on holiday, you tend to have less inhibitions and all you want to do is have fun, as it's far away from reality and day-to-day routine. However, real romance and relationships are all about the day-to-day." Keep your eyes open and your expectations clear. "What would be bad is if both of you have different expectations and could be looking for different things – you might be looking for long-term love and he, a casual fling – in which case someone is bound to get hurt. So communicate with each other. And make sure both of you are on the same page."
When Sue Ann went on a solo trip to Pangkor, the last thing she expected out of it was a boyfriend. "He has a business that runs snorkelling trips, so I went on one of his snorkelling trips and that's how we met. I was there for three days, and I only met him on the second day – we started hanging out, and then he mentioned he'd be making a trip to KL to buy stuff for his business (I was staying in KL at that point). And I was like, 'Okay? Well just let me know and maybe we'll meet up or something...' You know guys say this kind of thing, and you're just like yeah well, keep in touch..." she laughs. "Then after two weeks he called and said he was coming, he got his bus ticket and everything and I was like, Oh! I didn't know he was that interested."
One and a half years (and clearly a successful KL trip) later, and Sue Ann is now living in Perhentian with her boyfriend for the season. It sounds like a plot produced by chick lit publishers, but with one important difference. "Everyone thinks I'm doing it for my boyfriend!" she says. "But I'm a beach person, and living and working by the beach has always been a dream of mine. Even if I hadn't met him, if I'd got an opportunity like this, I still would have done it. I've been in the city for nine years and now I live in a hut with no air con or wifi." The couple got here by dint of long-distance, more island trips, and then a spontaneous why-thehell- not moment. "We went to Perhentian on holiday last year and met some of his friends, and they said they need people to help out. He'd already decided that he was going to come here to work this year, and I was like, why not? It's always been my dream."
As for Tricia, she's neither sworn off nor wholly embraced finding romance on holiday. "I haven't gone actively looking for a holiday hook-up since," she says. "I feel like that's kind of predatory. But I guess I wouldn't rule out the possibility! I'm definitely never going backpacking again though."
Violet Lim, founder and CEO of dating agency Lunch Actually, tells us how to avoid a major romantic holiday disaster.
"Instead of planning to find romance, try and make friends instead. When you make new friendships that can last beyond the holiday, it can then have the potential to grow into something else."
"People may act differently when they are abroad, so be aware that he may not be the man you met while on vacation. People tend to be more playful and adventurous while on holiday, since there's no pressure and no one familiar will recognise them."
"If he's travelling with friends, observe how he treats them. Is he the type that would neglect or leave his friends behind? How does he treat strangers or service staff? If he's Mr Perfect in front of you but is rude towards people around him, that's a red flag."
"Holiday flings can turn into long-term relationships, but only if both parties are ready to come down from the holiday high and get to know each other through conventional dates. Making plans on when you both will see each other again is necessary so that you both are constantly assured of each other's commitments and you always have something to look forward to together."
This article first appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of ELLE Malaysia.