We’d met on our respective gap-year trips across Europe. How very unique and Australian of us. A mutual friend said we were destined to be together because we both play soccer, have blonde hair and like dumb jokes. It was fate. We were introduced and I gave him an awkwardly exuberant wave – I knew we would have something special.
He courted me over three glorious months and several foreign countries, but we only spent about two weeks actively in each other’s company. We began in Spain, in the gloriously romantic setting of La Tomatina (a festival where it is customary to throw semi-squashed tomatoes at one another until the streets flow a sea of Bolognese sauce). I’d gotten tomato juice in my eye and his tall frame became a human shield. He held me as I cried the acidic juice out of my eye-socket. It was love.
Tom was all I’d ever wanted in a boy. He was next-door-neighbor hot, intelligent, humble and kind, and he really liked me (it surprised me, too). Each night, he’d walk me to my hostel and kiss me outside the door before I swiped my key card and returned to my 10-bed dorm. Our first and only actual “date” was to the Science Museum, where we flirted between the natural history and oceanography exhibits (swoon).
The timeline of a normal, homegrown relationship is slow and calculated. It’s approached with hesitancy, and each text is deliberated and edited at least twice. In the early days of a relationship, it’s typical to see your love interest once a week. Maybe twice if you’re really into them. Often, sex isn’t on the table until date #3. Between dates, you’ll message online and craft flirty responses with the help of friends. You build anticipation and momentum.
A travel romance can happen, from start to finish, in a matter of hours. Tom and I blossomed into a thing in less than four days. By the end of day four, I cried as my bus pulled away, leaving him standing on the curb. I knew almost nothing about him, but we’d spent almost every waking (and not) moment of those four days together. I couldn’t have told you his birthday, but I could’ve picked his voice out in a crowd. He didn’t know my middle name, but he knew the pocket in my backpack where I kept my Chapstick.
While the intensity of a travel fling often results in a whirlwind of passionate moments and learning each other’s ins and outs on the go, it’s abnormally speedy progression also results in the advancement of several, less fun milestones.
In the last week of his trip he came to visit me. My holiday was over and I’d been living and working in London for over a month. In his absence, I’d started a new life. I’d spent weeks filling the blank spaces of my shitty, 800 quid a month room. I’d found all the good coffee shops and the quickest route to the tube stop. I had a job and a bank account, a National Insurance Number and an Oyster Card. London was mine. He was coming to stay with me, for five days, in my flat, in my double bed.
I’d taken three of the five days off work to show him around my new city. By day two, I wanted him gone and was itching to escape back to work.
He was everywhere I was, all of the time. I hadn’t had to share with anybody for such a long time that I’d forgotten how. We went through my cereal and juice and rice twice as fast. He used all of our hot water every morning. His suitcase took up half the floor space in my already too-small room. His height, once a turn on, filled up every inch of my bed. It was winter in the UK and his hands were always sweaty. I invested in gloves. It took me a while to realise this wasn’t why I didn’t want to hold his hand.
Despite my constant annoyance, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just bummed that, contrasted by the mundanity of my new 9-to-5, I was no longer swept up in the romance that was “Maddie and Tom on tour”.
As quickly as I’d gotten swept up in it, I’d fallen straight back out. The heartbreaking thing was that he hadn’t; we spent the following days playing cat and mouse. Once I’d snapped out of my romantic delirium, I couldn’t find my way back, no matter how hard I tried.
Fast-forward three years, I still cringe a little when remembering the over the top PDAs we probably displayed around Europe. Our love story wasn’t epic; it hit its expiration date shortly after Tom left my flat in London. But what it did leave me with was a pretty great friendship with a pretty goofy boy. Tom and I still hang out when I’m in Melbourne, and we’ve just hit a new milestone in our friendship. We can both reflect objectively on our time together and in a beautiful, wistful, romantic way, truly rip the living shit out of our dumb 18-year-old selves. Ah, young love.