'A blind date on steroids'Save
By James Matthey
Some things just don't work together, no matter how badly you want them to.
Like tequila and smart life choices, mullets and any decade post the 1980s and Vin Diesel and a movie with an engaging plot line.
And then to add to that list, there's me and this American girl, Vanessa*.
I met Vanessa when I travelled from Australia to Thailand for a blind date.
Yep, you read that right. I flew 7500km from Sydney to Bangkok, where I (and Vanessa) stayed in a hotel (separate rooms at the four-star Avani Atrium) for four nights, all for a blind date. Vanessa made the 23-hour-long commute from Miami to Bangkok for the same purpose.
That's what travel dating website MissTravel.com does - sets up people who want to travel, but have nobody to go with, on exotic dates all around the world. Members can pay to fly their date out, share the costs or just hope someone offers them a free holiday.
Men can reach out to women and vice versa. On this occasion, I reached out to Vanessa (I pride myself on making women's dreams come true).
Sounds equal parts romantic, equal parts creepy, no?
A BLIND DATE ON STEROIDS
A MissTravel.com member, Vanessa had always wanted to go to Thailand and agreed to meet me in Bangkok.
I'd never been on a blind date before, so I thought I'd prepare in advance by watching David Brent's experience in The Office Christmas special. My theory was, whatever happened, nothing could possibly be as bad as that.
But this wasn't an ordinary blind date, this was a blind date on steroids.
I was bloody nervous waiting for her in the hotel lobby. She came down, we introduced ourselves and headed off to breakfast. We talked prescription drugs, Woody Woodpecker bedspreads, Lhasa Apsos and alternative Chinese medicine. You know, just the standard first date over a latte (kidding, I'm strictly a hot chocolate man) type chat.
To state the bleeding obvious, the biggest risk of the blind date is finding out you have absolutely nothing in common with the other person. The risk of the international blind date that lasts four nights is you have absolutely nothing in common with the other person, but you're stuck thousands of kilometres from home with no fake emergency call coming and no escape.
Welcome to my time in Bangkok.
Vanessa was polite, kind and friendly. She also drinks wheatgrass juice instead of alcohol, gets her palms and tarot cards read, listens to televangelist preachers and cries during sad movies.
Me? I drink VB, think psychics are a crock of s**t, hold televangelists in an even lower regard and the last time I cried during a movie was while watching D2: The Mighty Ducks for the 17th time last year (if you don't tear up when Julie "The Cat" Gaffney makes the game-winning save against Iceland you have a heart of stone).
So you get the gist. Within two minutes of sitting down to brekky (two of every pastry on offer at the buffet for me, yoghurt and fruit salad for her), I think we both knew we were vastly different people. And we had three whole days together to confirm it. Oh joy.
On the plus side, at least she knew who Novak Djokovic was (I'm a sports journalist) and wasn't disgusted by my preference for hankies over tissues (go on, judge away, but I regret nothing).
IT WAS UPHILL FROM THE START
Before this trip I told all my friends, colleagues and family about it. I was a hero (well, maybe among friends, not so sure mum felt that way). Strangely, in my opinion at least, Vanessa had only told two friends the real reason she was in Bangkok. She didn't want anyone to know why she was here.
Now, I know plenty of women ashamed to be seen in public with me, but none who felt that way before I'd even met them!
She'd already been on one blind date with MissTravel, about a year beforehand, when a Swiss gentleman flew her out to the Bahamas. She recently found out he'd been seeing someone for the past six months, but don't worry, she assured me she was completely fine with it. Not bothered at all. No siree. There was no dartboard with that girl's face on it at her place. Couldn't be happier.
Actually, she admitted she could be happier. If said Swiss hunk and his current squeeze broke up. She still likes him, so I was facing an uphill battle from the start. That battle got harder when she said she only came to Thailand to visit uncles and cousins whom she hadn't seen in a while.
