When I was 25 I had a quarter-life calling and resigned from my senior level communications role at a fashion agency in New York City. I sold, donated, and packed up all my things, leaving behind my beloved East Village apartment. I had lived in the city for almost seven years and only almost came close to loving someone once, sort of. My true love was my career and I put it above everything else.
I needed to shake things up in my life and had been applying for roles in my industry in Europe for years but they always dwindled out when it came to the dreaded work visa conversation. Ready for a drastic change in all aspects of my life I accepted a role as a cultural ambassador with the Spanish government, otherwise known as a glorified assistant English teacher.
The gig was super part time, like four days a week, working around 20 hours. This gave me plenty of time to travel around Europe, and date as many Spanish boys as possible. I wasn’t exactly moving to Spain to find love but I figured it was virtually impossible not to find a tall, dark, handsome Spaniard. Joder, was I wrong! Spanish men in Madrid are even worse than guys in New York City. They’ll wine and dine you and smother you in smooth talk with their irresistible accents. They pick you up on their motor bikes, make big promises for future adventures and all the beautiful things they can show you about their country. But they almost always have a long-term girlfriend back in their tiny pueblo. I was even ghosted for the first and only time in Spain!
After two months in Europe I headed off on my first major solo adventure to Thailand for the winter holidays. I came back inspired, refreshed, and ready to dip back into the Tinder dating pool in Madrid. That’s when I swiped right on Julio, and we matched. Julio is from Andalusia, the most sultry part of Spain. He’d been living in Madrid for over a decade and likes to joke that his life was calm before he met me. He traveled often for work around Europe and Africa. I am pretty sure his first message to me on Tinder was asking me a million and two questions about Thailand. Our bond began over our love for travel and curiosity with the world.
Even though I was really intrigued by Julio, I never made the time to actually meet him. I had given him my phone number which goes against my Tinder golden rule to never give someone my contact information until we’ve actually met in real life. This weeds out weirdos, try it. I had already been living in Madrid for 8 months and was traveling every weekend around Europe. Finally, after I had canceled at least three dates with him, always at the last minute, I asked Julio if he had wanted to get a glass of wine later. It was one of those weird days where you’re feeling spontaneous and need to do something different, do you know what I mean? That afternoon I had gone to a salon and cut off half of my hair. I was ready physically and mentally for a change, I just didn’t know that change was going to be a guy who’d alter my world.
I still wasn’t that psyched for the date so I had Julio meet me for a copa at tiny wine and tapas bar across the street from my piso. It was still freezing out but I was just running across the street and wore a sheer black shirt and leather pants. Julio looked at me like I was so bizarre. I should have learned right then and there that this man is always freezing! Anyway, as I walked up Julio was laughing on the phone. He had been really early for the date, and I was a few minutes late, as per usual. Beyond commenting that I was loca for not wearing a coat the first thing he said to me was that he loved my hair. That meant a lot to me as I wasn’t sure yet if I had made a terrible decision to cut off my long locks.
I was caught off guard by how attracted I was to Julio. He was exceedingly more handsome in person, had an incredibly sexy voice, passionate mannerisms, and the most intoxicating laugh. I suddenly went from being not-so-excited to being so nervous I couldn’t eat which is entirely unheard of for me. We talked for hours about our backgrounds and our upcoming travel plans. The entire time I wasn’t sure if he was into me as he isn’t very flirtatious. Suddenly we realized it was really late, we had talked for over five hours, and Julio walked me across the street to my building. We hugged goodbye and I was certain he had zero interest in me romantically. But just as I was pulling away he pulled me back in and whispered in my ear that he just had to kiss me. I kid you not when I tell you it was one of the best kisses of my life.
A few days later I was off on a solo trip around six countries over two weeks for Semana Santa. I didn’t think I’d hear from Julio as he was heading home to Malaga for the holiday and we hadn’t made concrete plans about when we’d see each other again. But Julio kept up with me every day, he remembered my itinerary and would give me recommendations of unique things to do in each city, usually as clues that I had to figure out for myself.
