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 from Chapter 3:
Gothenburg does itself no favors having a Volvo museum. Drawing attention to the fact that it's the birthplace of arguably the dullest, least-adventurous car in the world is not a PR coup for a city that's easily as hip as Stockholm and just as much the party town as Malmo.
But Sweden generally seems to suffer from a bit of a personality crisis, and I don't think I'm going to win any awards for insight by suggesting it's probably due to the weather. Nearly a sixth of Sweden is north of the Arctic Circle and winter nights last anything up to eighteen stay indoors, stare at the walls for four months hours. From May to August, however, the height of the sun and the tilt of the earth's axis go to the other extreme, creating the midnight sun and up to twenty-three hours of sunshine a day.
And when the midnight sun shines, so do the Swedes. Everyone seems to spin and show, like overwound ballerinas in a music box, making the most of every bright second before the lid slams shut for another winter of introspective darkness.
But maybe the city does its thinking in the dark, because over the last forty years, Gothenburg has been at the forefront of pioneering research into sexology, the science of human sexuality and how it affects us chemically, socially, and physically. And I had an appointment at the university to meet one of the world's leading sexologists; I had come to date the Love Professor.
Date #4: Professor Lars-Görsta Dahlöf --
I'd come across Professor Lars-Görsta Dahlöf in an online article, reporting on a conference he'd held called "The Science of Love and Passion." At the time it was casual curiosity: I thought it would be fascinating to learn more about his theories and ideas. But now that I was here, I realized my questions were less theoretical and more personal. I was slightly unsettled by how my journey was turning out and hoped he'd have some theories that would help me establish whether I stood any chance of success, or could, at the very least, emerge with a shred of dignity. The memory of Willem's blatant disapproval still stung.
The plan was that we'd meet at the reception area of my downtown hotel and then drive out to the Japanese Gardens past the university for a walk and a chat. Now it was 11:30 a.m. and I had literally just checked into my room when reception rang to say the Love Professor was downstairs waiting for me. Damn, he was forty minutes early. I'd hoped to have a quick shower and a moment to gather my thoughts before I met him.
I flipped my bag onto the bed. I'd packed my waterproof jacket and sweater on top—even without his early arrival, I'd known it would be a tight turnaround. As I pulled the jacket out I noticed a puddle of sticky white fluid on the sleeve. I stopped dead and looked at it, mystified. Gingerly I checked my bag; nothing was broken. I really didn't want to smell it, but -- and I had no good feelings about this -- what the hell was it? I was tired and feared I was going crazy, but …was it possible a baggage handler had opened my bag and …?
NO, it was too much to even think about. Why would they do that? Holding my breath and grimacing, I plucked the coat carefully out of my bag and took it into the bathroom to sponge the fluid off, all the while painfully aware that the Love Professor was downstairs waiting to meet me. At arm's length, I dropped the sleeve into the sink and, stepping back, turned the tap on full. As soon as the water hit the sticky mess, it started frothing and foaming. Foam? I hadn't expected foam. I looked at the sleeve in confusion, turned the water off, put the wet coat down on the edge of the sink, and walked back into the bedroom. Minus my coat, there was now more room in my case to investigate. I gingerly lifted out the rolled clothes and peered cautiously underneath them.
A bottle of shampoo I had missed earlier was lodged in the corner of the case, its lid unscrewed and white soap oozing out of the unsecured top.
I closed my eyes and groaned in exasperation. Apparently, it wasn't just the lid that was coming unscrewed. Was the fact that I was meeting the Love Professor making me see sex everywhere, or was I doing this to myself by undertaking this journey? Just think what kind of interpretation he would put on this: "Ahh, so, Jennifer, you imagine your traveling persona to be the focus of unsolicited sexual attention, and yet it is a journey you have chosen to make. Is it not possible that you are filled with a desire to have your 'baggage handled' by strangers and you are seeking to make this fantasy a reality?"
