I love traveling. But I hate getting my hair wet. It's a tricky combination.
When my hair is wet it looks like a wet janitor's mop, or like an Hungarian herding dog got left out in the rain and fell asleep on top of my head. It takes a team of experts to salvage my sopping coiffure and quite honestly, that's not necessarily a bad thing being pampered by such a team but it definitely takes an entire village to reconfigure my tresses. I hate getting my hair wet.
So, here I am. Standing in Maya Tulum, staring into the deep blue seawater, taking a deep breath, the kind you feel to the souls of your bare feet, remembering to exhale and about to dive in headfirst. And contemplating the Birdman question: "How did we end up here?"
Instantly, thoughts of some of the men in my life flash through my mind. Men who have changed my life, in fact, for better or for worse.
I originally fell for him because he was fun. Want to free fall? He loved to jump without nets. Charming was his middle name -- he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in a white dress.
But there were also warning signs going off from the start I didn't quite heed. You know that little voice in your head that either doesn't speak up loudly enough or tugs at you ever so slightly to say, "Hey, Houston we have a problem?" Yeah, that didn't happen. He admittedly had cheated on his ex. Money was no object, either; he was a big spender -- with money he didn't have. And when we met, he was 36 years old, "in between jobs," and sleeping on a friend's couch. The red flashing lights -- with sirens, no less -- were going off loud and clear but I, like so many other women, managed to turn all of those red flags a pretty shade of docile cotton candy pink. I assumed I could turn those negatives into positives. I assumed he would change. Well, I assumed wrong.
Pink soon turned to red, not unlike that ketchup popsicle, in part, because we seldom traveled. Sure, Manhattan is an incredible island to itself but the thing is, we rarely left it. And on those rare occasions in which we spoke about traveling, we were seldom on the same page. If I wanted Arles, he wanted Aruba.
That's a problem because travel, to me, is a holy experience. It stirs my soul! It soothes me, heals me, grooms me and grows me. As I leap outside the looking glass to see world, as well as myself, from a new perspective, it gives me confidence. Traveling is like a best friend you take time to sit and have tea with, laugh and explore with, where minutes melt into hours into days. Your mind wanders as well as your soul and I feel like a better person because of it. It's in my blood and without some type of trip on the agenda, I feel starved. The insatiable appetite to see parts of the world was feeling severely malnourished. Traveling invigorates my life and makes me me -- reminding me of who I am and what I love to do.
We broke up.
In the immediate aftermath, I sought out an old flame. The ex before the ex. My first love to be exact, and the polar-opposite of my previous relationship: Professor Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle. The man who originally taught me how to travel and experience the world. The one that I thought "got away." Sometimes, I now wonder, if the past is in our past for a reason but the one that "got away" and I got our passports stamped in Italy, Dubai and back to Europe. I felt alive again! Our trips rejuvenated my taste buds for life.
The funny and interesting thing about bad relationships is that, in retrospect, they are made up of a series of missed metaphors. When, in hindsight, maybe all I needed was a simile.
So, once I was lost in Arles, France. Not really lost, but definitely not found. That feeling where you're roaming and not quite sure of your surroundings -- it can be quite liberating but there's a point when you really need to get your bearings and find that elusive compass. Or in this case, a street map. I was sightseeing with the Professor. Ironically, he told me to buy a map. I dutifully followed the order, heading into a store to make the purchase.
When I stepped back outside, he had vanished.
I'm a free spirit. Full steam ahead, all the time, no matter where I or we are going, even when I have no idea where I or we are going. Quintessentially headstrong, I like to feel like I'm in charge. At least, I like to feel like I'm in charge until it's blatantly obvious that I have no idea what's happening. Panic. Sweat. Wild-eyed terror.
This was the same man who would dart across the street as the light would change, only to leave me behind, stumbling in front of moving cars, in my five-inch heels. It wasn't uncommon for him to refuse to help me carry the groceries around the store because the crowd made him irritated. Then, he would make a run for the subway, even if it meant me missing the train and him making it.
I was lost with no idea how to get found.
And then, out of nowhere he reappeared. "Where the hell have you been?" I blasted at him. To which he responded, "I knew you could take care of yourself."
And he was right. Turns out, I didn't need to repeat a previous toxic relationship just for the sake of getting over another.
Just like Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, I had outgrown him. It took traveling to small corners of the world to discover we no longer fit but the warning signs were flashing and I was listening: It was time to move on. This time, I let the "one that got away" go away.
I don't regret traveling with him; in fact, I still look back fondly on those trips. For now, though, I just sort of gloss over the fact that I took them with him. By traveling I was indeed taking care of myself, just not with him.
Back to back break-ups had hurt me. My self-talk was destructive and I told myself my heart was broken and unfixable. Feeling like I would never fall in love again, I convinced myself that I didn't even believe in love anymore.
One pivotal night, months later, while convinced that my heart was still calloused, I went on an accidental date. I'd known him for about four months, and the truth is I didn't really like him, much less think of him in terms of attraction. In fact, I didn't really feel anything for him at all. We co-existed in a small world that, somehow, led us to make plans to discuss an entrepreneurial idea. Definitely not a date and definitely strictly business, and we both (thought we) knew it. And how could it be anything but business?
Until he ordered that bottle of wine and began to talk about how much he loved Paris. His words were music to my ears; his sparkling eyes were illuminating, not unlike the Eiffel Tower every evening. And my accidental open-mindedness led to the start of a really wonderful and rewarding friendship and romance. A start of just that -- beginning something anew and not returning to old, toxic patterns.
A romance, it turns out, that he was much more ready for than I. After seeing each other for about six months, he bought us plane tickets to Paris. The prospect of traveling again made me ecstatic as we planned to visit wonderful places with visions of stealing a kiss on a Parisian street corner.
Then I chickened out, at the very last minute.
I couldn't do this again. Not yet. And not because I wasn't crazy about him. I need to stop. I needed to pause. I needed to breathe but more importantly, I needed to be alone.
Which brings me to the most important man in my life. My dad.
My father is a brave soul, and a wise one at that.
When I was 23-years-old, packing up my car and heading off to my first job in television news in Oak Hill, West Virginia, my father doled some love advice. He told me, "It's better to be alone than lonely with someone."
Who wants to be alone? My dad's words made no sense to me at the time. The idea of walking into a restaurant and saying to the hostess "Just one, please" is daunting, terrifying, and depressing. Movies alone. Shopping alone. Entire weekends alone. It all just sounds and feels terrible. Bleak.
Until it doesn't.
My father found out the hardest way imaginable what it means to be alone. I watched him lose my mother to cancer, but go on to raise two kids on his own, and all the while, never give up on love. He is forever a believer.
He's so strong that he never has to be lonely, but the world forced him to be alone. At least for a while. Years later, he found Carol, his new wife. To this day, he still calls her his bride. He trusted in his heart and soul that true love exists and passed that message onto me.
I knew it was time to be alone. To get my head and my heart right, to embrace one another instead of running away. It was time to get still and figure out how to be alone but not lonely with someone.
And, as it turned out, that new "accidental" man in my life was very forgiving and very understanding. He truly, genuinely wanted me to be happy.
Which is why I'm standing here on this endless beach in Mexico where there's no beginning and no end, where the water and the horizon kiss the sky. Traveling. Contemplating all the questions in my heart, slowly finding answers. About to get my hair wet. About to dive in head first. Alone, but not lonely. And brave enough to know that I do still believe in love.
This is one of my stories as The New Single - I would love to hear yours.
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