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 part two of the Chapter 1 excerpt:
Hmmm. Writing the Relationship Résumé had been an illuminating but not terribly uplifting experience: It looked like I hadn't been in a good relationship for ages. For a moment I wondered if I was better off forgetting about romantic relationships and sticking to having fun with my millions of other single female friends. But that was silly. My single friends wanted to be in a relationship as much as I did; even if I wimped out and stayed single, there was no guarantee they'd stay that way (and I hoped for all their sakes they wouldn't --I wanted them to meet their Mr. Rights, too).
No, I wanted to be in a good relationship. I missed having that close connection with one person, feeling that I was at the center of something rather than bobbing around the edges. But I wanted one of the early happy-style relationships, not one of the hard, rubbish ones I seemed to have specialized in in recent years. Clearly the Soul Mate Job Description needed serious consideration if I was to avoid disappointment and disaster.
First I needed to decide on the kind of person I wanted to meet. Well, since I was five feet eleven, height was very important: I needed the chemistry when someone's tall enough to put his arm around my shoulders -- I absolutely could not date someone shorter than me. I wanted someone who was affectionate without being overbearing -- such a hard one to get right. Someone who was smart, funny, and adventurous and had his own friends. Since divorced men have a marriage-shaped hole in their lives that they are looking to quickly fill, and single women have a disaster-shaped hole in their lives they want to keep empty for as long as possible, I didn't want someone who was going to take me over completely.
What else? An interest in music was good, too much interest in TV was bad. I am a vegetarian, and although I don't mind meat-eaters, anyone with a love of offal should probably not apply. I don't like smokers (good-bye, Jean Pierre) but distrust anyone who doesn't drink. They don't have to have their own library card, but a few books on the shelf would be good (science fiction and self-help don't count). I don't mind guys who are slightly overweight, but "man breasts" are a complete no-no. Skinny guys are out: If their waists are smaller than my thighs, it's not going to work. I quite like laid-back guys, but absolutely no slackers, potheads, or wannabe poets (if I want to see the beauty in anything, I'll go to the Mac cosmetics counter, thank you very much). Sporty is good, but don't expect me to come watch if it's raining.
Having said all of that, I was open-minded and probably needed to challenge what I thought my type of man really was -- with the exception of man breasts and offal; they were non-negotiable.
The next step was to assemble my network of Date Wranglers (DWs), including Belinda, Charlotte, Simon, Cath, Ian, Eleanor, Sara-Jane, Hector, Jeannette, Jo, Posh PR Emma, Paula, Sophie, Madhav, Jill, Matt, Lizzy, Grainne … All old friends, either in the travel industry or journalists who have worked overseas for years. These First-Generation Date Wranglers all had an extensive network of contacts and friends around the world, who would be either Dates or second- or third-generation Date Wranglers in their own right. I'd already talked to everyone about my plans, but it was now time to send out a briefing email and get the team to work.
Dear Date Wranglers
A few of you have asked what kind of person I'm looking to meet and what I want to do on the date (thank you, Sophie -- José the Chilean sheep farmer sounds lovely. And Jo, yes, Jason the Buddhist lawyer in Nova Scotia might be perfect). I've pasted a Soul Mate Job Description below. Please read it carefully. If it sounds like a single someone you know anywhere in the world, and they'd be willing to date me, please let me know. I'll then sit down with a list of potential Dates and pick the ones that look most promising and fall relatively easily into a route around the world. Dinner at my house on the 12th for questions/brainstorming/reality check.
Lots of love, J xx
Soul Mate Job Description
I am a 38-year-old writer living in London. I've done a bit of traveling over the years and am planning another big trip soon. When not schlepping my backpack on and off Indian trains, maxing my card at Macy's, or eating gelati in Italy, I love London Life. Sunday papers and coffee with my friends, plus shows, gigs, and movies. I'm a bit sporty, especially running (though not very far or fast) and cycling (see "running"). I'm bad at spelling but good at cooking. I sing along to music and always seem to forget Xmas cards till the last minute. I'm fairly laid-back about most things, though get pathetically competitive playing poker.
And what am I looking for in a man?
I'm pretty tall at five foot eleven but old-fashioned enough to want to feel "ladylike," so looking for someone over six foot. What else?