The Love Professor was looking out of the window into the Nordstan shopping center outside when I finally made it down to reception. He was a kind-looking man, about 50, with a Woody Allen Does Academic appearance, a lived-in tweed jacket, and sparse brown hair framing a thin, contemplative face. My entrance felt a bit scattered, in utter contrast to his quiet, serene pose at the window, and on seeing him I became gripped with the urge to fling myself down onto the reception sofa and blurt out everything that had happened to me so far. With steely resolve, I resisted the impulse. Instead, waiting for the Love Professor to transfer a huge armful of papers from right to left, I smiled warmly, shook his outstretched hand, and answered: "Yes, I had a lovely journey here, thank you, no problems at all. Quite uneventful. I'm sorry if I kept you waiting, shall we go?"
He drove me out to the Japanese Gardens, a tranquil refuge at the top of a steep trail in the public gardens beyond the university where he worked. As we settled in a wooden arbor, off the path overlooking a bamboo garden, I explained my theory and mission to the Love Professor. If I did meet my Soul Mate, I asked, how would I know he was The One? Were there any signs or signals I should be looking for?
"Well, we have a physical response which we define as sexual …," he began cautiously, as if realizing for the first time that I had a vested interest in his answers.
"Also understanding that although we all fall in love, few of us know anything more about it than how we feel." Like technology: I can send you an email without either of us having the faintest clue how it got from my computer to yours. The Love Professor was about to explain the Love Equivalent of firewalls, IPs, wireless applications, and the laser printer.
"… but it starts in the earliest relationship: the one between the mother and the child. It is an intense experience of trust and well-being: feeling everything is as good as it could be. To fall in love and to be close to another human being at any age in your life …" Uh-oh, not the whole oedipal thing.
"So when you fall in love," I interrupted impatiently, "you're looking to relive those bonds of comfort and security?"
"Yes, you are seeking to relive something you don't consciously remember but your body does," he replied.
I knew this must be relevant somewhere, but time was short and I wasn't looking to date either of my parents on this trip, so I moved it along.
"So apart from my historical needs, what about the physical side? How will I know if I'm attracted to somebody?" An obvious question, with an even more obvious answer, but the Love Professor didn't seem to think me odd for wanting to know. Apparently you fall in love in three stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each stage has distinct characteristics, accompanied by set behavioral patterns and a variety of hormones. Evidently it was more complex than just thinking someone looked good in a leather jacket.
The Love Professor gave me an example: "There are a number of factors working beneath your consciousness, and one of them is smell. Not only does smell influence you, your smell also carries information about your genetic makeup."
This was intriguing. "So am I wasting my time kissing when I should be sniffing?" I demanded.
The Love Professor looked momentarily confused and then replied, "No, because kissing is a good opportunity to take a good sniff."
We both laughed. "I'm intrigued and a little concerned for your kissing technique," I teased. Funnily enough, I found the fact that we were compelled to do romantic things for practical reasons really reassuring; almost as if it wasn't totally my fault if I made a mess of it, nature had to take a share of the blame, too. "Okay, that's a fantastic piece of information." I beamed; we were getting somewhere now. "Are there any other things that will help me work out if my Dates are compatible or not with me when I first meet them? I only have one date with each of these people, so I have to take in a lot of information and make a lot of decisions very quickly."
The Love Professor warmed to the subject. "When two people are attracted, we send messages that we are interested and want to become better acquainted, often by mimicking each other's actions. If a woman strokes her hair, the man will make the same movement a second later. After a while, if everything works and there is a mutual interest, there will be a perfect synchronicity. We tend to like a partner who is a reflection of ourselves: A person who mirrors you in such a positive way is very easy to fall in love with."
Presumably the same was true from a negative perspective, too: If you felt like rubbish, were you more likely to pick a partner who made you feel you were rubbish? Again, the Love Professor concurred. "If you have a secure and positive image of yourself -- being nice, liking yourself --you will be more likely to pick someone who sees and affirms that in you. However, if your self-esteem is absent or very low, you find it harder to believe there is someone else out there like you or who will like you." I could see how that would be true. "So you're saying: Work at making yourself feel good before you get involved with anyone else, because they'll only be good for you if you're good to yourself." But what did this mean for me? I was a pretty positive person -- generally cheerful and comfortable with myself -- yet I had chosen relationships that had not been in my best interest. Wasn't it possible there were other important factors that played a role in who you chose as your partner? I had my own theory on the subject and wanted to ask the Love Professor what he thought of it.
