One of my all-time favourite quotes is by the late Anthony Bourdain, who once said, "Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you; it should change you."
It's a beautiful message and one that has always resonated with me, but it's hitting a little too close to home as of late. You see, I love to travel. But my most recent trip did indeed break my heart.
I suppose Greece is an easy place to fall in love. Its scenic cascading mountains and vast ocean views make for a magical backdrop when meeting new people. There's a little something different in the air, and so, when a stranger at the local airport asks you a question, you smile warmly and, ultimately, strike up a conversation.
I racked my brain about what went wrong and nearly drove myself crazy doing so. How could something that was so perfect fall apart so quickly?
That's how it happened for me anyways, when a man named James, two years my senior, asked me a question at the airport. As a solo traveller, I spoke candidly with him, and we soon became fast friends. As life would have it, he was actually on his way out of town that day, so I assumed I'd never see him again.
It's a digital age, though, and our chance encounter led to the exchange of social media profiles, which led to the exchange of phone numbers, and soon, we were talking incessantly. Eventually, I felt like I was in a relationship with someone I had only talked to for 10 minutes in real life but had known forever.
There was a turning point between James and me when we decided we needed to meet again. English wasn't his first language, but he said it best when he wrote, "our first meeting left something interesting."
And so, James returned to Santorini. I couldn't even get a guy to leave his neighbourhood back home in New York City, so to me, this was a big deal.
The next several days were filled with beaches and bliss and the kind of late-night conversations you have with someone you've known your whole life. Within 48 hours, James had met some of my friends, memorized my birthday, invited me to meet his mom, and planned out the next time we would see each other.
When my flight back home finally crept up, you can imagine how hard saying goodbye was. James is based out of Belgium, a whopping seven-hour flight from New York City. However, he promised me we would see each other again soon, and I rest assured that he meant it.
I was pleased when James checked in with me as soon as I got off the plane. My anxiety that our time together had been beautiful but fleeting dissipated. "Maybe we could have something real!" I thought.
And then, nothing.
Days passed before I heard from James again. And when I did hear from him, his answers were short, often one-word replies. I racked my brain about what went wrong and nearly drove myself crazy doing so. How could something that was so perfect fall apart so quickly?
To say that James ghosted me would be a lie. He would text me from time to time, and he always answered if I reached out. But gone were the sweet messages, the "I can't wait to see you soon" texts, and the feeling that we would defy all odds and build some sort of a future. There was an undeniable shift in energy within our communication, and it was honestly gut-wrenching.
The thing is, nothing I could have done would have changed things with James and me. As time passed, I realised that the radio silence on his end said much more about him than it did about me. Eventually, I even learned to feel gratitude for the time we did spend together, because at the end of the day, I'd rather have a beautiful life experience than nothing at all.
I believe there's a lesson to be learned behind every life experience, the good and the bad. Time provides perspective, and with James, I learned an especially important lesson. I learned that you can't change the actions of others, but you can change the way you handle them, and I'm proud to have handled this one with grace. The first few weeks being back home were hard and often filled with thoughts of my overseas love, but as time passed, other thoughts, new experiences, and new people filled their place.
This may have been the first time a trip left me feeling like this, but it probably won't be the last. I'm already planning my next adventure, and I'm ready for whatever may come my way . . . even if it breaks my heart.