“When we deny the story it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” ~Brene Brown
Oct. 12, 2016, was not a good day. If you were around then as a reader of my blog (or connected with me on any form of social media), you may remember a little incident in Italy that left me there alone to finish out what was supposed to be a trip with a now ex-boyfriend. And, in case you may have forgotten, my solo-ness was a result of sending him back to Denver because I couldn’t stand to spend another second. I include the last part because that decision turned what had been a horrible situation into an opportunity. It was the first step in taking control of the situation and of my story and flipping it into a time of healing and reflection.
That decision allowed me to turn what was a day when I felt like a victim into the day I kicked an asshole out of a country. That decision flipped the story and my memories of the trip which, unfortunately, will always hold a bit of the negative — but as I look back one year later, the memory of feeling like a fucking badass is what stands out. The rest is just secondary and almost notional.
It is now Oct. 12, 2017, — one year later and I will spend my evening finalizing the guest list for my wedding. A wedding that will result in my marrying the love of my life. To say a lot has changed in the 365 days would be a bit of an understatement.
And, while I won’t go so far as to claim any direct correlation between the events of that trip and meeting my fiance, I do strongly believe that something significant changed in me as a result of that experience. That change then prepared me for the day I did meet him and this time, instead of ignoring my heart, I listened with open ears.
I won’t oversimplify the situation by implying arriving at that point was easy. I worked my ass off to be there. What follows is my account of that journey. I hope my story resonates with some of you and maybe even gives you a little bit of courage to choose what may seem like the more difficult path, but is the one you know is right for you. ❤
How to say ‘table for one’ in Italian
If Paris is for lovers, then Italy is for breakups. At least it was for me. And, not just a this-isn’t-working-out-so-lets-part-ways breakup, but one of those life-changing, deeply visceral type of experiences that results in you questioning every decision you’ve made up to that point in your life and the path you have created for yourself.
Italy shouldn’t have been for my breakup, especially when you consider I knew – deep down, and even not so deep down – that he wasn’t right for me, that we weren’t a good match. Something was just off and not adding up about our relationship. Italy was supposed to be for me, a trip that originated as a solo yoga adventure during which I would meet other yogis and spend the week relaxing, writing and exploring a new country.
When the retreat was canceled, however, I thought what a great idea to invite the man I had just begun dating, despite the fact that the trip was not taking place for many months. It just felt right because, at the time, so did we. This was the man who, following our first meeting, I exclaimed to my friends that I had just gone on my “last first date.” I am not one to throw phrases such as this around willy-nilly. I am also not one to take such a risk because, let’s be honest, he was a risk. But, isn’t that always the case with love?
At the time, at that very moment when I extended the invite to him on what was now formerly known as my solo Italian adventure, I was not thinking of the risk. I was not considering that anything more than a perfect excursion awaited us in this new country. We would explore Italy hand-in-hand and completely in love. No other option existed.
Four months had passed since that invite when we boarded the plane. Our relationship was no longer shiny and new. Even though it had been a relatively short time, we had been scarred with many battle wounds. While I will never claim to be perfect, in this case, he was the one holding the knife and I the recipient of the cuts. And instead of running from the blade, I had been attempting to dull it by making excuses for him and for us and for why I couldn’t just walk away.
As we boarded the plane, I wanted more than anything for this trip to be the thing that pushed us through – to be a better us and a couple who would endure. Instead, it became our swan song. A bloody, beaten and completely obliterated ending to what I had once thought would be our forever. But, before that, there was a plane ride. As I sat beside him, or, rather was crushed between him and another staggeringly broad-shouldered man for 10 hours, I found myself regretting the invitation. I wished I could take it back and that I was alone with a good book and a joyous adventure on the other side of the ocean.
I looked over at him felt hate. And also love. And every other confusing feeling that falls between the two. But mostly I just wanted him to stop snoring so I could get some rest because I knew when we landed it was not going to be all rainbows and roses. There would be a fight because I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t do Italy with him. I couldn’t do us.
