It all sounded perfect. The plan was to visit him every few weeks during the summer in the French and Italian riviera, where he moved to work. It would be a summer of soaking in the Mediterranean sun, eating cheese and gelato and spending the lazy weekends basking in our long-distance love. I convinced myself that it was worth it because I loved him. We didn’t really have much of a concrete plan other than that (he would always get annoyed when I wanted to partake in the cardinal sin of Planning Ahead) so we were ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ looking to see if long distance for us would work. We had already spent a large part of our relationship apart – 4 months the previous year, an agonising 6 weeks apart in March, then an additional 3 weeks in May. It felt like we were already experts at this long distance thing, convinced that our strategy of ‘winging it’ was going to work for us for a while longer. We spent 2 weeks on holiday in Australia getting reacquainted again, then just like that, he went off to start his new life in a small coastal village on the Italian riviera.
During the course of the summer, every time I travelled to see him, it felt as if I was having a holiday fling, a romantic getaway, a honeymoon: romance and travel are as hand-in-hand as a long walk on the beach. Back then, the times apart in between these ‘vacation flings’ were insignificant… the 3 or 4 days that I’d spend with him, in beautiful Nice, or Milan, or Cinque Terre was like living in a dream, as if this is how it would always be: simple, beautiful, carefree. And while we were together, it was like that. The beauty about this relationship was that I got to travel – for the days I saw him, I allowed myself to escape the self-constructed constraints of normal life, and lived more freely in the moment, because after all, that’s what travel is about.
I remember it had all started with a dance-floor kiss one humid May evening. I knew he was younger but it was the case of the fuck-it’s. No strings, No attachments; there was no expectation of anything further. But somehow it did go further. And the further we dove in, the less simpler it got and the more the strings started to appear and get tangled. In my insecurity I asked too many questions that he didn’t have answers for, which resulted more often that not in roundabout conversations about the complications of our relationship that just confused the crap out us. Then the ‘long distance’ started. The vast periods of time we spent apart were torture. Those in-between bits started to become frustrating. He wasn’t much of a communicator which made it especially hard – there was an always excuse for not talking too long on the phone (expensive), or Skyping more regularly (drinks at the bar was higher on the fun-meter than talking to your girlfriend), or sending an email (he didn’t like writing). But I still persisted, I loved him the best I could, but somehow it wasn’t satisfying because I felt I wasn’t getting anything back.
It’s a funny thing to spend a large part of your life starved for love — hungry for it, searching for it, desperately looking for someone to give it, an elusive feeling you’re sure would fill that big empty hole inside. Especially when the only love you’d ever known had suddenly up and left you just months before. So I was hungry for it. And they say hungry people make bad shoppers. You pick the hurt, the broken, the non-committal, the emotionally unavailable, and it becomes a project: “I’m going to love them like no one else has; I’m going to make them love me, Goddammit.” You tend to pick the people least able to give you the very thing you crave.
With him, I hoped, I dreamed. I started to weave elaborate fantasies and scenarios in my head of how our relationship was, is and should be. I was far more concerned with these fantasies than the actual reality of what was happening around me. You rationalize and justify. You cling to little scraps they give you like life jackets on a sinking ship. He doesn’t like talking on the phone. He must be busy if he hasn’t returned my call. It’s okay for him to make plans with everyone else except me, that’s just the way he is and he’ll come around eventually.
In reality I was giving my entire loaf to him and only received scraps back. Because hungry people, they say, will settle for scraps. No wonder I was still starving.
In the throes of that Mediterranean Summer towards the end of September, in one of the “insignificant” in-between parts, and after the 65th excuse of why he couldn’t Skype that night, I began to hear a voice — a quiet but insistent voice — that kept repeating, “You deserve better.”
I told him I needed space. So we communicated at a minimum. But like a mantra, the voice didn’t stop: “You deserve better”. Over the course of the repetition, the weeks of chanting in my own head, “you deserve better” became about something other than him, not about what he did or didn’t do. It became about me. It became about what I had settled for, what I’ve let be okay with me. It became about how I had set myself up to be hurt, and refused to acknowledge or be accountable to that hurt. It became about how I’d constructed fantasies and lived inside them, used them as a way to not be present for myself and my own issues. It became about how I have so recklessly given away my self-worth and looked to other people to validate me — begging and begging for them to fix something in me that wasn’t theirs to fix.
It became about how I wouldn’t dare ask for something better, because I didn’t really think there was anything better for me.
And somewhere, inside all that, it became about believing, if even in only some small broken chamber of my little broken heart, that maybe there was something better. We had proven to each other that we were both incapable of handling our reality – the relationship wasn’t just about the travel romance, but the in-between bits as well. He wasn’t in the position to give me the love and attention I craved when we weren’t physically together. At the same time, there were no plans to be physically together. It was long distance or bust.
So I chose bust and we broke up.
My Mediterranean Summer ended, just like that. We spoke on the phone about it and that was that. I’m still not sure whether he was upset or relieved, my guess is the latter, as a newer, younger girl appeared on the scene within weeks. Yes, I still love him. And the hurt still resurfaces. But I’ve learnt to love myself more. I have no regrets other than we didn’t have a conversation about the closure face to face. I offered, he refused. But I’m at peace with it now. I’d like to think I’m a better person for it. And whilst it will always be the Mediterranean Summer that never was, it was the summer I learned to love myself again.
All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.