Dating in Transit

Thoughts on fly-by(e) romantic encounters.

I hit upon a concept of romantic genius this holiday season: the airport date.

While flying home, post-turkey and pre-mistletoe, I met a guy and we bonded over a mutual amusement of the quirky security measures of Portland International Jetport. Greg laughed and I grimaced as I stood in the line where only females, and all the females, were being searched before boarding a plane to Boston. By the time my luggage was stowed in the overhead compartment, he had switched seats to be next to me and we started a good, comfortable conversation.

On our way to Boston, our mutual layover stop, we brushed thighs and talked of jobs, drums, and the Moody Blues. But that’s backstage to this cute story: with Greg, as with other random encounters I’ve had with men, while he talked of the data communications industry or somesuch, my mind was occasionally otherwise occupied. I call it using a mental checklist to assess romantic possibilities, and it’s probably more than a bit presumptuous, but I think everyone employs it, consciously or not.

With a mental checklist, you can pare down potentials much the way job recruiters pick through resumes for interview candidates, by the presence of certain keywords– certain qualities: employed, single, not heroin addict. I do this because I’m a right-brain romantic by nature, and when you’re a right-brain anything, it’s sometimes good to employ the left brain now and again.

Or, in the words of my roommate, I need to set higher standards. Of late I’ve taken offers of romance as enthusiastically as I accept offers of ice cream: two scoops, chocolate syrup, check please. Just last April at work, I picked up the locksmith who was adjusting my file cabinet. Who was still technically married.

So, mental checklist now in tow, somewhere in the skies over New York, I nodded to Greg, smiled pleasantly, and mentally went through assessing him on the following qualities: good conversationalist, employed, funny, listens well, shares interests, religious and ethnically tolerant, has faith in humanity.

Of course there’s a zillion other qualities I could and do use, but this seems to be how my first-date conversation revelations progress, in about that order. (Usually a guy will establish immediately what he does for a living, which gives my inner evolutionary psychologist a field day.)

I’d given Greg checks from listens well all the way down to our shared interest in the merits of Monster’s Ball, but he stopped short as our conversation deplaned and we went to grab dinner at an over-priced deli in Logan Airport (the pricey downside to airport dating). At a rare pause in our talk, he glanced around and remarked how he liked people-watching. I nodded, smiled pleasantly, and concurred. Then he said, “… but most of them are assholes.” I stopped nodding, squinted, wrote down his name on my mental checklist and next to it a 59%.

I wonder if Greg had his own list. I imagine him measuring me against his criteria: friendly, wears cat socks, has split ends. Later in our conversation on people, I said, “I think most people ultimately mean well.” He said, “Isn’t that a little naive?” Maybe then he wrote down my name on his own checklist next to a 51%.

We finished our sandwiches and parted gracefully, wishing each other happy flights and good holidays, but leaving no phone numbers for anyone to catch. But here’s the beauty of the airport date: if it’s not meant to be, you can pretend it’s because he’s rooted in California and your wings rarely leave Washington.

A friend recently went on a date with a guy she wasn’t interested in to get practice with the whole dating scene. Greg was practice for me, but not in the way you think. This past year has taught me that in love and work, it’s hard to find what you want when you’re not sure what that is, when you’ll take any flavor of ice cream just because it’s sweet.

At the moment, my mental checklist is at the editor’s. It’s growing and shrinking; it’s being fine-tuned. One day, I’ll find a 88% guy who feels like a 110% to my right brain, and I’ll stick the list at the bottom of some dusty drawer for a spell. And I’ll take him to a restaurant that doesn’t have $8 deli sandwiches or peanuts on the menu.

Article © 2003 by Gina Mitchell