Well, I'd like to meet someone who makes me smile, lets me read them bits out of the newspaper, has beliefs they're willing to arm-wrestle for, and tells me interesting things I didn't know. Like me, you'll believe that life is short and you should make the most of it; unlike me, you'll probably realize that TV isn't real and remain calm when Lassie doesn't come home. An interest in music and books is good, a sense of fun and adventure essential.
The response was instant, overwhelming, and very reassuring: everyone was fired up with suggestions and ideas. Maybe all my competitive friends just wanted to prove they each had the best contacts, but I actually think everyone genuinely wanted to help and believed that they had just the person for me.
Queries started flooding in. Sophie bluntly asked:
Do you want to sleep with them all or just dinner/chat about life etc… ? Lemme know, it'll influence who I put you onto. Love S
I have to be honest, this panicked me a bit. My journey had already been dubbed "Around the World in Eighty Lays" by most of my friends. I automatically replied with an It's not about sex, it's about romance mantra but was secretly worrying whether every date was going to end in a wrestling match.
Posh PR Emma rang and asked in cut-glass tones if I wanted to date a count. Her impeccable accent made the o completely silent. Realizing how it sounded, she kept repeating the question, which drew attention to the mispronunciation, making it worse. I felt like replying: "Ems, I've already dated so many."
As my DWs went to work and word of what I was doing began buzzing around, potential dates started pouring in. Every morning I would log on to find up to a hundred emails from people looking to get involved.
First-generation DWs introducing me to second-generation DWs:
Jennifer, meet Abigail, she is the most high-flying woman in New York—head honcho, inspired party gal, groovy traveling companion of many years and dear, dear friend …AND I think she has the perfect date for you … she will tell you more … I can't wait to hear the outcome … SJ xxxxxx
Third-generation DWs signing up and asking for basic clarification:
Does he need to speak English? Would you be willing to go on a ménage à trois with a translator?
Hannah, emailing from Budapest
Giving me a wake up and smell the fertility reality check:
P.S. You say you don't want to date men younger than thirty. I have two words for you: sperm motility. If you're still in the race to have a child before, say, forty-five, you'll need energetic critters rather than those about to retire. Leslie, emailing from Moscow
And forcing me to face the facts:
These are the details of the English lady I was telling you about: I hope she sounds interesting to you. She's a very nice lady, aged thirty-eight (but this is quite normal in the U.K. to be old and still single)…
And so read the email trail between Alex and his friend Beaver in Lithuania. At the same time that I was being contacted by DWs and their Dates, I was also out looking for myself, spending hours on the Internet researching places or events that might yield my Soul Mate. Anything to do with Love or a love of mine should have potential, I reasoned. I scoured the search engines like an intrepid love detective sleuthing for clues that would help me identify and locate my missing man. In some instances, this threw up dreadful red herrings. I am a huge devotee of the yeast spread Marmite, for example, and thought this might make me compatible with the man who ran a Marmite appreciation website in America:
I started the Marmite site because I take Marmite into work with me on a Friday (the company I work for supplies breakfast, mainly bagels though we do have toast as well and sometimes yogurt, though I don't have Marmite with the yogurt. Just the bagels. And the toast, if they've run out of bagels). Other than eating Marmite, I write information management and delivery software for the Internet.…
Thankfully, other leads proved to be more fruitful, such as the Costco Soul Mate Trading Outlet, one of the theme camps at the annual Burning Man Festival, held in the Nevada desert. I didn't totally understand what they were about, but I did manage to establish that Costco was a kind of anarchic dating agency at the festival. The CEO, Rico Thunder, agreed that I could be part of their camp and work on their "front desk" in exchange for some light flirting duties. I felt I'd have some useful expertise to contribute by the time I'd made it through Europe and the West Coast of America to Nevada, plus I fully intended to skim off any suitable Soul Mates for myself. Rico also put me in touch with a Seattle-based audio engineer in TV sports who was one of the Costco crew. He matched my Soul Mate Job Description perfectly and emailed:
The things you write in your description could have been written by me! What is up with that?
