63. When You're Happy
This born-and-bred Texan has begun to embrace cooler temperatures. I never thought I’d see the day. There could be a number of reasons for this new development:
C bought me 5 new cotton undershirts, and out of guilt I've started wearing them.
I haven’t yet fully grasped Fahrenheit versus Celsius, so the fact that it is 1 degree outside bears no relevance to me at all.
I walk absolutely everywhere now, and rather than sweat against the strain, I remain encased inside a comfortable, self-contained heat blanket within my insulated down coat.
Before C, I experienced some pretty crap-tastic relationships. Those, without a doubt, were contributed to disproportionately by the kind of men that I dated; I even advised a Swiss girlfriend just this week to swear off American men entirely, due to my country’s plague of widespread emotional immaturity (no offense, boys of the US). But It took me only too long to see that my problems in love also stemmed from my inability to walk away when things became tense. And by walk away, I mean that I couldn’t put space between myself and the pain, even for a few hours, without thinking my significant other would immediately jump at this momentary chance to go off and cheat on me. The key piece behind it all, the secret password unlocking a stronger relationship, was always my own self-confidence.
C was in a crabby mood this morning, having just come off a cold he endured over the past week. Each night I made him a different comfort food, cleaned, and tried my best to make him feel better. But as we reached the end of the week, he started casting me these annoyed looks and listening to less and less of what I had to say to him. We were out at the gym this morning, and out of nowhere he comes up to me next to the dumbbells and says, “Hey, I’m going to go to the post office for my guitar.”
“Uh—okay, I can just get my stuff—“
“No, no, I don’t want to rush you. You can stay and finish, and go grab that makeup you needed from Globus on the way back.”
“But, how will you get home alone with that huge box?”
He looked at me funny. “It’s a guitar.”
My bad for asking, Bruce Banner.
I said sure, and I watched him leave. I felt sad, a little lonely, and somehow rejected. He really seemed like he wanted time on his own today, even after how much I’d pampered him all this week. Or maybe it was because of that. Nevertheless, I forgot the key ingredient to a healthy relationship that I listed above, and I sunk into my own pity hole for the rest of my workout, later combing the aisles of Globus aimlessly, as if my fiancé didn’t just want a second to himself as people sometimes do. I, like so many times before, briefly wondered what was wrong with me.
That is, until my phone buzzed in my pocket.
My Italian friend Francesca was texting me to ask if I would meet her for coffee while she ran her weekend errands. I told her absolutely, and called C to let him know. I had only lifted weights at the gym today, so despite being dressed almost exclusively in my soon-to-be husband’s sweatpants, jacket, and hat, I still looked like a dude, but wasn’t sweaty. Shortly after, Francesca strolled up in front of our designated meetup spot: a coffee place à la every traditional hipster hangout in America, situated near the center of downtown. We ordered our drinks to go. I told her I would be writing about new friendships I’ve formed in Lausanne, and asked if she had any idea as to why I’m making so many girlfriends so quickly here in Switzerland, as opposed to my rare few female friends back in America. With her thick Italian accent, she hypothesized that when someone travels to a new place, one leaves their guard down more readily. However, I’ve never really been one to erect much of a barrier between myself and others; the opposite has always been more my thing.
The day after I returned from the US, a Sunday, C and I walked to the gym, arriving around 11am once I peeled myself out of bed in a jet-lagged stupor.
Once inside, we headed to the front desk to hand the attendant our cards to scan, and I looked up from my zipper to meet a warm gaze belonging to the familiar face of my new Polish friend who works the desk, and who I pass on the way to the weight room several days each week. “Hey!” she said brightly, and as C walked on towards the machines, I hung back to chitter about my trip, while she filled me in on the news of the Alps, now flooded with skiers, where she commutes to and from each morning. Before I left the desk, we exchanged numbers for a tea and a meet up sometime soon.
The very next day, I walked across Lausanne to a 6-floor department store for a lunch meeting. I was told to go to the very top, where there was a surprisingly decent cafeteria; the building being adjacent to the friend I was meeting’s work. I stand by the escalators for a few moments by myself, in my bright orange down winter coat over a moss green factory jumpsuit. Up the stairs comes my Japanese friend (whom I haven’t asked permission to use her name just yet). She was Skyping with her family back in Japan. I waved at them through the camera, saying what few Japanese words I knew to them, and laughing as my friend politely introduced us. What was bizarre to me was realizing that it was lunchtime in Lausanne, dinnertime in Japan (7 hours ahead), and my family back in Texas (7 hours behind), were still sleeping like babies at 5am.
My Japanese friend and I sat and talked for over two hours about life, marriage, her job at the Asian market where we met, and how we needed to plan a group dinner with I and C, she and her husband, and a few of her other Japanese friends and their spouses very soon. I said absolutely.
