Author and travel and travel journalist Jennifer Cox appeared on "Good Morning America" to discuss her new book, "Around the World in 80 Dates." In it, Cox recounts her effort to find Mr. Right by globetrotting from country to country and date to date.
Here's an excerpt:
This Time Last Year
Settling into a steady rhythm of drinking, crying, drinking, crying, I became aware of the music for the first time: "Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to …" I glared at the radio: I've always hated that song. My feeling was that if the only way a man could remain standing upright was by leaning heavily on you, surely it was best just to let him fall right on over. But since today was the day I'd discovered Kelly had been cheating on me for pretty much the five years we'd been together, I let out a long, ragged sigh, too exhausted to cry anymore. It was also the day I had to accept that maybe there's a little bit of Tammy in us all. I really loved Kelly. Which was surprising because he actually wasn't that lovable. He was very sexy -- one of those dark, brooding types, with piercing green eyes and a tangle of curly black hair. He was tall and strong, with a gentle mouth and a chest broad enough to do a week's ironing on. But he was also self-centered, secretive, and moody. The kind of guy who sits in the corner of a bar, smoldering over a beer and a shot. For some reason I was drawn to "the difficult ones," and Kelly was as difficult as they came. A man who would sooner eat broken glass than tell you where he'd been, what his plans were, or if he loved you. I have no idea why I kept trying, when he'd wanted to go to parties on his own, stayed out late, kept a phone number with just an initial next to it.… In fact, for some reason it made me try harder. Over our five years together, as Kelly morphed into Clint Eastwood, I increasingly turned into Coco the Clown, pulling out all the stops to entertain him, make him feel involved, get his attention. I did the emotional equivalent of driving a small red pedal car around the ring of our relationship, frantically tooting on my little horn as bunches of flowers popped out of my shirt and small men in orange wigs emptied buckets of custard down my trousers and twanged my big red nose. It was not dignified. And, ultimately, it was pointless. I knew in my heart we would only ever share a "now." Never a future. Then I rang the number with the initial next to it, and our "now" was over.
As soon as I split up with Kelly, I went straight to the airport and got on a plane to New York City. The experience of being in New York is like stroking a man-eating tiger: As much as it scares the bejesus out of you, for those moments it allows you to touch it, you know you are blessed and immortal.
And on this occasion, like every other I'd been there, New York uplifted me. I lost myself in the markets, boutiques, and coffee shops around Greenwich Village and Harlem, whacked softballs in the batting cages over at Coney Island until my arms sang. Being in the city didn't cure my heartache, but it distracted me and stopped it getting worse, and for that I was grateful.
I actually had to be in New York for work, so in a way it was good timing (if such a thing exists when you're talking about splitting up with your boyfriend). But then again, I worked in the travel industry, so it wasn't that unusual for me to be heading off somewhere. I loved traveling and had been determined to get a job in the industry from the moment I discovered its unerring ability to make me feel really good. This was especially true after an ugly breakup. Some say that time is a great healer, but I discovered years ago that it's actually travel that quite literally moves you on. Staying on the crime scene of an awful breakup is the worst thing you can do: too many painful memories and reminders. I subscribe to the "pack up your troubles" school of relationship recovery, and let me tell you, it works. It had been almost by accident that I'd learned travel mends a broken heart. I was eighteen and William was the first big love of my life. We were at school together and shared the kind of pure and trusting love only possible when you have yet to experience that first deep cut. When William dumped me out of the blue for Melanie (a girl who shopped at Miss Selfridge, who had never even been to Glastonbury), I was completely unprepared for the shock. I spent that whole summer after my exams moping around, crying on my best friend Belinda's shoulder, making her come for long walks so I could tell her (again) how awful it was and how I was never going to get over it. But when, at the end of the summer, I left home for Leeds University, I was really surprised to discover that out of sight really was out of mind. Here I was in a whole new place, with no painful memories. There was no danger of bumping into Will and Mel in Leeds; I didn't have to go to our places on my own or have people drop into conversation that they'd all been out together the night before. So, free from constant reminders of my old Will and his new girlfriend, I got over him and on with my life.
All thanks to the M1 motorway and National Express buses. But my lesson in the healing power of travel didn't end there. It was my next boyfriend who taught me that travel makes things easier for the dumper (as opposed to the dumpee), too. Peter was the guitarist in a band I sang with in Leeds, and we lived together for most of my time at university. He was gentle, kind, and very cute. But sadly, as time went on, it became increasingly clear that "gentle and kind" wasn't enough. I really didn't want to hurt him -- Peter didn't deserve that, plus I remembered how bad it felt -- but as much as I loved him, I felt restless and the need to move on. But I couldn't end it. I really tried: I'd psych myself up, telling myself I was going through with it this time, but at the last minute I'd think about how upset Peter would be and I'd lose my nerve. Actually, a couple of times I did end it, but Peter persuaded me to give us another chance. I was hopeless: I just couldn't face his heartache and make a clean break. Until I went to Australia.
