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POV: You're in a new country & a foreign stranger sweeps you off your feet
Whirlwind romances are fun
Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from new editors over the past few weeks! I’d love to get your feedback; let me know how you’re feeling about some of the new voices up here in the comments. Shoutout to our new associate editors: Yolanda, Tunika, Mo and Megan!
Also, to our US readers, happy Black History month! ❤️
This is probably the least Black-history-month-feeling Black History Month in awhile, but Rihanna is officially pregnant so that alone makes this month iconic.
This Week’s Story
Whether you love it, despise it, or absolutely don’t have a single F to give about it, Valentine’s Day is next week and love of all kinds is in the air. We’ll get more into that next week, but the kind of love we’re talking about this week is of the whirlwind romance variety—sometimes fleeting, but always sexy. This week’s story, written by Kayla Dungee, is full of all my favorite things: travel, spontaneity, and fun! Don’t we all dream of being swept up by a good-looking stranger while in a foreign country? Sometimes letting go of your inhibitions allows for the best stories like this one.
EIC of Carefree
I’m Not Sure What You Mean by ‘I Love You’
By Kayla Dungee
“So will I ever see you again in my life?”
Asking that question was completely facetious on my end. The totality of a lifetime was, well, a long time. I have a flare for the dramatics, but I was really saying, “Maybe in a couple months once things have cooled down, we can grab dinner.”
“Probably not,” he replied.
There was no follow up text, no clarification, just a lackadaisical response that made it seem like our breakup was as simple as asking if it’ll rain today. And that was the grand finale of six years of my life.
It’s as if God knew I would be casually dumped so close to my Europe trip. What was going to be a trip of admiring ancient artifacts quickly turned into a slightly obsessive quest to make someone fall in love with me in the matter of the few days I stopped in each country. Hello, heartbreak sabbatical. My therapist once mentioned that my external need for validation was unhealthy, but I had more pressing matters on my mind.
First stop: the Canary Islands. The only love I found there was between the sunset from my balcony and me. But my second stop in Madrid gave me hope.
I first noticed him in the dining room of my hostel. Had it been any other day, approaching a table full of obnoxious 20-somethings playing drinking games with wildly sexual truth-or-dares would prompt me to close my door (even if I secretly wanted to participate). But he was there. So by all means necessary, I drowned out all my cowardly feelings with a shot.
It’s times like these I realize God doesn’t work like a genie. I cannot tilt my head back to the heavens and ask Him to please stop the spinner of this drinking game so Mr. Tall,Tan, and Handsome landed on me, and we can swap spit while 15 other people watch. I still tried to ask though.
No such divine moment occurred, but we somehow ended up side-by-side as we walked in the club. He already knew the way to my heart and handed me his drink ticket as we walked in. A couple shots and a Jack & Coke later, I was bouncing off the walls dancing with every guy who called me pretty. He lingered around with a beer in hand.
My need for validation existed way before these random men in the club swarmed me with compliments. Maybe it started with my dad leaving. I know “maybe” should be swapped with “definitely,” but I hated definiteness. Ever since then, it’s been a domino effect of toxic relationships with men. I wanted just one relationship to be right.
“I’m going to go smoke,” Mr. Tall-Tan-and Handsome whispered in my ear. Drunk me thought nothing of it. “Okay! Are you coming back?” I asked as I stepped away from the latest conquest. “Yes,” he told me as his face lingered a little too close to mine. My dance partner awkwardly stared not knowing if he should walk away or pull me closer. Mr. Tall-Tan-and Handsome didn’t have a name yet, but he ended up kissing my cheek. He never did return.
All this newfound reciprocated attention was very new to me. I had always been the type to spew out “I have a boyfriend,” before a guy could finish his sentence. Even if it was just my lab partner asking for some homework help, I had to take a moment to evaluate his intentions.
Newfound attention leads to newfound confidence, which lead to me setting my sights on a target and letting nothing stop me. A new day came, and I was determined to make Mr. Tall-Tan-and Handsome mine tonight (after a little liquid courage, of course).
It was the same schedule as before. Hostel dinner, drinking games, night out on the town. I went through the same sad motions of begging every force in the universe to have the spinner of the drinking game stop on me whenever he spun. It worked — kind of.