I returned to Madrid and was thrilled that Julio was eager to see me. He planned the most perfect date and wouldn’t give me any of the details – just told me when and where to show up. I loved the mystery and anticipation, I couldn’t wait to see Julio again. We met in the plaza at metro station and he looked so fine in his tailored dark jeans, collared white shirt, and khaki trench coat. He seemed nervous too but immediately took my hand. He still wouldn’t tell me what we were doing with the evening but said we had to be somewhere at 9 and then had dinner at 11. It was only 7! I told him he had to feed me before 11. We shared tapas and wine at an ancient bistro in Tirso de Molina then I finally learned what we were doing – going to a comedy show! We had front row seats at the theater and Julio was called up on stage to participate in an act. My Spanish isn’t perfect so it was hard to follow the jokes but watching Julio react kept me laughing all night. Afterwards, Julio took me to have one of the best meals of my life at a tiny seafood restaurant. We shut the place down and around 2 am they kindly asked us to leave so they could go home. We still hadn’t kissed that evening and I was desperate to know whether Julio was feeling as excited about me as I was about him. Once we were outside I kissed him and both of our nerves melted away. We’ve been extremely comfortable with each other ever since.
We went on to see each other as often as possible when we were both in Madrid but it didn’t last long. My contract in Spain was ending soon and I was looking for opportunities around Europe as I dreaded the idea of going back to the States. I had an offer from a travel company in Florence and couldn’t resist the idea of living in one of the first European cities that felt like home to me. Julio supported me through the process of negotiating but was persistent in pointing out all the flaws in the offer, and with the company. He’d even send me job opportunities in Spain that I was qualified for. But la dolce vita was calling my name. Despite a nasty negotiation period, terrible salary, and the company’s awful reviews, I decided to take the job in Florence. I called Julio and broke the news that I had accepted the job and told him we shouldn’t see each other anymore or continue our constant chatter as I had no intention to come back to Madrid. He was understanding and agreed that we couldn’t make it work long distance. The next morning I woke up to a text from him simply saying no. I responded with a question mark and he clarified that, no, he wouldn’t stop talking to me and wouldn’t give up on us.
Julio happened to be in Italy for work the same week that I moved. We decided to spend the weekend together and he had told me to choose anywhere in the country to visit. Obviously, I chose Bologna. Bologna is the foodie capital of Italy and we both indulged in non-stop gorging on gnocchi and tortellini washed down with spritz’s and bottles of chianti. The food was incredible, but so was spending the time with Julio. We strolled the medieval streets with gelato in hand as we discovered the colorful canals, incredible vistas from the many terraces, and got lost in history at countless museums. It was the perfect weekend, even when I spilled an entire carafe of red wine all over my white jeans. The moment was memorable not because I was embarrassed, but because Julio made it hilarious. When it came time to leave Julio’s train was a few hours before mine as he had to catch a flight back to Madrid from Venice. I had been looking forward to spending a few hours exploring the town on my own. But when Julio left me on the platform and boarded his train I was absolutely floored. As he pulled away I was certain that I had walked away from something amazing by coming to Florence. Before Julio’s train was even out of site I had to dash to the exit so he didn’t see me sobbing. I was astonished that I was being so emotional about this man that I was still just beginning to get to know. I felt utterly lonely and bought a new ticket for the next train to Florence. I ate my feelings in pizza and gelato and was certain I’d never see Julio again. I hadn’t checked my phone for hours but when I did I had a message from him saying that we’d see each other again very soon.
But that didn’t happen. We made plans to meet up in Paris in a few weeks but at the last minute, right before I bought a flight, Julio told me he couldn’t go. I asked him what we’d do instead and he didn’t offer any alternative. For the second time I told him it was over, that I didn’t want a long distance relationship, especially one where we’d go months without seeing each other. After a few days of silence, Julio started messaging me almost daily to see how I was doing. I never responded. When I ask him now why he kept pursuing me after I had essentially dumped him twice he tells me that he had never felt so attracted to a woman before and that by pushing him away I was even more intriguing. He wanted to know more about me and sent me messages even though he knew I wouldn’t respond. Not responding sucked, he would send me sweet notes about things he’d seen or done that reminded him of me or just checking in to see where I was, and how I was. I knew if I kept up the chatter with Julio I’d just fall deeper into the feelings I had already caught for him.
