by Katherine Forsythe, MSW

Cupid, that pesky little urchin, finds great glee from striking his arrow through your heart- especially when you are on the road. Beware! His antics may cause you to think you’ve found the love of your life. In reality, it may be something else.

This scenario could happen anywhere in the world: It’s almost Valentine’s Day. You are in Paris, the city of love, and you can’t stop thinking about him after your meeting at that romantic little café on the Champs Elysee last weekend. The phone rings. What if it’s HIM? You spot a car that might be his in the parking lot, and your heart pounds uncontrollably. Unexpectedly, he shows up at that little cafe, all alone. You almost drop your cappuccino. Did you mention you were coming here today? You desperately try to think of what to say. Hey, how’s it going? [too American] Hello – I didn’t know you were coming here today? [lame]. Bon jour! [you’re kidding me]. You are awkward and tongue-tied. You are dizzy and high. You ask yourself: What’s the MATTER with me?

Whether you are 17 or 97, there is NOTHING the matter with you. Like many women, you are simply, solidly in lust – doing what we all do, at any age, when a captivating new man enters our lives and new romance blossoms. The secret is to recognize this passion and obsession as infatuation. Don’t mistake it for love.

Relationships – and all their sexual, sensual, and obsessive fascinations – come in four distinct flavors: Interest, Intrigue, Infatuation, and Love. They don’t necessarily happen together, or in a given order. Each can stand alone. Each has its own challenges. As a woman traveler, you need to know the relationship terrain of where you are – and how to handle it.

When traveling, Infatuation gets red flagged. It’s the biggest trickster of all. It feels like love. It acts like love. It will give you lots of fun, but also the most trouble, and the biggest heartbreak.

Interest begins with a first glance. If that first eye contact lasts more than five seconds, you’ve said, “I’m interested”. Try it. Flirting begins here with a whole cadre of signals – one of which, surprisingly, is to look down bashfully after that five second look-then look up again and smile. Interest is piqued, and you’re on your way to the beginning of a new relationship, a strong friendship or dating.

Intrigue is based on pure desire, nothing else. Ever made eye contact with someone and instantly felt that electric buzz? That’s hot intrigue. You can scarcely help yourself. It’s strong. It’s physical. It’s a heat seeking missile. It’s a one night stand. If you already have a partner, it can mean real trouble unless you ignore it.

Love-true mature love, not romantic love, is slow developing over time, energizing, dependable and supportive. In real love, you don’t need to be constantly together because your trust level is unquestioned. Just like everything else at the true love stage, sex becomes safe and comfortable. It’s very normal for partners in long-term love relationships to long for the return of the passion and romance found in Infatuation. For their relationship to survive, they must work out how to re-inject intimacy and excitement back into their lives.

Our smitten lady at the beginning is solidly in Infatuation. She may think she is in love, but she’s in lust. Like Intrigue, she’s emotionally and sexually on fire. But, beyond the one night stand of intrigue, she wants a deeper relationship. She thinks about him 24/7. She exhausts her friends’ patience talking about him. If and when they get together, the fires burn hot. They are inseparable. They have a favorite song. The list of things-in-common is mind boggling. Does it mean she has met the love of her life, the father of her children, the long awaited soul mate?

The answer is a cautious maybe. Infatuation is an intense, time-limited state of affairs. The good news is that infatuation is necessary and wonderful – flooding you with endorphins and pleasure hormones that make the world a beautiful, exhilarating place. As it evolves, this is romance at its best. It’s fuel for romantic poets and sages. At Valentine’s Day, when all the hearts and flowers and music are warm and wonderful to receive, you fall easily.

When you are on the road, life has a heady aura about it – no matter where you are around the globe. Men are paying attention, and you no longer feel lonely. Your common sense is askew. You take more risks as they seem to be part of the adventure. You feel more confident, more understood, more beautiful with this new man than ever before.

Caution! What goes up must come down. Infatuation’s romance has an evil twin – a painful dark side. For all the amorous, euphoric feelings of romance, there can be moments of gloomy, distressing reactions, based mostly on how could he do this to me? We only want the “good” parts of romance. As a result, reactions to the “down” parts are often extreme. Abandonment, disappointment, and rejection can produce depression, groveling and begging, even stalking and threatening our former “beloved.”

What to do? Suggestion #1: Be honest with yourself. Infatuation is fun and fabulous when it’s ridden with hearts, flowers and hot sex. Enjoy every moment of the fervor. But, recognize that you are at an unbalanced place. Take time to exhale. Spend some time by yourself for reflection. Take care of yourself. Talk to your girlfriends. Stay in touch with your family. When you maintain communications with your stable relationships, you keep perspective on your new “love.”

If you stay with him for awhile – anywhere from 3 months to 3 years – don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering what happened to the flame, when the intensity starts to wane. In a healthy relationship, that’s a moment to savor. It signals the possibility of a long term commitment. It means you are dropping the pretense of romance, and are beginning to develop genuine, deep intimacy. You may have a chance to morph into real long-term love – a much more stable way of life!

Suggestion #2: If you “fall in love” on your trip, don’t marry him on the spot! Don’t even make promises for your future! You may laugh, but it happens all the time. Accept reality. You have no accountability, you are not in your real world, you are vulnerable and you are in lust. Enjoy the moment, have great (protected) sex if you decide to go that direction, but at all costs, recognize what you are doing. Listen to your friends when they tell you to be cautious. Understand that tearing yourself away from him when you leave is merely part of the drama. You can and will live without him – at least for a few months while you get your head screwed back on. Don’t try to remake How Stella got her Groove Back with you as the femme fatale. You will feel differently in a few weeks when the hormones calm down.

Here’s a cautionary tale. My dear friend Lucia met the love of her life on a cruise ship. Upon reaching home port of Miami, they vowed to meet at his apartment in New York City on Oct. 14 at 6 PM – exactly 3 months from the very date of their first encounter on the cruise. The problem was that he forgot!. They had passed passionate emails back and forth after the trip. They talked about the rendezvous. She flew to New York, her pulse racing. She bought flowers (cleverly reversing roles). She donned her sexiest outfit. She bribed the doorman to let her take the elevator to his apartment, unannounced. She struck a sultry pose outside the door. She rang the doorbell. When his wife appeared, she wanted to die.

A few years ago, there was a diamond advertisement that read, “Nothing worthwhile happens fast.” Cupid isn’t going to like it, but it’s the truth about love, too. Infatuation is the trickiest of all emotional waters to navigate. Enjoy it, but be truthful about what is happening. Real love takes time.

About the Author
Katherine Forsythe, MSW, writes about sex, intimacy, and relationships. She speaks to audiences across the country.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to Katherine about private intimacy or relationship issues, call or email for an appointment. Phone coaching or on site sessions are available.

Katherine A. Forsythe, MSW, is credentialed by AASECT – the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Katherine is a graduate of the University of Michigan in Communications, and holds an MSW with a specialization in human sexuality. She is a graduate of San Francisco State Institute for Human Sexuality. She has been an adjunct instructor in human sexuality for physicians, at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.