He survived the flight without being smothered (by me) and we began our ending. First it was a drive to Cinque Terre and a stop at the ocean en route that almost had me in tears because I wanted more than anything for him to disappear. I tried to make the best of it. I drank the Americano and dipped my toes into the ocean and took in the beauty that was the Italian countryside. But he was a dark smog settling into a valley, polluting everything in its path. So, I accepted it for what it was and told myself I would get through. I would play nice for the next seven days. He and I would make it through – not as a couple, there was no we for me by this point – and we would return home and have the talk and then he would move his belongings out of my house and maybe I would send him a nice note on his birthday and perhaps include him in a group text around the holidays because I did care about him and love him, despite the knife wounds. He and I would make it through and I would enjoy the trip for what it was and accept that it wasn’t going to be the best experience but that there would be good moments and I would seek those out and that would be my Italy.
He and I did not make it through.
I discovered what happens when the person you love turns into a full-blown monster. When you discover the knife was just the tip of the iceberg. When the blade becomes a machete. This became my Italy. Lies, deceit, drugs, money, threats, sobbing, pleading. This became my Italy.
When the storm had calmed a bit, I attempted to turn back on the mindset that he and I would make it through. He and I explored Florence separately, but sometimes coming together. I hated him. And loved him. I hated myself for still loving him.
Then all at once, I knew I had to be away from him. I had to remove this toxicity from my life and right at that very moment. He and I would not make it through. I had to leave. He had to leave. Hours on the phone attempting to change flights ensued. Hours of me sobbing uncontrollably because I had never wanted anything more in my life than to be away from this man, but I was stuck. He was stuck. The only options were very expensive and he already owed me so much money and had ruined Italy. Stuck. Helpless.
He had to leave and I was his only ticket out – literally. (Side note, never go on an international trip with another human who does not have a credit card or lacks the means and mode to take care of himself should the need arise. NEVER EVER.) Removing this man from my life became the focus, no matter the cost. And so, the ticket was bought.
I dropped him at the airport the next morning – not because I am a good human (although I strive for that to be the case), but because, again, no money – and that was the last time I saw him.
What follows is a real-time account of the immediate breakup aftermath.
Remember that time you went to Europe with your boyfriend and then found out mid-trip that he wasn’t at all the man you thought and you confronted him and the entire thing — relationship, trip — blew up in your face? No? Is that just me?
So, yeah, I’m currently writing this 5,500 miles from home in a hotel room near Venice — solo, alone, just me, but actually doing pretty well considering — because did I mention I’m in freakin’ Italy? A country for which I have fallen 100 percent head over heels in the last few days. I made the trek across the pond with a man whom I thought I knew and loved very much based on that and now he is en route to Colorado while I remain to explore on my own for a few days, which is kind of really okay.
Is this the way I would have wanted this trip to go? Of course not. But, I am extremely grateful I had the courage to make a really hard decision — especially when it would have been much easier logistically to wait until home. I’m grateful I finally walked away, even though it meant giving up on something I had wanted so desperately to work. And, while I won’t go into any of the details of the situation, I’m hoping putting this out into the world will lessen the where’s-the-boyfriend-how’s-the-boyfriend-did-you-guys-have-so-much-fun-on-your-trip questions. Because, while Italy was ridiculously amazing, “we” did not have a good trip.
Fortunately, despite everything that happened, I am enjoying the trip. I’ve been able to put aside somewhat what was/is happening and be in the moment and take it all in. And, for this I am truly grateful. Because, WOW, there’s so much to take in.
Adding to the list of gratitude is my support system, who even thousands of miles and multiple time zones away, have made every effort possible to make sure I’m okay. I love these people so much. And, the amazing Lufthansa representative who worked some sort of voodoo magic to get my rebooking down from $2,000 to $295. I owe that woman my first born. Also, bonus points for her response to the portion of the call when I had to explain why it was just me rebooking and was crying slightly (seriously, it was the equivalent of holding back tears), “I cannot understand you when you are upset. Are you okay? Please calm down.” Gotta love the Germans.
And, for those who may be worried about me, I assure you I am more than okay. In fact, I’m better than I have been in months. And I have all I need here until I return in a few days.
You know how people say “just think what a great story this will be someday?” Well, I’m bound and determined to take back my story and have someday be today. I’m ready to accept my defeat with my head up and eyes ahead. And, while I’m not so naive to think true healing won’t take time, I am ready to put the past behind me.
