You Haven’t Really Been Loved Yet

Feeling the warm water trickle over my feet, I closed my eyes and exhaled, trying to permanently capture this moment in my memory. I lost count of the blue stars above me, and for a second – I lost track of where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. The night burst into a million little white flames, circling and consuming everything I could see, all of what I could feel.

It’s so beautiful! I heard behind me in a few different languages and I whispered it to myself into the air – knowing no one could hear me, but hoping that someone, somewhere did. I can’t believe this is happening to me, I thought as I folded my arms against my chest, pushing sand further into my skin. A meteor shower just happens to happen the night I’m here. After a few failed attempts to take a photo, I gave in and decided it’d just have to be something I see for myself, without looking back at, without trying to show anyone else. This evening, this experience, it would be for me.

Are you okay? a sweet Spanish voice asked, as he reached for my hand. I smiled, tasting the salt on my lips, and told him in as many words as he and I both could understand, that yes, I was more than okay, I was amazing. He kindly wrapped his arms around me and we watched the magic unfold before us, and I thanked him for sharing it with me. After a few minutes, we noticed we were sinking into the ocean – standing still when you should be moving does that to you – and we walked with heavy feet and drunken grins back to the shore, as I wondered if I’d ruined my little black dress with all these tropical stains. I then realized I really don’t care.

So why did you come here alone? A beautiful girl, like you! Alone? I don’t believe it! he, the green-eyed, tall, Puerto Rican cardiologist that my new-found friends called after learning I was traveling solo. I explained for probably the hundredth time in the four days I was there, that I just needed to escape, that I wanted to try being by myself and that really, all I needed was more quiet and sun, less trains and delays. I then casually reminded him that right now, I wasn’t exactly alone. He leaned over and kissed me.

I let him.

Did you come here because you were sad? He asked while tracing imaginary lines up and down my slightly sunburned leg. I closed my eyes and wondered if honesty was the best policy, or if I could just continue kissing the heart doctor who lived to help others, but tonight, wanted to help me. I explained I was healing the organ he knew best, and that while I wasn’t exactly upset or depressed, I was releasing the girl I was to become the woman I wanted to be. Because only I would meet someone who cared about the feelings of a stranger he just met, he asked for the story, and I tried to sum up everything I could in a sentence or two.

You just haven’t really been loved yet.

He said matter-of-factually as he pulled me into him, and looked out into the vastness before us. Confused both by the statement and the tequila that was slightly starting to wear off, I considered what he said. How could this person, who I knew nothing about – not his age, not his last name, not his relationship status (though I hoped single for karma’s sake), not where he’s been or where he hopes to go, not anything – say something he, really, has no basis to claim? The only thing he knew of me was my name, that I write about love in New York, and I was getting over an impossible situation. Wrinkling my forehead, wanting him to stop running his sandy fingers through my hair, I felt anger brewing inside of me  – how could he say that I’ve never been loved?I’ve had how many relationships? I’ve said those delicately powerful three words to how many men? And all of those men have said it back. 

But all of those relationships have ended too, Linds, I considered. Sometimes because of me, other times because of them, and most of the time, because the combination was a little too much or a little too wrong. I’ve thought I’ve found it a few times, only to be proven that whatever it was, wasn’t really what I was looking for – or deserved. These men, the ones I write down in my personal history, the ones I gave myself to and shared portions of my life with, I’ve love endlessly. I’ve felt their love in return, or at least whatever fraction they could offer me at that time. Was this man right? This man who I was teetering between despising and wanting to invite to my two-room suite a few blocks away?

What do you mean? Why do you think that? I asked as I sat up. Look at those eyes, he said and touched my lips again. I pulled away and stared at him, really wanting to know the answer and refusing to let him use lust to distract me. In his best English, trying to make me comprehend, he said, When you’ve really been loved by someone, when that someone is good, they don’t let you get away. They make sure you know they love you, they do what’s best for you, even if it’s bad for them. They fight. When you’re really loved, it doesn’t end. 

Have you really been loved? I inquired, pensively. Not yet, but I hope to be one day, he replied with a crooked grin, begging me to stop talking to him with words, and find another way to communicate. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with him or if I thought he was full of crafty lines and reasons, but I spent the next few hours purposefully not trying to figure it out, and not saying much of anything.

When he left, we shared a kiss in the dark, and he said, Not everyone finds loveBut you will.

And you know, I think he’s right. Though I’ll never see him again – and I like that I won’t – I think he will too. I think we’ll both really be loved one day.

It’s Not So Bad

My last day in Puerto Rico, I woke up to find sand in my sheets and a little tequila hangover — both souvenirs from the night before. Along the beach closest to my resort, there were three tiny huts that passed as bars and after realizing they were where the locals go, I vowed to eat dinner at one for a true Puerto Rican experience.

As I was sitting alone with my Mofongo, reading Condenast Traveler, sipping a Mojito and listening to the ocean, the table across from me — two girls and a guy — waved me over to join them. (Here’s a snippet of the man, trying on my shoes!)

