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Romantic Vacations Alone

I'm writing this from the balcony of a decently-fancy hotel room overlooking the Pacific ocean somewhere in Hawaii. It's about as romantic of a vacation destination as I can think of. Yes, I could think of others (like the house on the secluded beach I spent most of the last week in) but it's all kind of the same. These are places where there's not much to do other than watch the sunset, swim in the ocean, cuddle by a fireplace, have a two hour candlelit dinner, etc.

I don't really vacation much. If I think about it, maybe the last vacation I took was about 12 years ago when I went on a cruise. It was a gift from my ex-wife who felt we should go on a cruise. It didn't go well. I'm not a vacation person. I like travel and exploration, but vacations are really something for people with day jobs to get their minds off of their day jobs. I'm more of a career person and so my career never quits. Even if I'm not physically working, mentally I am working pretty much all of the time.

It's been a difficult week for me. I've had three migraines in five days. I've had a lot of time in complete isolation. I feel horrible about the way I look, my weight, my age, where I'm at in my life at this moment are all weighing on me heavily.

Going on a romantic vacation alone was a stupid idea. At the same time I had to do it.

Let's talk about Hawaii for a second.

I was here once, in 1986. For a weekend.

My dad had seen a special promotion that Eastern Airlines was running for a weekend trip to Hawaii at a super-discounted price. He took me on a 12 hour flight Friday afternoon, we stayed at the Hilton in Waikiki. I got sunburn. Then on Saturday we took a flight to another island, took a helicopter tour over a volcano, and flew back to Waikiki. Then on Sunday we flew back to New York. I got sunburn for the first time in my life and a painful ear infection from the constant change in pressure. Monday morning at school when the teacher asked everyone what they did this weekend I said "I went to Hawaii". She insisted I was lying and I was sent to the Principal's office. My parents were called. My mom explained that I was telling the truth. I can still remember the look on the Principal's face which even at that young age I understood to be a mix of confusion and jealousy. I was sent back to class. The teacher never apologized.

In a way, not much has changed in my life since then.

I'd always said I wanted to go back. About 14 years ago I was in an operating room, wide awake, as a surgeon cut a hole in my neck and gave me a blood transfusion. My father was holding my hand and looking at me. It was the most scared I've ever been in my life. I asked him when I was better could we go back to Hawaii. He said yes. It never happened.

So a few weeks ago when I got an email from Alaska Airlines advertising a promotional fare to Hawaii I didn't even blink. I had nothing going on in my life, I was depressed, I had no reason not to go. I took out my debit card and purchased the ticket immediately without even thinking about it. It may have been the most impulsive travel purchase I've ever made (which is saying a lot because I used to just randomly wake up and decide to get on a plane somewhere and go on a regular basis).

I went on YouTube and typed "Hawaii". The first video that came up listed a bunch of suggested things to do. I made a google map of them. I rented a car. I was done.

Before I left I was starting to have some anxiety about the trip which was weird. I'm not afraid of flying, I handle airports well, it's not like I was missing anything at home. It started to dawn on me that I was having anxiety about going on a romantic vacation alone. Again.

All the feelings of abandonment and self-worth that come up with divorce started to come up again. I've been divorced for almost six years. I haven't even been on a date in four years. I had two Bumble matches in the last year that opened a chat, one was a robot. The handful of people I've met in Los Angeles have mostly been rather cruel. Everyone else in my life (the people walkers, the professional cuddlers) have been hired help. A couple of minor attempts at trying to be actual friends with the hired help made it clear that this was a terrible idea. I had to really start compartmentalizing this. It's a shame because I really like some of the people walkers and cuddlers, but they all seem to have this boundary of "I'm being nice to you because you are paying me to, I don't want you to actually be my friend." That was really hard for me to accept at first, but I accept it now. Then I felt even shittier about myself for having thought they would be my friend outside of work in the first place. It was awful.

At the same time using these services is helping me cope with my situation at home until it improves.

I was on the beach the other day thinking about the fact that at 42 I am still so unhappy with my life. There was the one month in New York City that I was blissfully happy, but I had that taken away from me.

As I started to think about other romantic vacations I'd been on alone (Especially my trip to Hotel Portmeirion during which the staff felt so bad for me they spent the entire time standing at my table and making conversation) I realized that I've been doing this my whole life. My first trip away from home at 17 to Montreal was alone. My friends were all still in High School, I had a G.E.D. and a passport. Nobody was going with me, they had to be in school. Their parents never would have let them go anyway. My parents weren't going to tell me I couldn't go. I had a job and a paycheck already. Hell, I had a debit card and a laptop at 17. Most adults didn't even have debit cards or laptops yet, they were brand new.

