Category Archives: dating


I think I found what I was looking for; or at least I hope I did — inspiration. I was getting to one of those points that I reach periodically, where I don’t know what interests me any more, I don’t know what I care about let alone what I am passionate about. It had nothing to do with where I was physically or recent changes in my life, it had to do with where I was inside my head. It’s hard to explain. I felt like I was at a crossroads mentally, completely separate from the concrete things in life.

But then I found it. A trip back to a place that used to be home opened my eyes in all kinds of ways. I had an idea of the kind of experience I thought would help me find my way, and then somehow the universe presented it to me in one of those rare moments that make me kind of think there must be some kind of order to this madness.

I guess what it boils down to is that I met someone. Someone capable of love, sincere, honest, open. Gorgeous to look at, but one of those people who’s so interesting and funny and nice to talk to that you forget what they look like anyway. Someone who actually listened and payed attention to the little details. Someone who really just needed a friend, which is exactly what I’m trying to learn to be better at. Someone who made me laugh and smile more than I have in a long time.

Before I went back to Spain, I wrote a note to myself that I needed to aim higher. I was disillusioned by the last person I was seeing, and the things I had maybe settled for in the name of “experience.” So I wanted to give myself time and aim higher on my own terms; someone who would really be there even if we were never really serious. I wanted the kind of person who would walk down to the beach with me at midnight for no reason at all, and there he was. I saw the movie “Valentine’s Day” last week and found myself strangely only interested in the storylines that stayed platonic, that were about what it meant to be a good friend or even just a kind acquaintance; that too told me something about what I need right now. I was feeling disillusioned with intelligence or culture snobs and I found someone who was intellectual in the right sort of way — interested in ideas and the possibility of becoming better. Someone who was excited to tell me about the book he was re-reading to help learn Spanish, and it turned out it was the Little Prince.

So now even though I’m back now, many cities away, I’m walking around as if I were a woman in love because meeting him even briefly restored my faith in something I had started to doubt, that there are truly good people, ones like him, out there. There are other puzzle pieces that match the things I’m looking for and needing. There are ways forward. Even though I’m sitting here alone again, my heart feels full and my head is swimming with ideas.

And this feeling is like a butterfly wing in my hand; I don’t want to try to hold it too tightly or it will turn to dust, dissolve right before my eyes. I have to float around it lightly, this inspiration, and maybe keep a certain distance from some of the things I used to live, my “everyday,” for just a little while, so I can try to cement some of these ideas swimming around my head without crushing them. Wow too many mixed metaphors. I have to try not to over-think those either.


on advice

They tell us not to do things that we will – or may – regret, but what does that ever mean, in practice? Isn’t it suspect in general, all the advice that older and wiser people try to give us with the benefit of their hindsight?

A and J were telling me that, at my age, I shouldn’t be looking for anything serious, anything real, I shouldn’t have any criteria or checklist or even an expectation of “honorable intentions,” whatever those are at twenty-three. Not that I’m a checklist kind of person anyway when it comes to dating, but I do try to hang on to some standards, basic as they may be.

And though this was their advice, it is not at all what they were doing at this age themselves: one was being proposed to, and the other met the person they would eventually marry. So perhaps it is what they wish they would have done, to not have spun into the mistakes or crooked paths they ended up on, looking backwards – but when you’re actually at this age, coming from the other side forward, it’s not how you see things at all. I would be lying to myself if I tried to live and decide things based on their perspective now, even if they are right about what I should do. Even if it never goes anywhere, I’d still prefer to find the kind of boy now who might actually care what my favorite song was, who might one day surprise me with my favorite dessert. Tiny inconsequential things, but a lot more than most people are willing to offer. The tiny things that make even something that isn’t serious worthwhile.

You can never know what you’ll regret anyway, beforehand. You can only think it through and try to speculate honestly, weigh the options, think critically. But regret is something you can only feel after the fact, usually based on some factor you couldn’t even have seen coming.

