I travel very ugly. Like I have a standard airport outfit that leaves much to be desired. Leggings, a big t-shirt of some sort, my dirty Chucks, a big sweater, my Jansport on my back, my Snuggie and neck pillow in my hand. I look like a college sophomore headed to their 9am bio lab. I’m 26 by the way. If I’m feeling ambitious that morning, I’ll put on lipgloss. Mascara though? Forget it, you’re asking too much.
My mom has always said to dress up and look presentable no matter where you’re going because you never know who you’ll meet…and by never know who you’ll meet she’s specifically referring to my future husband. One of my good friends met her now boyfriend of 5 years in an airport and yet even her story hasn’t influenced me to take a second look in the mirror before I leave the house for the airport. You see, the thing is THAT story would never happen to me anyways. Meet a handsome stranger in public, we converse, find common ground, and then find love in a hopeless place? Yeah, that has never been my reality. My reality is the struggle to get someone on Bumble to even write me back. So in the meantime, comfort trumps style while traveling.
In the airport, I like to enjoy a pre-departure fatty chain restaurant fried meal. Headphones in, sitting off at a table solo dolo, I’m buried in my phone starting an obligatory Snapchat story, checking my email, double-dipping my French fries. I relish in my introversion, drawing no attention to myself with zero desire to acknowledge any of the other thousands of travelers around me. The mission at hand: get through this travel thing unscathed to my final destination where I can then shed this cloak of invisibility and get back to being myself. The airport and plane ride simply exist in this in-between netherworld I’m just shuffling through, not passing go, not stopping to collect $200.
However, things get a little tricky when I’m boarding the plane and headed to 23C. As I’m waiting for the lady in front of me to stuff her oversized carry-on into the overhead, I count the rows ahead to eyeball my beloved aisle seat and that’s when I see him sitting there by the window. Him being the “you’ll never know who you’ll meet” my mom was talking about. My first thought: fuck Tasha, you could have at least put on mascara.
In the seconds it takes me to walk to my seat, I panic remembering there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say hello to their airplane neighbors as they arrive at their seat and those who completely ignore their existence. I myself am naturally the latter and in this moment I pray to God he’s not a dick like me because there is nothing worse than sitting for 6 hours next to an attractive man who never acknowledges your presence yet is sharing an armrest with you.
He makes eye contact with me, half-smiles, and mutters an ever so perfect “hey.” I notice a flash of relief subtlety appear on his face as if happy to have a young seemingly normal looking person seated next to him opposed to a single dad with a crying baby. Little does he know, normal I am not…
So now what? I pretty much never talk to strangers in public unprovoked, better yet those with attractive faces. And yet here I am and I am paralyzed. I want to shed my invisibility cloak but not before I slyly run home to fluff my hair and change my outfit. As I’m settling into my seat, my nemesis walks by in the aisle – a pretty blond with hair freshly straightened, lips glistening with gloss, and looking travel comfy yet stylish. Deep regret invades my soul as here I lay with stifled eyelashes that could have been millimeters longer and shades darker and maybe then he would have asked for my hand in marriage instead of putting in his earphones.
For the next 6 hours, I count all our minor interactions: he asks to use the bathroom before takeoff and jokes “I rather bother you now than later, right?” I giggle a cute girl giggle in hopes he remembers I’m of the female persuasion and not just a person wearing a big Bob Marley t-shirt. He returns to his seat and buckles his seatbelt mistakenly taking my end instead of his. We share a laugh. It is wonderful. I struggle to think of a conversation starter because I do not start conversations. All the while, I am trying to teleport my makeup bag located in my suitcase under the plane into my lap so I can beat my face before he’s finished staring out the window.
I find comfort in fantasizing that he’s silently experiencing the same inner turmoil as me…contemplating how to talk to me, kicking himself for not putting a little more wax in his hair. The fantasy ends when he puts in his earphones and falls asleep mere minutes after takeoff.
As someone 26 and perpetually single, I have to stop and wonder if this is my own doing. “He comes when you least expect it,” they say. Which implies you have no control over the timing of meeting whoever “he” is. But I’m starting to think that my comical love life history shows that it’s not THAT completely out of my control. So is my mom right? Am I missing out on meeting guys because I look a hot mess at the airport? Is my aversion to talking to strangers and my introversion corrupting my chances of meeting a man IRL? Is it really this simple? Wear a little makeup and lay down thy headphones while in-transit? I’ve spent a lifetime of hearing these stories of “this girl” and “my friend” meeting guys at the airport or gym, places I typically show up reeking of a fragrance called “Do Not Talk To Me.” As shallow as all of this sounds, I’m starting to think there’s a little truth to all of this and maybe I have been self-sabotaging. Yet I don’t know how else to be my tomboyish introverted self…
We land in Dublin and I remember the tattoo on my foot “If not now, when?” I take a peek at him and he’s restlessly fumbling with his travel itinerary…unfolding it and reading it, folding it back up, and then unfolding it to read it again mere seconds later. It’s in an almost OCD-like fashion, as if he’s a 10 year old nervously traveling on a plane by himself for the very first time headed to Grandma’s house. Peering at him, I felt like I was looking at Star Magazine‘s “Stars are People Too!” feature. Had I really just placed this regular shmegular guy on a pedestal for the last six hours?
As the plane’s taxiing on the tarmac, suddenly like word vomit, I hear myself say “So is Dublin your final destination?” He tells me he’s actually going to London to visit some friends and asks me where I’m going. I tell him I’m headed to Amsterdam and we proceed to small talk about Amsterdam’s coffee shops and the weather. Walking off the plane, I smile to myself, proud for chatting it up with a stranger. Small victories for introverts in this extroverted world! In the bathroom before my connecting flight, I make sure to slap on a little lipgloss…you know, for good measure.