When I got to Montreal I tried to meet people and I did meet some people who were a little older (not much) than me. They had all traveled there in groups. I was the only one with a cell phone, they could tell I was a little different. Only one of the many people I met even had an email address, we exchanged email addresses. We never spoke again.

My first trip to Paris was just as stupid. I hired a guy with a car to drive me around and translate. I never even saw the Eiffel Tower, all I wanted to do was go to video stores and buy expensive copies of rare films that I couldn't get at home. I went to Disneyland, I called my friend Erin from a payphone every day. I could not have been more clueless.

There was no one to guide me, I didn't have any siblings or any cool friends that had been to Paris except maybe one or two who had been on some field trip and did touristy shit. Even then I can't think of anyone I knew who had been to Paris other than my parents or grandparents and they all lived so far in the past that nothing they said was going to interest me.

To be real : it wasn't even until Netflix and the proliferation of cheap access to large quantities of French films on DVD that I had any interest in ever going back there. After I'd seen the complete works of Jacques Rivette I was on the next plane out of town, riding around on a bicycle, eating baguettes, and exploring every last inch of France that I could get to. And you know what? I did most of that alone. My ex-wife would go on her own adventures. Of the times we went to Paris together we rarely did anything together.

There was a moment I really remember. Like really really really vividly can tell you what it smelled like and everything remember. We were sitting on a bus. We were in Paris. We had unlimited time ahead of us and plenty of money in the bank. We didn't have jobs. We could have done anything. I had been crawling all over Paris for a week. I suggested we rent a car and take a road trip around France and see some different places. There was a look of horror on my ex-wife's face. "Scary" she said. Then she shot down the idea.

At that moment I was on a romantic vacation alone.

I've never met anyone before or since that could or would or should go on these trips with me. I'm not going to sit at home and do nothing when I have the opportunity to do and see it all, but these kinds of trips are really meant for couples.

Sometimes when I post this feeling on social media people like to say things like "why does it have to be a romantic vacation?" or "learn to enjoy your own company" or some shit like that. Those people are failures who can go fuck themselves. Really. I never give up trying to improve the quality of my life, that's why it feels like such a failure, because I've been trying for a really really really long time but I'm not going to change the desired outcome just so I can declare myself a winner. I'd still like to have the experience the way it was intended to be experienced. Tourism brochures for exotic destinations don't show fat, sad, middle-aged men, sitting on the beach alone staring at their cell phones.

I saw myself in the mirror this morning. I look like shit. My first thought wasn't "you look like shit", my first thought was "in ten years you won't believe how young you looked right now." I kept trying to think what advice I would have given myself ten years ago but I was drawing a blank.

Partially I've noticed since moving to L.A. that people give me this weird look that's the look you give a crazy person. I never got this look in New York but I get it in L.A. all the time. It's isolating.

I was thinking about this luxury hotel in Virginia I stayed at once. It's called the Westfield Marriott. I stayed there one night a long long time ago when going to Lollapalooza nearby. It's a scale-model recreation of the White House. I was probably 20 years old. Easily I was the youngest person staying there, and probably the youngest person staying there alone. It was a surreal experience and I always said that someday if I was in a relationship I would go back there with my girlfriend or wife. Like a little promise I made to myself. Many years later I did go back there with my ex-wife. We fought the whole time.

I spent a long time thinking about in our thirteen years together had we ever been on a romantic vacation that actually worked out as a romantic vacation. I remembered two (kind of). Both were in Florida. On both occasions I was extremely sick or in pain.

After my divorce I had a girlfriend who visited me in New York for a day. We had brunch on the Upper East Side, we walked in Central Park, we rode on the Roosevelt Island Tramway, we took a
nap on my couch. It was the single most romantic day of my life and I didn't have to go anywhere at all.

Three years later I would be sitting in the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool alone on Thanksgiving day. Google it, you'll gasp. Everyone gasps when they see it for the first time. Before I'd left on that trip I invited someone I was interested in. I offered to pay for her plane ticket and everything. She declined and said "I wouldn't have anything to wear."

I'd really like to meet the right person to go on these trips with while my body and mind are still functioning but the progress remains painfully slow. So, I just keep slogging away, checking all the destinations off the list, working through the migraines and the loneliness. Beats having a day job, though.


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