The allure of family was stronger than that of a 24-year-old sports reporter with a patchy beard and commitment issues. Shocking, I know.
She first registered on the site because her and a friend wanted to travel somewhere, but didn't fancy paying for the trip. That was bizarre reasoning to me - someone not part of the "secret society established in the name of attractive girls everywhere" - that you could just decide you didn't want to pay for something and then wait for someone else to pick up the tab.
Just to be polite, I didn't charge her for conversing with me. Who said chivalry was dead?
OH GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?
I won't bore you with an hour-by-hour guide of how we passed the time, but we visited temples, went to markets and cycled around Ancient Siam.
We talked, we laughed (or at least she pretended to) and suffered through awkward silences.
Coming up with conversation topics for three whole days with a complete stranger, especially one you have nothing in common with, was damn difficult. More than once we resorted to weather chat - the lowest form of human interaction.
On day two we went to the cinema. Vanessa wanted to see a film in 4D (I couldn't have cared less), meaning we purchased tickets for a screening two hours after our arrival.
I was distraught. I'd run out of things to talk about and had to kill two hours in a shopping centre - my worst nightmare. All I wanted to do was sink in a chair and watch a film in the safety of silence. But that opportunity had been ripped away from me.
This was the moment when I thought, "Oh God, what the hell have I done?" Forget the weather, I was this close to leading with, "So what's the deal with airline food?"
It was strangely claustrophobic. There was nowhere to go. I wanted to run away and hide and read my book, but I couldn't just leave, could I?
In hindsight, I should have gone off and done my own thing, but what was the proper etiquette here?
Therein lies the quandary of the international blind date. How long are you obliged to spend with the person before you bail? What if they get offended? Why should you even care if you barely know them? This was next level problem solving I was ill-equipped to deal with. I struggle enough at the second-easiest level of Sudoku.
IT REALLY FRIGHTENS ME
At first glance, MissTravel.com seems like it would be a prime breeding ground for lonely older men looking to pick up a 21-year-old plaything. Or "gold-diggers", for want of a better term, looking to exploit wealthy guys. Vanessa went a way towards confirming that suspicion when she told me she's had plenty of requests from older blokes she deemed too "creepy" to even respond to.
Though that's not to say the site is just a gateway for sex. Members are always booked in separate rooms, and "Escorts are not allowed" sits just under the banner headline in the "How it works" section on their website. They market themselves as providing companionship and connecting travel lovers, and members can undergo background checks before trips are green-lit.
Launched in 2012 and now boasting more than 600,000 members in 135 countries, people can cough up for a one, three or six-month membership with the site.
To say this form of dating is a little unorthodox is like saying Brendon Fevola was just a little tipsy at the 2009 Brownlows.
Vanessa said after our trip she wouldn't be going on another MissTravel date again. I'm certain that decision had absolutely nothing to do with the male company on her latest expedition. Well, almost certain. I think. Maybe (whatever helps me sleep at night, OK?).
I myself would probably never do it again, either. I'm definitely glad I took part in the experience, and I'd encourage other people to give it a whirl if they're up for it, but the thought of going overseas with someone I don't know who ends up being my polar opposite again now frightens me more than a world where red frogs cost more than five cents at the school canteen.
Or course, there is the other school of thought - possessed by my boss with a crippling gambling problem - that states: "If you don't win on the first run, just keep punting again and again and again."
Like I said, Vanessa was polite, friendly and kind. It's just that we were so very different in almost every conceivable way.
So it's back to drinking my hot chocolates and VBs, sitting down to dinner at the ping pong table that recently replaced our dining room table and suffering embarrassing losses on the tennis court. That's your cue, ladies. Don't all rush at once.
If you want to abuse me for using a hanky or chat about your favourite scene from The Mighty Ducks, hit me up on Twitter at @jamesmatthey.
* Her name has been changed for the purpose of this article
** MissTravel.com covered the travel, accommodation and daily expenses of this reporter for the trip