It was the first thing I did for me, to figure out who I was without him, when I met the man who showed me the feeling and meaning of love.
I had just gotten out of a five-year relationship. I filled my car with packed boxes and moved out of a home I had called “ours” for four years. Knowing it was the end of a chapter that had defined me and paved what I thought would have been my future, I was lost and sad, sad at my core. I began reading articles and books and decided I was going to begin a journey to figure out who I was without the man I had thought was my other half. I told myself that I would meet the person for me on my journey: the one who shared the common thirst to explore themselves and the world.
After speaking with a childhood friend about my new personal endeavor, we booked our first trip outside of the country to Paris and Barcelona. We went on Easter week and learned that most places in Europe were closed during that time. We expected the streets of Barcelona to roar at night, but we were some of the very few who stuck around for the holiday. You approached us, a fellow lone tourist. You were tall, dark, handsome, and charm twinkled in your eyes. We joined you on a hunt for a bar that was open. You held my hand while walking from bar to bar. My wounded heart created a barrier and I felt nothing. You friended me on Facebook and messaged from time to time.
A little over two years after we met, you asked if I was available to show you around New York after your friend left. I reluctantly agreed as I didn’t know you and I knew work would be hectic during that time. You didn’t know it at the time, but I only planned a three-hour long outing that started at the Union Square Christmas markets where I already had plans to go gift shopping with my work wife at the time. Before she left, she encouraged me to spend more time with you as we seemed to be hitting it off. With that, I lifted my three-hour time limit. Is the night as vivid to you as it was to me? We walked around Chelsea market, a painting of the Flatiron building stood out to you, so I took you to see it. I took you to my favorite bakery for chocolate chip cookies and I learned you prefer your cookies soft. We walked to dinner and you had chocolate on your face. I waited until you were done eating to tell you. While we were at dinner, Jamie called and asked if I wanted to go to a few speakeasies in the city with her and Andrew. It was the perfect plan for someone who hadn’t been to NY before. You were having such a good time singing and dancing to English songs you knew. We shut down a bar drinking beers and talking and headed back to your place. It felt so nice to wake up in your arms. I had plans that morning, but it was so hard to leave you. I thought about you all day and didn’t hesitate when you invited me back over. You bought a ton of snacks and we watched half of a movie that you told me we would finish the next time we saw each other. I felt so comfortable with you. I fell asleep right away in your arms. I woke up Monday morning with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes knowing you were flying home to Sweden that afternoon. In case you’re wondering, I’m not one to get attached or fall for someone so quickly.
I called my sister while finishing up Christmas shopping that evening and cried to her while standing in front of the Container Store because I fell in love with someone who lived nearly 5,000 miles away. I realized that I had never loved anyone before you. I remembered the words I told myself a couple of years back, about meeting the person for me on my journey, and there was no doubt at the time that you were that person.
We spoke every day for a month. We didn’t need to define what we were or even confirm exclusivity. We had a mutual feeling and that was enough for the both of us. I hadn’t heard from you for a few days and my heart ached, but I wasn’t going to force something that wasn’t there, especially since we would both need to put in effort to make it work given the distance between us. You called me after a week and said that you tried to stop communication, but you decided that you wanted to explore the feelings you had. I should have known the rest of the relationship would also be on your terms. We spoke every morning when I woke up and every night before I went to bed. I never felt happier, never felt more like myself. We talked about everything from our friends, school, work, politics. You were attracted to my career and work ethic. I was attracted to your honesty, strong-willed personality and your desire to push your limits and explore.
That Spring, you applied to a grad school in the U.S., but did not get accepted. I knew it was for the best since my work schedule at the time wouldn’t have allowed me to take time off and visit you as frequently as I would have wanted. I was so excited for you when you told me you got into a university in Italy. In February 2016, we made a plan for our future: I was going to visit you in Sweden in June 2016; you were going visit me in New York in August 2016; I would attend your graduation in June 2017 and we’d figure out where we would live together after that. I wonder now, as I’m telling this story, if you ever visualized your future with me the way I did with you. When we were talking, I found myself to be overall happier, more confident, more secure and less receptive to stress and anxiety. *The conversation carried on as usual until two weeks before I was leaving for Sweden. You said everything was fine, but I knew it wasn’t. On the third day of my visit, you casually mentioned something that made me ask if you weren’t planning to visit me in August after all. While standing in line to get into a bar to watch a Sweden Vs. France soccer game, you said “I didn’t want to tell you before the trip in fear of ruining our time together, but I failed a test that I needed to pass to go to grad school in September. The test I need to retake is in August, so I won’t be able to visit. Because of this, I realized our situation is unrealistic. We live too far away and you’re an emotional thinker and I’m more logical.” My sunglasses hid the tears and the sun dried them before they had a chance to drip down my face. I stood in silence, heartbroken. At that moment, and for several months after, I felt like you had stolen my happy future.
