I Fell In Love Abroad And Honestly? It Completely Sucked.

The silhouette of a woman looking across the cityscape of Lisbon during sunset.
John Sting / Unsplash

When I first decided I was getting my master’s in the United Kingdom, I was ready to go into it with zero attachments. But that’s always when they get you, isn’t it? When your guard is down and you have no plans to commit to anyone or anything, but someone handsome and blue-eyed and strong, with an infuriatingly bright mind, falls into your lap. That’s how it works for everyone right? Now maybe it’s clickbait if I say it sucked when it was truly magnificent for about 99% of the time we were together, which was almost the entire year I spent in the UK. But that one percent of suck broke me open and I poured heartache and sad for what felt like an eternity. Let’s start from the beginning.

I had a friend crush on a girl I thought was super cool, and when she invited me to her place for tea after class I was ecstatic. I’m an enthusiastic and unbearably outgoing American in a colder British society, and even though Bristol had a lively, young scene, I was not their definition of cool. I had a few worldly quirks going for me, like the fact that I was well-traveled, I had this gargantuan curly hair that you couldn’t ignore, and I could not be squished into the “idiot” box lots of Brits love to put around Americans. I was getting a master’s at an esteemed university and if you asked me where Ukraine was or my thoughts on the tannins in a cab sav I had an answer. Now those don’t designate intelligence, but it was enough to keep the “stupid American” commentary at bay. Regardless, I was just happy to be invited out by someone I was intrigued by. I stepped into her flat and met her roommates, and one of them caught my eye. He was tall and well-muscled, he was a really talented musician who was getting his Ph.D. in an environmental field, and his master’s/undergraduate degrees aligned with my interests in politics, international relations, and gender equality. He spoke confidently about obscure political philosophers and ruffled his dirty blonde, fluffy hair, and he would make these silly expressions with his big, blue eyes. I’m not one for the classic look, if I had a type he wouldn’t be it, but I couldn’t help but think that we would have really good…dinner. He looked like he appreciated a good falafel.

The girl and I, let’s call her Rachel, actually did not get along much. She had a condescension in the way she carried herself that was intolerable, and I was too bubbly for her taste. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but few can deny I’m a good friend who has people’s best interests at heart. I’m not bitter, I think. I found my collection of friends and slowly but surely that blue-eyed boy found his way into my contacts, and even though I was committed to not being committed, we went on a few dates. He took me to obscure concerts with his musician friends, he drank a little more than I did and got goofy, and I considered breaking it off gently on the third or fourth date. But his sense of humor got me. It helped that he was attractive and smart, it also helped that he had a creative mind, but when he made me laugh I was like putty in his hands. He had me.

I went on a long trip with some friends and before I left I almost told him I loved him. I bit my tongue. I refused to say it first and I didn’t even know if it was how I felt. So I waited. And when I got back, he picked me up from the station, laid in bed with me for a bit and picked a little fight with me. I feel like he did it due to the incomprehensibility of his own emotions. As I turned my back and started dusting off my metaphorical boxing gloves, he choked up and said: “I think I love you.” I softened immediately. I’m sure he could see it in the way my shoulders relaxed, my head lifted, and my hands fell to my side. I stretched my neck and slowly turned, and I said: “I love you too.” The next 10 months were a whirlwind of emotion and travel, like when we almost missed our flight in Portugal or almost broke up in Madrid, or when I met his entire extended family in Dover and we drank and fought and laughed all night. One time he called me homely and I was incredibly offended until we looked it up and found out that in the UK it meant “cozy” and in the US it meant “unkempt” and we both laughed off the brewing fight; that night we realized there were cultural differences that found their way into our relationship. I cried about my essays to him and he biked over and gave me kisses and I cooked all sorts of experimental vegan meals for him and he brought up all sorts of philosophical questions for us to debate. We fought so hard over our thoughts on a Nicki Minaj video once we both almost ended it then and there. Wine was definitely involved. We were passionate and we were wild and we were really in love. Not even the sheer power of Anaconda could break that.

The day we broke up was less than a week before my dissertation was due. I fell to pieces. I had suggested it. It was my idea and I refused to back down because I still believe it needed to happen. But it felt like grief. Like a loved one had died. I couldn’t tell my friends because they all had the same dissertation due in a matter of days. But my life started ripping at the seams right then. There was no way my dissertation would be done in time when I could not leave my bed. My sheets were soaked through with tears. There was no food in my place but I wasn’t eating anyway. I was disheveled and the only time I got up was to take a hot shower where I just sat on the floor and sobbed. Soap was haphazardly used. My kitchen sink was disturbing. I needed to move the day after my dissertation but nowhere would take an American with a foreign bank for only a month of rent. I had no way to move in a city where most don’t use cars and my money was dwindling. I went to the university doctor for a melatonin prescription so I could maybe sleep, maybe stop having late-night panic attacks about the state of my life, and I sobbed so immediately and so heartrendingly that he suggested a medically-determined extension on my dissertation.

From that day on it all fell into place. I spilled to my friends at our dissertation hand-in brunch that I had nowhere to live and my life was in shambles and I had an extension and I had kept it from them and with the celebratory champagne still in their hands they all figured it out for me on the spot. Two of them offered me their places over the upcoming month, and the rest filled in the blanks. Blue-eyed boy asked his awesome mom to help me move, and I realized that I was going to be okay. I loved him so much still, and he would message me when he got drunk or emotional and tell me the same. It seemed almost foolish to be apart when he wasn’t going to see me for years after the month ended.

So we didn’t get back together but we sort of did. It was a unique situation because if I ever did want to see him, I’d have to traverse the world to get to do it after I left, so we tried to make the last month good and happy even if we weren’t actually still dating. I turned in my dissertation and I was so proud of it I burst into happy tears after handing it in. He was proud of me too. We tried a new café together, took walks together, and on the last night before I left, we had dinner and talked and exchanged gifts. His made me angry because it was some academic book about ideology whereas I gave him this heartfelt letter saying goodbye, a notebook where I had written down how I felt about him throughout the last year, and an artsy map of Bristol with all the significant places to us marked on it. But it outlined our personalities well. I cried for days, even weeks when I left.

I still cry if I think about it too much. But the experience, the growth, and the sisterhood I realized through that one percent of suck was all I’ll ever need to know that everything is going to be okay. That’s how you have no regrets in this world, you learn from the suck and it becomes a building block for your character. I still love him, I always will, but I also know now that I can do anything, and I love that more. TC mark

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