For this writer who has experienced tremendous heartbreak, opening herself up again to romance is the next big adventure.
The Sydney Opera House looked majestic against a sky softly painted by the sunset. As the pinks and lavenders of twilight gave way to a darkening blue, I sat on a bench by myself, feeling introspective. It was the end of my first day in Sydney and I had just joined a walking tour to help me get my bearings in the city. Being a solo traveler in the group, I made the ideal #IGthirdwheel, snapping photos of all the couples with the iconic white sails in the background.
I stayed behind as my fellow tourists went off to have dinner in pairs. This spot was the last stop of the tour, giving us a fantastic view of Sydney’s most famous landmark, and I wanted to just sit there and take it all in. I savored my time alone, taking a break from the responsibilities of being a single working mom, reflecting on my solo state.
My marriage had been annulled a few years back; my last relationship ended a while prior to the trip. Since then, I had grown quite comfortable — happy, even — in my alone-ness. But sitting there, enjoying the view of the Opera House, I felt an old, familiar yearning creep up on me: How nice it must be to share this experience with somebody, I thought.
The universe is a funny thing and it seems to listen to the signals our hearts send out. Three months later, I was back in Sydney, on the steps of the Opera House, but this time, I had an amazing man by my side.
Again, the sky was a cotton-candy pink dappled with orange and indigo but now I had someone to enjoy it with. We took selfies — mostly against his will — and mostly because I recognized that this was the rare instance that a wish had been granted: How nice it was to share this experience with somebody. A Sydney resident, he ordinarily wouldn’t catch the sunset in this tourist spot, but he humored me and my need for poetry, patiently snapping photos with me to mark the moment I came full circle. We laughed and kissed, giddy that we managed to find each other despite having 6,000km between us. As the sun went down, we left for dinner; this time, I was part of a pair.
While I was far from bitter, I didn’t go through my previous relationships unscathed. It was hard for me to trust in what the universe had sent my way. (He jokes that I am cynical.) As I got to know him more and more, I kept waiting for the catch. Here was a man who ticked the four main boxes on my list: persistent, consistent, straightforward, intentional — no games, no holding back, expressive, enthusiastic and unabashedly romantic. A lawyer-turned- conservationist who was doing meaningful work. An endlessly interesting man who journeyed to the Congo with a Pygmy guide. A highly intelligent person who wasn’t cocky about it, who shared my love of books and old movies. Someone who, being a parent himself, loved that I was a mom. Someone I could talk to for hours on end. Someone who gave me security and comfort but also excitement and heart-eyes. “What’s wrong with you?” I would ask him, keeping my guard up, convinced that this — he — was too good to be true. He would reply that I was simply getting what I deserved.
In the beginning, I did a mental audit of all the good I’d done in my life and all the bad things I had to endure, convinced that I should have done something really good to deserve this man. But the beauty of falling in love when you’re older is that you’ve also already fallen in love with yourself. Perhaps if I had been my insecure younger self or fresh out of a marriage that didn’t work out, I would still be questioning my self-worth, still wondering why this man would want to be with me. But he came into my life at just the right time; a time when I loved myself enough to allow another person to love me completely and without restraint.
In the months that we’ve been together, we’ve flown back and forth — he from Sydney to Manila, me from Manila to Sydney, both of us to Jakarta to see my family. We’ve looked over our calendars, figuring out when and where we could meet, made trickier by our respective duties at home, made easier by a deep commitment that came hard and fast.
There are plans to soak up the sun on the beaches of the Philippines, to explore the jungles of Ecuador, to hear lions roar in the middle of the night in Zambia. And while all these things thrill me, the parts I look forward to the most are the seemingly mundane: staying with him in Sydney, the two of us working from home; him visiting me in Manila, running errands alongside me; watching old movies on a couch together, while eating a bowl of his favorite cake mix; having conversations in the dark before we drift off to sleep, his warm body pressed against mine. These everyday things, a preview of our life together, are far more exciting than an island getaway or an African safari. As we have both been disillusioned by relationships before, opening ourselves up to love and planning a future together is the real adventure.
We have both had our share of romances and heartbreaks; we know full well that there needs to be something beyond the passion and mystery that often draws people on different continents together. We’re both old and experienced enough to understand that, for a partnership to work, you need to know what you want and you need to want the same things.
A long-distance relationship isn’t about going on the next great escapade, racking up frequent-flyer points or filling a passport with stamps. You can cover only so much ground and fly so many miles but if you aren’t moving in the same direction, then you aren’t really going anywhere. It’s about finding a person with whom you can figuratively go the distance. And while the two of us are still figuring things out, it’s all just logistics. We’ve gotten the hard part out of the way: Wherever we end up, we’ve finally found someone who feels like home.
This essay first appeared in the February 2020 issue of Smile magazine.