I felt like I had to rewrite my future and until that moment, you were the only thing that I was sure about. My only long-term plan revolved around you. I kept reading a quote I had written down after I broke up with my boyfriend of five years: “The best part about life is not knowing what’s going to happen next.” This quote has given me hope when I’ve felt loss and it has led me to embark on many new adventures. Two years later, I still love you, but I understand that you weren’t the one for me. I am grateful for you, the man who show me what it felt like to take a chance on love. It has opened my mind and heart to so much more.
What gives us great happiness, often also gives us great pain. Without the pain, we wouldn’t learn, change or evolve. I am not only excited for my future personal (and professional) successes, but also my “failures.”
If you passed your test, here is what could have happened (starting at *The conversation..):
The conversation carried on day-to-day and when you picked me up from the airport you held me in your arms – for the first time I felt loved for who I am. I knew then that I was going to be loved unconditionally, the way I loved you. On the third day of my visit, we were standing in line to get into a bar to watch the Sweden Vs. France soccer game. You embraced me and we stood there for an hour, but it felt like time had stopped. The week we spent together was easy. We sat next to each other at restaurants, gave in to the urge to kiss in public and got to know each other on a deeper level. We didn’t cry when you dropped me off at the airport because we knew we’d see each other in a couple of months. That August you came to visit. We spent time at my apartment in NYC and at my dad’s house in Long Island. We spent hours playing board games with my friends and family. Everyone quickly realized why I loved you so much. While in Manhattan you wanted to look at apartments that were available for rent to get an idea of cost of living. You said you could see himself living in New York with me after graduation.
Our love was so strong that we were only grateful for the time we had together and not sad for the time spent apart. As the weeks and months went by, it grew harder and harder as pain was starting to grow where I once felt love. I felt like I was going through the motions every day that year, just waiting for him to make a final decision to move to Manhattan or not. I wasn’t living. The high wore off and I no longer felt eternally happy. I was lonely, sad and anxious about what would or wouldn’t happen. It took over every thought and every conversation.
We landed at the airport in Stockholm at the same time. As I’d hoped, I felt the same way as I did when you embraced me at the airport one year prior. It didn’t take long for me to feel like myself again and for love and life to be restored in my heart and mind. Graduation weekend was beautiful. Your friends and family were so grateful that I was part of your life and theirs. The night before I left, you told me that you wanted to wait to tell me in person that you landed a job at Ernst and Young and would be moving to New York.
You arrived in August. We moved into a beautiful apartment in the East Village. We quickly created our own schedule. We woke up early, went biking through the park, and had breakfast together while watching the news. After work, we would meet for a drink and a light dinner at a local restaurant to catch each other up on our days. We would go home, prep for the next day and you’d spend 30 minutes before bed teaching me Swedish.
We were so caught up in work and our new life together that the holidays were the only time I saw my friends and family. After almost a decade of working in PR, I decided to step down from my position as the stress was too much for me. It got to the point where you were the only one who eased my pain. I wanted to pursue a more fulfilling career that freed up time for me to rekindle my relationships with myself, my friends and my family.
I was at the apartment much more. Our schedule fell off and it was harder to leave the house together as we spent most of our time in separate rooms of the apartment. Since I no longer had the power job you were attracted to, you forgot, or perhaps never knew why, you loved me. Watching you play video games day in and day out in our living room, I realized I didn’t know who you were. I didn’t know your quirks, your sadness, your happiness, or your fears. I took on more volunteering opportunities (which you wouldn’t understand) and spent weekends on Long Island without you. You said I was wasting my time giving to those I didn’t owe anything to. After three years, we learned how many core differences we had.
We ignored all the signs that we were wrong for each other. We liked the idea of each other and, sadly, that was the only consistent feeling for either of us. The truth was that we never got to know one another. We may never have been interested in getting know one another. We knew that we liked the way the other made us feel, but that wasn’t enough. It never was, and never will be.