"So, to go back to the idea of selection. I have a theory -- which I'm hoping is wrong -- about work and relationships. Basically, work is where we meet our partners, but work is more demanding than ever, and men are coping less well with the pressure than women. As a result, working women find their jobs the most emotionally satisfying relationships in their lives, so they either settle for so-so romances or end up chronically single. Could there be any truth in this?"
The Love Professor thought for a moment. "Traditionally, the most important reason for being in a relationship was to reproduce: Couples married and had children. The man supported the family; the woman stayed at home and looked after it. Most women these days are not looking for partners in order to have babies, or at least not right away. A change has taken place in a very short period of time; men and women have become more equal. Although we have acknowledged the change, we have yet to address how the needs and expectations of relationships have changed as a result."
I genuinely found this sad and disturbing: Was the implication that men were only attracted to women who wanted to have children? I tried to get it straight in my head: "You talk about how we telegraph information in nonverbal ways, through smell, etcetera. …If women want careers, could we be unconsciously transmitting a desire not to have children and be less desirable or attractive to potential partners as a result?"
The Love Professor considered what I was asking. "I don't know about that, but body odors are certainly affected by high levels of stress. Working too much, too many problems, no time for leisure, etcetera, can -- on a subconscious level -- be recognized in the way you smell."
So maybe the issue wasn't about wanting or not wanting kids; it was that career women literally smelled like hard work. I felt the need to bring the conversation back around to me. "But I've quit my job, I'm not stressed, and I've nurtured a positive self-image. I should be smelling relaxed, right?"
The Love Professor nodded noncommittally, not sure where this was going but willing to let me carry on until I got there. I got there: "Do you think I'm going to meet Mr. Right?"
Faced with such an emotionally charged question, the Love Professor retreated to the safety of science. "Our research has shown that when you are waiting or starving for a relationship, you will be very open to all types of stimuli that will tell you this is the right person. That means you will probably be quite uncritical…" The scientific way of saying "desperate" …
"Looking at it from a scientific view," the Love Professor said evenly, "when two people meet and get involved, they each bring their own history with them. How you bring these histories together provides the condition for the future of your relationship. A person who gives you too much of his 'history' shows an inability to choose or prioritize his relationships."
This reminded me of a guy I dated, Grant -- "I'm separated, I just forgot to tell my wife." He seemed incapable of going anywhere without at least two of his friends, and his cell phone never stopped ringing when we were out. It baffled him that I thought this was a problem.
"And also, from the opposite perspective, it can be quite disappointing when the one you want to share your life with will not share very much of his or her own life with you. The person who will not share their past is unlikely to see you in their future."
This was Kelly: Captain Compartmentalize, never wanting me to meet his family or friends.
Interesting stuff, but, looking at my watch, I realized I was running out of time. I was meeting my friend Ann-Charlotte for a drink at 6 p.m. to hear about tomorrow's date with her foxy-sounding friend Anders.
I asked if, after all his measuring and dissecting, the Love Professor believed in the existence of Love.
He answered immediately, with total conviction and heartfelt certainty: "Yes, yes, I think it exists. And there is so much data supporting this. Being touched and caressed by your partner will stimulate the brain to release the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin—both have been linked to our ability to forge strong and lasting emotional bonds. When you meet someone you're attracted to, within two seconds your heart rate will increase dramatically, your blood pressure goes up, muscle tension increases, and your intestines shut off, giving you that 'butterflies in stomach' sensation.
"Your brain should interpret this as enjoyable," he added helpfully.
"But I always get really anxious and start babbling," I confessed. "I talk far too much and make far too many hand gestures. And in my head I'm going, Shut up, shut up, you're being weird, but I find it really hard to stop." I said all this in a small, pained voice, before asking equally pathetically: "I mean, do guys find that attractive?"
The Love Professor looked at me sympathetically, clearly thinking, This woman will have died of anxiety-induced exhaustion by the end of eight dates, let alone eighty. He took a deep breath, paused a moment to find the right words, then said: "I think this is a way of handling a fear of losing control. One way -- which is perhaps not the best way -- to try and regain control is to talk, talk, talk."
