One of the things I love most about our digital, global age is the ability to connect with people around the world so easily. Combine that with actual traveling, which, thanks to my job as a writer and columnist, is a frequent occurrence, and what I end up with is a layer of relationships with men and women in many countries, a layer of consciousness sustained by social apps and websites.
If you don't use social apps as a sexual hookup tool but a genuine place to make new friends, you can meet the most interesting people! In the past half-year my hubby and I couch-surfed with a British composer, liaised with an American writer (a joint book is in progress), had a holiday fling with a Chilean actor-singer, met the stage director of a Vienna opera production (free tickets, yes!), and spent four months in a heated online debate with a German sociologist. Via Facebook and/or Twitter I hooked up with a French photographer, and Indian college professor, several journalists, a Swedish riding instructor, a Finnish Wagnerian, the director of a Brazilian nature reserve, and a Portuguese philosopher, and I had excellent dinner with a male feminist in Amsterdam.
However, social apps are used differently in every country. There are great differences in the way men approach the ideal of an online presence. In the Mediterranean it seems that these apps only serve to help men find quick sex. Grindr users are most active in the morning hours, when you can be sure that the party you are talking to is not entirely sober. In the north of Europe, and in the US, it is much easier making friends and talking politics or the meaning of life.
The difference is not limited to countries or climates. In the UK we find it easier to meet friends in smaller cities, whereas in London the intellectual online life has been ruined by the presence of too many sex seekers and hustlers.
Generally I find that small towns are full of men willing to engage with a foreign traveler for anything from a beer in the pub to a dinner at the local specialty restaurant. I've never met anyone for dinner in, say, New York. But in a small Czech town two weeks ago, my husband and I spent an agreeable afternoon with a local artisan baker and enjoyed wonderful pork roast and dumplings to boot. The postprandial roasting was superb too.
Indeed, friendly people abound in Eastern Europe and Asia. In Istanbul hordes of approachable Turkish men offer to show a stranger the city or take him to a traditional wrestling match. In Budapest we spent two days with a painter, talking Monet and eating vegetarian food. All over Asia friendly guys will show you around town before they show you around their bedroom.
So how do you find friends rather than fuck-buddies? First of all, have clear profile text. Say what you want (for example, "friends, dinner, drinks") instead of just putting up your body stats. For a while my profile arrogantly proclaimed that I was looking for "guys who can spell." It worked. On our last vacation we put "couple, looking for friends." In Istanbul my boyfriend put "Show me your city?" In Madrid last week "Más que sexo" did the trick. These apps are about more than sex if you learn how to use them right.
Secondly, look for the right guys to hit on. No profile text usually means no brains either. Naked torsos never lead anywhere. Guys who take four hours to answer each message usually have enough friends or cocaine at hand not to be worth the trouble anyway. Go for the geeky face profiles, the great smiles, and the meaningful profiles, those with profile text above and beyond their body stats.
And thirdly, don't choose people by their pictures. Look for an open face and smile and a sense that his life isn't just about the next hookup. We spent the best times with average-looking guys who have something to say: an afternoon by the pool with Daniel, an architecture student from Colombia; a night out in the bars with a young Dutch boy and his lesbian girlfriend; a day shopping with the owner of a car business, discussing the Spanish economy. In the end, these encounters are infinitely more worthwhile than answering the 4-a.m. message "Hot! Top?"
Marten Weber is the internationally acclaimed writer of Benedetto Casanova and the 2010 bestseller Shayno. Read more about his books at martenweber.com.