Love: Cooking, building/restoring cars (just finished an Alfa), music, road trips
Hate: Working out (still do it), rigid people, being cold for long periods of time, speed bumps
The only way I could cope with the huge volume of correspondence was to ruthlessly compartmentalize. In the process of establishing a tentative rapport with the desirables and gently filtering out the inadvisables, Europe was given priority over America, which in turn took precedence over Australasia.
Big picture, that was how I saw my route working: Europe, U.S., Australasia. It wasn't logical from a geographical point of view, but it made it possible to attend specific events at certain times, plus -- as importantly -- ensured that I'd always be traveling with the sun. This meant I could stay warm, pack light, and see people at their/my most foxy. There are valid reasons that all the feel-good songs -- "Summer Breeze," "Summer Lovin" -- "Summer of '69" -- are written about the summer rather than the miserable winter months. Who looks good with chapped lips and a scarf?
Communication all had to be via email: It was the only way I could keep track of what I'd said to whom, and reply to people in my own time rather than real time. Most people were fine with this but occasionally someone insisted that we had to speak on the phone:
I don't want to rush you but I much prefer speaking as opposed to typing. Feel free to call me on 877-722-****. Toll-free USA. In Canada or elsewhere 561-178-****. Christopher, Florida
This always put me in a spin. I didn't really have the time for more than a single conversation with any one person and there was no way they'd just want to talk once; inevitably they'd want to know all about me as well as when I was coming over, how long I was staying, and all the other details of my trip. But I didn't have answers to these questions yet, and the stress of organizing this mammoth undertaking was taking its toll as I comfort-ate, putting the "ate" in "date" just at the time I really needed to look my best.
I was tentatively working toward a route that would start in the Netherlands, head up through Scandinavia, then down through Mediterranean Europe and central Europe and on to the States. This was just guesswork, though, because—for example—until Henk in Amsterdam got back from his skiing trip, I had no way of knowing if he was free on the 27th? If he was, that would mean I'd be able to make it down to see Frank on the Belgian border, thereby arriving in Barcelona in time to meet Carlos before he set off for his conference in Russia:
. . . though I am in with my good friends in St. Petersburg and maybe it would be that you like to join us there if you are in a visit to this place?
I just needed everyone to stay still long enough to give me an answer that would allow me to include them in or eliminate them from my itinerary. Then -- knowing they were locked in -- I could work out who, logically, I should see next. And that was just the dating side of it. My friend Karin, who worked at the Netherlands tourist board, was hugely helpful in trying to work out how I would get between three dates spread over two hundred fifty miles:
I've been looking for public transport facilities from Schiphol to the Efteling and from the Efteling to the Keukenhof and I must say it's not good news.… It will take you two and a half hours to get from Schiphol to the Efteling and three hours to get from the Efteling to the Keukenhof. I knew it would be bad as you have to use both trains and buses, but I didn't know it would be this lousy. A taxi is not really an alternative, that will be really expensive, but I was thinking you could maybe rent a car for two or three days. Do you have your driver's license and would it be a good idea? I've attached an information sheet with car rental companies at Schiphol and in Amsterdam. If you like the idea, you could phone them and ask for prices. If you do prefer to use public transport I can tell you exactly which trains and buses you have to take, so just let me know.
I felt guilty, as she clearly wanted me to make a decision and all I could do was be vague and noncommittal. The problem was that she was asking about the minutiae of one aspect of three dates while I was in a totally different place, struggling to get the big picture straight on all aspects of all eighty dates. It felt akin to being dragged from a burning building by the emergency services, only to have them demand back an overdue library book.
With so many options and nothing actually nailed down, I started feeling the enormity of what I was attempting. I was getting a tad tense trying to stay focused while having to remain upbeat and chatty corresponding with the avalanche of potential dates. I knew I wouldn't get much in the way of sympathy ("Help, I am being hounded by an endless supply of eligible, international bachelors, all wanting to date me.…"), but even if I'd been foolish enough to ask, I wouldn't have got anyone's attention at this point. Brimming with enthusiasm and support, the DWs had gone off on a mission of their own.
I had clearly said I wanted to date my Soul Mate and explained in detail who that person was. But suddenly, girlfriends were less interested in helping me find my ideal man and more interested in helping themselves live out a cherished fantasy. They had found a way to date The One Who Could Have Been.