It was one of those whimsical decisions that only makes sense after you've done it. I'd just graduated from university and had no idea what I wanted to do next. Going to Australia on my own for three months suddenly seemed the perfect solution: It would be both an adventurous challenge and the chance to think everything through. So I flew into Perth, Western Australia. And virtually the first thing I did when I arrived was to call Peter and split up with him. As crazy as it sounds, I needed to go to the other side of the world to do it: I wasn't there to watch him fall apart, knowing it was my fault and still caring about him. And because I didn't feel wracked with the guilt I would have felt at home, I got over it far more quickly (as did he). I was free to fall madly in love with Australia, and I stayed, traveling all over Australasia for the next six years.
I think I have to be honest at this point and confess it wasn't only Australia I fell madly in love with. I might have been Peter's girlfriend when I flew into Australia, but six months after arriving I was Philip's wife.
I'd been in Australia for two weeks when I met Philip. He worked at a theater company where I'd landed a job, and it was love at first sight. I immediately recognized Philip, a spellbinding, charismatic, risk-all outback Romeo, as one of my Soul Mates. (Well, cats have nine lives, who's to say we are limited to a single, solitary Soul Mate?) He wasn't afraid of anything, and when I was with him, life was exciting and full of possibilities. We fell deeply and passionately in love. Although we got married very quickly, we clicked so powerfully together it felt the natural and right thing to do. Neither of us had really done much traveling, so we set off to explore, experience, and discover together. We spent six months driving through the hot, red outback in an old Holden panel van, living on wild fruit, swimming with dolphins, wrestling with spiders. We trekked through craggy outposts of India and Nepal, spent weekends snorkeling in the coral-studded waters around Vanuatu and the Solomons, took crazy surf-trips to Bali, and sailed boats down the muddy Mekong in Vietnam. It was amazing. And in the end, maybe that was the problem: Man cannot live on thrill alone. After six years of wonder and discovery, I was all amazed out. I'd had one brief visit home in all that time. I missed my family and friends; I missed normal old England. I missed Marks & Spencer's potato chips; I longed to sit in a pub on a damp autumn day (Australia doesn't do seasons) and pretend I cared about soccer; I was desperate for a colorful argument about politics and the chance to browse through some decent weekend papers (man leaves change on convenience store counter was about the level of reporting in Australia). It was time to come home, and as much as I loved Philip, he was a creature of the outback. Beautiful, passionate, and wild, he had -- and wanted -- no place in Britain, with its crowds, traffic, litter, and drizzle. I went to Australia alone. Six years later, I returned home the same way.
It had been a year now since Kelly and I split up, and thankfully I was past the I'll Never Fall in Love Again stage. I spent a lot of time thinking about why we stayed together for as long as we did, also trying to work out how I could avoid making the same mistakes again. And during that year going over past choices and future options, I learned two things. Firstly, anyone who wants to know anything about Cher or Def Leppard should tune into VH1 at 3 a.m. Secondly, trying to find even a halfway decent boyfriend in London is a total nightmare. If you know the latter, chances are you've already discovered the former. Londoners have the longest working hours in Europe, and the highest number of stress-related diseases to prove it. It's hardly the setting for a romantic Barry White–type encounter -- "You're my first, you're my last, you're my intray?" -- yet precisely because we spend the majority of our time in the office, inevitably this is where we're hoping to meet Mr. Right. And failing to find him. Manners may maketh the man, but work unmaketh him pretty damn quick. It used to be exciting meeting someone in the office, but nowadays it means sifting through a pack of lifeless men so stressed and depressed that the only relationships they have the energy or confidence for are with their laptops and their lads' mags. And we SIWWIDs (Single-Income Women, Working Instead of Dating) have bought into the whole "mustn't try harder" myth: that being successful at work and having fun with our friends makes us independent and therefore unattractive to men. This really isn't the case: It's simply that the office -- all floppy disks and soft launches -- is not the place to find a satisfying relationship. Ten years ago when I moved from Australia back to England, I had to accept the sad truth that my marriage wasn't moving back with me. But I knew my love affair with travel was a relationship that would flourish wherever I went, so I lost no time getting a job in the travel industry. I became spokesperson and head of PR for the guidebook company Lonely Planet Publications, as well as a travel writer and correspondent for the BBC.
