When I was a kid I had this idea for my life. I thought I would grow up, go to college, graduate, meet this perfect person who would change my life, fall in love and check that off my list of successes – next step, world domination. Needless to say, life didn’t happen that way.
It got messy. Relationships got messy. And I got my heart broken.
I remember sitting in my room and wondering what I had done to have brought this upon myself!? I felt tainted. I felt like I should never be accepted or loved again. I remember my heart feeling like it had been put through a shredder. I remember feeling so much shame and so much despair.
But I shouldn’t have.
Because human heartbreak is something we all experience. Whether it’s from people, circumstances or the realization that dreams we once had aren’t turning out the way we had hoped. It’s a fact of life – and it’s one that I don’t think is talked about, enough.
Heartbreak is something you can write books about, warn people about, lecture about and it will still happen. And it will still hurt just as much.
But the story doesn’t have to stop there.
Heartbreak isn’t the end. It’s merely an evolution and transformation of who we are, to who we will are meant to become.
When I went through my first particularly bad break-up I remember calling my mom, snot-nosed and weeping, and her saying, “Emilee. This does not define you.”
I’m pretty sure those were the best words she could have said. In all of her Scandinavian directness (*cue Elsa singing “Conceal, don’t feel.”*) she hit on a valid, logical and very poignant point.
At the moment I wanted her to weep with me. I wanted her to pity me. But now I realize the wisdom of those words. My current situation didn’t define me. What did, was what I did with it. And THAT is what the conversations about heartbreak should be about.
Fast forward two years. Life is a lot better.
I took my heartache and I bought a plane ticket. I wrote about the journey. I found a community and met people who changed my perspective on life. I got some tattoos. I lived in a different country. I joined Twitter. I wrote about my travels. I rediscovered my love for writing and story telling – and you know what?
I did meet a “perfect” person who changed my life. And I did learn, slowly but surely, how to fall in love with them – the only thing was, the person I learned to love was me.
It might sound like the corny line at the end of a Disney Channel original movie, but when I look back, I’m not sure that I would have changed the way things happened (except I might not have stopped myself from slashing the tires of my ex). Life had a way of pushing me in the right direction, and I’m happier on this path than I ever was before.
Heartbreak taught me to love myself. It taught me to push forward even when I felt like I was being sucked backward into a vortex of despair. I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences were paving a way for me to find my own purpose and meaning.
It’s been a while since I took that first backpacking trip. I had no idea what I was doing as I stepped on an airplane, headed to the UK. All I knew was that I was worn out emotionally, and I needed to get away. And now, just a month after my two-year anniversary of that trip, I’m headed back in the same direction.
It’s amazing how much can change in such a short period of time. This time the plane ticket wasn’t bought because of heartache; it was bought out of love. I’m not traveling alone I’m traveling with two of my closest friends, and I know quite a bit more about what the travel experience will be like, having now lived in, and travelled frequently around Europe.
Life has changed. It has kept moving forward. And the dreams that I have now are so much bigger and deeper and so much stronger than they ever were before. Heartbreak is not tarnish; it’s a badge of honor. It means you risked. You dared to love, dared to dream and dared to ask life for more.
So risk. Risk your heart, risk your dreams, risk your expectations and then rise. Regardless of the outcome of your daring ventures, make the outcome excel you to new heights. Because heartbreak is merely a transformation. And, like a phoenix, your circumstances only prove that you now have the opportunity to soar.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that people are people. It sounds like a no brainer, but the number one concern I hear when I say I’m going to travel places, is that I should be careful trusting the people there. What’s funny is… they probably say the same thing about us.
From traveling, I’ve learned that humanity is broad, colorful, diverse and beautiful. There is evil in the world, yes. Some governments are oppressive and some cultural norms stagnate the possibilities for individuals to rise to their true potential. But I will never allow the aspects of darkness to outshine the good. The people who are selfless, stubborn and that build lives of beauty in places you might never consider beautiful are my heroes. And to celebrate THESE people. I’m going to share some stories of some awesome individuals I’ve met while traveling.
1. “Your Accent Is Cute.” – London, England
As an American traveling, it takes every ounce of self control not to fake a different accent. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m ashamed of the way I speak…only that I think it should stay on the home front. When I first arrived in London, England I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was using different money, there were way too many people everywhere, and I arrived at night – meaning I didn’t recognize anything the next day. On top this, the streets are backwards – which, honestly, almost cost me my life more than once.
When I first arrived in London I stayed about 30min north of the central city with one of my lovely couch surfing hosts. The second night I was out until after dark (which was like 6pm) and had no idea how to get back to where I was staying. Deciding to just try my luck, I jumped on a bus that looked like it MIGHT be the same number that I came down on (it wasn’t) and then rode around in it for twenty minutes.
At this point I literally had no idea where I was. So brilliantly, I got off the bus and tried to use the map on my phone*. After wandering around in the cold a bit, I finally found a bus stop and waited until the bus came. Happily climbing on, it wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized it was taking me BACK the way I came. So, getting off that bus, I got back on another random bus headed in the right(?) direction. At this point I was actually lost in London. My host wasn’t able to figure out where I was because I wasn’t able to figure out where I was, and I was sending frantic text messages. Fun times.
