My boyfriend and I were walking back to our hostel in Berlin after a pub crawl when he told me he had to be alone for a while. We had been traveling together for less than two weeks.
He had been brooding and calm since getting off the plane in Paris. He blamed it on jet lag, but he remained “jet lagged” for the next 10 days. I tried to be very chatty and affectionate whenever he was distant, but it seemed to irritate him even more. I could tell he wasn’t having fun, but I hadn’t forced him to be there.
He was almost himself again during the pub crawl as we sipped margaritas and joked with British backpackers. He even held my hand a bit on the way back. I started to cry when I realized it was the first time he had been doing this in days. A sob escaped my lips before I could stop it.
“I hate it when you do that.” He let go of my hand. “I need a break. I shouldn’t have taken this trip.
He had never spoken to me like that before, especially not when I was crying.
“Because I didn’t know it would be like that!” You are so clingy. Why can’t you stop acting like a lost kitten? ”
“Are you seriously calling me clingy?” I saw a taxi stop nearby. “Would a clingy person this?”
I ran across the road, hopped in the back seat, and vanished into the night, giving him all the space he wanted. Was it immature? Absolutely. Would I handle it that way now? Probably not. But at the time, it felt good.
Thought to stay out overnight in a club, but everything looked closed so I asked the driver to take me back to our hostel. When my boyfriend stumbled through the door an hour later, he hadn’t changed his mind. He started to list everything I had done that had pushed him to the limit. He was angry with me for pressuring him to go on a trip. He accused me of hiding my face under my bangs and of hiding my body under oversized cardigans. He told me that my insecurities were like clouds of cobwebs obscuring my real self.
The last time I saw him was at the station as I got on a train to Prague. We had booked a hostel there for four nights. I had planned to spend a few days getting together before planning my next move. He was staying one more night in Berlin before returning home. I sat in an empty car and started scrolling through photos on my phone – all to avoid making eye contact with him for the last few seconds before the train pulled away.
I spent the first hour of the train ride silently crying and gasping loudly, between devious sips of a miniature bottle of convenience store wine. Fortunately, I had the car to myself.
The memories of the past year and a half played on loop in my head spending the holidays with his family along the coast, our New Year’s Eve kiss at his friends’ party, lazing on the beach reading aloud on our last weekend back home.
I looked for a mistake I could point out and swear never to repeat it. I thought I was a caring partner. I gave him space, never watched his female friendships or complained when he struck up conversations with pretty waitresses. Sometimes I got mad at him when he canceled plans at the last minute. I knew he had a lot to do; I just wish he had better organized his time. But there was nothing to explain why he couldn’t be on the same continent as me anymore.
I thought of something an older colleague told me before I left for Europe. She and her then boyfriend went hiking together in their twenties, and she came home convinced it was him.
“I knew if we could go through this, we could go through anything,” she told me. They have been married for 16 years now and have three children.
I didn’t expect our trip to go smoothly. I liked finding places and having a basic itinerary, although we didn’t stick to it. He thought I should be more spontaneous. Plus, he was never on time for anything, so I knew it would be up to me to make sure we didn’t miss our trains. But we loved each other, I thought, and we had always managed to discuss our problems. It was our first real test as a couple, and not only did we fail spectacularly, but I also had no idea what I had done wrong. I wasn’t expecting a fairytale ending, but I had hoped for one with a little more dignity.
Two hours later, I looked out the window correctly for the first time. The sun was setting over green hills dotted with cows and small thatched-roof thatched thatched thatched cottages. The hills cast gloomy reflections on the stillness of the river that flowed beside the railroad tracks. I saw the hint of a city skyline on the horizon. A strange energy was forming in my chest, bringing me out of my stupor of pity. It made me want to laugh, cry, rage and roar at the same time, so hard that I sent ripples into the river. I felt less like a lost kitten than a lioness ready to maim the next tourist who threw fries at me.
It occurred to me that I could continue to examine the wreckage of our relationship for answers that might never come or that I could leave the pieces on the floor and move on. I had worked hard to save for this trip. I still had a few weeks left in Europe and we hadn’t booked anything after Prague. Not only could I go where I wanted, but I was Single.
I spent the next two weeks in this weird elevated state where the colors seemed more vivid, the food tasted sweeter, and the sunsets made me cry. I woke up each morning knowing I could do whatever I wanted, without feeling guilty or worrying if he was having fun. I explored the trendy and dirty castles and alleys of Prague. In Budapest, I partied in open-air bars, kissed a stranger on a dance floor and recovered in the thermal baths. I caught up with an old curry friend in London, turned to the Harry Potter studio tour, and spent my remaining money on a corset and leather notebook at Camden Market. There were times I would have liked him to be by my side savoring the experiences with me, but they never lasted long. After all, he had chosen not to be there.
I started to feel more like my old self, the girl who would try almost anything once just so I could write about it someday. Being alone forced me to start more conversations with strangers. Sometimes conversations turned into drinks and card games at a hostel or a night out exploring a new city. Other times, I would go out for a meal on my own and remember how much I enjoy my own company.
I expected depression to come when I got home and had to face real life, but it never happened. I downloaded Tinder and started aligning the dates the second the bars appeared on my phone after the plane landed. I dyed my hair red, started taking pole dancing lessons, and sold the earrings he bought me on eBay. He texted me sporadically over the next few months, saying that he missed me and that he was sorry for how everything had turned out. I stopped answering once I got all my stuff.
It’s been five years. I haven’t completely forgiven him, but I allow myself to smile sometimes when I think of happier times. When I look at the photos from this trip, I can see the shock and pain in my eyes, even when I smile. But I also see glimmers of the rage that I channeled into my career, securing the job of my dreams. I see sparks of creativity as I begin to try to capture what I see on paper. I see a glimmer of hope to be healed with the intention of loving again someday. I see someone who took her pain and used it to create the life she always wanted for herself, on her own terms. I have no regrets.
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