On the Road for Work and Finding Love

Posted December 25, 2017 2:16 p.m. EST

In 2010, Heleen Devos, a native of Belgium who works in corporate social responsibility and communications for a French energy company, was heading to Cuba for a United Nations climate change conference.

“I had seen him and found him handsome,” Devos said dreamily of a Chilean in her row. Yet she was unsure of his relationship with the older woman next to him.

“Was she his mother that he was traveling with? Was it an aunt and a nephew, or a woman and her boytoy?”

Her questions were answered after the plane stopped in Cancun, Mexico. She went over to talk to the man, Rodrigo Arlegui Fuchslocher, and the woman with him, who, it turned out, was his mother. Devos and Arlegui exchanged contacts, and after several stops and starts to their relationship, got married.

“It had occurred to me maybe I will meet someone on the plane,” she said. “That was where I was spending most of my time, after all.”

Not everyone has such luck.

The romantic tribulations of business travelers is a theme of the 2009 film “Up in the Air.” But when even a road warrior played by George Clooney has trouble, it’s clear some need help, a Dolly Levi type to connect them to prospective dates. That’s where modern-day matchmakers like It’s Just Lunch come in. The company gets many of its clients through airline magazine advertising.

In an email, Melissa Brown, chief executive of It’s Just Lunch, said finding love was difficult for business travelers because “despite the hype over coast-to-coast romances, most singles prefer to date someone who lives in the same city.” She added, “Business travelers spend more time away from home than not, which means their chances of organically meeting someone are significantly decreased.”

Brown said that while many of her clients travel, only about 25 percent are “true road warriors,” spending the majority of their work time traveling. All of her clients, she added, “are time-short — which is one of the key reasons they turn to our service — but business travelers feel it even more acutely. They can be gone all week with no chance to make weekend plans.”

In 2016, the company conducted an online survey, with some questions specific to travelers. About a quarter of the respondents indicated they had met someone on an airplane that they might be interested in dating.

One client of It’s Just Lunch is Larry Chiarelli, a team leader in field sales at CarGurus, an online automotive shopping website. Based in New Jersey, he said he traveled frequently by car for work, with a few flights a quarter to Boston, where the company has its headquarters. His trips can last up to a week.

Chiarelli said he used a matchmaking service because he was frustrated as a business traveler.

“With things overall chaotic, like switching dates up,” he said. “Sometimes you would get a date and you agree on a date, and you have a schedule change and you have to reline everything up. It’s a tailspin at times.”

There are a variety of smartphone applications that anyone, not just business travelers, can use for dating, including Tinder, OKCupid, Grindr and others, along with paid and unpaid online services. Chiarelli said he used eHarmony and, but “technology complicates things, and I think it also dilutes the dating experience.”

He said he had also met women through friends, but he could not reduce his travel for prospective dates.

“If you have a client who is ready to sign and you need to fly and meet with them, or do a drive overnight, you can’t get out of that,” he said. Frequent travel also meant that it took longer to know what relationships wouldn’t work. He said without his travels, “I would have been able to cycle faster through people I met. It’s like being a lawyer in the discovery stage, but with so much time and distance between dates.”

A matchmaker, Chiarelli said, is “like having an administrative assistant to schedule things for you.” Finally, he met Ping Ma, an actuarial consultant and frequent traveler who was a client of It’s Just Lunch, in 2013. They married on New Year’s Eve 2016 and have appeared in the company’s advertisements. They are expecting their first child in March. Another matchmaking service catering to business travelers is Selective Search in Chicago. Barbie Adler, the founder, said that 65 percent of her company’s clients were business travelers. In an email, Adler said, “the obvious factor that separates business travelers from typical clients is their constant on-the-go lifestyle.” Her clients, she said, “typically have limited time as it is, and the business traveler is an exponential extension of that.”

She said matchmaking services can help with relationships because “business travelers spend most of their days running to airports, hotels or getting established in one of their multiple homes.” Proximity, she added, “is also a challenge because clients who find themselves in various markets for short or random periods of time find it hard to establish any social roots in those markets.”

Adler said both men and women tend to make relationship mistakes. Men, in particular, however, might be “successful in their business lives,” but professional success “does not necessarily transfer to their personal lives,” she said.

Brown, of It’s Just Lunch, said for business travelers, simply changing one’s routine might help someone find romance.

“Don’t eat in your hotel room,” she said. “Look for a restaurant with a community table. These tables are usually filled with other single travelers looking for conversation and a good meal.” And forget about smartphones. “Take a break from screen time and look around. You never know what you might find,” she said. That idea of leaving oneself open to chance is one that Devos, the French energy company employee, who now lives in Bangkok, wholeheartedly recommends. Falling in love and having a family is no reason to stop traveling, either, she said.

“We have a daughter who is 4 years old, and speaks four languages. She is a cosmopolitan traveler who has been to so many countries,” Devos said, rattling off destinations around the globe. “She is an international kid from an international couple, and I am very happy that I can give her that kind of life.”