The Power of Vulnerability (on planes)

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I am not sure when it happened, but I have finally admitted something to myself that has been on my mind for most of my adult life. You see, I am really good at first dates, but not so good with the whole dating thing.

And, if you ask some of my ex-boyfriends, they may even offer the suggestion that I need way more help than I care to admit. Go ahead, ask Hugo. And Andrew. And Will.

(There are a few more, but the references get way worse…)

And one more thing — no surprise for those of you who know me well — I am also scared as heck to fly, even though I do it often.

The taking off and landing parts are fine because they make sense to me, but it is the mid-air turbulence that freaks me out. In fact, if you ever fly with me, you’ll notice that I never really feel good or look comfortable until we actually land.

Where’s the connection? Where I am going with this, right? Here’s what I have cobbled together in my little head about my dual fear of love and flying…

The beginning is usually fine. It makes sense to me. It’s similar, yet always somehow different and new. There are annoyances of course, like the senseless delays. Other times, it goes fairly easy, fast along the runway and it manages to just take off. It’s also exciting, mixed in with that roller-coaster feeling in the pit of your stomach, but I like that.

Caution is usually exercised, a seatbelt to remind you to be careful. Then it begins to settle. Cruise control. Seatbelts off. Sometimes there are (wash room) breaks, but with a destination always in sight.

Then the mid-air turbulence hits. Seatbelts back on. Doubt. Fear. But, eventually the landing — the end of the journey.

So now that you know how my relationships usually manifest, let me explain how the flying happens…

I quietly start freaking out about 24 hours before my flight (this part is getting better). I pack my anti-anxiety medicine in my carry-on, which I only use for flights more than 2.5 hours, and lately, just the fact that they are in my bag is enough to calm me.

I then sleep, badly. Wake up, and immediately start telling myself things will be OK. Off for a quick shower where I start thinking of the car versus plane crash statistics. “It’s so much more safe to fly,” I repeat.

Close my bedroom door, wondering if I’ll be back safely. Get into a cab, which of course I mean an Uber. I look at Twitter, but don’t open it because I fear a plane crash story will pop up. I go on anyway.

Get to airport. Check in on Facebook so that those close to me know I will be in the air soon. I then BBM/text my sister and brother to tell them I love them, because if I die, then at least that’s the last thing I said to them and they will pass that onto my parents.

Security line, where I strike a conversation with good-looking guys, because it’s seriously an amazing distraction.

(Also: not yet a Mile High Club member.)

Buy a bottle of water at a kiosk in case the flight is too turbulent and the attendants can’t serve refreshments. Then I wait until last call to board because if I can avoid even 15 minutes of being on a plane, I’ll take it.

As soon as I board the plane, I immediately begin flirting with the flight attendants — any of them, male or female — because I don’t discriminate when it comes to the people tasked with saving my life. I smile often, amping up the flirting while discreetly telling them I am an anxious flyer.

(It’s amazing how many free things — like booze — you get when you smile often and just get comfortable with being vulnerable.)

Throw on my headphones and listen to the The National — any and all of their albums.

Then during the flight, I try to sleep, which rarely happens, so I try the next best thing… make eye contact, smile more and build on my initial conversations with the attendant I flirted with earlier.

Usually this consists of me further explaining why I don’t like flying. It usually goes something like this: “Yea, it’s weird, I fly a lot… but I still get freaked out. You see, the take-off and landing parts are OK, but it’s the turbulence that gets me, because I just don’t understand why the ride can’t be smooth.”

And they reply with: “It’s pretty common, but really, there’s nothing to worry about. I have been flying for [insert number of years here], and I am still here.”

(Then I think: right, because the dead ones are… dead. I don’t say that out loud, obviously.)

When I am really desperate, and when I fail to charm the flight attendant (this is rare), I have the same dialogue with the person sitting next to me, because well, they can’t go anywhere.

The surprising thing though is that doing this has actually resulted in really interesting and unexpected conversations of substance with complete strangers. Each of them teaching me something new.

(Fuck, that was exhausting.)

What all of this flying has thought me is something embarrassingly simple: just talking about my anxieties, admitting that I am scared and deciding to share my vulnerabilities helps. And if you do it while flirting a little, the success rate increases exponentially.

Now, if only someone could come up with a dating app where all my future relationships have to take place on a plane…

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