[Ed note: This won't be good literature. Apologies.]
According to the women I know, I'm supposed to be chopping off my hair in a mirror, half drunk, or booking a month-long trip to Costa Rica and a yoga retreat, or saying uncharacteristic things to strangers in nightclubs and wearing heels, or quitting my job and going to Italy, India and Bali, or selling my apartment and buying a home in Tuscany, or, you know, in some places I'm supposed to be a superhero when I wake up tomorrow morning after that trip to the science facility in New Jersey. Oh and then there's the ice cream, the romance films, pajamas three days straight and chocolate.
Other than that, I'm not sure what to do. Halfway through his three-week trip to New York, Bo and I decided to break up after he left. Let me backtrack a bit.
Last year, on Ash Wednesday, Bo and I went to the Hungarian Pastry Shop. We had our first date there, so he thought it fitting for the type of talk we were about to do. I was so nervous that night. I was the only patron wearing ashes on my forehead, I was near to tears because I thought Bo would say that we should break up. Instead he said the opposite: he he brought up the option of me moving to Italy while he was attending medical school for the following six years there. He wanted to know if that was something I could see myself doing. I told him I could. We decided that I would visit him in the fall, try it out, then make a decision.
In my mind, moving to Milan would be the "the big gesture" a phrase I'd stolen from one of my favorite films, "Chasing Liberty." The main character, "Anna Foster" (Mandy Moore) is President's daughter. She escaped the Secret Service in Europe on vacation and had befriended a Brit, "Ben Calder". She asks him how he grew up.
Ben Calder: Born in Wales and then moved to London with my mother when she left my father. My father was always at work. Never at home. My mother wanted him to make the big gesture.
Anna Foster: What's the big gesture?
Ben Calder: You know, "I'll quit for you. I'll stay home for you, darling." But he didn't. Because... Well, people don't really do that, do they?
Anna Foster: I don't know what people do.
If I were 17-years-old, I the "big gesture" would never be a question. The answer would always be "no." I grew up with women that I felt like didn't live up to their own potential because of marital compromise, raising children, following "love." I always put "love" last on my hierarchy of needs (partly because I believed a miracle would have to happen for me to ever be in love regardless). I told myself that I would be different for all those people I knew who were silently suffering. I believed in this so strongly that in my college French class my teacher asked me, "Do you think you'll ever get married?"
"Je ne me marierai jamais," I said, no, I will never marry. The other girls in the class gasped.
Despite this, I knew that I loved Bo enough to consider a big life change. We'd lived a whole year in happiness. It was the first time in my life I wasn't in psychotherapy, coming out of psychotherapy, considering psychotherapy, or on antidepressants. I didn't need them. Bo was my something to look foreword to in life, my bright light, my destination.
Oh, how hard it was. I spent everyday up to now asking the big question: Should I move to Milan? I looked sadly up at the high rises in the city and wondered what life would be like without them. "The only two things I know for sure are that I love God and I love New York," I told him.
There were the practical concerns (of my head): I would be without a job, and I didn't have a hefty savings to support me. I'd have to abandon my apartment, which took a lot of strife to get on its own. I'd have to abandon all my life dreams of being a New York writer to follow him. I'd never been to Italy and I might hate it. The emotional concerns (of the heart) were all positive: I'd get to be with Bo. We were an excellent team, he made me smile and kept me away from my general bouts of depression. Marriage was certainly on the table, and I would finally get to be married. I felt like Bo was the best person I'd ever met, and we were deeply in love.
I solicited advice from everyone, as if it were a riddle.
"It's a no-brainer, it's Italy," one friend said over her shoulder as she was crossing a crowded bar.
"You'd be signing up for a new lifestyle," L. said as she reflected on the possibility of a nomadic life.
"I don't envy you," Philippa said repeatedly. "It is a tough decision."
"You should move to Rome, true love only comes once," a groom advised at his wedding reception in Maine. He then looked at his wife and batted his eyelashes, not in a mocking way but in a true, glazed-over, bliss.
"You have to make sure that you're doing it for yourself, too," warned my hiking tour guide in Hong Kong. "Otherwise, you'll become resentful." For whatever reason, his advice was the most impactful. We'd only met three hours prior, and I divulged this problem to him so quickly because I was stumped. Truly stumped. He was too.
Fall came. I couldn't afford the trip to Milan, so Bo decided to spend his long Christmas break from school in New York. Within the first few days, Bo admitted that he was horribly lonely in Milan. He was sad that I didn't come as I said. My "moving" process was taking too long, already three or four months off the schedule. It was immediately shocking to hear this, from all our conversations I had no idea he was sad and lonely or that the timeline was so strict. Knowing myself, I knew that it would take many years to make a decision. I couldn't put him up to that.
So with every muscle in my heart rearing back in disgust, we decided to break up after his trip. We would enjoy the last few weeks we had together keep the breakup a secret for awhile till we were ready.
This proved the most difficult in Philadelphia for Christmas. Bo's landlady happened to be in Philadelphia and invited us to meet her. We ended up at an Italian expat party in a gorgeous town home downtown.
"When are you coming to Milan?" the hostess asked. "I cannot wait for you to come, you must come to Siena to visit." I only smiled, looking down at my glass of prosecco to delay crying. Every other pair of guests spoke in Italian, they kissed each others cheeks in greetings. Bo was off to my left, talking with a man in English, we exchanged a smile. I suddenly realized that this would have been life in Milan. If we were at a party, together. The hostess was so excited that we were together and that I was moving. All things that were no longer true.
We had our last date at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Saturday, January 9. Then that night Bo sobbed and I couldn't. "I'm in shock," I told him repeatedly (I still am). The next morning, we rode the train to the airport. Just like when we parted in September.
We were that couple in the terminal, hand holding, hugging, giving eskimo kisses all the way through the security line. Then an agent separated us, a barrier wall between us. The last time I saw him, he was mouthing, "I love you," and I was mouthing it back to him. Then behind a wall he disappeared.
I cried on the Air Tran, and the other passengers stared at me sadly. I was back in one piece for the two hour subway ride home. I found a seat, pulled the Times out of my purse and started reading. I began to feel lost.
"It's just me and The New York Times now," I said to myself, looking around a nearly empty car. If I broke that sentence down it was just "me and New York". The train was snaking closer to Manhattan, all the major buildings only peeking behind the Brooklyn skyline.
"I gave him up because of you," I said to the top of the Empire State Building. But I quickly recanted. No. I gave it up because I was a coward.
As the weeks passed, I told a few very close friends. Most people responded the same way, "that's a very mature decision."
"Not really," I said. "I'm operating off of fear."