August 24 & 25, 2016
It is a glorious summer afternoon in the West Country. Puffy white clouds scud across a brilliant blue sky. Raspberry bushes laden with ripe berries line one side of the road, and cows graze on the other. Every now and then a pungent country smell wafts over us: fresh-cut hay, a barn airing in the breeze, a sun-warmed wild flower.
We are walking, Zephy and I, down this country road which leads away from our cottage. We are walking because it’s the first day we’ve been able to simply enjoy each other’s company instead of playing tourist. And we are walking because we know it’s the best way to have serious conversations.
Two years ago, Zephy and I both started new lives. He moved to Boston in March to begin his academic career; I started traveling in April. His plan was to be in Boston for two years, then move back to Portland. My plan was to travel through the end of the year, then see if I wanted to come back to Portland or keep traveling.
I say plans, but they were really more like hypotheses. Neither of us had any idea how our new lifestyles would turn out. But we were sure of one thing: we wanted to make us work.
And we did.
We Skyped, we texted, we emailed. I wrote a few postcards. And we saw each other as often as our schedules would allow.
We did pretty well with that. Between Zephy’s visits to Portland, and my flights to and from Europe via Boston, we saw each other about every 3 months for that first year. 2015 turned out well too: we saw each other for a few days in February, took our first cruise together in May, and spent Thanksgiving together in Boston.
This trip to Ireland is the third we’ve taken together this year. We spent a long weekend in Charleston in April, and I stayed with Zephy in Boston for a few days between the Galapagos and flying to Ireland.
But even though we’ve carved out time for each other, in trips and weekly Skype calls, it’s no longer enough. The underlying lifestyles we’re both pursuing have changed over the last 9 months.
In the last year, Zephy has met people in Boston. Good people, fun people – people he wants to spend more time with. His academic career is tied up at the university; his kind of work isn’t available in Portland. He is not moving back to Portland. Not in this year, and not in the next few years. Perhaps not for a long time.
My goals have changed too. I’ve learned three things since starting my travels two years ago: I want to keep traveling, I want to be home in Portland for Christmas, and I want to go to contest with my Northwest Harmony Chorus sisters in the spring.
This is what I know, and what I intend to tell Zephy during our serious walk. He’s already outlined his vision of how he wants to move forward in his life. Now it’s my turn.
As I start to describe my vision of the future, I realize I’ve missed something. How I want to move forward with my life is not just a matter of being in the right place. It’s also a matter of being with the right people.
When I think about the times I feel most connected to the people in my life, the connection is strongest when I’m with them in person. Facebook, phone calls, and postcards can do a lot to maintain a friendship, but they don’t build or strengthen or deepen it. That’s why I want to “nest” in Portland for five or six months each winter. My network is in Portland, and being there with them is necessary, like filling up an empty tank of gas.
Fast on the heels of this revelation comes another one: if I want to deepen the relationships I built in England last year, I will have to go back to England sometime in the next year. I have already made tentative plans to spend next Christmas with Stuart and Amanda in Hebden Bridge. Perhaps I can build on that to spend more time with my Hebden Bridge & Crystal Chords people.
All of this comes to me as I’m explaining to Zephy what I need to feel fulfilled and connected in my life. It’s an odd experience. Usually I think things over before I speak them aloud, but this realization about the importance of connecting with my network just flows right out of me without any prior thought.
By the time Zephy and I are finished describing our ideal lifestyles and goals, we’ve gone all the way down to the end of the road and back again. We decide to pause the conversation until the following evening. It’s a good stopping point, and a good place to think about what we’ve both said.
We pick up the conversation again the next evening. By mutual consent, we set out along the same country road. Yesterday was about laying out what we want and need, and we had sunshine and blue skies to help us. Today is about figuring out whether our ideal futures intersect, and how, and we have grey skies and sudden rain squalls to set the mood.
Given the gravity of the question, both Zephy and I expect it to be an extremely emotionally draining conversation. And it is, but not in the heart-wrenching, tears streaming down cheeks way that most of our previous serious conversations have gone.
It’s clear that our lives have started to move in different directions. Our long-distance relationship experiment has been a huge success, but it was always based on the assumption that the separation would not be permanent.
Now that Zephy plans to stay in Boston, and I plan to stay in Portland, there just isn’t enough time together for either of us to feel fulfilled or connected. Zephy has always wanted children. Now that Boston is starting to feel like home, he wants to think about starting a family.
I’m not ready to give up traveling, especially now that I’ve figured out how to arrange my life to both travel and connect with my Portland people. And even if I were, I don’t want to live in Boston. And I don’t want to start a family.
It is difficult to grow and evolve as a couple when we are pursuing different goals, in different locations and with different people. We decide that after this last week together, we will no longer be in a romantic relationship. We will keep our Skype calls, although they will be less frequent. And I will still spend a few days with him in December en route from Europe to Portland.
We will start a new experiment: no longer lovers, but still friends. It is the right place to be.
You are not my answer, but you are more than simple chance,
come let me be your dancer and we could do a simple dance,
go back and forth, you can take my hand for what it’s worth,
swing side to side, then just before our hearts collide,
sing high and low, you can tell me if I sing too slow
sing soft and loud, then just before the final chord
goes on and on and on and on, long after all the daylight’s gone,
and page by page, then just before we leave the stage
we’ll turn around . . .
turn around . . .
– “Turn Around and Smile,” Brad Yoder
Up next: Road Trip! Exploring Sligo, Yeats’ grave, and Glencar waterfall