Finally I swallowed my shyness and asked the bus driver for directions.
He told me I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be going…but to go sit down and wait a while. I thought he was going to tell me a connecting route, but as the bus emptied of its last passenger, other than me, he called me to the front of the double-decker, after pulling over. He then whipped out his smartphone, and punched the address into his GPS. After finding the address on his phone, he pulled out of where he had parked and started driving and talking to me about where I was from. I told him Seattle, to which he said, “American? Well, I like your accent, it’s super cute.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is a sentence every American woman wants to hear from an attractive British man.
As we kept driving, he let me know that we would be there soon. And only then did I realize I was being driven in a double decker bus, as the solo passenger, to the place I need to go. He dropped me off at the corner of my street, and drove away, waving goodbye. I’m probably never going to see that man again, but as far as I know, if it wasn’t for him I might still be lost in London. A cosmic “Thank you, sir.”
* Note: iPhone 4’s DO NOT work internationally unless you’re on WiFi, which doesn’t help if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
2. Never Euro In N. Ireland – Belfast, Ireland
If you’ve ever been to Northern Ireland you’ll know that tension flows through the air. I never really understood the stubbornness and hot headed nature of my Irish blooded family until I visited Northern Ireland and met the people there. Not to say this is a bad thing, but just that it was my observation.
When I was traveling around the UK, Belfast was the first stop on my backpacking adventure. I had travelled 20 hours to get there including two planes, a train and a two buses. FINALLY, when I got to Northern Ireland, I groggily hopped on the bus I was told would take me to my hostel. It was the wrong bus. So I hopped on another one the bus driver told me to take. It was ALSO the wrong bus. Finally, with 30 lbs of luggage on my back and 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours, I got on the right bus and pulled out my wallet to pay.
The bus driver looked at me as though I was trying to pull a practical joke. “How much is the bus?” I asked. He looked at me one more time as though I was joking, and then frankly told me that they didn’t take that kind of money, and to get off the bus and go exchange it. I had just used the money in Dublin, so I was confused for why it wouldn’t work.
Note: Trying to pay with Euro is a “political statement” in Northern Ireland. Don’t do it.
Stumbling my way around the city, I finally found a place to exchange my money and went out to wait for the next bus. I FINALLY I got to my hostel. At the brink of tears, because I was so exhausted and my back hurt so much, I asked the front desk staff to check me in. But, (surprise) they also didn’t take Euro and I hadn’t exchanged enough money to pay the other half of the room bill. Completely out of my control, my eyes filled as I tried not to cry. The woman told me I couldn’t check in – which meant going back to the city center, finding another bus, coming back on another bus, and carrying my pack around for even longer.
At the same time, a guy in his 20s hopped down into the room and asked what was going on. The lady explained the situation and I just stood there trying not to cry. He reached down and handed me a key. I took it without asking any questions. The woman and I both had shocked faces as he told me to just pay the next time I went out and got change – an exception which was, apparently, totally against protocol.
His act of kindness was probably one of the best things during my trip; not because it was the grandest gesture, but because it was a small act of kindness in a moment when I just needed a break.
3. Ten Hours With A Stripper – Missoula, MT
In four years of college and my entire life before then, I never pulled an all-nighter. (And to preface the sentence I’m about to say – don’t jump to conclusions.)
The first time I did, I was with a male stripper.
His name was Hank. He was tall and military trained and we met on the way to Seattle on a Greyhound bus. I had been staying in Missoula, MT for the week before and was coming back heartbroken and tired. Also, for reference, the Greyhound bus ride from there to here is about 11+ hours. So, about to fall sleep on my way home, I was suddenly interrupted by a guy across the aisle way. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but suddenly he was talking to me about my hat and how much he liked it. I’m pretty sure it was just a plain beanie.
We talked for a few minutes, but I was less than enthusiastic since I just wanted to curl up and sleep/die (heartbroken.). After the bus switch a couple of hours later, I walked back on and found that the girl I had been sitting with had left at that stop. So, I took my seat and the trek back began. Soon after, I heard someone trying to talk to me from the back of the bus. I turned around – him again. “I’m just going to move up there so we can talk easier.” And Hank popped into the seat beside me.
After a while we started talking pretty naturally, mainly because I was by the window, and there was nowhere to go with a 6’6″ man sitting next to me. Over time we started talking about relationships and how we were both just getting out of some pretty swampy territory. We talked for 10 hours straight about everything from favorite movies to quotes we liked and political views. But, mostly, about our mutual broken hearts.
We were both crushed that things didn’t work out between us and our significant others, and sat there for hours talking through things, encouraging each other (not the fake kind) and figuring things out.
I honestly can say, it was better than any counseling session I’ve ever had. I was crushed when I left Montana, and by the time I got to Seattle I felt so much better. All of my problems weren’t solved. But having a stranger sit and talk to me about them for that long was insane. When I got off the bus at the last stop I couldn’t find Hank to thank him. I’ll probably never see him again, but the kindness of a listening ear is something I’ll never forget.