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The Thrill of the Place

Holiday romances have as much to do with where you are as whom you’re with

Author Annie Daly Illustration Donna Grethen

travelessayI met Adam while standing in a queue at an English pub, during my junior year abroad. He wore chunky-framed glasses, skinny jeans and a too-tight T-shirt that endearingly showed off his lack of muscles. Today we’d call him a hipster, but back then he was just cute. We started talking and boom. Numbers were exchanged. Hearts fluttered.

It’s hard to say whether I’d have been as hot on Adam if I’d met him, say, at my local laundromat. The whole point of holiday romances is that the object of your passion embodies the exoticism of your surroundings. You may think you’re infatuated with the dark-eyed boy who rakes leaves outside your Costa Blanca villa, but really you are infatuated with Spain.

While no one would have accused Adam of being exotic, he was irrefutably foreign, and that was enough for me. The day after our first encounter, he called and asked if I’d “fancy a wander” (Hugh Grant–speak for “like to take a walk”). I couldn’t tell whether I was excited about the awalk itself or because my British crush had asked if I’d “fancy” one. Either way, I was in. That evening, we strolled to a little pub named The Rose, where we sipped snakebites and bantered with the locals. At the end of the night, we kissed.

Later, mooning around my bedroom, I thought about how lucky I was that Adam and I had happened to be standing in the same line in the same pub—which brings us to another vital aspect of the holiday romance. The lifeblood of these affairs is serendipity, the thrill of the unexpected. On top of this is the understanding that the affair has a built-in expiration date, which ramps up the passion even more. Airport sobbing is part of the deal.

I spent eight happy weeks with Adam, and then I never saw him again.

Fast-forward to last January, a dingy bar in New York City’s East Village, knocking back happy-hour Buds with my friend Anna. A couple pints in, we hatched a plan to ditch the city, Airbnb our apartments and head for the beaches of Costa Rica, where we’d work remotely while soaking up some much-needed vitamin D. Despite the unreliability of tipsy “we should totally do this” schemes, we followed through, ending up at a pretty little seaside town called Tamarindo. A few days in, my thoughts turned to romance.

Now, a lot has changed in the eight years since I fell for that boy with the English accent. For starters, who has the time to stand around in bars waiting for fate to do its thing? Also, back then we didn’t have Tinder, the GPS-based dating app that’s popular with single travelers. So, during a lull in my hectic lolling-around schedule, I logged in and, after about 30 seconds, found what I was looking for: Chris, a sexy surfer whose profile read, “Costa Rica love … pura vida.” Sold to the lady who digs local lingo!

Chris was even better-looking in person. In fact, he was melt-the-floor hot—long dreadlocks, bronzed skin, ripped surfer arms. We met up at a local beach, Playa Grande, where we spent a nice day splashing around in the sea. And that was that. A few days later, I had another Tinder date with an equally hunky local guy, who also failed to spark any passion. When I returned to New York, I did so with my heart very much intact.

So what went wrong? On paper (or screen), my Costa Rican love interests were perfect, as if these guys had been cobbled together according to a holiday-romance checklist. Except for one important thing: I hadn’t actually met them in Costa Rica; I’d met them online. And this fact undermined that delirious muddle of person and place that gives the holiday romance its peculiar power.

Thinking about this recently, something else occurred to me. Had Tinder been available when I met Adam, and had I happened across his skinny-hipster profile on the app, there’s a good chance I’d have swiped right by. And herein lies the problem with online dating in general: It fails to take into account that romance has nothing to do with finding what’s perfect, and everything to do with finding what’s right.  

Annie Daly, a New York–based writer, may not have found love in Costa Rica, but she did come back with a very nice tan.

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