That gesture is what I loved most about PR and about traveling alone: everyone is so welcoming and accommodating, and they can’t stand to see you by yourself, so they don’t let you. I didn’t know if I’d get used to flying solo for four nights and five days, and luckily I didn’t have to- every place I went, the beach, the pool, the local shops, the resort grounds, the bus, I made friends. Everyone called me courageous and a little crazy because they couldn’t believe I would choose to vacation with only my company, so they kept me company to ease their (and my) mind.

I found a North Carolina themed bar on top of the Intercontential with two gals from D.C. I met by the tiki bar while chatting up Pedro, the bartender with a crooked, crazy smile. I heard about the woes of professional soccer – or really, the lack of financial opportunity – from my 20-year-old massage therapist who’s currently going through a “rough patch” with his girlfriend. I helped the guy who made the best iced coffee I’ve ever had plan his proposal to his lady of six years (it’s on May 20th!). And then there was the friendly older man who sat next to me on the bus and asked if I’d tell New York “Hola” for him, since I only live about 20 blocks from where he grew up. I met three sets of Honeymooners, from Texas to Brooklyn. An older, drunken man playing the guitar on the cobble-stoned streets of Old San Juan asked if I’d be his wife, and when I politely declined, he offered his equally intoxicated friend instead.

I sat on the beach at nighttime, covered in sand and feeling the warm water tickle my toes, talking to a Puerto Rican cardiologist with deep green eyes about literally healing a heart. I walked with three families and a couple through the tropical rain forest, and a little girl with blonde curls fell asleep on my shoulder on the way back. I listened to a woman with age spots and wild white hair read her favorite poem in Spanish, and then do her best to translate that it advised when you let go of something or someone, you should do it with love, not hate. Then there was the man who made pottery at the resort and let me spin the wheel, and another woman with piercing blue eyes who told me the locally-made bracelet I selected would bring me luck. And the couple I shared the breathtaking moment when walking by the colorful, historic buildings downtown, a rainbow appeared across the Puerto Rican sky.

I thought about these characters, trying to figure out the lessons I was supposed to learn from these chance encounters, while watching the clear sea splash to the shore that last morning. While I had met and experienced so many adventures in my short time on this island, I was worried I wouldn’t find the inspiration I came looking for. Traveling to this unfamiliar place, I hoped I would find something inside of me that made me believe again – maybe in myself, maybe in the universe as a whole, or maybe just in love. I didn’t come to Puerto Rico to find myself or to rediscover the person I once was, but to let myself be still, be on my own, and let whatever was to happen, happen. That, and get a tan – which quickly became a difficult task with my Irish roots and the fact that I can barely stand still, much less lay still for hours to bake in the sun. But at ten in the morning, sipping coffee to wake me up (and rid of that tequila) I was determined to at least come back with a sunburn, so people would believe I actually went on vacation.

However, as it often does, the tropical rain came without warning, and at full torrential force. I watched as the tourists threw towels and hats over their heads and ran to shelter under the palm trees or the security of their lofty hotel balconies. The Puerto Ricans, though, ran in the opposite direction – toward the ocean, letting the rain be a playful turn in the afternoon, not the end of it. I hunched under my umbrella with my soaked towel draped across me half-way looking out at the scattered scene, while partly trying to keep dry. Though I was trying – very hard – to find my Zen before leaving PR and to discover peace in this place, I couldn’t help my annoyance at the weather. The sun was now entirely hidden, and I worried that I’d be forced to spend my last day here, cooped up in the hotel, ordering room service and watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

Just as I was about to follow suit and race back to the room, a Puerto Rican man with a Corona-belly walked past me to join his family in the water, and said:

“It’s not so bad!”

I’m sure he was just encouraging the embarrassingly pale lady he noticed hiding, but those four little words were exactly what I needed to hear. Did I really care if the magazine and cover-up in my beach bag became saturated? Did I have makeup on? Did it really matter if the rain-and-wind mix made me a tad chilly for ten minutes?

Or really, did I have anything in New York to escape from? Is a tender heart that’s been a bit bruised or the stress of a full and robust life anything to really complain about? Or are those things, these unexpected — and sometimes difficult – parts of existing that really make life worth living? Aren’t the times when you’re aching or you’re afraid of the unknown that really, your soul is just awakening? That you’re discovering what you’re made of? What you can do without the help of anyone else, without speaking the same language of strangers, old lovers or friends who know you best?

Why was I hiding under that umbrella, convincing myself that the day I had planned was now ruined? Why did I let myself live under a similar shelter in New York – staying away from anything that could really hurt or put me out of my comfort zone, keeping anything that could make me vulnerable far out of reach? Isn’t it time to just…live? Time to let the weather take whatever course it’s meant to take?

