Falling in Love

Having your heart broken really sucks. But I’ve realized that, even worse than having a broken heart, is having never fallen in love in the first place.

When I was living out of my van with my dog, traveling along the Northern California coast, I met a beautiful Dutch man. We met on a trail in the ancient Redwoods, among trees that had been standing since before the time of Jesus. It’s a truly magical place, so maybe it’s not so surprising that this is where I ended up falling for someone.

I knew from the moment I first met him that there was something special about him, though I didn’t know what it was. We hiked and talked for five miles, and ended up at his car in the parking lot on the opposite side of the forest. I remember standing in the evening light with him, and finally got up the nerve to ask the question I’d been afraid to ask. There was an undeniable connection between us, but the subject had been avoided in all of our hours of talking.

I broke the silence between us, and slowly said, “So…do you have a girlfriend?”

He looked away and ran his hands through his hair, and said, “I do.”

I clearly remember feeling my heart sink, and even more so as he told me that he was surprised they’d been together as long as they had. Two years. Though he didn’t say it, I could tell he was unhappy with the relationship.

He tried to bring me back to my car, but the road was impassable with his rental car. I said I could just walk back – I had my dog with me, and wasn’t afraid of walking in the dark. But he said I could stay the night with him, and since it was a long hike, I obliged. So we shared a sleeping bag in the back seat of his car. We didn’t have sex – we didn’t do anything sexual. We talked, and we held hands – but we mostly just slept. The next morning, he brought me as far as he could in his car along the dirt road. We exchanged phone numbers, and I hiked the rest of the way back to my car.

I didn’t know if I would contact him. I was upset and confused. I was usually only interested in dating women – but there I was, my heart reeling over a man I’d just met. And one with a girlfriend, at that. It wasn’t a situation I wanted to get myself too deep into, because I knew how badly it could end. And when I encountered a chatty stranger along the hike back to my car, we smoked weed together (it is the California coast, after all) and I poured my heart out to him about what had just happened.

His advice to me was, “Well, maybe you are both needing something that you don’t have.”

Though I was still confused, his words stayed with me.

Several hours later, after having found a campsite with a shower, I made my way out of the forest and into an area with cell reception. There was a message from him on my phone, inviting me out to dinner that night. Though I knew that I probably shouldn’t, I accepted. We met later that night for dinner at a restaurant. I’ll never forget the way his eyes pierced me as we simply sat and talked.

Then we went to the beach in my van. And we ended up spending that night together. And the next day, and that night too. In fact, we ended up spending the rest of his holiday in California together.

I knew it wasn’t right. Even if he wasn’t happy in his relationship, he was still in a relationship. But I guess I wasn’t strong enough to fight my feelings and simply walk away. He was only in California for a week, and I wanted to get to know him. And, being half Dutch myself, I was utterly intrigued by him.

My grandmother, who died before I was born, was originally from Holland. I’d never before met a Dutch person outside of my own family. And although none of my family speak Dutch or have been to the Netherlands, there are Dutch traditions that remain in the family. I’d grown up hearing Dutch words and phrases, and celebrating the New Year by making oliebollen with my Dutch family. It was fascinating, getting a small taste of my heritage through this Dutch man. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

When his time in California was up, I dropped him off at the airport. I half expected that would be the last I would hear from him – but when I looked at my phone a while later, I saw that he had messaged me. We texted a bit before he boarded his flight. Then he was gone. But when he arrived back in the Netherlands, we talked again. We talked over messages, over voice calls, and over video chat.

For a couple months, we talked. Through him, I saw pictures and videos from around the Netherlands. I already knew I loved him – I was sure of it by the end of our first week together. But through him, I also fell in love with the Netherlands. I had been getting ready to start my world travels when we met, and I knew that I wanted my first stop to be the Netherlands. But he was still with his girlfriend, and I did not want to go just for him. So I waited. I waited until I was sure that I wanted to see the Netherlands, regardless of if I got to see him or not.

I did my research. I saved my pennies, and contacted potential hosts in Amsterdam. And on my 22nd birthday, I knew I was ready to leave the States – and I couldn’t see myself going anywhere but the Netherlands.

So, I went.

And here I am.

It’s been nearly two months now in the Netherlands. The first couple weeks were pretty rough; my body had a hard time adjusting to the time change and the jet lag. Luckily my first host in Amsterdam was (and is) amazing, and helped me through it.

Things didn’t work out with the Dutch man. I hadn’t expected they would, and was fully prepared to have a broken heart. We saw each other a handful of times in Amsterdam, and things were strictly platonic, though the connection between us was undeniable. But the last time we were together, we kissed. And, at least for me, it was amazing. But he still was not sure of what he wanted, so I knew it was time to let go. And I did. And it hurt like hell.

