It suddenly struck me with stark realisation while I was on the canal boat ride in the Belgian city of Ghent. The evening before I couldn’t believe how beautiful and idyllic Ghent was. In fact, I was girlishly squealing with glee as I ran amok amongst the wide-open squares and old, yet stunning, Flemish buildings busily filling up my memory card on my camera.
Sipping my Delirium beer on a terrace in the main square, I watched as people ambled by enjoying each other’s company in the height of the World Cup Fever when Belgium was playing remarkably well. I felt a pang of jealousy at the couples who smooched in an indiscreet corner of the bar. ‘They were missing out,’ I annoyingly thought. ‘Why don’t they appreciate the evening glow of the sunset on Ghent?’ They did do that a few minutes later albeit with arms around each other. I promptly finished my beer and explored further the eclectic mix of establishments around the Belfrey.
But I was unable to shake that vision of the happy couple out of my mind as I crossed the canal bridge to the Castle of the Counts, offering scenic and romantic views of the capital of Flanders at its best. I assumed it was because I was travelling on my own and wanted a travel buddy to share my experiences of Ghent.
The next day, I took the opportunity to use my brand new and cost saving Ghent City Card to take a canal boat ride around the old town early in the morning.
This would be the time I would have my realisation. I was first to board the small and rocking boat. I was pleased to think that there was a possibility to have the boat to myself. But luck was not on my side as six more people joined me. Or rather, three couples. The first an old married British couple, upon further enquiry, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. They looked like they were still on their honeymoon period, truly happy to be in each other’s company. The second was a teenage Belgian couple from Brussels on their first holiday together. They were shy at first but that didn’t stop them holding hands tightly, which I never saw disengage throughout the canal trip. The third was a French middle-aged man with his very sexy Portuguese girlfriend who looked like she walked off a magazine photo shoot. They seemed to finish each other’s sentences and knew what the other was thinking.
I thought it was nice that they came to Ghent, a sleepy yet picturesque city to enjoy their holiday to Belgium and turned to face the commentator who galed us with history tales and interesting facts, with no further thought to the couples.
However, in a brief lull while the boat was steered underneath a long canal bridge, the old married couple caught my eye. They were sat close together, arms around each other murmuring sweet nothings into each other’s ears. The teenagers remained silent but the girl had her head on his shoulder lovingly, her other hand over his stomach. He smiled under his sunglasses as he looked down at the top of her head, thinking how lucky he was. The Portuguese woman laughed throatily as her boyfriend must have told her a joke and slapped mockingly at his arm before leaning into him for a cuddle. I couldn’t blame them for being lovey dovey. It really was a romantic setting and that’s how they felt that way.
Me? I just felt plain awkward. I was invading their privacy as an unwilling single spectator trapped in the small boat with them. I tried to look at everywhere else and was glad to have my sunglasses on me so they couldn’t see that my eyes were drawn back to them. That’s when I realised why I had this uneasy feeling deep inside me. Here it was, chilling to me and painful as if a cold wet fish has smacked me around my face.
I have never been in love.
With this matter of fact statement that I uttered in my mind, it was a moment of profound clarification. Here I was, about to turn thirty this next year and I have never been madly or deeply in love.
I mean the relationship love. I have other deep and meaningful love for my family and friends, heck even my pets. But never love in a relationship.
Sure enough, I’ve had relationships in the past but they were short and mostly ended disastrously. But they didn’t matter as I was young, careless and free. The twenties were mine and I didn’t want to be tied down begrudgingly when there were so many opportunities to explore. In my case, after my quarter life crisis, it was jetting off around the world. Year after year of travelling, I became aware I wanted to share my life with someone. Standing in full view of Milford Sound in New Zealand, it was certainly a moment to be shared. Maybe walking along the surf at Mantaray Island in Fiji with the setting sun or perhaps partying at the Rio Carnival in Brazil?
I confess that I hoped to meet someone on my travels since I flew off to Bangkok in 2012 as many of my friends seemed to meet their significant other then. I didn’t go looking for love, I wanted it to be when I least expected it. Obviously, that never happened. And I’m okay with that. I was still 27 then and I thought I had some wiggle room left before the grand age of 30. I laughed as I mentally ripped up my ‘life plan’ that should have seen me married by then but still exploring the world.
I still travelled in South America and Europe for a while only to halt it for most of a year as I found jobs in London and Brighton. Taking it as an opportunity to test where the land laid for me, I began online dating.
I had several good dates. However, I could never get past the third or fourth date. Sometimes, there was never that spark. Several dates were too bunny boiler like that demanded to know what I was doing every micro-second. Several dates resented my travel lifestyle and thought I was using them, despite my protestations. Some dates only wanted me for my body treating their online dating sites as ‘hook-up’ sites. Or more than a few dates simply didn’t want to go out with a deaf guy. (Their loss, not mine).
Sometimes it would be my fault. I would be harshly picky. I simply just wanted the right one for me. All I wanted was a great smile to light up my day. A silly personality to be my partner in crime. An adversary to challenge me to be a better man. A wit to rival my own. Or perhaps, a long patience to put up with my extremely bad jokes.
You could rightly say that I became disillusioned, preferring to leave it all behind again. What matter, I would be back on the road again through Iceland in the Summer, backpacking Croatia with a best mate and sightseeing Dusseldorf. But still, my mind would brood upon the fact something would be missing from my life. Perhaps a soulmate shaped hole in my heart?
Even though when I was away, my Facebook wall would announce the coming of engagements, weddings and baby arrivals. I would heartily congratulate them, but that feeling of being left on the proverbial shelf loomed before me. Everyone seemed to be speeding by and I must have stalled on the hard shoulder. Sure enough, I was on a different route, perhaps the scenic route preferring to see the world, but ultimately I want to reach to that same destination.
Now that I’ve quietly celebrated my 29th birthday last month, I begin to take a good hard look at my life and what’s in store for me in the future. I don’t regret being mostly single in my twenties. I had the time of my life full of highs and lows that has spun an eventful decade that has seen me move around the UK and ultimately the world. My ‘perpetual student’ (as my family calls me) days has been filled with crazy adventures, laughter through friends old and new, pushing limits as I’ve proved time and time again that deaf people can be anything as they wanted, and finally the fantastic knowledge and understanding of my place in this universe. This time traveller was fine riding solo.
So what now? Where do I go from here?
I now start to feel the tingles of settling down. Wouldn’t it be great to have a house, a car, money to spend on luxurious holidays abroad or perhaps even a corporate job, which (shock and horror) I escaped from? Actually, no. All that pales into comparison by having a true loving companion by my side.
Inside me, I have a hell of a lot of love to give, sometimes bursting at the seams. I feel like Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy ready to be blessed with love. But first, someone needs to open the way as I’ve truly locked these bursting star feelings under lock and key. Those years have hardened my armor but with a clink appearing, I might crack. To spend lazy Sundays together at home. To re-discover the joy of travelling through their eyes. To surprise people at Christmas with our matching red hats. To laugh rip-roaringly at the crazy antics both of us gets up. To snuggle in bed in those dark mornings. And many more.
Could it be possible to find this at home or on my travels? Who knows?
All I’m saying my travels would be enriched if I have a special travel partner by my side. Perhaps it would happen tomorrow, a week, a year of even a decade from now. All I know, it’ll happen to me. I’ll be one of those couples on that canal boat in Ghent. Whether I’ll be part of an old married couple still in love, the excited teenage couple not quite believing of their situation or perhaps in a continental relationship that has crossed countries.
Perhaps I’ll find my Rexy to my Edventures. But hurry up please, I’m ready.