Saturday, March 9, 2013

How to Break Up with a Boy in Paradise

Act #68:  Don't compromise (on the things that matter).

In my early 30's, I briefly dated a very nice man. We were introduced through a mutual friend and I thought he was quite handsome and adventurous. Completely driven. Wildly successful as a marketing director of a large pharmaceutical company in Manhattan, had a lovely apartment in the city. Loved sushi, was an amateur photographer and could talk politics with me for hours at a time. I was in this phase of life where I was committed to experiencing new things, living a little more boldly, so when we one day stumbled upon unbeatable all-inclusive packages to Puerto Rico, I decided to buy one and the two of us spontaneously ventured out on a 3-day weekend to explore the El Yunque rain forest in North Eastern Puerto Rico.

Originally named, San Juan Bautista by Columbus in honor of the Christian saint, John the Baptist, the island was ruled by Spain since the early 16th century, and up until the Spanish-American War in the late 1800’s. Established as a U.S. Commonwealth in 1950, Puerto Rico struggled with centuries of colonization, oppression, and political estrangement – and whenever we ventured out of our beautiful tourist resort in San Juan, I saw the deep-rooted, long-lasting effects of this.

In hindsight, as I reflect on this trip, it was really a turning point in my personal life journey and I spent hours alone in solitude reflecting, trying to find myself again after having recently suffered a significant personal loss. I remember waking up at sunrise and heading to the beach by myself. I walked for miles until I stopped and drank coffee with small groups of wrinkly, old fisherman getting ready to head out to sea.  Every morning I was surrounded by curious stray dogs and a flock of bright-eyed beautiful children in tattered clothes. And I relished every moment of this. I actually felt a million times more comfortable in this setting than I did later in the evenings when I re-joined my date and got glamoured up to hit San Juan's fancy restaurants and night life.

One day as we were en route from San Juan to the breathtaking El Yunque rain forest (about an hour's drive), we drove through a small dilapidated town with crumbling houses, make-shift clotheslines, and rusting tin roofs that looked like they could blow away with the next big storm. As our car passed through, I was overcome with a deep sense of embarrassment and guilt for my privileged tourist status, and I remember longing at that exact moment, to be back on the beaches with the local fisherman and children to relieve my own conscience. I looked over to my traveling companion for some affirmation, some acknowledgement of the cruel inequities of the world. And it was at this precise moment that he said, as naive and natural as could be,

"I don't understand why people choose to live like this."

While I usually always believe in seeking common ground and understanding, in this case, it seemed like an insurmountable task. My companion and I saw the world through drastically different lenses and our upbringings framed our life outlooks in ways that made me doubt we'd ever find workable common ground. I think it also became increasingly clear to him that I was probably not going to fit into his existing world. So when we returned to the mainland, I turned down future invitations to company parties at upstate ski resorts, weekend visits to NYC, and I became too busy to entertain his visits to Kentucky. Of course, fate would have it that I would meet and fall head over heels in love with my husband Adam during this time period. Adam often jokes with me, that he wishes we had crossed paths before Puerto Rico. Because it's weird for him to envision me off exploring paradise with another man just days before we met. And I tell him that it was no paradise, and that I'm grateful for this experience that helped me clarify those important values that I could never compromise in a life partner.  It helped me realize that I could never share a home, build  a family, raise a son with someone who was so blind to real-world issues impacted by injustice and oppression.  And who was able to speak so nonchalantly about poverty from the outside, as if it were a choice. 

I just don’t understand why some people choose to live like that.


No comments:

Post a Comment