Could Haves are those intense, poignant relationships that, for some reason, never get acted upon. But despite this, or maybe because of it, these people become imbued with an aura of exquisite perfection that only increases as the years go by. A pocket of my (mostly married) DWs had just realized that I could go on the date they had always longed for. No guilt on their part, plus I would be able to tell them afterward if the date was as blissful as they had always imagined.
Jen, I have always, always had a huge crush on Paul but we were never single at the same time. You lucky girl, he's free now—I want to know EVERYTHING. Lucinda xxx
P.S. Get him to take you to the Dove -- we always used to go there together for drinks after work; it's really romantic. Sit at the table by the window. The chardonnay's great. Order the fish.
Or they'd become distracted by their own idea of what the optimum Soul Mate was like, rather than working to mine: "Oh, you should date a circus performer," Dea said with great conviction, no explanation, and a faraway look in her eye. "Ohmigod, you could date a tramp," Jo exploded, then gazed off in a similarly mute manner, lost in her own thoughts.
Clearly, I needed to get them to refocus, and I knew the only way this would happen would be if I made them competitive about coming up with the best Dates. I sent another email to the group:
I am so grateful to you all for coming up with such great contacts, and the current joint favorites for the (Little Black) Booker Prize are Paul Mansfield and Belinda Rhodes. Eleanor Garland pulled away from the pack toward the end of last week, though, and is now gaining fast.
I am now fully dated up for N. America and Australia. Holland is looking good, too. Can anyone help with France, Germany, Spain, and Italy? How about Asia—HK, Thailand, and Singapore?
Thankfully, this led to a fresh deluge of dates, but also to a new phenomenon: Date Wrangler Anxiety. Hector, a journalist friend at China Daily, emailed from Beijing, frustrated that he didn't seem to be able to come up with any good dates. He felt he was letting me down and not being a good friend. "Write an article about it," I suggested. "Interview me about why I'm doing it and include my Soul Mate Job Description, and then anyone who thinks they're 'it' can email me at a special email address I'll create." Overwhelmed by the greater task in hand and consigning it to the I'll worry about it when I'm on to Australasia pile, I promptly forgot all about the conversation. Until two weeks later, when Hector sheepishly sent me a link for that day's paper. On the cover was a huge picture of me, smiling vacantly. Underneath, the caption read: is there a man in china to satisfy this woman?
Most of the time that I was working on setting up this International Tour of Shame, as I'd affectionately come to think of it, I was too engrossed and in the zone to think about anything else. But occasionally there were stone-cold moments of sober clarity, when it really hit me how it must have looked to other people.
The China Daily cover was one of them. I sat in front of my computer, shocked and rather ashamed, wondering why I had started this crazy adventure in the first place. But then, as the responses to the article started pouring in, I was once again too frantic keeping up with the task at hand to have any more perspective or qualms.
Replies ranged from Tom in Hong Kong:
I am currently seeing someone but we don't really get on that well and on the off-chance I've split up with her by the time you get here, can we please stay in touch?
And Larry, the pilot:
I've seen your picture. You're not that good-looking and you make no effort with your hair; I like that kind of confidence in a woman and I'll definitely date you. But don't expect to go to expensive restaurants or be a nosy parker and talk about me to my friends.
To Tan, the businessman:
I look forward to meeting a western woman, so different from Asian women: you with your "fuller" body and more voluptuous breasts. In a country of billions, you will certainly stand out.
Well, my comfort eating was getting out of hand now, and I was putting on so much weight I'd started wondering if I should just cut out the middleman and staple the cookies directly onto my thighs. Despite the weight gain, however, I felt sure I lacked the prized voluptuousness that would make me a worthy ambassador for Breast Western. And the idea that a billion people were going to be disappointed with my cleavage was frankly too much pressure to be dealing with right now.
Fortunately, I was saved from dwelling on this thought because a combination of brute force and plaintive begging had finally pulled my European schedule loosely together. There was still a huge amount to be done: I knew who I was meeting and where, but still had no idea where I was staying when I arrived, or, indeed, in most cases how I would arrive at all. I accepted that I would have to work this out along the way.
It was time to start dating.
Excerpted from "Around the World in 80 Dates," by Jennifer Cox. Published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Cox.