He said this very gently as I hid my face and squirmed on the park bench. Bemused parents out walking with their kids -- memories of the horrors of dating long erased -- looked over quizzically. I caught sight of my watch; it really was time to go. I had a lot of information, but did the Love Professor have just one tip for my date tomorrow? Was there one thing above all others that I should do?
He looked at me with the kindly expression of someone who knows no amount of advice will help. "I think you should not plan too much," he said simply. "Just let it happen. Use all your senses and take in whatever comes. You should not watch too much what kind of message you are sending. Afterward you can analyze, but not at the time. What is attractive to the person you are dating is that you are present in all aspects: mind, body, and soul. That is a very good start."
We sat and looked at each other for a moment, both a bit drained from the intense conversation, and me from the recognition that I felt far more exposed and unsure about my journey than I had ever realized. I gave him a big hug and thanked him sincerely.
As we walked back through the park to his car, we chatted about "normal" things: family, work, places we had visited. We strolled under the comfortable shade of linden and oak trees; it was a beautiful place and I hoped to come back one day when I was less preoccupied. The Love Professor had given me plenty to think about -- not all of it easy to hear -- but I'd have the chance to talk about it all tonight with Ann-Charlotte, over a large drink.
I knew Ann-Charlotte from when she'd worked for the Swedish tourist board in London. I'd been sad to see her move back to her home city of Gothenburg the year before, but was reaping the benefits now. Not only had she promised to take me to the "only locals know" funky parts of town, she'd also done a great job as local Date Wrangler-in-Chief.
Back at my hotel, getting ready to meet her, I felt happy and relaxed, looking forward to the uncomplicated evening I knew we'd spend together. I'd just started to realize how important it was to intersperse my 80 Dates with some normal socializing, preferably with female friends. Dating was really demanding: There was all the stress of preparation and anticipation. Then there was the date itself, fraught with revealing body-language and full of silent I can't believe he just said that moments.
We were obliged under the International Girlfriend Charter to reenact dating highlights for each other's entertainment, but, just as importantly right now, I needed relaxed, no-agenda fun with girlfriends to help offset the pressure of dating and stop me obsessing about the I can't believe I just said that moments of my own. Avoiding the Avenue (the main tourist drag), Ann-Charlotte took me to a place in Linnégatan, a cosmopolitan area awash with trendy bars and chichi restaurants. It was next to Slottskogen, another of Gothenburg's big parks, and close to Haga, the old town where tall Brothers Grimm wooden houses lined the twisting cobbled streets. After we caught up with old news, Ann-Charlotte sat rapt with fascination as I explained the Love Professor's scientific theories on love and compatibility. Wine flowed like wine, as we compared notes on how scarily accurate it all was: exes who had refused to be intimate; girlfriends with ready excuses about why their awful relationships really weren't that awful.
sShe asked if I was going to test what I had learned from the Love Professor on Anders, the friend of hers I was dating tomorrow. But since Anders had insisted everything about him and the date remain a mystery until the date itself (I was starting to see this as one of the ways Dates felt they could retain a degree of control; maybe it made them feel special and not just "one of eighty"), it was impossible to know how I was going to be with him. But, in theory, "of course," I told her. I would sniff him, mimic his movements, give him enough but not too much of my history, try not to talk too much, and—most importantly -- let it happen. BUT, I stressed to Ann-Charlotte, only if he was cute. The last thing I needed was more flirting flotsam, to attract another guy I wasn't seriously interested in, when I needed to concentrate my efforts on finding Mr. Right.
As we stumbled back to our beds at 4:30 a.m., the streets were full of people; the people were full of alcohol. Ann-Charlotte and I were no exception. It was as bright as the afternoon and there was a friendly party atmosphere, the warm air heavy with possibilities. As the night porter of my hotel opened the taxi door for Ann-Charlotte to climb in, she gave me a big hug and wished me luck for the days ahead.
"I think maybe it is a crazy thing that you are doing, Jennifer," she said intensely. "But you are brave enough to do what the rest of us can only dream of. Go date the world for every woman," she declared flamboyantly, collapsing into the back of the taxi and giving me a wobbly salute. I watched the taxi drive off. Just as it rounded the corner, I heard her shriek: "And don't forget—for your date with Anders, you must take a bikini."
