You guys, I have this weird obsession.
Whenever I meet someone for the first time, and I know they are in a relationship, I get desperate to know how they fell in love. Like, I itch to know.
It blows my mind that two people just happen to be in the exact same place at the exact same time who both feel the exact same way about each other. Love is a complex thing, you guys. I know it happens every day, but still. I find it amazing that it happens at all.
Of course, because I don’t want people to think I am crazy or anything, I always try to wait a socially appropriate amount of time before I get up close and personal. I try to assess if they are the sort of person who likes to give up intimate information freely.
That doesn’t always happen.
The waiting, I mean.
My lack of social barriers can tend to be Too Much for people, and on a few occasions I have found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat when a question or two have crossed the line. When things get personal, they can also get unpredictable. In the past, I have blurted out questions and not been at all prepared for some of the answers I’ve received. So, I sit there cursing myself for being so nosy. Think before you speak, Rachel. Honestly.
However, it’s how I like it. It’s how I make new friends regularly. It’s why Joel often looks at me puzzled when I start talking animatedly about my ‘new friend’ and says, “Wait. What? Who’s Caitlin?” and I reply in exasperation, “Caitlin. My New Best Friend!”. When I meet someone who puts the kettle on and offers me tea and her secrets, inside I am secretly THRILLED. I can relax. I breathe easy. I think, Okay phew, we are all just the same, after all. It breaks down the distance we all have with each other. It diminishes the suspicion and competition. It allows us compare Insides, instead of comparing our Insides against other people’s Outsides. It makes me feel like I’m not so separate after all.
I just wanted to tell you that it feels really nice here, my sweet friends, now that we’re all sharing Insides. I’m glad I’ve told you my secrets. It’s much better that way.
Anyway, you guys, totally off topic. I’ve not yet had my coffee today. My love story obsession. That’s what I was talking about.
I think I like to hear people’s love stories because we so quickly and easily forget them. Passion gets replaced by Housework. Admiration gets replaced by Fatigue. Falling in love is the easy part. Staying in love, though? That’s where it gets tricky.
There has not been a lot of romance going on at our place lately. In between the clean up your god-forsaken mess and why is there a wet towel on the floor and don’t you know how tired I am and why can’t you be more like Christian Grey, you can lose sight of the love pretty quick. Love is tricky business. Living alongside each other, holding each other’s dreams without squashing your own, giving each other freedom but not going without yourself, meeting each other’s needs without compromising your own, practicing to let go of the stuff that doesn’t really matter, without ignoring the stuff that does. It’s hard. It’s continual. It’s confusing.
So, I’m going to tell you a love story. My love story. Because we can forget the person we fell in love with. They become overshadowed by the repetition of each day and the flaws we choose to focus on.
I met Joel many, many years ago. We were both studying to be acupuncturists, and although we got along, there was nothing more to it because we were both in relationships at the time. Over the next few years, once we had graduated, our paths kept crossing and we both found ourselves single yet in very different places. Joel is an adventurer, and being suddenly free, was about to embark on a world-wide trip with no end date. I was still recovering from an incredibly brutal break up which left me drinking gin at midday and watching sex and the city repeats.
A year passed.
I was fit. I was happy. I was free. And I was doing this weird life experiment. I had just watched Yes Man, which is a film about a man who says ‘yes’ to everything that is asked of him. The moral of the story is that we miss so many opportunities when our doors are closed to them. So, I decided then and there to do it too. Why not? I would say ‘yes’ to anything asked of me, for one whole month, as long as it was safe.
Joel emailed me that month.
Completely out of the blue.
He said, jokingly, Why don’t you come and meet me on the dream tour? You need some Rach time. And, if you need more of an excuse, I’m sure I can give you one.
(He’s a smooth operator, that Joel.)
So, I said yes.
I took time off work, booked a flight, organized visas and a few weeks later I found myself sitting on a plane heading to Nepal.
Two weeks in Nepal.
Now, just so you know, Joel and I had never spent time with each other one-on-one before in our entire lives. We hardly knew a thing about each other, really. All I knew was that he seemed nice and that I was pretty sure he liked me. He had tried to make some moves on me in the past, after all, which I had unceremoniously declined.
So, it wasn’t until we were about to land that I started FREAKING out. In the build up to the trip, all my friends were asking The Questions. But what will you do? Will you get separate rooms? What if you find each other annoying? What if he is an ax-murderer? What will you DO? I never gave it much thought. Why not, seemed like a good a reason as ever to board that plane. However, in the last hour before we landed, I was not thinking ‘why not’, I was thinking just Why? Oh God, WHY WHY WHY? I fretted. I panicked. This person is a STRANGER, I thought. What the HELL are you going to do for two weeks travelling around some third world country with him? ARE YOU CRAZY?? Yes, I was. I was crazy. And quite rightly losing my composure. The woman next to me whom I had made friends with began dabbing lavender oil onto my temples to calm me down and reassured me that I looked pretty. I took her reassurance, odd though it was, with eagerness. She then gave me the name of the place she was staying in Nepal if it all went pear-shaped. I felt somewhat better.
As I walked out of the airport, I scanned the bustling crowd. There was a strike on in Nepal at the time, so transport was limited. I wasn’t sure that Joel could even make it to meet me. But then I saw him. Big, blue, excited eyes peering out at me amongst a sea of brown faces. My stomach flipped. My heart rate quickened. My breath caught in my throat. As I got closer, he broke out into a smile, and for all of my days, I will never forget that moment. Everything slowed. It seemed as though the noise, the chaos, the heat, and the dirt which had suddenly assaulted a fresh-off-the-plane-Westerner, just slowly faded into the background. All I could notice was the way his eyes crinkled. The burning intensity in his face. How different he seemed. How earthy he’d become. How heart-stoppingly good-looking he was. I suddenly fell. Hard. And I knew from the look on his face that he had too.
We spent the next two weeks falling in love.
We were inseparable.
We raised money for a Nepalese orphanage together.
We trekked up the most spectacular snow-capped mountains.
We explored and ate and cycled and fought and loved and at the end of it all, we both realized how much we meant to each other. On our last night, we tried not to let the realities of the next day burden us too much, although we both felt a gnawing sadness at the thought of having to say goodbye.
The next day, we stayed in each other’s arms for most of the day. We wrote each other long letters we would read after we’d said good-bye. I tired to imprint everything to memory.
As it turned out, we found ourselves in a very unexpected long-distance relationship which we maintained, through imagination and a lot of patience, for 6 months until he returned home.
He came home on the morning of his 28th birthday.
Two years later, we have a home, a daughter, and a life together.
All because I decided, on a whim, to say yes.
Joel does not pick his dirty socks up off the floor. He does not remember to take out the bins. He does stay patient for long. But, he supports any crazy idea I have. (Except the notion of four kids. That, I’m still working on.) He dreams big. He takes our daughter away and lets me write, even though I don’t make a cent out of it for my family. He loves well. But most of all, he makes me laugh. Even when I’m angry, he still makes me laugh. And isn’t that what really matters, in the end?
“There comes a time in life when you have to let go of all the pointless drama and the people who create it and surround yourself with people who make you laugh so hard that you forget the bad and focus solely on the good. After all, life is too short to be anything but happy.” Karl Marx