So I dropped my bag, towel and sunglasses and ran to join the locals in the angry waves. The rain stung at first, but then the water felt even warmer than before, and the spirit of those in the sea was joyful because they know a little rain never stops anything for long. It always passes. You just have to be brave enough to let it fall. Brave enough to let it hit your skin and wash away all that you thought you wanted so you can find something you didn’t know you needed. Like a swim in the tropical rain on a tropical island, all by yourself.

And you know what? He was right. It wasn’t so bad after all. It was actually, beautiful.

My First Real Adventure

As much as I hate to admit it and how naive it makes me sound — I’ve always been a little afraid of traveling.

Getting on a plane to New York – a city in the United States that’s only two hours away from my family – is one thing. Sure, that was a bit scary too, but I knew I was coming to a place I could make it, a place where $150 could get me a hotel room somewhere for a night. But going to another country or so far away that it’d be really expensive or difficult to get back to a place where I felt safe, that’s a completely different story.

This anxiety of being out of my element hasn’t prevented me from being thoroughly interested in what’s beyond my own border. I actually read more blogs about traveling than I do about what I write about: dating, love, sex and all that terribly-personal jazz. I’m captivated by the adventures others are brave enough to go on, often without much of a plan or even a place to rest. I’m insanely jealous of my friends who have made opportunities for themselves to get paid to go somewhere and write about it. Or the ones who put their faith on a shoestring budget and everything they need in a backpack and just jump freely into the next flight that welcomes them.

It all sounds so exhilarating and so not me. But then something odd happened a few weeks ago.

My good friend R returned from a trip to Costa Rica where she extended her stay by a week because she loved it so much. On Gchat, I excitedly asked about her getaway and she ever-so-politely refused to tell me anything until we saw each other in person. A few days later, over sushi and wine, she informed our group of friends that not only did she have an incredible time, but that she was leaving for a five month trip around the world. She didn’t know where or how, but she quit her job, found a subleaser, made plans to bring her pup to her mom and a ride cross country to visit a friend in California before leaving for Asia. Or Greece. Or somewhere. She looked into a sailboat that would make her a crew member, traveling the Caribbean and over to Europe. She explained her couch surfing successes and how she planned to keep floating from Lazy-Boy to Lazy-Boy, seeing all that she could along the way.

It wasn’t the haze of the cheap white wine or the lack of sleep from the night before – it was pure shock that stunned me to silence. Here was my beautiful friend who has been unhappy with her job and with her life in New York for a while, finally taking a plunge to see what else is out there. She seemed more alive and refreshed than I’d ever seen her, and because she has no family or partner to care for and 10-years worth of savings to pull from, she isn’t worried. Sure, her cash could run out, but she’d figure it out. Her courage was astonishing and woke something up inside of me.

Every dime I’ve made has either been in pursuit of moving to New York or while living here. I save because I know I should and for emergencies, but I don’t spend. Unlike the majority of my friends who could call Bloomingdale’s their middle name, I’m a little hesitant and super-cautious with everything I earn and especially what I put away. But for what? What is it that I’m pinching pennies for? What I am working toward?

Or more importantly, what am I so afraid of? No, money doesn’t grown on trees, but wouldn’t I, just like R, figure it out if something happened? If I found myself in a tight situation? If I was afraid overseas, wouldn’t I use my street smarts to ease my confusion? If I ran into trouble, couldn’t I get myself out of it, as I have so many times before? Or am I waiting to go somewhere until I have a man? But what about this feeling I have now? This incredible, impossible to explain sense of peace and sense of self that makes me not want to be in love with anyone? That makes me so happy to be flying solo? Am I hesitating so someone can split the bill and someone who protects me? If so, there has never been a better time to dream bigger than a honeymoon that’s nowhere close and nothing that I want right now.

So really, what’s keeping me from seeing the world, other than me?

After some long-winded conversations with my mom and much encouragement from my friends, I booked a vacation. Not just any trip, though – my first getaway, completely alone. In April, I’ll visit Puerto Rico, hike through the rain forest, do yoga on the white beaches and tour the ancient city near me, all by myself. While I don’t need a passport for this excursion, it’s at least one step closer to taking those chances I’ve been wanting to take, and seeing that big world that’s been waiting for me to leap.

And while I’ve always thought I wasn’t the traveling type or the woman who could jet-set from place to place without writhing in fear of failure – or worse – I’m starting to think that maybe, I’m not any sort of woman of all. I’m still a lady who is changing, who is figuring out what she wants, where she wants to spend her money, how she wants to live, where she wants to visit, what languages she wants to learn, what things she’s captable of. Instead of living in my own self-perceived stereotype, it’s about time I challenge myself to be something so much more. Someone who knows she can do so much more than she gives herself credit for. Someone who can go on a trip all by herself and have a damn fabulous time. (I hope!)

Looking at my confirmation, noticing that my purchase was non-refundable and seeing my name as the only name on the ticket, I couldn’t stop smiling. Finally, after years of talking about it, hours spent fretting if it was the right decision and years passed never spending money on anything than the necessities, I did it.

I bought my very first real adventure. And if this aching to search for another vacation (perhaps to Spain?) is any indication – definitely not my last.