Date #5: Anders -- Gothenburg, Sweden
When I woke at 11 a.m. that morning, I was immediately confronted by two facts: Firstly, I had the kind of hangover that made my eyes look like a hamster's cheeks stuffed with peanuts, and secondly, in six hours I had to wear a bikini.
I'd brought one with me. Before I'd left London, Ann-Charlotte had repeatedly impressed upon me that it would be needed, but I'd managed to block it out until she'd reminded me last night that I was actually going to have to wear it.
All she'd told me about tonight was that her friend Anders would pick me up from my hotel at 5 p.m.; I should pack a bikini and be ready for a boat trip.
As I have already explained, I will never be ready for a boat trip.
My crushing hangover made it impossible to focus on anything, but -- as much as I was capable -- I was worried. People who don't suffer from seasickness refuse to accept that the condition is genuine. Instead, they see it as a kind of laziness that can be cured with a little effort and a better attitude. I was forever being told by sailing friends: "Oh, if you sit up on deck/eat a cookie/keep your eye on the horizon …you'll be fine." Did they not think I had tried all these things? I mean, it wasn't like I was some kind of aquatic bulimic and wanted to be sick.
Mariah and Whitney don't do stairs; I'd told everyone who had anything to do with my journey, I don't do boats. My Dates seemed to think they knew better, though, stubbornly championing the inherent romance of man woos woman on the open seas. Well, fair enough, maybe they'd see the inherent romance in man watches woman throw up on the open seas.
However, my concerns about being sick were nothing compared to my feelings about wearing a bikini in front of a complete stranger. I had great thighs, and I don't mean that n a good way.
When I first heard about the whole bikini nightmare, I went straight to the gym and asked my Swedish trainer, Emma, for a high-impact, fast-result program. As I sweated and shook through a series of lunges and lifts, I explained the reason for the emergency. Emma immediately wrinkled her perfect nose, pursed her pink, cupid-bow lips, and declared, "Oh, but Swedish men are so boring."
"Really?" I gasped, turning to look at her, my lunge wobbling off to the side. "I thought they were all tall and utterly gorgeous."
"Exactly," she replied with the judgment of Solomon. "They have never needed to develop a personality. You should try Australians," she added helpfully.
Could this be true? Had the Swedish gene pool developed a race so beautiful, evolution had deemed personalities as super-fluous as the male nipple? Or did we all just have a "familiarity breeds contempt" attitude toward our homeboys?
Pushing all futile thoughts to one side, I booted up my laptop: I had work to do. I needed at least three hours a day, every day, to keep on top of the practicalities and logistics of my trip, as well as taking care of the minutiae of "normal life." Although I had started my traveling and dating, there was still so much to be done.
Logging on, I found the usual deluge of dating detail emails. Italy was demanding decisions. I was meeting Umberto, a guy who ran a "traffic dating" website. (Stuck in a traffic jam and fancy the driver two lanes over? Note down their license plate, search for it on Umberto's website, and send them an email suggesting a date.) Umberto wanted to know, were we meeting in Siena or Rome?
I was going to Verona to do the balcony scene with Romeo. The people who looked after Juliet's house wanted to know my medieval dress size.
Meanwhile, over in Paris, I was going on a Skate Date and the guy I was to skate with wanted to know my foot size.
There was also a two-day-old email from Anders:
I have heard the weather shell be sunny on friday so you dont need any warm clothes, i will recemend jeans, maby a windbreaker, and of course bikini (leasure).
I worked my way through the emails. I also surfed the Net trying to work out if it was feasible to get from Paris to Berlin by train, and if not and I needed to fly, could I go direct or did I need to backtrack via London? I'd forgotten to pay my credit-card bill and had left my online password in my Palm Pilot at home (in a misguided attempt to travel light), so I needed to call the bank and sort that out. I also checked my answering machine in London. My sister Toz had called: What day was I arriving at her house for the bank holiday weekend? Gareth had rung from Wales to make sure I was still on for the hike over the bank holiday weekend. On my cell, Cath had texted to see if we were still on for Norfolk over the bank holiday weekend. Obviously, while I meticulously cross-checked my dating schedule, I'd forgotten to pay the same attention to my home life and had now triple-booked myself. I couldn't face hearing all those irritated voices now, so made a mental note to call them later.
