We had been driving around lost in Seville for about two hours before I screamed, “PULL THE FUCKING CAR OVER ALREADY.” Our map was useless, we didn’t speak Spanish and none of the streets were labeled. When we finally saw something that looked recognizable, a one-way sign would pop up and send us off course again through a beautiful maze of pork-scented streets. I was hormonal, hot and had to pee. In short, I was freaking out.
My mom once told me I’d never really know if I loved someone unless I traveled with him. Maybe that’s because she has a debilitating fear of flying.
To her credit, I think I knew I loved him the first time we went away together. That was a year and a half ago.
We had only been seeing each other for a month when he took me to Montauk. It was January, and it was freezing. We waited for sunlight and walked along the empty beach, delighted by the ocean and each other. I snapped photos of us, our faces together, the shoreline a diagonal behind us. Loving him in Montauk was easy. We slept late, we ate well, we dragged the blankets from the bed to the patio and huddled under them to stay warm as we looked for shooting stars.
We moved in together a few months later. It wasn’t as easy as Montauk. I don’t know if anything ever will be. Life has a way of teasing you like that. After we signed the lease, we wrote a list of furniture we needed from Ikea. The kitchen table was lopsided, so that had to be replaced. The couch was used and stained, and that was eventually swapped out for a longer one to fit his legs. I splurged on a credenza.
But the thrill—and the urgency—of buying furniture wore off. The couch was nice, but it was just a couch. It stopped feeling like an accomplishment and felt more like a necessary evil. It was all too expensive. We didn’t give up on the apartment, but our priorities shifted. Work dug into our evenings together. The stress of the city weighed on our sleep patterns. The agony of mismatched bedside tables was eventually ignored. The apartment was cold and I was cranky. I needed warmth. I needed Montauk.
I printed out an article entitled “Experiences, Not Material Objects Key To Happiness” and left it on his pillow.
Somehow, through the piles of student loans and the exposed coils of our mattress, I managed to convince him to go away with me again.
We booked a cheap flight to Portugal and rented an economy car. The crummy hotel rooms necessitated my first set of earplugs. We ate and drank our way through Lisbon, feasting on salted cod and seven-euro bottles of wine. I tried to speak broken Portuguese and managed to break it further. The pastries were covered in sugar and cinnamon and stained his new khakis. We spent more money on gasoline than we did on the rental car, taking it down the coast and into a little beach town full of British ex-pats. The prawns were served with their heads on. The sunsets appeared to glow purple under the UV protection of my sunglasses.
We aren’t the type to spend days in museums. We were bon vivants, walking around from cafe to cafe, waiting for our hunger to strike again so we could stop for more bacalhau and vinho verde. I took hundreds of photos of his smile hovering over plates of oily cod.
From Portugal, we drove into Spain, stopping at another beach town to sip cerveza in the surf. The sand was littered with thousands of seashells. I wasn’t funny for days. I was too calm — my brain mulled with wine and my pulse slack from the waves. Relaxation and happiness made me decidedly boring. I wasn’t complaining or analyzing. I was sleeping and eating and glowing pink.
Loving him in Europe was easy. I took photos of us; eyes behind sunglasses, the Portuguese coves jutting up in the corner of the frame. It was easy until we got to Seville, when I lost my temper and threw a copy of Time Out Seville across the length of our rented Fiat. But he was patient. He pulled the car over and let my blood pressure peak for the first time since we landed. He was good to travel with. He held my hand tightly on the flight and gave me the odd prawn left on the plate.
We couldn’t decide on a souvenir. After convincing him that the experience was worth another year with a painful full-size bed, we couldn’t settle on a trivial item that would sit in our living room. Eventually, we decided on a magnet. It was heavy and had a good back to it. It would serve us well: we came home and used it to hang our furniture list on our fridge.
The full-size bed with the noisy, hip-poking coils still stabs me in the night. The sagging bookshelves still sag. The huge hallway mirror remains unpurchased.
But I’m happy. I don’t think it’s the kind of fleeting happiness that will fade the way my Ikea couch betrayed me. After ten days in Europe, I know for sure I really love him.