Why do people fall out of love?
I write that in my notebook at Tokyo Haneda International Airport. It’s a lofty question to be asking myself at 6:00 a.m., when, beyond the concrete slabs of runway, a city is just beginning to wake up. The sky’s a gradient of color, blazing turquoise at its outer edges and orange right at the horizon—in between, the sunrise casts a muddled sort of purple. How easy they come, new days.
I’ll be in the airport for another five hours, awaiting the flight that will take me to Thailand to meet my two best friends from Harvard. Though they’ve been planning the trip for months, I bought my plane ticket (layover in Tokyo included) just three weeks ago. When they asked me to come in October, I’d turned them down; I was anticipating spending my entire winter break in California with my long distance, long-term boyfriend.
But here I am, posing sappy questions in the Tokyo Haneda International Airport, for one main reason: we broke up. A week into winter break, my boyfriend and I had a conversation that lasted 40 minutes, an hour maybe, and then he left my room, and that was the last time I’ve seen him. After two years of dating, and far longer being best friends, it was as terrifyingly simple as that. The gist of our conversation was that he’s tired of being in a long distance relationship. The real gist is that he is no longer in love.
The first couple of weeks were terrible and raw. I still occasionally get the sense that the thing inside my chest—the gooey, squishy, red-with-life thing—has turned cold and hard, like a winter stone. It still pokes into my chest, unforgiving and sharp, every now and again.
That’s the painful part of things. There is also confusion, anger, a great weighty feeling of loss. There’s something miraculous, too: relief.
Thailand is the first decision I’ve made in two years without someone else in mind; it’s the first time I won’t sacrifice one thing for another. My urge to go on the trip was, admittedly, part “Eat, Pray, Love”—I knew I needed to separate myself from the home I so inextricably linked with him. But Thailand also means something else, and something more. Thailand means independence.
The premise of the trip is that three young women will go to paradise, hop around a couple islands, and figure out how to travel, competently, on their own. They’ll buy useless guidebooks, roast in the sun and walk around with no shoes on, and decide to ignore all the honeymooning couples. In other words, they will learn that they are young, alone, and gloriously free.
And I’m already learning, en route to my final destination, that breakups are a little like this Tokyo sunrise. At first, the colors are strange and tinged with a bit of twilight; then, all of a sudden, the anxious darkness starts to melt away. And soon the shiny planes outside are glinting, and the promise of beginnings is seeping in from the windows, washing every bored airport fixture in a heavenly sort of light. Even if there are still questions, lofty ones, the day moves on; an airport buzzes; hearts are, again, red-with-life. Soon, we’re on our way to paradise.