What is love?
Being single, I’ve been thinking a lot about love, lately. What is love? Feeling love, falling in love? Have I ever truly had it? Yes, I think. I’ve felt love. But never the kind of love that, when it came down to it, that I wouldn’t be able to put my own wellbeing first and foremost. Never the kind of love that I couldn’t walk away from. But then again, as has so often been iterated, how can we ever truly love another if we do not first love ourselves?
After two happy years with my partner, I initiated the transition of my relationship into a long-distance one. An opportunity to work abroad arose; there was no way I was not going to go. We ended up in different countries for seven months. It was tough, and mostly unfair on him. I was the one who wanted to leave; he was the one who accepted it. Everyone asked me if we would stay together. I said yes, of course, because I loved him. But a question irked me from the start: if I really did love him, would I even have considered leaving?
I begged him to move with me, but as a creature of habit, loyalty, and steadfast rationale, he was not the kind of guy to simply uproot his entire life overnight. So we said our painful goodbyes, and in that first week, feeling lonelier than ever, I cried myself to sleep every night, comforted by my cell-phone wallpaper photo of the two of us.
After a few months away, my feelings began to change. I stopped crying every night. I took little trips, here and there. Took up new hobbies, made some new friends. I started imagining things I wanted to do – alone. My path had taken a completely different turn to his, and the time spent with myself made me reassess what I wanted out of life: to explore the world. I’d known it before, but it was making the move abroad that solidified a fancy into a reality.
I felt exhausted just from trying to stay in constant contact. FaceTime and Skype sessions were difficult to arrange with our 8-hour difference in time-zones. My independence felt stifled, and I feared adventuring too much, socializing too much, lest it seemed to my partner like I was happy without him. I felt like I had a rope stretching from my heart, across the ocean, to someone on the other side of the world, and rather than feeling romantic, like it did briefly at the beginning, it felt draining.
Worse, still, I was drained of sexual energy. During these alleged prime years of my life, I lost all physical confidence. My libido was a myth. I felt nothing, saw nothing, and had no inclinations whatsoever. My senses were dulled.
With my return date looming like a dark cloud, I lived in a state of anxiety. I rode out the relationship optimistically, hoping my feelings would come back. I adored my partner, and I let things drag on longer than they should have. But it was on my flight back home, right before landing at Heathrow Airport, that the notion of us “going back to normal” made my stomach turn. I realised that my romantic love for him was gone, replaced by something else: my love for the unknown.
Something in my heart was nagging at me, telling me that I wouldn’t be happy unless I gave in to the simmering itch beneath my skin and returned abroad. I knew I had to do it for myself. Rip the band-aid off. I ended things right before Christmas. As expected, it was shit.
Getting distance from that long-distance relationship has been cathartic and illuminating. I hadn’t realized that every aspect of the LDR – time zones, lack of affection, no physical intimacy, no physical anything, and namely, being in different parts of the earth – on top of usual relationship issues and dealing with severe culture shock – had completely sapped me.
Four months after it ended, I booked a ticket to a country I’d never been to before. What was meant to be a four-day break ended up becoming a three-week trip. I ran into an acquaintance from back home, made an impulsive decision to miss my flight, and we ended up backpacking together through the country and into another one, forming a friendship at the same time.
Having time to myself in an entirely different culture allowed me to peel back the mask I normally wear, to run my fingers over the face and body of the girl that I know I really am. I felt young and free again. Wandering in a new land with new sights and smells and sounds unearthed the deepest wants and needs of my body.
My deadened senses underwent a reawakening. All my physical feelings, primal and emotional, were stirred again after feeling so buried for the greater part of a year. After the reckless decision to miss my flight, the thrill of immersing myself in another landscape, and adventuring freely with others without guilt or responsibility – I felt reborn.
I felt strong again, connected to my body in a way I hadn’t after months of working, eating, sleeping and repeating. Travelling always reconnects me to nature, to my spirit and my mind. But this time, I was rekindled with my own body, my libido, my physicality.
Slowly, I felt my sensuality return.
On the road, I found pleasure in the warmth of a hug. Felt deep appreciation for a hand against my cheek; for fingers laced in mine; for the bump of an elbow and an affectionate squeeze.
Comprehension dawned on me slowly. I began to recognize my need for intimacy in its purest form. I was more social than I realized, and I had wandered for so long in solitude that I had forgotten all about human connection; forgotten the part that other people play in helping you understand yourself.
Now I understand why relationship gurus and magazine tips always say, “Shake up your routine. Do something wild and out-of-the-norm.” Because it helps get you out of your funk, your sadness; outside of yourself. Not just emotionally, but physically.
Whether little and often, or rarely but for long periods of time, travel is the antidote. The unknown is the cure. I cannot explain how much good it does for our well-beings to leave our bubbles, our routines, our work behind, even for a few hours. These unexplored paths lead to discovery, rediscovery, self-reflection, and more often than not, love.
Since that journey, I have remembered who I am. What I like. What inspires, incites, stimulates my senses the most.
Once again, I can feel the syrupy drip of desire from merely observing the way someone moves. When sunlight streams through the windows in the morning, I am moved by a profound respect and love for nature, for being alive. I find great fulfillment in honest conversations with friends and strangers, engaged and open-minded, finding common ground in the unlikeliest of things.
Best of all, I have returned feeling grateful, with a renewed appreciation of life, humanity, and especially this world, in all its raw, naked glory.
And I wouldn’t have been able to do that, wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now, had I not left my routine for the wonderfully unpredictable unknown.