At one point late into our lunch, she hung her head slightly with a defeated look on her face, telling me that she thinks I’m so kind and nice and such a great partner to C, because she sees me coming into the store at least once a week to gather ingredients for each new Japanese speciality I try to make. She said in a soft voice:
“I wish I could be a better wife. I hardly have any time to make my husband dinner because of the hours I work in the week; we don’t eat home cooked like you.”
I shook my head, “Oh girl, you’ve got the wrong idea. I work from home, so I have plenty of time to walk over to the kitchen and whip something up. I go to so much trouble because I love to cook and learn new dishes. You have a long commute each day from work!”
“No, you can always overcome it.”
“How about this,” I said, throwing a hail mary. “Last night, I tried to make C some chicken wings.”
She looked up, interested, wanting to know more. “And?” She asked.
“I burned them!”
“Ah!” Her hands shot up to cover her mouth. She giggled with glee. “Oh no!”
“So, I’m not perfect.”
She nodded yes, as if my admission had soothed her guilt. She looked at me differently now, as a good friend, a silly American, and a flawed, food-burning equal.
On Saturday evening, a full week after being back in Switzerland, C and I walked down the steep hillsides toward a small town outside Lausanne called Pully, to meet Francesca and her boyfriend, as well as their friends from Jordan who also work with C. We arrived at a tucked-away Italian restaurant in a residential neighborhood, nestled beside a roaring riverbed filled with winter rainfall and runoff from the past week’s melted snowfall. Again the first to arrive, C and I took our seats in the corner of the room at our prepared table next to the heater, and soon after we met the Jordanians, who shook our hands, removed their coats, and settled in for an excellent 3-hour conversation. Francesca and her boyfriend arrived somewhere through our first glass of Orvieto, a light and fruity Italian white wine, and we ordered a table spread of appetizers to share, which included calamari, stewed mushrooms, mortadella, prosciutto, caprese salad, and poached shrimp dressed in lemony olive oil. Sipping an extra dry Prosecco with the starters, the Jordanians shared stories about their families as well as some cultural customs, traditions and quirks. What surprised me most were all the similarities I found between theirs and my own homeland and upbringing. We talked about weddings and the exhaustive guest list of a Jordanian ceremony (the bride’s father alone had 1,000 people he wished to invite; I’m not kidding). She said they only had 300 people at theirs, and were written up in the local newspaper as well as talked about on the morning radio shows for their unique decision to have it take place in an amusement park. Like the US; churches, chapels, and designated centers most often play host to weddings. But when they busted out their Instagram and showed us the photo of a wedding veil flapping in the wind behind a zipping go-kart, I began to rethink any and all convention.
We joked that we were like a makeshift U.N. there at our table in the corner of the restaurant, all speaking together mostly in English until long after the front doors were locked and the lights were out in the kitchen: Francesca and her boyfriend from Milan, the Jordanian couple seated next to them, C beside me representing France, and I, the lone representative of the United States of America.
All this week, I wondered why, after 25 years of scant friend-making in America, did I find myself in a brand new country, one of which I didn’t yet speak the language, and seemingly daily am making friends of all credos, nations and races. And, most shockingly, almost all of them are women.
I thought maybe this has something to do with my tendency to be brutally honest and straightforward, normally throwing off those of my own culture who default towards the euphemistic. So often would I stake my claim, expecting to be answered equally frankly, but find that Player 2 had already exited the game. I’m loud, and overly emotionally available, but thanks to C I’ve learned to be less intense right up front, so all this could be his doing. I feel free when talking to these new people to be myself, unlike any other time in my life. Just like I did in America, I go to the gym each day; I love trying new restaurants; and I get obsessed searching for new, unique ingredients to cook with inside cultures I yearn to know more about. The only difference is now, all of these things have found me friends.
During our weekly call on What’sApp, I asked my sister the same question I’ve been posing to others all week. Her answer was that I simply had more confidence now, and didn’t overthink these relationships as much as I once did. She’s definitely right in certain areas: I don’t agonize over each phrase spoken to a new friend after the fact like I once did, but overthinking a topic at hand is still very much at the top of my list of personality quirks. Hello, page number five.
Before she and I parted ways, after finishing our coffee and ducking in and out of various shops and grocery stores on a brisk afternoon, Francesca sighed as we walked together down the street, past changing window dressings in multiple languages, old women pulling shopping trolleys with large rubber wheels, and a cobblestone duet featuring a violin and a cello, each played tenderly in the streaked sunlight by two young men, most likely from the nearby conservatory, for a gaggle of passing shoppers and intent listeners alike. She looked on as I turned my gaze to her; she seemed finally ready to give in to the easiest possible explanation, as I later deemed it to be.
“When you're happy,” she noted, “you're more comfortable meeting new people.”