Wed. Oct 16th, 2019

Road Less Traveled

It’s currently 1:30am in Bolivia. I gotta admit: I’m a bit tired. I mean, my eyes are burning but my brain cells are firing, so I’m once again in the apparently eternal struggle of mine between “I need to sleep” and “I don’t really need sleep”.

I should go to bed and force the sleep into me, but you see, my girlfriend and the woman I live with… who happen to be the same person… told me that I wasn’t acting like the man she fell in love with way back in early 2017. So this is me going back to how I used to act: I stay up late, mostly thinking and ideally even writing. So, let me tell you why I am sitting here in Bolivia at almost 2am, alone and on my computer…

Once upon a time I got on Tinder…

That’s quite the attention-grabber, huh? Especially for those who know about my history with online dating. It might also be a shock to those who believe Tinder is the sort of thing you only use to get laid. But instead of getting some action, I’m over here being that nerd who sits on his computer past 2am. Perhaps we should ask ourselves: am I doing this wrong? … or did I actually get it right?

It all started with some multi-lingual and rather pointless banter. Well, there was a point actually: to make her laugh. Her profile said “I like beer, chocolates and good company. Make me laugh!” so I figured this shouldn’t be too complicated (although fast-forward to a few nights ago and we agreed that perhaps she needs to start laughing a bit more). My first attempt was the most blunt and direct way of simply asking what her sense of humor was like, but of course that didn’t get us anywhere. We had both had a few drinks that night (separately, of course; this isn’t some Christopher Nolan mind-bender), and we’d also been switching languages in our messages, so the next thing I tried was writing “So your mother tongue is… drunk?” That seemed to get a smile, but I was down to strike number 3 without hitting anything. So for attempt #3 I figured I’d go all out and try the golden rule of making people laugh when you’ve already clearly failed: mock thyself.

As you can see in the image to the right, I was being very… well, “me-like” and I wrote some philosophical stuff about being myself and whatnot that not even my own mother would want to think through. But since we had discussed the contrast of being dominant vs being unprepared/surprised, I figured I’d just [secretly] express the insecurities of a 21st-Century male by admitting I had no idea what I was doing and adding the hashtag “#menTheseDays“. Surely enough, that did the trick and she had to stop halfway through her message to let me know that admitting my own defeat had led to victory. She said “#missionaccomplished #nowwhat?” and I guess the answer to that was: “now we just go with the flow without a proper mission until we both end up living together in Bolivia“.

Classic Tinder.

The first time we actually met in person was a few days later at a café that she chose called Burggasse 24. I distinctly remember us meeting inside and then choosing to relocate to an outside couch where she sat cross-legged facing me so that we could see each other better. That evening we talked about where we’d grown up, we discussed what it’s like to be the oldest-sibling-with-a-younger-one-of-the-same-gender, and I can’t honestly remember what else we covered because we were going through topics faster than we went through oxygen. When it was time to go (some 4 hours later), we realized that we were going different directions after the first block. I recall that some female friends had recently been on dates and they seemed quite caught up on the fact that the guy hadn’t tried to kiss them at the end of that date, so I felt a bit pressured regardless of whether this girl agreed with them or not. Fortunately we both seemed to be unsure of how to part ways because I made the excuse that I had to go to the supermarket, and she also said she was going to look for something. It’s a safe bet that I came out of the store not purchasing anything that I had originally thought about getting, and she was probably looking through the store in the same way that many of us guys usually do: asking ourselves where we are and what we were doing here. So once we got out of the store I figured I’d just go for the kiss and get it over with, and it happened at this corner…

“Let’s Stay in Touch!”

After that night we decided we had enjoyed each other’s company so we continued to hang out extensively for a few days. It was the summer fling that perhaps we both needed, and there was no pressure to figure out how much or how little we should see each other. In the same way that the phrase “it’s going to be fine” depends on what you do, you could say that “it wasn’t supposed to turn into anything“; but then you’d be forgetting the human factor in all of this. We had matched on August 10, started talking on the 11th, and finally met on August 17 despite the fact that she’d be leaving the country on August 24th and on September 25 she’d bea leaving the continent to go to Africa for an internship. She had no idea where exactly she would go to after that 6-month internship, and I didn’t know where I would be because of my visa situation, so it was a classic millennial hookup. Or so we thought.

The view from the window in Vienna

It’s hard to do justice to all of the things we did in such as short time of being together. This story would get much longer if I mentioned our second date at the Neuwaldegg vineyards (which was one of her favorite spots in the city), or the beers we had at her favorite bar called Polkadot. There was also the dinner with her friends that she invited me to, where I ended up staying the night at her place because I legitimately missed the last tram that would get me home (seriously! What was a poor soul like me supposed to do?!). There was also the final night where she had planned to meet another friend after we made dinner at my place, but we ended up cooking and eating together as if we’d known each other for ages, and then we laid in bed for hours while listening to music and eventually talking while looking at the sky with our feet out of the window. The next morning we said goodbye and I recall her commenting that we had said everything so it was time to go. Then she got on a bike and rode off into the sunny summer day that it was.

For those of you who like awkward situations or have heard about my “final goodbye” before I moved to Europe (where my flight was cancelled and I ended up seeing everyone again), I should add that we ended up messaging each other some more on that final day, and eventually I agreed to go with her to a writing course right before she left Vienna for good. We went, did the course, and then I accompanied her to the bus stop which was really the point of no return. By then she knew that I like currencies from other countries, so before she left she gave me a coin from Israel that she’d kept from earlier in the summer. It was a combination of an emotional and stoic farewell because we had enjoyed our time together so much [until literally the last second] but we also barely knew each other and we knew our respective lives had all sorts of adventures ahead. Would we cross paths again? Would we stay in touch? Neither one of us knew but we also didn’t dwell on the issue. Over the next few months, we continued messaging each other whenever we felt like it and we actually managed to stay in touch quite a bit.

