Laura and I both wrote for Appalachian State’s college newspaper, The Appalachian as lifestyle reporters. After she graduated, she took a similar plunge – except instead of moving to New York, she went to Spain. I’ve always admired her bravery for making a big, big move, but like any relationship, her love affair with Spain was full of highs, lows and stolen moments. Below, she shares her experience. If you’d like to share your own falling in love story – from men to friendships to cities and everything else – email me. Learn more about Falling in Love on Fridays here.
Who I Became: A Love Affair With Spain
College was my dependable, fun, slightly hippie lover of 4 years… but when the going got rough, no one was surprised that college and I broke up – he wanted to stay in the same place, and I needed to move on.
I was worried all the way up till graduation, not really sure, like most of us, what the future held. I had sculpted a college experience around talking with close friends, around quality time and putting down roots, and now everyone was scattering. It feels like that, when you know something is over, when there’s no way you can stay together, but you aren’t ready to move on yet.
So I did the impulsive thing: grad school sounded too grown up and though I sent some applications out, they must have smelled the lack of commitment wafting off the personal statement and they said no. Only one thing lured me in: teaching as a North American Language and Culture Assistant in Madrid, Spain.
Madrid and I had flirted before, on a month-long study abroad trip. We weren’t strangers, and when I received my placement in Madrid, I saw that the cute college that had hosted us for study abroad was across the street and around the corner from the high school where I would teach English. It felt cute, connected, perfect. Spain became my accessory at parties; when everyone lobbed the “what are you doing after you graduate?” question at me, I volleyed back my daring, interesting, but not rash choice to teach abroad. How cultured, how adventurous. Me, I just tried not to think about it too much, about how I was making this year-long commitment to a country who I had only been on one date with.
I contacted an old professor who found me a place to live, a little far out of town but with friends of his who had cool lives, two middle-aged flight attendants who knew everything about art history and gave tours of museums in their free time. Again, it all sounded so free and bohemian. So what Spain really was for me didn’t occur until I flew 9 hours across the Atlantic by myself, was let into my apartment by the crabby housekeeper, and really took stock of myself.
I was very, very alone.
I kept expecting for some ridiculous happenstance to make Spain seem as glamorous as my expectations had been, like one of those coming-of-age movies about the shy kid who is sought out by the cool, ‘different’ crowd. However, the fact was that I had a country full of people who, if they could understand me at all, were difficult to understand themselves, so every interaction was an exercise in miscommunication; I had a job with an hour commute on the subway; I had grocery shopping and reading and watching TV by myself because my roommates were rarely home; I had Friday nights at home trying to find folks to Skype with in the States. I didn’t adjust; I languished.
It took months before I could think that maybe I was putting in less than I could to this relationship. Sure, Madrid was a badly-thought-out quick-draw romance and I had committed foolishly to a full year here before I even knew her, but it made even less sense to keep spending my days frustrated that others hadn’t forced me to be their friends, that Madrid had been indifferent and sometimes hostile to my presence. It was time, I realized, to court Madrid, to really light the fire in this relationship. I figured this out about three months in, but it would still be a couple months more before I truly got things together. There were more sad days, more days where I went to sleep totally convinced that I was no better or more interesting of a person than I had been when I woke up. But things did change, slowly and swiftly.
First, I started pursuing headlong any friendship that seemed even slightly promising. This only meant seeing these people for coffee, and many of them turned out to not really like me enough to include me in other plans, but I didn’t care. I needed chats, I needed time with friends, I needed to be a confidant and find some for myself. My job left me time for this, so I just kept being the initiator.
I also visited other countries, but only when I could go with someone or go to visit someone else (I had other buddies who were currently having love affairs with other European cities). It wasn’t until almost a year and a half later that I took a solo trip, and by then I was ready. I don’t recommend solo travel cold-turkey. (for more on that, see How to Travel in Groups).
To find friends and travel companions, though, I found myself pursuing interests that I usually let fall by the wayside when I am unhappy or extremely fulfilled; you know, those things you list as “interests” but that you realistically roll your eyes and say “Oh, if only I had the free time for that!” I joined a group of Spaniards who meet up to discuss English literature and sit in a café; they liked having me there even though my English was already good, and they loved books like I did. I joined a salsa dance class after they practically begged me, because (get this) they didn’t have enough girls. I met up with fellow writers who were tackling the challenge of NaNoWriMo, and I started running road races, and doing the extensive training that my body needed for those races (to put it briefly, I’m not built for speed).
I moved to a different apartment, closer to the center of Madrid, where I could spend more time walking and less time on the metro; I cut out freelance work I didn’t like and added a social media internship that I loved. I learned things again. All this time, I thought I was just trying to find Madrid, to root out the sweet, caring core of the city.
I discovered, however, that Madrid remained mostly the standoffish, sparkling, beautiful behemoth it was when I arrived; it was me who changed. I was the one who learned how to make friends in a city; I was the one who learned how to value my hobbies and let people choose me if they liked me for me.
By the time I was leaving Madrid, two years later rather than the one I had committed to originally, I had made friends I never intended to lose. Madrid, however, I could take or leave; I would come back, conditionally, for the sake of the lovely people I had found there. The break-up was not terribly painful, but mostly because I knew, really knew, that my new homes in the future would be easier to love because I had gone through the hard growing-up process with Madrid. I was ready for the new challenge of a new place (even if it was just Ohio).
I could love better because I had loved Madrid, which was not a bad way to end a love affair; maybe we’ll even get back together some day.
Laura Tabor is a writer and teacher in Ohio; she writes the blog teachingwriterstofly.wordpress.com and has been published in Thought Catalog, Potluck Magazine, NEAT and The Blotter.