by Jen H
Intro to my romantic travel memoir
| When I was younger I’d always heard, usually from sickeningly happy shacked-up friends, that you find love when you stop looking. This was before the boom of internet dating, whose very existence seems to negate that theory, at least according to the commercials. Nevertheless, in my affection-starved late teens I tried to heed this advice. But how do you just stop wanting something that you want really badly? I didn’t understand how that worked. |
The longing was tethered to me with a taught cord. Worn down and frayed after years of brooding, obsessing, and yearning, that cord finally snapped, and my aspirations of being one half of a couple finally floated away. Suddenly, now in my twenties, I didn’t care about being in a relationship. Just like that, my desire for love evaporated and was replaced with desire for adventure. And though I’d never tell those smug couples that they were right, sure enough, they were. Romance was the last thing on my mind when I started traveling, yet my young life soon became enveloped in it. This is my story about love, travel, and trying to find a balance between the two.
I've yearned for adventure from a very young age. My parents have told me the story of how (unbeknownst to them), I climbed out my bedroom window one day and stood on the ledge- admiring the world from a new point of view. Eventually my father walked in, had a mild heart attack and scooped me inside. I was two.
As a young teen in school I became intrigued by other cultures; fascinated by the idea that there were places around the world unlike anything I had ever experienced. There were people who spoke unusual languages, ate peculiar foods, and practiced bizarre customs. I watched and read as much as possible about those cultures. I filled my daydreams with scenarios of visiting exotic locales, immersed in the awesomeness of unfamiliarity.
I took a ten day trip to Europe with some friends when I was 17; a graduation gift from my parents. Our first day was spent on an accelerated walking tour of Madrid. We'd stop to snap a photo of something Spanish, then dash to catch up with our nimble tour guide. I felt so alive that day: alert and aware of everything that was going on around me. I walked at the back of our tour group, perfectly quiet. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, because I knew I could and would talk to them as often as I wanted to at home.
But as I walked the streets of the cities we visited, I knew it could, and would most likely, be the first and last time I saw those places. I was enthralled with the cathedrals, the tiny cobblestone streets, the road signs and soda cans. Everything different from what I had seen for the past 17 years amazed me.
Our evening was free, so my five girlfriends and I took a stroll through the downtown neighborhood near our hotel. We wandered into an open square. The sky glowed orange behind the dark silhouettes of the buildings encompassing the plaza. In the warm evening, the square was bustling. Older men and women walked arm in arm while their youthful counterparts sat on wooden benches flirting and laughing. Small children scooted around on bikes, trying to avoid the people walking their dogs. The six of us sat on the ground in the corner of the square, reviewing the day's events and still trying to believe where we were.
A small crowd of cute teenage boys spotted us from across the square, and after a brief assembly, nonchalantly made their way over to us. My heart beat faster as they stood, surrounding us.
We looked up and said "Hola." They smiled, easing my fears, and we stood up to talk to them. Putting our four years of Spanish class to the test, we each tried our best to give interesting answers to their questions. We shared likes and dislikes of movies, actors, music and singers. We talked about current events and discussed TV shows. We compared fashion trends. We chatted, in Spanish, until the sun went down and we had to head back to the hotel.
As we said “Adiós,” and made our way back by golden streetlight, we gushed about what had just taken place. It was a real encounter with locals from another country, spoken in a language not our own. It was, at that point, the coolest moment of my life.
I wish I could recreate the wonder of that night: the freshness of the experience and my neophyte’s exhilaration. It was in those moments on the square that I was bitten by the travel bug and decided exploring the world was something I wanted to do as much as possible, for the rest of my life.
Throughout my early teenage years, when I wasn’t imagining myself exploring foreign countries, I imagined myself with a boyfriend. Traveling the world was a more attainable goal. My awkwardness was not just a short phase, unfortunately, but a total encapsulation of my whole Junior High life. Brad teased me about my poodle perm, and Brandon and John called me Poopyshoes all through 6th grade after I stepped on a dog turd one morning on the way to school. I was not cool.
Things became slightly better with boys as I got older- the last couple years of high school I started to outgrow my dorkiness and a few guys actually asked me out. It wasn’t a total transformation, though. I finally had my first real kiss at age 16. We were sat in Mike’s black car on the street outside my parents’ house one night. He immediately tried to stick his tongue in my mouth, which was puckered up like I was going to give my grandma a smooch, so his tongue ended up smooshing against my teeth. Awkward.
And the embarrassment continued throughout community college. There was a guy named Joseph I really liked when I was about 19. He finally asked me out and we went to the movies and to a late-night diner afterward. Everything was going great!
He drove me home that cold January night, and when he pulled into my parents’ driveway, he offered to walk me to the front door. He left the car running to keep it warm inside. I, without thinking, automatically hit the lock on the car door before closing it. He looked at me with an expression of shock.
“Did you just lock that?
“Uh, yeah, why?” I asked.
“It’s a power lock. All the doors are locked now. My keys are in there and–”
“And the car is running. Shit. Shit! I am so sorry,” I said, hands up over my open mouth.
So poor Joseph had to come into my parents’ home at 2:00 AM to call his dad and have him bring out the spare key. I brought him up to my and my sister’s bedroom, which was a mess of the girliest degree– underwear and bras on the floor and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a box of tampons on the dresser. Oh yeah, and Kat was asleep in her bed. I let him use the fluorescent see-through phone I bought when I was ten to call his dad. Then we waited silently in the living room until his father arrived with the key.
“Do you want to come out and meet my dad?” Joseph asked.
“No, I’m all right,” I said, still mortified and not wanting to face the man I had just gotten out of bed late on a frigid winter night. That was the last time Joseph and I went out.
I went on a lot of first dates after that, but nothing ever came of them. I began to feel like I’d be single for life, and started to finally be okay with that. I stopped caring. I stopped hoping. I stopped looking.
I remember a conversation with my sweet, concerned father as we did the dishes together one evening before I transferred to a four year university.
"Don't you want to find a boyfriend? Get married someday?"
"Nah, I don't know if I'll ever get married. I'll be moving around too much," I replied as I dried a plate.
“Maybe you could find someone to travel around with you,” Dad suggested.
“Eh. I don’t know,” was my answer.
I'm sure he was disappointed, but I knew that having a vagabond life was much more interesting and important than settling down with some guy, even if I did meet one that wanted to stick around.
I did have short relationship while away at college. My first boyfriend- at age 20. It was an unforeseen connection between friends, and though brief, was great while it lasted. Travel was still my true love, though, and it came between me and Bradley in the end.
I started wandering at the age of 21. When I was abroad, I was at my happiest. I suppose happiness is an attractive trait, because I received more attention while traveling than I ever did before. Adventure was the most important thing in my life, though, and none of those guys could hold me back from my dreams. Well, almost none of them. This is my story about international exploits and unexpected romances; memorable moments and regrettable mistakes. This is my story about when life surprised me with a perfect match, whether ready or not.