It’s been over a month now since we stopped talking. I’ve moved on, and actually met someone else; someone who is wonderfully kind and sweet to me.

But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss him, if I said the hurt was gone. He still crosses my mind frequently, and sometimes when I see a person on the street that looks like him, I feel my heart break a little bit again.

Sometimes people ask me if I came to the Netherlands for him. My response is no, I didn’t come here for him. But I certainly came here because of him. I had been getting ready to start my world travels when I met him, and he showed me this beautiful country – one that is such a big part of myself. There has not been a single moment, not even at the peak of my broken heart, that I wished I didn’t come here. Because I didn’t come here for him. I was inspired by him, but I came here for myself.

It’s been exactly two months now since I arrived in the Netherlands, and it’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’ve learned about a people, a culture, a language, and a country that are so much a part of myself. Coming to the Netherlands has helped me to break out of my shell.

I’ve seen and done things in the Netherlands that I had never done, and possibly would never do, in the States.

(Mom, you may want to stop reading here)

I saw the Red Light District. It was surreal, having grown up in American society, to see this. To walk down a street and see prostitutes standing in windows, advertising themselves to the men walking by. In the States, this would be an absolutely shocking sight; but here, it is a casual and every-day type of thing. The only people who really think it’s a big deal are tourists.

I lost my virginity. I was a virgin when I left the States, and at 22 years old, really didn’t want to be any longer. The right opportunity had never presented itself when I was younger, as I spent so much time focusing on a combination of school and health problems. I find it interesting how openly discussed topics such as sex are in the Netherlands. In the States, just posting “I lost my virginity!” would be so taboo. But I can have full, open conversations about sex with people here; and it’s not taboo. Sex seems to be accepted as a normal part of life – not a subject that needs to be shunned or avoided. So, yes, I’ve had sex. Lots of it, with a great partner. And it’s fantastic.

I saw someone someone do cocaine. This was not nearly as interesting as I had thought it might be. The guy I saw do it has a severe chronic pain condition, and has apparently been experimenting with cocaine to help the pain. I also have severe chronic pain, however I have no interest in trying hard drugs for it. But I trusted him and the other guy I was with, so when he asked if it was okay if he did it around me, I said that was fine. I was curious. And contrary to what you might think, he didn’t turn into a raging lunatic. He didn’t go berserk, or suddenly become aggressive or crazy. He just got a bit wired, and his jokes seemed a bit funnier. It was entertaining! Not my cup of tea, but entertaining nonetheless.

I’ve realized that most Americans have way, way too much “stuff.” Don’t get me wrong, I was no different than anyone else. I used to live in a full-sized house, on a street with neighbors who also had their own houses, and cars, and so on. But things in Amsterdam are much different. People live in smaller spaces – the average house is only about 75m2, or 800 square feet! And the funny thing is that I haven’t heard anybody complain about it. People seem to like it! It’s not viewed as a “lack” of space, it’s viewed as “human sized.” People in Amsterdam realize that having a huge house with lots of “stuff” is not necessary. It’s often considered excessive!

Most people in Amsterdam also don’t own a car. It’s simply not necessary, or even practical. There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam! And when a bike isn’t ideal to get you where you need to go, you take public transport. Trams, busses, and trains are the most common. And I think that Americans need to take a serious lesson from the Dutch here. Sure, biking and public transport may not be practical in may areas of the States. But in so many places, there is really no legitimate reason why you cannot ride a bike to work, or to the store, instead of taking a car! It’s better for the environment, and better for you.

I could go on and on about the things I have learned and experienced in Amsterdam. The past two months have flown by, and I can only stay for one more month unless I can find a way to get a full-time job and residency permit – which, as a foreigner, is proving to be extremely difficult.

I know that the next month here is also going to fly by, and it’s going to be so heartbreaking to have to leave this place. But this journey has already been unforgettable, and deeply changed me as a person. It’s opened my eyes to new cultures and ways of living, outside of the American “norm.” I’ve realized that, even with how wonderfully diverse America is, it is nothing compared to what can be found by leaving the States.

And through all of these experiences over the last two months, I was walking around with a broken heart. But would there have been any better place for it than here? I don’t think so. If I’d have never fallen in love, I’d have never been inspired to visit this country.

Love can hurt. Broken hearts can leave you with scars that hurt worse than any physical pain. Love is scary. But I’d rather fall in love and experience all that it encompasses – the good, and the bad – than live my life in fear of a broken heart.


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