I looked at my watch: 4 p.m. No time to catch a nap, I had to get ready. An hour later, hoping I didn't look as hungover and sleep-deprived as I felt, I grabbed my bag (including the dreaded bikini) and made my way down to reception.
I had no idea what Anders looked like, but felt sure I'd know when I saw him. As I looked discreetly around the lobby, the door crashed open and a large woman in a tailored black jacket stormed in. She pointed at me. "You are Jennifer?" she boomed, as if daring me to disagree.
I nodded, hesitating in my confusion. Where was Anders?
"Then you come with me," she commanded, turning on her heel and striding back outside without a backward glance.
It wasn't quite what I had expected. Unsure of exactly what was happening, I walked slowly out the open front door after her. Scanning the street, I spotted her waiting in the driver's seat of a taxi, engine running. She motioned impatiently for me to get in. I knew Ann-Charlotte was in on this, plus I had done crazier things making travel programs (on one national radio show, listeners were invited to show me, unaccompanied, around their home cities. As I climbed into a strange man's car in Istanbul, I remember wondering if we had really thought through the personal security implications of the program and if I'd ever be seen alive again).
We drove south out of town through the busy port area. The shipyard was hard at work, huge cruise liners moored alongside fleets of fishing boats, proving that Gothenburg was wise or fortunate enough to have more than one industry paying the bills. The industrial warehouses looked successful enough, for now, to resist the yuppie developments claiming more vulnerable waterfronts around the world, from Auckland and Sydney to Vancouver and London.
My taxi driver chatted as she drove but I wasn't really listening. I was thinking about how I was being played. Anders was keeping me guessing: He obviously liked to be in charge, calling all the shots. "Let him," I said to myself, smiling. I had no problem with that. This was going to be fun.
After fifteen minutes of driving along the coast road, we came to a stop at a picturesque wharf. Although small sailing vessels tugged gently against their moorings, the air was still and, even this late in the day, the sun was hot on my skin.
The driver parked the car and together we walked the short distance to a wooden pier on which a cheery man in his sixties seemed to be waiting for us. He looked like an ad for Crewing Monthly with his turtleneck sweater and pipe, periwinkle eyes flashing mischievously in his tanned face. I had thought Anders would be younger, more edgy. Although he looked fun, I was a little disappointed. I shrugged it off, though; it was fine, at least the waiting was over, and I was sure there'd be more game players further down the line.
The driver introduced us: It wasn't Anders, it was one of the local captains. Another twist -- Anders and I had yet to meet.
The driver made her excuses and disappeared for a moment, leaving the captain and me to chat. Was I going out on a boat? he asked. Memory of the date with Willem made me hesitate: Was there a good way of explaining that, not only did I have no idea what I was doing here, but I was doing this eighty times over with strange men around the world? It was a tricky thing to say nonchalantly to someone not in on my plan (and, as Willem had demonstrated, sometimes tricky to say to someone who was).
I was saved from having to explain my presence by the return of my driver. She was accompanied by a man in his mid-twenties, with classic Swedish looks: fine, clean features, white-blond hair, incredibly clear skin, and blue, blue eyes. Was this Anders? Again, I felt a twinge of disappointment. Fresh-faced and sweet-looking, he was young and had the air of an earnest, uncomplicated boy, quite at odds with the foxy game-playing vibe Anders had been putting out.
He walked over, holding out his hand to shake mine. "Hello," he said. "I'm Martin."
Ahhhh, I thought with a grin, the game is still on.
"If you will please come with me, I must take you on my boat. Anders is waiting for you."
I laughed and picked up my bag, following Martin onto a small, incredibly sleek speedboat. I sat on the jockey seat next to him, strapped on the life jacket he handed over, and braced myself as we gently accelerated away from the wharf and into the open water.
Excerpted from "Around the World in 80 Dates," by Jennifer Cox. Published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Cox.