View of Salzburg and the Salzach River from love-locked Makartsteg Bridge
My flight from Berlin to Salzburg is delayed, and I had to gate-check my bag, and I’m running on two hours of sleep. But as I make my way back to row 11, I see there’s a silver lining—the guy in the window seat is cute. Really cute. He has dark brown hair and thick forearms and a crisp, angled profile. His knees are hitting the seat in front of him, which means he’s tall. He looks to be a few years younger than me.
Stealing sidelong glances at him, I see he’s reading a magazine in Spanish, which is odd because he doesn’t look at all Latin; on the contrary, he looks like he just walked out of a poster advertising Oktoberfest, or polka, or something similarly German and traditional.
He doesn’t glance in my direction, absorbed in his magazine. But we’re in the exit row, and when the stewardess gestures at the emergency door during her safety demonstration, he suddenly turns to me and says with a grin, “I guess it’s all on me.” I laugh, surprised, and taking this as an invitation to talk, I ask, “Where are you from?”
“Germany,” he says. “Southern Germany, not Berlin. I was here for a family reunion.” Now that I can see his whole face I confirm that he is, indeed, very handsome.
“But you’re reading in Spanish,” I point out, “And your English is perfect. You sound like an American.” It’s true—he doesn’t have a trace of an accent.
He grins again, his cheeks dimpling, and I decide he has one of the most charming smiles I’ve seen in a while. He tells me he spent two years studying in the US. He’s trying to learn Spanish because he wants to go to South America next year, and he’s also learning Russian because he’s going to Moscow and St. Petersburg next month.
He’s dressed smartly in a polo and khaki shorts, his hair neatly combed, and I start to wish I’d taken more care with my appearance that day. I have a bad habit of looking like a homeless person when I travel. I never fix my hair, and I always wear the most comfortable clothes possible, which usually means yoga pants, sneakers, and an old cotton t-shirt.
Today is no exception. It’s 85 degrees in Berlin and I packed for cold weather, so I’m wearing the only skirt I brought and a totally mismatched (but soft) t-shirt that sits saggily on my shoulders. I’d spilled apple filling on my gym shoes the day before and hadn’t bothered to scrub the stains out. And, to top it all off, I’d stayed out clubbing until 5 this morning (because, when in Berlin) then lain down to nap for two hours before lurching awake to head to the airport, leaving me with bloodshot eyes and serious bed-head I’d made zero effort to touch up.
Needless to say, Patrick is not seeing me at my aesthetic best. I smooth a hand over my hair and tuck my feet out of view.
He asks me about my trip, and tells me what differences I can expect between Germany and Austria. He says he does finance work in Salzburg, but lives just across the border in Germany. I wait for him to drop the words “my wife” or “my girlfriend” into the conversation—a guy this cool must be taken—but he doesn’t.
I mention the speech Obama and Angela Merkel gave at Brandenburg Gate a couple days ago, and we start talking about politics and history and religion, and it turns out Patrick is a wealth of knowledge on all these topics. Embarrassingly, he knows more about American politics than I do, and he rattles off historical facts like he’s reading from an encyclopedia.
“How do you know all this?” I ask, impressed.
“I read a lot,” he says with a modest shrug. Now I’m the one who grins. The effect on me when a man says he reads a lot is what other women must feel when men disclose that they’re rich, or really good in bed, or they own a plane or a boat.
“Do you also have a photographic memory?” I ask, only half-joking. He laughs, and blushes, and I think his blushing is adorable, and we spend the next twenty minutes geeking out about our favorite newspapers and magazines.
Going through security back at the airport in Berlin, I’d had to chug my whole water bottle, and I’ve had to pee this entire time, but have been so into talking to Patrick that I’ve been holding it. I finally get up to go just before the plane starts its descent, but the stewardess ushers me back to my seat and says I’ll have to wait till we land.
By the time we land I have to pee so bad I can’t even think straight. Maybe this is part of the reason why I completely drop the ball with Patrick.
We walk to baggage claim together, and I’m hoping he’ll ask for my number, and he lingers but doesn’t ask, and I hesitate, but then wish him well and hurry to the restroom.
When I come out Patrick is gone, and I immediately start kicking myself. Why didn’t I ask for his number?
Salzburg is a small city, and for the next three days I’m constantly hoping to run into Patrick. I scour LinkedIn and Facebook, searching his name combined with the small handful of other details I know about him.
It turns out there’s a lot of Patricks in Germany and Austria, though, and I don’t have a clue what his last name is. After spending more time looking for him than I care to admit, I give up.
I console myself with the thought that it was just physical attraction and an hour of good conversation. That’s all—nothing to act out a Greek tragedy over.
But… don’t most relationships start with physical attraction, or good conversation, or ideally, both? What are the odds I’d happen to be seated next to the cutest guy on the plane and we’d hit it off? Opportunities to meet men not involving an app these days are few and far between, and a month later I’m still kicking myself for bypassing what seemed like an ideal scenario.*
*(In my defense, I think part of the reason why I kept quiet is because a strange experience with one German man made me a bit wary of all of them, and left me perplexed about German dating culture in general).
That saying about regretting the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did really holds true in love. Not coincidentally, love is also where the stakes are highest; nothing hurts more than heartbreak, and being or not being with someone can change the course of your whole life.
If I’d asked Patrick for his number, maybe he’d have said “I have a girlfriend” or “I’m not interested.” I would’ve had a moment of mild embarrassment, then I’d have gotten over it within hours. At least I’d know what his deal was—knowing is so much better than wondering—and at least I’d have tried.
There’s also the possibility he’d have been glad I asked, and we’d still be in touch now.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson, but the truth is there will probably be future scenarios where I’ll stand there silently and bite my lip instead of saying, “You’re cool, want to hang out?”
As a reminder, though, I keep a list of quotes in my phone for instant courage. This is one of them:
“Continually risking rejection is a sounder strategy for success in love (as in life) than waiting for a guaranteed outcome before trying.”
In other words: when it comes to love, always, always go for it.
Say I love you first. Approach the person you think is out of your league. Ask the cute guy from the plane for his number, then make plans to see him again. There’s so much more to be gained than there is to be lost.
And, to Patrick (for once, not a pseudonym) from southern Germany who sat next to me on the flight from Berlin to Salzburg: if you ever happen to read this, I hope you’ll write me.
Note: A modified version of this content appeared on Thought Catalog