He laid back on the table so I could take a body shot off him. My main focus was to not throw up Captain Morgan on his bare stomach. I awkwardly licked and gurgled the shot which honestly tastes a little off when you’re taking it from someone’s belly button.
There he was. And here I am.
“What’s your name?” I asked as I lifted my head.
“Pablo,” he smiled.
It was another night of him lingering in the club. Brand new confident me approached. Simply asking what he was drinking ignited a whole conversation of pure bliss.
He checked all the boxes physically. He was 6’1” and the sum of what it means to be a beautiful Argentine man from Buenos Aires. He was finishing his medical residency to be an OBGYN in Valencia. A man who actively chose to care for women? I clung onto him for dear life, even if he reeked of cigarette smoke. Yet I wasn’t surprised that he was adamantly fascinated with me. Argentina wasn’t exactly known for its booming Afro-Latinx population, so I knew I was a sight to behold.
One kiss turned to two kisses turned to three kisses turned to us annoyingly making out in every corner of the club. We were those people everyone vehemently despised. I’m sure the crowd was a bit confused as to why he kept lifting me off the ground. At 5’1,” I was forever this cute size that men liked to hoist in the air.
Things migrated from the club to the hostel couch. As much as I was grateful for a hostel that allowed me to meet so many people from all over the world, I would’ve killed for some privacy.
We ended up on a couch for four hours, just talking.
“Come with me to Valencia,” he said.
I fell silent and waited for more words. It was nearing 5 a.m. and I couldn’t distinguish between sleepy delusional or if he was saying everything I wanted to hear.
“We can leave tomorrow. I have to go to the hospital in the morning, and then we can have a nice dinner, walk around the town, and then we can sleep together. I mean just sleep in the same bed together.”
I haphazardly agreed. I didn’t want to seem too eager, but every single particle of my being was dancing. He took the gum out my mouth that I was nervously chomping and so comfortably put it in his mouth.
“I just love you,” he passionately whispered as he kissed my cheeks. My face grew hot. As fluent as he was in English, I initially passed off his remark as a misunderstanding of how deep “I love you,” means in English, especially to a vulnerable, naive, looking-for-love-in-all-the-wrong-places American like me.
I didn’t address it because I was too busy taming the butterflies swarming my stomach and the fireworks exploding in my head.
The next morning arrived. I checked out way before him, sitting at the stoop of the hostel, waiting for some force of the universe to guide my steps. No hint dropped from the sky, but a hand dropped atop my head and stroked my head of thick curls.
“You are coming with me?” he asked. I froze. Even though I heard him perfectly, I asked “What?” three times to give my brain more time to make a decision.
“I, I, I - I’m dropping this suitcase off at my cousin’s house,” I croaked out. As true as that statement could be, it was easier than saying, “No, I’m scared.”
“Well I have to go,” he half-heartedly stated. He took my head between his palms and kissed me one last time. I stared at the ground.
After five minutes, I freaked out. I don’t care if we ended up on “90 Day Fiancé,” I wanted the whirlwind romance. I was going to text him saying that I was coming. This was the beginning of our love story.
“If I come to Valencia today or tomorrow, can I still stay with you?” I texted.
He responded moments later. “I don’t think it’s a good idea…I’m sick right now, my throat is throbbing and I feel terrible. But if you come, of course I’m going to see you.”
I’m not sure what lukewarm, partial hopeful text that was, but that was not … it. That’s not what my validation complex needed to see. I don’t care if he was a soon-to-be-doctor that cared about germs. I wanted him to fight for me like everyone in my life failed to do. His reply boiled down to another, “probably not.”
In my naive defense, I know that alcohol makes you say some irrational things, but I’ve never been so drunk as to tell a stranger I love them with the straightest of faces on. I wish I knew what his end goal was in saying that.
I never liked definitiveness. I never liked knowing this was the absolute last time I’d see someone. I always think about my dad walking out the front door but promising he’d be back. I never liked endings because I haven't encountered a pleasant one since he left.
Good thing it wasn’t an ending. After two years and a pandemic apart, he was waiting for me at the Buenos Aires airport, bouquet of sunflowers in hand.
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Kayla Düngee is a writer, journalist, and marketing professional based in Boston, MA. She will graduate with a Master’s in Journalism from Boston University in May 2022. You can find more of her work on kayladungee.com.
For a glimpse into her tattooed, plant-based, and on the road life, it’s all on her Instagram.