With travel remaining one of our top pastimes, holidays and dates are merging into ‘holidates’. But are they a good idea?
The moment I sat down in my Eurostar seat I knew – with a hefty sickness in the pit of my stomach – that I was making a huge mistake. Chris* and I had only known each other a few weeks when I mentioned I was going to Paris for work. When he suggested joining for a few days, I found myself nodding along. “Why not?” I agreed, shuffling any doubts I had to the back of my mind. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Turns out the worst thing that can happen is sobbing into your goat’s cheese pizza in the middle of a Parisian restaurant, while your heavily intoxicated date slurs to the waiter that he’d like to be moved closer to a large group of attractive French girls, “for the atmosphere”. Within hours of arriving, I’d silently acknowledged what I’d feared for days leading up to the shotgun trip – Chris and I simply weren’t a match. But the more chablis we necked in a bid to mask the tension, the worse things became. It all finally came to a head after dinner, when he announced he was going clubbing (“Don’t wait up”). I stomped back to the hotel alone, weighing up how awkward the return journey would be if I locked him out of the room completely.
With travelling being such an integral part of our social lives now, I am not alone in my attempt at holidating. New research shows that six in 10 of us think it’s a grand idea to go on holiday with someone we’ve been seeing for less than 90 days, while a similar number believe it’s never too soon to travel together. As in date two or three. Risky stuff.
Like me, Elise Daniels, 38, a museum curator from London, accepted a mini-break invitation from a man she’d just started dating. “He was the son of my mum’s friend and when they set us up, he seemed amazing – really fun, handsome and he had a good job,” she says. “After a few weeks, he asked me to go to France for the weekend. I went along assuming he really liked me but shortly after we arrived he told me he didn’t want anything serious. I was gutted – I’d been really hoping it would go somewhere. For the rest of the weekend, I wished I wasn’t there – I’m not sure why I didn’t leave straight away. It suddenly felt all wrong. The journey home was so awkward. I later found out he had met his future wife-to-be shortly before the weekend trip while abroad with work. That explained it, but it didn’t stop me feeling like I’d been used.”
So, is throwing ourselves into holidates with people who are essentially strangers really a good idea? Psychotherapist Hilda Burke says it’s worth weighing up the options seriously. “Taking a trip with somebody you don’t know very well is always going to be a big risk,” she says. “It’s an incredibly intense experience and, unlike home turf, there’s no escape for either of you if things do take a wrong turn.” But there are definite positives, too. “Seeing how somebody adapts to different cultures and scenarios is invaluable – you’re exposed to things you wouldn’t ordinarily be. What if the plane’s delayed? Or you lose your luggage? You’ll be privy to aspects of their personality you might not otherwise see, so the intensity is an opportunity in itself.”
So, could four days in Gdansk actually be the best way to work out if you and a new potential partner are compatible? Well, maybe… and maybe not. Dr Arthur Aron, research professor at New York’s Stony Brook University, who has been studying love and human interaction for around 50 years, says that physiological stimulation (the excitement that comes with travelling, seeing new things and experiencing new cultures) can create strong initial romantic attraction. “We did one study that showed if you were to meet someone on a scary suspension bridge, you were more likely to have an attraction to them than if you were to meet that same person on a safer, less scary bridge,” he says. Meaning that if you’re stirred up in some way – terrified on a suspension bridge, excited by gothic ruins in Barcelona or titillated by a particularly good burrata in Sicily – and you’re in the presence of someone who is reasonably attractive, you could potentially misinterpret this stimulation as love or sexual attraction. A study by researchers at McKendree University in Illinois also found that, when put in a new environment, people experience ‘positive stress’ that raises their adrenaline levels and that those with higher levels of adrenaline are more likely to find people attractive. Which means, while these scenarios could aid us falling in love, we could simply be being duped by pretty scenery and beautiful sunrises.
In short, reining in emotions is crucial. “Managing your expectations and mindset is key to breaks like this,” says Burke. “Staying open-minded and curious about it – rather than going in thinking it’s going to be this incredibly romantic whirlwind weekend – means you’re less likely to return home disappointed.”
But for every disastrous holidate, there’s a far more pleasant story, of course. Blogger Em Sheldon, 24, and her boyfriend Matt Roberts, 23, went to Barcelona just weeks after they started dating. “Matt and I weren’t even ‘official’ when he agreed to join me on a work trip to Barcelona as my plus one. We were both excited as it was Matt’s first time there and I loved the idea of showing him around. Looking back, it was pretty funny. I was too embarrassed to ask him to take photographs of me, and the thought of being in such close proximity for four days made me incredibly nervous (the bathroom in our modern apartment didn’t even have a door). But soon after, we became official and we’ve gone back to Barcelona several times since – it holds really happy memories for us.”
Journalist Alex Jones, 29, booked a holiday with a guy she’d known less than a day. “I met Sam, 29, at a friend’s wedding and we hooked up that night,” she says. “The following day, I mentioned how I’d like to spend more time in Italy and he said he’d like to go too. Before I knew it, he’d booked us flights to Rome for a fortnight’s time – less than 12 hours after meeting. I figured it would be funny, and at the very worst, boring. The trip ended up being incredibly boozy and put us in this forced ‘couples space’, which felt weird at points. It was also 38°C and really humid, which meant that I got a bit huffy while we were sightseeing. He addressed it and I ended up apologising. But it definitely wasn’t plain sailing – at one point I actually cried and he told me he hated me. Still, clearly something worked as eight months later we’re still together. It definitely accelerated our relationship, that’s for sure.”
Whether or not you decide to take the plunge with the person you’ve just matched with on Happn, Burke’s advice is worth remembering. “Take time for yourself, wherever you’re going – it’s unrealistic to expect to spend 24 hours a day with somebody you’ve only recently met, even if you do end up going the distance,” she says. “Take your gym kit or a book and be upfront about the fact you’ll be carving out some time out for yourself – it’ll give you both some much-needed space to breathe.”
Sadly, I think only a miracle could have salvaged my trip – Chris and I said a curt goodbye upon arriving back in the UK, and we never saw each other again. But it wasn’t a total disaster – there’s an awful lot to be said for a clean break-up. And he left a splendid bottle of beaujolais in my suitcase.
Images: Getty/Instagram, with permission
Words: Sophie Goddard