I never thought about advice much, because it’s something we all love to give, even if we know it’s taken with a grain of salt or a laugh or an implied “in my humble opinion…” But I suppose the older I get, the more experience I have on my own, and the more I question others’ scraps of advice, I realize more and more that as adults nobody has the answers anymore. It’s not like when we were kids, when there were so many people we could look to, to tell us yes or no, with 100% certainty. We all have our own perspectives now, from our experience or our wisdom, but there really isn’t any more certainty. We take things with a whole lot more grains of salt, and maybe we learn to hold our own tongues with our advice. But even advice ignored comes from a place of love, of reaching out, of trying to be honest and expose a little bit of our lives that we wish we had done differently. So you smile, accept it politely, and then still try to figure it out for yourself. 

there’s only one reason people come to italy: love.

Last Saturday I was invited to my first ever dinner party as a pseudo-adult. A friend from my teacher training course, who is from the UK originally but married an Italian and has been here a few years, invited me and another student, J, over for some great authentic Italian food, special Carnevale pastries that snowed powdered sugar everywhere, and three bottles of wine: white, red, and prosecco. Got to love it.  It was good company, good conversation, and their two little kids poking their heads out again and again, not wanting to go to bed. I can still remember being that little kid, but this was my first time on the other side. Is that a milestone of some kind?

It has occurred to me that perhaps my friend, A, invited us two specifically because she wants to set me up with J, who just happens to be tall, dark and handsome, with a lovely London accent. At the (very late) end of the night, noting my general distrust of the tram system in this city, she told him, “take good care of her getting home.” I think A would love to live vicariously a little bit through a course romance, and all the gossip that would ensue. But J has also got 11 years on me, and I really don’t think he could be less interested, as anything more than a friend. Especially because we learned something new about him.

It started with simple questions about an Italian ex-girlfriend he had mentioned a couple of times, who started him learning Italian, which is why he came here, even now after they’ve split up. Playfully nosy, we wanted to know how long they had been together, how long ago it all was. “Actually, she was my ex-wife…” he began finally, and as soon as the words came out, my heart silently broke. Hang on, I wasn’t that attached to the idea of us working on our lesson plans together, over breakfast. It’s not that at all. It was the despondence with which he said it, shedding a different light on what we assumed was just a reserved English nature. His reluctance to put that label on himself, divorced, since we’ve known him for weeks before he ever shared this much, and even now, with only two of us. Since then we haven’t mentioned it, assuming it’s privileged information not to be tossed around to our other friends, over cappuccinos at the coffee bar. When I heard the words I instantly cursed my own nosiness; this is why they say that curiosity killed the cat. Of course he didn’t have to volunteer the information if he didn’t want to, but even so, divorce is a topic you should hardly even tiptoe up to uninvited. And it certainly made those 11 years seem like 20.

Because it must be hard for him, living in Italy now, where he must “see” her everywhere, around every corner. Because I may not be divorced, or married, or engaged, or even anywhere near that, but I do know that feeling. You find out sooner or later, everyone comes here for the same reason. I’m loath to tell anyone, and I’ve avoided mentioning it to my friends here yet, because I know it’s totally irrational and crazy. Because it was only someone I saw briefly, and it was years ago now, and maybe he doesn’t even remember me. But even though I try not to, I still think about him all the time. And I’m not usually this obsessive, I don’t want to be, I don’t dare mention it out loud, I just can’t help it. I remember his scattered pieces of advice to me, and my mind always goes directly to them, applying them to current problems. I see little kids here fidgeting on escalators, saying big Italian words like zucchini in their tiny little voices, and I wonder what he was like as a child. And that’s just not normal.

The persistence of these thoughts, even though I know they’re insane, it has to mean something doesn’t it? Isn’t that love, the kind our grandparents’ generation had, writing letters across wars for years, even if there were no response? Keeping the hope alive anyway. Even so, I don’t tell people this. Because it is totally crazy.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t come to look for him. If I go to Florence, there’s a chance I might run into him, but it’s not something I’d plan on. I’m not quite that bad. But even so isn’t he part of the reason I’m here, doing this? Not just that he made me fall in love with the Italian personality, friendly and chatty and bright, but I was also so impressed with what he had chosen to do, something that really helps people, such a contrast to all my esoteric academic pursuits at the time. And here I am, having changed pace, to something that can legitimately help people. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it must be at least part his influence.

I’ve talked about masks, how we’re all slowly getting to know each other here on my course. And this is one of the things that’s coming out, little by little, each person’s love, whomever or whatever it might be, that brought them here. The story’s always the same.


