I discovered the meaning of love through friends I made on my travels around the world.
“We’re all single as fuck”, my Brazilian friend says, protectively cradling her bottle of wine, “Man, the pressure, what would a perfect Valentine’s Day even look like?”
They look at me. I’m the one with the stories.
“Which one do you want - the good one or the other one?” I ask, rolling up my sleeves, swaying slightly.
“We’re all single as fuck”, my Brazilian friend says, “the pressure, what would a perfect Valentine’s Day even look like?”
“When I was living in Paris I had a French boyfriend. True story the French are famous for being romantic, I honestly believe little French boys take a class in 'Wooing 101' while growing up. Anyway, he lived in Bordeaux and I lived in Paris so we mostly saw each other on weekends. I’d get off the train to a bouquet of flowers, to a surprise pet store road trip so I could drool over puppies…. Sucha nice boy”
“Sucha nice boy - you sound like my mother”.
“Why’d you guys break up?”
“Shh, don’t distract her”, the Canadian kid wants me to get to the point.
“When Valentine’s Day rolled around we’d been dating for a couple of months, he had a big presentation that day so we couldn’t see each other. I spent my first Valentine’s Day in Paris roaming around streets overflowing with happy couples, the love lock bridge every Indian parent's worst nightmare, romance everywhere. I missed him.”
Cue collective aww.
My French boy would pick me up at the station and surprise me with adventures. Image source: media.tumblr.com
“Two days later he called me up with this mad urgency in his voice - my brother got mugged they stole his phone and house keys, can you go down and let him use your phone? His brother lived two streets away. I was mid-nap so now half asleep half freaking out I threw a sweatshirt on over my pajamas, no bra, no make-up and ran down to the gate, my head still scrambling with the French words for you okay, how can I help? I opened the gate and he was standing there with a bouquet of roses, smirking.”
“Oh my god!”
“These French dudes ruining it for the rest of us.”
My French guy set some Valentine's Day goals! Image Source: picjumbo.com
“I remember being shocked, half crying half laughing then throwing myself at him, he’d made fancy dinner reservations and booked an Eiffel tower facing Airbnb. No joke. I felt like I was in a movie. The magic of Paris can make even the most cynical person light up.”
“AN EIFFEL TOWER FACING AIRBNB, please - too much,” Egypt is having none of this.
“It’s sweet” Brazil is tipsy.
“Hey come on, everyone needs that one over the top, big romantic gesture. Mine just happened to have a cute French guy and sparkling Eiffel Tower lights. I was so happy that night, so caught up in the fantasy of it.”
“What’s the other story?”
“Last year I was in Amsterdam around this time, single and still trying to figure out the cheat codes to the city. Amsterdam is well known for being progressive, gender equality so ingrained in society that it isn’t part of the culture for men to make the first move. After a year of being spoilt in Paris, playing the more aggressive role took some getting used to. A week before Valentine’s Day I was checking out this vinyl event at a charming old hotel filled with Dutch hipsters. There was this one guy going through records. The second I saw him my heart skipped a beat. He was tall, pretty, green eyes, messy dark hair. I was looking at vinyls only in his vicinity hoping he would catch my eye. He did, we smiled at each other, then he went back to doing his thing so I gave up. That was a signal and he clearly wasn’t interested.”
I was looking at vinyls only in his vicinity hoping he would catch my eye. Image source: expoluzrd.com
“Why didn’t you go say hi?”
“I dunno I get shy when I’m actually interested. Anyway, so I’m putting on my coat ready to leave and he comes up to me and starts talking in really fast Dutch. I’m sorry I don’t understand, I say and he says “I just wanted to tell you - you have a beautiful smile.” It was such a perfect moment. We end up hanging out all evening, getting drinks at the old hotel. He’s charming and travels a lot too, so the conversation is electric. We make plans to meet the next time he’s free which happens to be Valentine’s Day. I joke about it but he doesn’t seem fazed so there we are, me and my perfect moment boy at his favourite bar on Valentine’s Day. We talk for hours, we have so many stories to exchange, he’d worked in Nepal and travelled with ‘Doctors Without Borders’, which I found really attractive. Bar shuts and the botanical gardens happen to be next door. There’s something I want to show you, he says, and pulls me into the part of the garden by the water. Look. I turn and look out at the water which is filled with rows and rows of beautiful pink flamingoes. It was stunning! We’re drunk and happy and there are flamingoes and I’m thinking this is how Valentine’s Day’s should be, you know, vibing with someone new, getting high off that potential.”
“Look”. I turn and look out at the water which is filled with rows and rows of beautiful pink flamingoes. Image source: staticflickr.com
“How is your life like this?”
“Calm down ladies. So we go back to his place, I check out his Star Wars figurines, we kiss and touch and talk…it’s all very natural. The next couple of days I wait for him to text me but nothing. No sign. And I’m leaving for Italy soon, then he’s leaving for South America so my crazy starts showing, you know?”
“I text him to meet up and get a bit annoyed that he’s always busy. Finally he sends me this long text, The Text, about how he just got out of a serious relationship and that we have a great connection but he’s not ready for it to be something more right now. I was pretty heartbroken.”
“But… he showed you the fucking flamingoes!”
“Right! Don’t show me the fucking flamingoes if you’re going to be emotionally unavailable.”
“Cheers to that!”
“Valentine’s Day is a social construct anyway”, German boy has finally spoken, surrounded by women and wine and love stories.
I look over affectionately at my quirky, loving squad made up of people with different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives. I think about how well they understand my energy in the short time we’ve known each other, how easily we make each other laugh and how effortlessly we show up when someone is sick.
I think about Valentine’s Day, and I think about love.
Love isn’t always those stories that light up the big screen, love is in the messy details, love is about having someone’s back and bringing out the best in them. While pop culture dictates that it’s depressing to be `single’ on Valentine’s Day, I’d like to think we never really are single. That we all have someone we can call to bail us out of jail, tag in memes, go on an adventure with or just be ourselves around. Every time I’ve fallen into a new time zone I’ve taken my friends from old time zones with me, putting our equation through glitchy Skype calls and sometimes actual tears, where all they can do is sit oceans away and listen. I’ve drunk dialed my friend in Bombay from the middle of a raging Canadian house party and all it took was the sound of her voice to calm me down. That’s love, I think. They know me better than I know myself.
Love isn’t really the clichéd love stories that light up the big screen! Image source: picjumbo.com
While I like to think I’m independent, it’s only when I find my tribe in a new country that I truly feel centred, my friends giving me roots. They’ve helped me figure out supermarkets in strange languages, driven me to paperwork and plans, introduced me to my favourite bottle of wine, made the foreign familiar. It’s a beautiful evolution, one that picks up wherever you’re at in life asking only that you be real in return. As my friend in Amsterdam just reminded me - “This time last year we were sitting on a bench, blazed, eating strawberries out of a heart shaped box.” She and I have made it through three different time zones together and she’s definitely dancing at my Sangeet (to Desi Girl in case anyone wants to know).
So fuck flamingoes. This Valentines Day find your friends, grab some strawberries in a heart shaped box and have a series of perfect moments.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
Cover photo credit: noticias.terra.com