The airport in Puerto Vallarta isn’t massive, which allowed me to watch his shining blonde head all the way through security long after we had said goodbye.
I forced myself to stand there, silent in the center of the walkway while he turned the corner out of sight. On his way to another country and another adventure. Alone.
Crying in the terminal, the truth wrapped around me: no amount of my love — or relaxing in paradise — gave this man what he truly needed. He had to find that for himself.
We had paid my Airbnb through the end of the month, yet I was heading back to it alone. 1,877 miles from my family and by myself in a place where my grasp on the local language was tenuous at best.
This had definitely not been the plan. My mind couldn’t stop playing the mantra, “What the actual eff” on repeat. What now?
Regardless of how it may seem, this isn’t a breakup story.
This is the story of how it took my plans to turn to shit to accept my partner, my flaws, and my freedom.
A Brave Awakening
Like the entire world, 2020 was rough for me. I randomly became homeless, I lost my job, and I got robbed more than once. (#ThanksCOVID).
However, it was also the year I began dating the man of my dreams.
Together we hiked through 15 US National Parks, lived out of a truck, and discovered why living was better than being wealthy.
To me, this man is perfectly imperfect. Sweet and kind, goofy and wise, and more of a badass than he knows. He’s got one of those ridiculous lopsided dimple-smiles capable of melting the glacial hearts of cynics like yours-truly.
Pop the champagne. 2020, and my sunny, sweet-tempered man encouraged me to pursue my passions, hardship and all.
Spring of 2021 was an awakening in the most cliched sense possible. March saw me freshly juiced on a new vaccine and selling everything I owned. Now was the time to pursue my dreams of traveling the world. I mean — our dreams.
Enthusiastic and ready, my boyfriend and I packed our bags, quit our day jobs, and left the country. Like many aspiring digital nomads, we figured, “Why not?” as we leaped.
Puerto Vallarta called, and I answered the phone without hesitation.
The idea was that Mexico was to be temporary, but the lifestyle change was permanent. Start small and close to home before venturing further afield. We didn’t plan on returning to the United States for quite some time — if ever.
Folks, it doesn’t get better than that. Am I right?
Alexa! Play “Paradise.”
Personally, I embraced this new life with everything I had.
When my brain needed stimulation, I worked on my enterprising passion projects on my sun-drenched terrace. The rest of the time, I spent swimming in ocean water and enjoying salty shellfish on the hot sand. I hiked up cool waterfalls and drank fresh tropical fruit smoothies every morning.
Mexico was paradise. One of those upbeat dream-pop Coldplay songs on repeat. A literal dream, come true.
For my boyfriend, Mexico was closer to hell than heaven.
He became despondent in the hot sun. No amount of jetskiing on Bahía de Banderas could force lasting happiness. The delight of tasting the brand new flavors of the guanábana, guava, and mamey didn’t linger with him.
As I began to flower, he withered.
He sought therapy, increased his exercise, and meditated daily. He started medication. He began working through his traumas and issues like a responsible adult.
I am proud of him for that, yet nothing seemed to stick. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Should we move cities? We’re nomads, after all — if it was the location he didn’t like, we could easily pick up and go somewhere new.
“No, I need to live in the moment. Learn to enjoy what I have,” he’d tell me. As if his problem was simply that he was ungrateful. He confided in me that everything seemed perfect, but only through the lens of retrospect. “Maybe if we just hike more, I’ll have fun?”
So we hiked 12 miles along the beach, panting in the humid Pacific air. To cool off, we drank water directly from coconuts and floated in the Bay. I allowed my worries to roll off my back, no more troublesome to me than saltwater on the feathers of the fishing seagulls.
Yet still, my partner remained miserable and burdened. His once sunny face grew more and more clouded by the day.
The ish is hitting the fan.
Two months into our journey as foreign-flung nomads, he came to me. Shy. Afraid of rejection. Yet brimming with an idea, he could no longer hold in.
He couldn’t force himself to be happy here or anywhere on the road. So perhaps now was the time to pursue his long-held dream. A dream he had been mulling over for years. A dream he had never had the follow-through to pursue.
“What if I just need to take a big leap? I think I should finally through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.”
He wouldn’t be able to make the entire trail, he said. He started too late. He could, however, get a solid 1300 miles in. A few solid months of walking in the same direction. What did I think?
I watched in awe as even the act of professing his desire seemed to lift a weight off of his shoulders. It was so immediately apparent how much lighter the thought made him that it was almost comical. Like the sunshine had finally come back out.
Aw, crap. How do you say no to that?
The thing was, I didn’t want to leave Mexico. I love hiking and nature well enough, but I didn’t want to spend months doing it. I didn’t want to return to the USA. What sort of lover was I to tell my partner that he either had to abandon his dreams or pursue them without me?
Here I was living out my literal fantasies while my partner seemed to be saying: What if I can’t shake this feeling because watching you crush your goals reminds me of my own lack of action on my own?
The answer was obvious. As vehemently as I had chased my dreams, he needed to chase his.
Brave or crazy?
According to my partner, my bravery in allowing myself to pursue my passions made the Big Goal he had simmering on the back burner suddenly seem achievable.
Achieving something on his own in such a large way could only end up being a good thing, he reasoned. Even his therapist agreed.
It didn’t matter that our dreams were seemingly incompatible. To become stronger together, we needed to grow our separate and concurrent dreams. Allow freedom and trust to seep into our lives. However unorthodox it seemed.
Even knowing he would be back, it still killed me to swallow my fears and watch him walk away. My inner child did a lot of shouting and screaming.
“You dumbass,” she seethed, “you’re alone, far from home, and you’re going to let him leave you? He’s not coming back, sis.” &c. &c. &c.
Crushing self-doubt aside, It wasn’t like I could pack up and return home in the meantime, either. We had sold everything. There was pretty much no going back once all of your belongings fit into exactly one carry-on.
I could tuck tail and move in with my mother, but the thought rankled — I had managed not to do that even during the pandemic when I was actually homeless. I was going to have to push on.
So after a few days of wallowing I started planning out my summer alone. Was it ideal? No — but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to make the most of it. Anything I could think of that I knew my partner wasn’t extatic to do himself, I added to my list of summer fun.
So thus begins this journey in trust and self-exploration, both together and apart.
I don’t know much, but here’s what I do know:
We cannot cling to what we love, praying that things will never change. We can’t stifle the dreams of our loved ones just because we’re afraid they’re going to go on without us.
Real love supports healthy growth and encourages self-discovery. Deep and meaningful love isn’t selfish, and it isn’t afraid of distance or uncomfortableness.
I don’t have all of the answers. I won’t pretend I didn’t cry for days, destitute in sunny Jalisco, knowing my partner was somewhere in the mountains without me.
(I won’t pretend I wasn’t terribly afraid to travel solo, either.)
Clearly, the situation isn’t ideal anyway you view it: neither of us is naive enough to think that trekking alone through some mountains can erase my boyfriends’ depression. On my end, my mother cried when she realized I planned on staying abroad on my lonesome, and I’m not thrilled either.
It comes down to this: sometimes, to make the person you love happy, you have to let them thrive on their own. Stepping back and giving another room to grow makes both of you stronger.
You make the most of it because love involves sacrifice and it also involves trust.
Cliche’s never seemed quite as cliche as they do when you’re actually living through one. Regardless, what “they,” say is true: when you love something, you have to let it go. If you cling too tightly, you will surely suffocate it. Allow your love to be free, and it will return happier and healthier.
This isn’t a breakup story. This is a story about true love.
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