To Be Alone in Europe
Updated: Jan 10
"To Be Alone in Europe"
Europe is the loneliness continent to be on when you’re alone.
Everything here is just so unnecessarily and almost repulsively romantic, every ambiance made for two. Every pathway in every park wide enough for two, every brown wooden bench under the most colorful purple and pink trees with space for two. To make up for my lack of someone, I’ve put my backpack next to me, an insufficient place holder for a real-life warm body.
Going up the London Eye is a futile endeavor if you have no one to pull you in for a kiss as you look out at the Thames. And every bridge at night is built for two; you’d be an awkward third-wheeler to the gorgeous sky or the presence of actual non-lonely couples if you just walked across it alone in your red dress and high heels, staring straight ahead at your destination, not daring to deviate your eyes to the peripheries so that you don’t have to look into the sorry eyes that can’t help but bore into yours. We social animals are so good at reading each other.
Every church and cathedral are devoid of meaning because there is not that metaphysical presence of love to perhaps connect, just a little, to spirituality, a break in the material world as you exist in overwhelming feelings and mysticism. Every old-fashioned pub looks so pitifully upon you as you look down at your screen, reading only a few pages an hour because you are so fanatically self-conscious about how others perceive your table of one.
An old-fashioned red train straight out of the Industrial Revolution seems so out of place when you have no one’s hand to hold; it’s just some unsettling anachronism that you feel deep within your soul when at the station. The open seat next to you dares for some handsome foreign stranger to take his seat, but it remains undisturbed throughout the duration of your journey.
In every vineyard and every gazebo, you just feel it instinctively. It’s like you lost someone that you never had, that you’re a widow at the age of 19, traveling to all these places haunted by the images of your late love. But you never had anyone in the first place; you never had someone to count on to kiss. You never had someone to remark on your outfit meticulously planned for the day or to know which album you’ve kept replaying in your headphones these past weeks.
And so you’ll sit down on the bench in Hyde Park for the thousandth time, on your own.
And then perhaps you’ll decide to go to some rural brick town with the cutest shops, an obvious tourist. You tell yourself you just care to write, but you can’t help but regard the empty seat across from you, the one ticket bought to see the Westminster Abbey, the bench that’s too big as you try to enjoy the after-rain ambiance in Belgrave Square. You can’t help but look around at everything, all this potential beauty surrounding you that’s just waiting to be utilized. You put down your work to observe the lovers walking by, some with hands held, others not. Some displaying major affection, some not. Some sitting close to each other on those same benches, some not. But it doesn’t matter--their preference of showcase or level of adoration—for they all have each other in this historic and romantic place; they all have someone with whom to enjoy the summer in this romantic continent of Europe.
Four years ago in Venice one night at a café in the middle of the town square, my father leaned over to me staring out at the darkness clouding the Italian city: “How amazing would this place be if you were in love.” Objectively, the words were in the form of a question, but I understood it to be more so a statement of fact, an acknowledgement of how much beauty there is in Europe when you are there with someone you love.
My arrogantly optimistic 15-year-old self regarded that exposition with such excitement, thinking to myself I’d achieve that so soon. I’d meet him and we’d spend all night blazing through cafés as each subsequent one started to close down, kissing at cathedrals, and riding gondolas we “burrowed” and promised to bring back in the morning. Getting gelato on the streets and Nutella crepes standing right before the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a jumbled tour of the European Union.
But four years later, and it has yet to come. I’m just sitting on this bench alone, looking at all the prettiness and considering how wasteful it is, all this being spent on me. It’s like a ride that I waited in line for; my turn finally comes, and I just stand there, doing nothing. It’s probably best spent on different kid.
It hurts to be able to see so clearly all that could be, to see all the outstanding potential I can’t help but fall short of.
The reason why I love Europe is the very reason it can bruise me so brutally. When its full potential is achieved, God, what a magical place it can be. But when you don’t have that prerequisite necessity—a lover--, you’re just treading water in a stormy sea, the idyllic land so tauntingly visible but impossible to reach.