Now, off to take advantage of the last 45 hours in Italia. Un tavolo per uno, per favore.
After I had processed a bit, I did what I could to revive the trip and enjoy what time I had left in Italy. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and what followed were three days of pouring rain, which restricted me mostly to the confines of my hotel room where I saw the country and its people go by via a rain-spotted window. But, that was kind of okay because sometimes making the best of a situation means curling up in the fetal position and self-medicating with tears and American movies dubbed in Italian. Strength takes on all different forms.
When I did venture out, it involved driving up and down the autostrada and sometimes venturing off the main road while also attempting to not get lost in the Italian countryside. My soundtrack included Taylor’s Swift “Shake It Off” and Incubus’ “Nice to Know You.”
And while it was not the adventure I had planned, it certainly was an adventure – in the travel sense, but even more so in love, life and lessons. Upon my return home, much time was dedicated to reflecting and healing.
Two days ago, I spent my final night of what was supposed to be an amazing Italian adventure with a man I loved, solo near Venice watching the rain fall through a hotel room window. As I peered from above at the crazy Italian drivers cruising down the autostrada, I couldn’t help but smile.
I earned my badge as one of those drivers. I had survived the difficult new challenge of weaving in and out of lanes (that seemingly didn’t exist), kept up with the lead-footed Italians, and learned to not freak out when a fellow driver was just inches behind me or scooters zipped around cars as if their operators were invincible. Not only that, I had done it on my own. Just me. And perhaps my white knuckles would indicate otherwise, but at some point, I actually began to almost feel comfortable with the new experience.
And the next morning, as I was literally breaking out of the hotel through an emergency exit when the main doors failed to open, I smiled again. A huge, ridiculous toothy grin that warmed my heart. A smile that made me pause, despite the fact that I needed to quickly exit the hotel parking lot as I had presumably just woken the entire building with the alarm. I smiled because not only had I successfully driven in Italy, I, the queen of lists and check boxes and plans and following the rules, had survived a week that had gone anything but according to plan. I smiled because it had been a rough few days, but I had made a series of very difficult, but very necessary, decisions that rocked every plan I had made for the trip. I smiled because I had been disruptive when it would have otherwise been very easy to just continue on until I returned home. I smiled because I had not only made it through, I had grown — a lot.
See that’s the thing about expectations — they’re never really what you plan, what you would like them to be. Lists and check boxes can only go so far because really, like 99% of your life is not in your control. Sure, you can prepare and you can anticipate things will go a certain way, but the universe doesn’t care about your lists. The universe could not care less about your itinerary.
And that’s okay. Really, it is. Because while a world that goes exactly as planned may be safe and secure, it would also be dreadfully boring. Consider all of the strength gained by overcoming those unexpected obstacles. Just think about all of those missed opportunities to break out of your comfort zone and discover who you really are. Because, remember, while a ship in harbor is safe, that is not what ships are built for.
It’s been months now since I boarded that plane in Italy to return home. There have been many hours, days, weeks spent going over the events of that trip – and the months that preceded it – in an attempt to understand. Where did it go wrong? What signs did I miss (turns out, many). What could I have done differently?
As a project manager (or, former one), I’m always looking for the lessons learned and the takeaway. How can we take what just happened – good or bad – and use the information for future projects/experiences? How can we ensure we’re not put in another situation like this again? Or, that we are, in the case of a positive outcome.
The lesson I learned is that I am stronger than I thought. That despite seeing the “signs” or warnings, sometimes you take a risk and sometimes it doesn’t work out how you had hoped. But that strength within you will get you through. It may hurt like hell and you may be tempted to feel ashamed of the outcome. But, you’ll get through.
You may enter something a “we” and come out a “he and I.” But that doesn’t mean you’re any less of an I – despite sometimes feeling you’ve lost a piece of yourself. That I is you and you’re strong and vulnerable. That I loves and she will never stop loving. That I is someone who will heal and come out stronger on the other end.
And accept that I is just as strong as we. And that there’s nothing wrong with a table for one – regardless of whether you’re in the comfort of your own home or in a foreign land 5,500 miles away.