In defence of romance while travelling, or, why I was wrong to think that cute boy from my work was a knob

three red heart balloons
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

He was playing a song he’d written. It was dusk and we were lazily gathered amongst the ruined bunkers, watching the sunset. Beer cans littered the floor. People were laughing, joking, but many stopped when the music started, listening intently to his playing, confident and uninhibited. One or two girls eyed him hopefully. He stared out over the city view as he sang, his eyes fixed on the horizon, or the clouds, or an idea, a thought that none of us were privy to.

God, I hate this bloke, I thought to myself.

I’d come across him once or twice during my initial days in Barcelona, usually as a grumpy night receptionist at the hostel where I would eventually end up working. He was undoubtedly attractive, I grudgingly admitted to myself. But he knew it. The hair, the tattoos, the sexy accent, the dippy American and Brit girls hanging around him at every possible opportunity. He was a talented musician, I acknowledged that too. But it seemed to me that he utilised his talents solely for the opposite sex. He was standoffish, superior, so serious.

One week, I didn’t see him smile for three consecutive days. Without doing very much, he made me feel like a child that was permanently in trouble. I heard stories of the female guests who had fallen victim to his charms. A couple of them even came back to visit. Surely he can’t be that good in bed, I thought. When we started working together I felt a slight sense of annoyance that I was going to be stuck with this new exotic version of a fuckboy.

What a knob.

Of course, my annoyance stemmed from the fact that I had a huge crush on him.

Working together turned out to be less traumatic than I had expected. We butted heads on several occasions, argued, some days it seemed like we would never co-exist peacefully. But the more time we spent together, the more I realised I’d been a little unfair in my initial judgement. The seriousness was actually a genuine passion for his work, a desire to do things well and do them properly. The ‘look at me I’m so mysterious and brooding and foreign’ vibe I’d initially picked up on was actually a deep spirituality and connection to the world around him. The near-constant impromptu concerts came not from arrogance, but from a deep love of music. When I listened, really listened, to the songs he had written, I discovered just how talented he really was, how intelligent, how insightful. He was funny. He understood people. His often brutal honesty commanded respect, not abhorrence.

Here, amongst a generation of protein-packed poseurs, dickpics and complicated internet-based misunderstandings, was a truly genuine human being.

Maybe he’s not such a knob after all, I thought to myself.

Our chronology was peculiar, as is so often the case when you meet someone outside of your regular routine. We lived together before we knew each other. We lived together before we were friends. He saw me naked before our relationship became sexual (profuse apologies to all my previous housemates for my inability to wear clothes). We slept together before we made love, curled up on a tiny single bed, half-dressed. We were both somewhat involved in other romantic entanglements. I hated him at the same time that I fell in love with him. These things never did run smooth.

When we finally kissed for the first time, in the most romantic of settings – a hip hop club in the Placa Reial – it felt like home, like familiarity. When, not long afterwards, we consummated our relationship, he was totally present, totally uninhibited. Something I thought didn’t exist in men of my generation.

Later that summer, when I became sick and spiraled into the OCD and anxiety that have at times, threatened to destroy aspects of my life, he was unwavering. A relationship barely two months in the making and he was subjected to me, stripped down, bare-faced and tear-soaked, in the midst of a panic attack that lasted on and off for several weeks. He stayed. Where others would have dismissed it, would have left, where others before him had dismissed it, he stayed. He scooped up all my anxiety, my confusion, my depression, into a big ball and made me better. We left Barcelona eventually, stronger, closer, more connected.

I tried so hard to sabotage it, as I always have done when something truly wonderful comes into my life. I told myself countless times that my first impression of him had been correct, that when we eventually took our separate paths, he would forget me in an instant, move on within minutes. I was mean. I was inconsiderate. It never happened, of course. Something in him said to me, to my innermost self, “Try all you want, I’m not letting you go”. And he didn’t.

We had to separate, eventually. The curse of travelling couples who meet on the road. Soon, we’ll be separated by even more land mass when he travels further afield. In a previous life, I would have left it, moved on, succeeded in sabotaging the fledgling relationship, replaced him with someone inferior. I would have convinced myself that I didn’t deserve him, that what we had was nothing.

The new me took a look at the old me and said “Fuck you, you’re not screwing this one up. This is a real thing, don’t you DARE do what you always do. You’ll regret it forever”.

It’s not easy, where we’re at now. Being separated from the person you love is like having your arm ripped off. In a few short months we’ve done and been through so much together and to me, that tells me, more than anything else, that this is worth the distance, the poor WiFi connections, the tears, the empty beds. I was sceptical before. When you find something real, distance and proximity should not be a deciding factor. Make it work, however you can. Set your own rules. Do what you have to do to make it work, because it’s so rare to find something, someone, like that.

He makes me laugh. He’s incredibly intelligent. He’s articulate in both Spanish and English, without being pretentious. He works harder than anyone I know and puts his soul into everything he does. He commands respect from everyone he meets. He’s honest. He’s wonderfully weird. He has beautiful hair. He makes me want to work harder, to be better, to overcome my demons. I respect and admire him so much. He is himself, unapologetically. And I’m so proud, so honoured, to love someone like that, to have their love in return.

I guess he wasn’t such a knob in the end.

Update: sadly since posting this, my first impressions did turn out to be correct and we split up.


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