And as I traveled to and from my office in London, and to and from my work overseas, I was struck by how much more interested in women foreign men are, compared with British men. At times it feels as if you can't find a decent date in London to save your life, the bar being so low now that I mean any man who knows how to use a fork and possesses a matching pair of shoes, but you virtually have to fight them off with a stick in every other capital city around the world. I don't want to sound like an international hussy here, and I'm not even vaguely God's gift—I don't have Britney's butt or Melanie Griffiths's lips . . . though, to be fair, neither does she. But it is so much easier to meet men when you're abroad. Walk down the street in any other country and there'll always be men checking you out, coming over, chatting you up. In London, the only guys who make eye contact with you are the inmates on the subway. I'm not saying British men are totally to blame: We women have to take some of the responsibility, too. There are only so many hours in the day, and chances are that if you have a successful career, it's your job that takes up most of them. As the economy flourishes, are we in the grip of an emotional recession? Have we made our jobs the primary relationships in our lives, settling for so-so boyfriends because that's all we have the time to either find or maintain?
I say we, but of course I mean I. Had I loved my job more than I loved my boyfriend? By putting in and getting back so much from my career, how much did I have left to give Kelly? And how much did I really need from him in return? If I had needed Kelly more, would I have been forced to accept sooner that the relationship sucked and saved myself from going through "Jen and Kel -- The Crap Years"? I know this sounds terrible, but is it really possible to have a great relationship and a great job? And if not, which would you choose?
And to get back to talking about me again (oh, go on), if I was right and all the great relationships were wandering down streets in every country other than the one in which I lived, what was I going to do about it?
Before we go any further, I think we need to take a moment to discuss terms. It's important to clarify exactly what I mean by great relationships. What I'm not talking about is a shag. One-night stands are the emotional kebabs of the relationship world: easy to get after the pubs close, leaving you feeling like rubbish for the next three days. No, I'm talking about meeting someone I actually like and want to get to know. Someone who makes me laugh, reads me bits out of the newspaper, will run out for tampons, lets me cut his hair (badly, once), has a bath while I sit on the loo seat cutting my/his toenails. Someone I'm willing to introduce to my friends. I'm talking about a Soul Mate. And I'm completely serious when I say I don't believe he exists here in London.
If you think I'm being harsh and haven't given the locals enough of a chance, or perhaps you're new to London and are considering the perilous climb up Mount True Love yourself, I'll outline the options. There are a number of well and wearily trodden paths to a new man. Your friends unconsciously reveal what they really think of you by the kind of someone I thought you'd like to meet man brought to dinner parties. Rather than catching up on your paperwork, you could squeeze in some best of a bad lot power-flirting on the commute to work (and be devastated when, even though you didn't fancy him to begin with, he brushes you off). Maybe you're considering signing up for online dating or going to places where you should, but absolutely never will, meet someone suitable? Since over the last year I've tried them all, I'll share what I've learned with you. I've sat chatting to Belgian lawyers in Starbucks (willing them to be even a little more interesting); I've dabbled with online dating (where all the guys have done the Nick Hornby's Guide to Women course and are single parents with angelic but troubled kids, or run small, quirky, yet failing businesses). I don't even want to think about going to another cultural event (to meet graduates of the Tony Parsons' Guide to Women course: bitterness over ex-wife, partially concealed by exterior of witty self-loathing, which in turn is momentarily obscured by an encyclopedic knowledge of early punk bands). Maybe you can tell me about evening classes. I can't work out whether eligible guys need to do Woodwork 101 or if the classes will just be full of women like me. Likewise, I haven't signed up for a fourteen-week religious or spiritual workshop and I won't go near any therapy that involves garden hoses, buckets, or splash mats. I'm not looking to discover the meaning of life. Get karmic social services on to me, because I'm really not interested in my inner child. I just want a decent boyfriend. And by all means share your experiences with your girlfriends, but I am completely serious when I say that the actual task of searching for your Soul Mate, like getting your bikini line waxed, is strictly a one-woman job. It's a selfish, solo occupation that can't involve all your other single female friends. When too many of us in relationship recovery get together, new boyfriends are the last things on our minds. Instead we perpetuate and mythologize our misery, building a shrine to our exes out of empty wine bottles and Kettle Chip packets. I don't want to talk about old relationships. I don't want to spend months trying to understand what went wrong. If your car plunged through the median of the highway, you wouldn't spend a year showing your friends photos of the happy days when it was safely parked outside your house. You'd just go out and buy another one. Get right back into the fast lane. Move on.