Vienna to Africa; Sweden to Bolivia

For 6 months we messaged and called each other at least 3 or 4 times a week. I can assure you that it was that much because eventually we stopped being surprised by the 3-hour phone calls. There was also a period when I was so focused on my thesis that I didn’t talk to her for 5 days and she felt abandoned. It’s hard to describe any part of our friendship over those months because we both lived separate lives in different cultures and continents, but the effort that we put to stay in touch landed her back in Vienna on April 2, 2017, only a week after she’d come back to Europe from Africa. It was a bit unfortunate that one of my closest friends from Kansas would be visiting Europe for the first time on April 5th, but the silver lining of his flight delays was that he didn’t arrive until the 7th, which gave her and I an extra two days to be together. We hung out with two other friends who were passing by, and we said goodbye sooner than we expected, but despite not knowing when we would see each other again, this was also not the end of the story.

The next time we saw each other was in May, and this time she ended up coming with me while I taught English for a week and then we’d spend another week in Vienna. The picture above is the view from our bedroom window at the English week. It was a defining week for us because by now she had been practically offered a permanent job in Sweden as well as a one-year job in Bolivia (which I knew she wanted more because she’d shown me videos of South America and she’d told me how much she wanted to go back). It was a tough decision because of how difficult it would be for me to join her in Bolivia, how unlikely she was to get another chance at living and working in South America, and how crucial the timing was for the sake of our relationship to each other. We had bonded over 7 months while in different continents, but we both knew we wouldn’t last a year in different time zones, especially because we’d only spent 21 days around each other in person. Surely neither one of us will ever forget the day during this visit when we went for a walk, discussed how hopeless our situation was, and laid in the grass independently pondering on whether she should just get on a train immediately and spend the rest of her trip with her friends in Vienna. In the end we decided not to give up on each other just yet and after some days we went back in Vienna without worrying about what the future would bring. We had a second chance to lay with out feet out of the window, visit her favorite spot at Neuwaldegg, and we even spent a day by the Danube talking about life.

On the day she left, I dropped her off at the airport and we said farewell. But this time it was different.
This time we both cried at the airport and said goodbye knowing how likely she was to take the Bolivian offer.
This time there was no lingering hope that we’d see each other in a month.
This time, we had finally reached the end of the story.

The reason why I named this post “Road Less Traveled” is because I’ve mentioned before that it’s my favorite book. It is about human relationships, and loving relationships, and it taught me how I should at least try to approach decisions that relate to interhuman connection. So the reason why I chose to use that book as the title of this post is because in the end we both took the road less traveled. She knew how much I appreciated the book, and she knew this because the first time she left Vienna I had given her my newest and only copy of that book. I had hidden it in her bag with a message explaining what happened the last time I’d given my only copy of this book to a woman I’d fallen in love with. But this girl was different. Our bond had become quite deep and it was a matter of choice to determine how strong it would remain. So as you can probably tell, this really wasn’t the end of the story. After she left on that final goodbye, we spent weeks talking as much as usual until we hit a breaking point and she had to make a decision on where she would go. She decided that she couldn’t pass up this opportunity to go to Bolivia, but I could tell from her tone and language that she didn’t want this to end. I had put us in a zero-sum, black-and-white scenario because I wouldn’t even consider the idea of joining her in Bolivia, so she had to do what was best for her since I was doing what was best for me. But if you want to know what changed and how we ended up here, you should keep in mind that “what is best for me” is always a work in progress that involves changing and adapting through unconventional methods. I’ve chased down a job that rejected me, read a bunch of law and debated with lawyers to try to save my own ass, hopped around volunteer work to play the legal system and avoid becoming illegal, conjured up an idea to pursue world citizenship, and started a European Citizens’ Initiative as a foreigner… So let’s face it: is it really that surprising that I’m in Bolivia at 4am writing about how I met a woman on Tinder and chased her down across the world in the name of love?

That’s why I figured I’d take my chances with her in Bolivia. In describing ourselves and our generation, I would often tell her that “we don’t have money, we don’t have steady jobs, and we don’t have a clue what the future is going to be like… but we have each other.” I figured I would rather give up an uncertain future alone in exchange for an uncertain future with her, that way we would at least continue to have the one thing that had proven to be certain: our willingness to be there for each other at all costs. We met up in Sweden in June (and rescued a Northern Gannet from a fishing net while we were at it) and then Brussels in July before her departure date, and then she was off to South America with the promise that I would eventually come join her. Perhaps she doubted me and my promise to go to her because of previous disappointments, but just for kicks I decided to surprise her and arrive one week earlier than I had said. She had no idea that I was already in cahoots with her co-workers and friends that I’d never met, which made it all the more satisfying to see her surprise when I showed up to a brunch that was planned by people that I supposedly had only heard of. Anyway, I guess the moral of the story here is that you never know where you’ll end up when you make a conscious and full-hearted decision to take the road less traveled. We’re not sure where life will take us in the future, but hey, we must be off to a pretty good start if we decided that ‘it’ should take us to Machu Picchu… 😉

In Machu Picchu. Special shout-out to our friends in the background (left side) who photobombed like professionals

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