It was easy to dismiss his looks as too pretty, brush off his best photos as calculated and professional, tricks of light. But when those two gray-green eyes were trained on you, even just in a sidelong glance, it was quite different. All at once you were more aware of your breathing and your heartbeat, as if they were things that suddenly needed to be contained.

These very mixed messages firing off in my brain — logic trying to talk me out of even thinking of moving forward, but very visceral memories of a couple of fleeting moments — made me wonder about a broader question: Is it wrong to go out with someone who seems nice and interesting, but who you have no real romantic interest in? I certainly had that spark of curiosity about him, but it was piled on top of a whole lot of skepticism.

A couple of deal-breakers were already within view: bi-coastal-ism, the types of people he was friends with (one of the perils of adding someone on facebook before you’ve ever gone out with them is too much information, too soon, but that’s a post for another day), and his job. That last one sounds incredibly judgmental and shallow, I know. It does to me too. But if you knew what it was you’d probably agree. The general reaction among friends has been “oh…. ugh.”

But in the middle of this slow retreat from even giving things a chance, I had to stop myself. Was I just being too cynical? Wasn’t it even possible that he was just a nice guy; aren’t there some people who aren’t defined by what they do? I’ve made this realization before, and you’d think it would have stuck. I had to go back to our first conversation, and it certainly wasn’t boring. There have been months of his persistence despite my subtle brush-offs. So maybe it’s worth a tiny chance, if only to indulge my curiosity.

8 1/2 and nine

I was sitting here this afternoon, watching previews online for the upcoming film Nine, which is a sort-of remake of/homage to Fellini’s 8 ½, a classic and one of my favorites of all time (it comes out at Christmas). But I was trying to figure out just why that was – what about it is so imperfectly beautiful to me, makes me feel like (although it’s in Italian) it’s in my own personal language, it’s not just a movie that I get, but I feel like it’s a movie that gets me. Do you have a film that’s like that? I can only hope that you do.

So I was trying to boil it down, unravel the story in my mind and all the fantastic singular moments. And what I realized is that it’s a film without a love story. It has romance, and it’s sexy, and it has a marriage and an affair and countless fantasies, but it commits to the person at the center of them, not to one particular relationship working out. And maybe that’s what makes it special, different. Continue reading

love letter to the mediterranean

I looked out at the clear green water and the rough, sun-bleached rocks, and the more beautiful it was, the sadder it made me. The beauty only reminded me of what I had lost, and as always, I couldn’t believe that I would ever be so lucky again.

Why is it — that curse and blessing of the human condition — that we see whatever we are experiencing as a pinnacle, and we’ll never have it so good again, and we can’t imagine ever getting up from where we’ve fallen.

I shouldn’t have been waiting for him, and I wasn’t, not consciously; I tried not to think about him or make hypothetical plans for the future. But I was waiting — there was anticipation in my blood and I let days pass without thought, I was counting even the seconds without noticing it.

I needed to figure out all over again what type of life I wanted to have. Living alone, shopping and cooking for one, having a comfortable place to curl up and read. The wave of liberty that would come after comfort: to be able to walk without destination, buy whatever I liked, wear whatever I wanted; the immense freedom in knowing that in any one moment I might meet someone who would change my life, start something new. It only takes a second and the movie reel changes.

I had to accept that I had no idea anymore what I wanted to do, I only had some ideas about where I wanted to be. Maybe that was enough, to start.

first love


I let go a little bit this week.

I lay awake in bed one night, realizing that it isn’t really him running through my thoughts, occupying my imagination, still, after all this time. It’s not really him, because I have no clear thought, “if only there were another chance…”. I have no illusion that it would all fall into place like puzzle pieces. I imagine running into him again, I wonder if he would regret not staying in touch, but at the same time I don’t know if I really do. Sometimes as much as you want to speak, what is there left to say? I wonder if he’s married with children already. He told me once he always wanted to have them young, when he was still full of energy. The idea fills me with only a little bit of jealousy; even the most selfish part of myself wouldn’t want him to have me instead of all that. So it can’t really be him.

Even so, far too often his name is on the tip of my tongue, no matter where I am, no matter who I’m talking to. I see something, or remember something, or find myself using a familiar turn of phrase… Continue reading