Special to The New York Times Infobae.
AT 19 I REJECTED HIS ROMANTIC GESTURES BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO INTENSE, AT 27 I WANT THAT INTENSITY.
When I met him on the street in Rome last summer, we hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade. Have you heard people say that you fall in love when you least expect it? I always look forward to it. On every plane, in every cafe, I’m always waiting for a spark with someone.
She had booked this vacation after the worst mental health episode she had had in years. My psychiatrist said that travel can be like geographical medicine. When you’re trapped in your mind, chances are you’ll feel trapped in your body. New surroundings can create a sense of freedom, reminding you that life is full of possibilities.
Romance has always given me such a sense of escapism. I crave the enveloping feeling of being in love because it directs my emotions to something outside of me. In love, my feelings are magical and constructive instead of harmful and destructive.
Before I booked the trip to Rome, I was a 27-year-old in a familiar pit of depression. Summer never seemed to come in London and I spent the cloudy months getting turned down for jobs, drinking gin and sleeping all day. I was still in shock from the pandemic and felt lost, depressed and alone.
I focused on the one emotion that made me feel good: love. During the lockdown, I finally told one of my best friends that I had a crush on him. My feelings weren’t reciprocated, but we grew even closer, bonded by our newfound honesty. My older brother, a psychologist, told me, “Try to focus on the reality of the relationship, not its potential.”
Ignoring this sound advice, I poured my energy into the relationship, hoping that one day my boyfriend would love me the way I loved him.
When he abruptly ended our friendship via text, it was worse than a breakup. I felt it was my fault: the intensity of my feelings had alienated one of the best friends I had ever had.
The pain feels worse when it’s familiar, like hitting the same bruise over and over again. I wished I had kept my feelings to myself.
For the first time in years, I seriously considered taking my own life. When those thoughts turned to making plans, I reached out to friends who stepped in to help. He knew from experience that even though he couldn’t see the way, life was just around the corner. So I closed my eyes, disappeared into memories and imagination, and survived each day.
After four months of therapy and finally a successful job offer, my depression began to subside. Remembering the words of my psychiatrist, I decided to leave London.
I immediately thought of Rome. He believed in the healing powers of the sun, spaghetti and the Sistine Chapel. There was also the possibility of a holiday romance. I knew only one person who lived there: a serious and sensitive Italian I had met while backpacking through southern Europe. We had had a brief relationship eight years earlier and hadn’t spoken since.
I impulsively messaged him on Instagram. He seemed excited at the idea of meeting again and I imagined a dramatic love affair. I spent my first few days in Italy anxiously awaiting our meeting. But when he canceled, I resigned myself to the failure of yet another romantic fantasy.
While in Rome, I felt both the affirmation of life and loneliness. I spent the afternoons drinking wine with my sunglasses on the light squares. I visited art museums with murals, feeling sick with anxiety. I looked at old buildings while listening to songs my ex-boyfriend had sent me, music that made me miss him even more.
In short, I was gone, but my depression was not.
My pain wasn’t just from a lost love or an unconsummated romance. I was sick for months, stolen by blockages, time passed by depression, the person I could have been and the future I could have had.
Towards the end of my trip, I bought a ticket to the Vatican at the last minute. During the trip I was craving an espresso. Feeling uneasy, I stopped in front of several cafes without going inside. I finally chose a seat and sat at an outside table facing the street.
While I was waiting for my coffee, my old Italian love passed by. He stopped, took off his sunglasses and said my name like it was a question.
I had forgotten a lot about him: he had dimples when he smiled, his hair was bronze, I had to stand on tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
We were 19 when we met at a beach club in Mallorca. We swam and talked and kissed until sunset, holding each other in the sea as the air cooled. He promised me that when he visited Rome a few weeks later, he would take me for a walk.
I was expecting beers in a hostel, but I was surprised when he picked me up in his little Italian car and gave me a dozen roses. We drank prosecco in an outdoor bar overlooking the old town.
He told me it made him feel like heaven and I panicked. Then I faced my feelings, trying to suppress them, scared by how deeply I felt things.
The day after we met, he wanted to take me to a family party. When I saw his car pull up outside my hotel, I sank to the ground under the window, ignored his messages and pretended I wasn’t in the room.
Part of me longed for that kind of romance, but I was terrified of letting someone see my intensity and being rejected when they didn’t like it. I joked with my friends about his passion, saying, “It’s too much,” echoing a criticism that was often leveled at me. I left Rome without seeing him again.
Now, here he is, smiling like no time has passed.
We laughed in disbelief and he apologized for cancelling. I was in the neighborhood for an acting audition and we connected about the challenges of pursuing creative dreams.
“Step by step things will come,” he told me.
Tonight we met in a square covered with greenery and golden lights. Sitting outside a trattoria, he ordered us some Aperol spritz and spaghetti. I felt the euphoria I had felt eight years ago, but this time with less fear. Freefalling after being trapped in stagnant sadness for so long.
We talked about our first date in Rome. When I mentioned his romantic gestures—the roses, the heartfelt words, the appearance at my hotel—he flinched.
“I’m not that person anymore,” he said.
Disappointed me; I had become this girl over the years. I no longer ran from my feelings, but watched them carefully, held them close to me, and went where they led me.
After midnight we sneak into the pool at my apartment and kiss again in the turquoise water. We spent the night together and in the morning I couldn’t find one of his rings. When he fell off the sheets after I left, I sent him a picture.
“Keep it,” he wrote. “It’s a memory.”
But I didn’t want it to be a memory. I wanted more.
I asked him to meet again. He agreed to go to dinner but canceled a few hours early.
He apologized, blamed a music project deadline, and asked me to lunch the day before my flight back to London.
I couldn’t decide whether to go. As I pondered, I thought of a moment from our last meeting. Before dinner, he suddenly stopped and bent down to pick up a €1 coin that had fallen on the cobblestones.
“In Italy it’s a good sign when you meet them. I always take them. I can not help. I have to believe in something,” he explained.
I went to our meeting.
We sat in the sunlight and he ordered us ravioli and white wine. Then small shots of espresso, followed by fancy glasses of iced limoncello.
I immersed myself in the moment, enjoying it just for what it was. Hours passed and finally he had to leave to go to a friend’s party. I knew that if he had asked me to go with him this time, I would have said yes.
But he didn’t. Instead, we share a sweet kiss and say goodbye.
I have often been called a hopeless romantic, but my medicine is hope. For a long time I focused on what took away the intensity of my emotions. But my feelings also gave me the ability to imagine bright possibilities and jump into them.
Trust that life can be vast and bright again, even when it feels so desperately dark. To risk being hurt in the face of even the fleeting opportunity to love. To believe that one day someone will see the same beautiful future as me and feel it right there with me.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.