But we're so busy working, we don't have the time to find the person we want to move on with. So we turn to the labor-saving devices on the market, designed to lead us to Mr. Right in the small amount of time we have allocated to the task. A perfect example of this is online dating. Online dating seems convenient because you can do it surreptitiously from your desk, during meetings at work, or with flirtatious, drunken abandon when you get home in the early hours of Saturday morning. That's pretty much where the convenience ends, though, because no matter how good the profile and nice the picture, you need to know more about him before deciding if he's worth meeting. So, you chat back and forth via email, maybe send a text message or two, then you're ready to talk on the phone. The first physical contact (i.e., ear-to-ear) is crunch-time since you can generally tell from his voice and conversation if you want to meet him or not. Unfortunately, it's generally "not" but by this point you're involved with him and finding a reason to end that involvement—even though you don't know him—is cringingly hard (tip: keep a fictitious "unresolved ex" up your sleeve for these occasions). Hope turns to guilt as you become locked into a continuous and exhausting process of assessing candidates, like interviewing people for a job you know they'll never get. And in the meantime, that's another two hours a day spent in front of your computer. Something has to change. Enough of these relationship patches, which, like nicotine patches, stave off the need without satisfying any of the desire. I wanted a fantastic, glorious, wonderful relationship. Otherwise, what's the point?
But for this to happen, I knew I needed to make a better job of meeting Mr. Right. I felt I'd tried everything in London. Maybe it was time for a more radical and far-reaching solution?
Rather than traveling to recover from Mr. Wrong, what if I went traveling to find Mr. Right? I mean, I was sure Fate had him out there waiting for me, so why was I wasting time in London moaning when I could be out in the world searching? I'd put my heart and soul into my job; maybe it was time I put the same amount of effort into my love life.
So, after some soul-searching, I quit my job at Lonely Planet. I had a new job now: finding my Soul Mate.
The business and management skills I'd developed over the years would most likely come in handy. Making programs for the BBC had honed my research and interviewing skills. Setting up and running Lonely Planet's European publicity and promotional operations meant devising campaigns while jumping on and off planes to oversee launches and train staff, plus doing a ton of interviews and public speaking stints. Like anybody with a big, fat job, to do this well I'd had to be able to network, research, talk people into doing things they weren't that keen on, time-manage, meet deadlines, budget, and plan.
So, traveling would be the answer to London's dearth of suitable men, and my professional skills would hopefully lead me to possible candidates, eliminating the unsuitable, undesirable, and unstable from among them. But where should I start looking? I couldn't just get off a plane in another country shouting, "Soul Mate, I'm here. Come and get me." I was confident Fate had a number of them out there for me to meet (as I've already said, I believe we have more than one), but where, and who could they be?
I decided that the first step to answering this question was to work out who they had been. If finding my Soul Mate was now my job, as with any other job I'd need to put together an up-to-date résumé. A Relationship Résumé: a document that set out my romance history, giving me an insight into the kind of person I'd gone for in the past. In short, whom I dated and when; the role I undertook in the relationship and the reasons for leaving it. Based on that, I then needed to write a Soul Mate Job Description, outlining the position I was looking to fill. The task was too big for me alone, but I was hoping that my global network of friends would help. If I emailed them the Soul Mate Job Description, they could act as Date Wranglers, sending it out to their global network of friends and corralling suitable dates for me around the world.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why I hadn't done this sooner. Okay, the Relationship Résumé:
TITLE: First Love
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Going to festivals; riding around on the back of a motorbike; protesting at Greenham Common; finding politics; losing virginity.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: Laid off; replaced by someone who drank Bacardi Breezers.
TITLE: First Live-in Relationship
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Learning to cook; having lots of dinner parties; buying things for the flat; having Sunday lunch with his family; getting engaged.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: Applied for a position overseas.
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Being spontaneous and not worrying too much about tomorrow; sharing adventures; being supportive of each other's dreams; saying "No, Philip, that's too crazy."
REASONS FOR LEAVING: Was relocated back to the U.K.
DATE: January 1996
TITLE: Transition Relationship
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Drinking Jack Daniel's and staying up very late; watching a lot of Tarantino films; listening to heavy-metal music; bursting into tears.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: Short-term contract.
DATE: February–June 1996
TITLE: Career Advisor
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Going over to his house or sitting on the phone every night and listening to what he had written that day on his book. Criticism was not welcome, only attention and praise.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: Communication breakdown.
DATE: August 1996
TITLE: Fellow Adventurer
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Swapping travel stories and talking about all the crazy places we had been/both wanted to go.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: I met Jason a week before he was due to set off to pedal the planet for four years. NB: Carried out some freelance work for this company over Xmas.
TITLE: Company Trustee
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Listening to Grant complain about his ex-wife and how glad he was they had split up.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: They hadn't split up.
TITLE: Coco the Clown
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Feeling everything was my fault and that I was too demanding/needy/neurotic/successful; believing things would get better if I could only understand what the problem was.
REASONS FOR LEAVING: I was unwilling to job-share.
Excerpted from "Around the World in 80 Dates," by Jennifer Cox. Published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Cox.