Two months went by and as Julio had predicted the job in Florence was awful. Suddenly, I was jobless and homeless. Julio was the first person I wanted to talk to. He happened to be in Venice for work and invited me to come stay with him for a few days. I had been to Venice before and seen most of the typical sights and was looking forward to spending hazy summer afternoons getting lost in the historic canals and alleys. I found inspiration in my beautiful surroundings and started to work out what I was going to do next now that I needed to get out of the Schengen Zone. I’d meet Julio in the evenings at St. Mark’s plaza just as the moon was rising over the grand canal illuminating the historic Dodge Palace and Bridge of Sighs. We’d stroll hand in hand aimlessly until we found tiny cafes with tables nestled along the canals. We talked endlessly in the flickering candle light as Italian music lingered in the air and gondolas strode by in the canals. Everywhere in Italy is ultra-romantic but Venice truly is for lovers, it’s amore.
From Venice I got on a long distance bus to Zagreb, Croatia. For the third time I left Julio feeling uncertain of where things stood with us. The first few weeks were easy but after nearly a month had gone by and I realized we wouldn’t be seeing each other any time soon I told him for a third time that we shouldn’t talk anymore. I didn’t need a pen pal, I needed a lover. As always Julio only gave me space for about a week before he started messaging me trying to figure out where I was and make sure I was happy and having fun. I never responded. I even met an Australian guy a month into my exploration of the Balkan peninsula and traveled with him for a month through five countries. But Julio was always on my mind. There were so many fascinating things I was experiencing that I wanted to share with him. As the summer was coming to an end I could no longer stand how much I missed Julio. I finally responded to a message of his and he was asked me what my plans were for my birthday. I told him I had been thinking of going to Morocco. We hadn’t spoken for months but within minutes we had both booked flights to Fez.
I finally surrendered and let my feelings for Julio flourish, even though it meant loving someone who was far away. I stopped ignoring his messages and we picked back up right where we had left things in Venice. A few weeks later I was waiting for Julio to arrive at our Moroccan riad and was so incredibly nervous. Why was he coming all this way to see me? Why had he kept persisting me even when I was pushing him away? Did we still even like each other or were we just friends? Seeing Julio’s face standing in the doorway to our intricate Arabic chamber a few hours later was enough to answer all my questions. We laughed and stared at each other for a few moments and then shared a long embrace. And then he kissed me, and we haven’t looked back since. We both love Morocco, it was my third time to the country and Julio grew up traveling there often in his childhood. It was both of our first time in Fez and were enveloped in the excitement of exploring a new place together while discovering more about each other. Our goodbye in Morocco was a little less painful as we had already planned to see each other again in two months. This time I’d be spending two weeks with him in Madrid.
Before we saw each other again I had one of the hardest months of my life – I was sexually assaulted in Morocco, was coping with a family crisis, and was deeply distraught after the US Presidential election. Even though Julio was literally on another continent he was a rock for me – I could call him at three in the morning and he’d be there for me. This was a side of Julio I hadn’t seen before and I started to recognize what a kind, compassionate man he was.
Back in Madrid we had the time to do all the things ‘normal’ couples would do. We went to brunch, the farmer’s market, the movies, art galleries, hiking, and spent entire days in bed. It was lazy and lovely and soon I couldn’t keep my feelings to myself anymore. We had never defined our relationship or put pressure on each other to say out loud what we were feeling. This space to grow slowly was crucial to our evolution. One morning before Julio left for work I whispered in his ear that I loved him. A few days later he met my family – they were visiting for the holidays. Shortly after we found ourselves again on a street corner saying goodbye. I was headed off to India for six months. Julio had promised he’d visit but we still hadn’t clarified whether or not we were in an exclusive relationship and I was certain this was the end. As I looked back through the rear window of my taxi and saw Julio standing in the rain my heart sank and I ugly cried – why was this amazing man putting up with me leaving him again? Never once did Julio ask me not to leave on the numerous occasions that I did. Never once did he stop me from pursuing what I wanted, even when it meant that I’d be world’s away from him.
Being away was different this time. I was completely in love with Julio yet I had left him in Spain and come all the way to India. Finally, after almost a year of dating, I needed to define the relationship and hear him say that I was his girlfriend, that we weren’t seeing other people, and that we were going to fight to be together. It took Julio a few days to contemplate everything – he had never had a girlfriend before and I hated the term. To me having a boyfriend meant a very real commitment where that person, and their needs, wants, and desires, matter just as much to me as mine do. I had never felt that way about someone as an adult, but with Julio I finally did. When I started to imagine what I wanted to do after I finished volunteering in India I saw myself continuing to travel, but more importantly, I saw Julio right there with me. We began our official relationship over 7,000 kilometers away from each other. Julio sent me flowers the next day, no small feat in India.
Although neither of us ever wanted a long distance relationship we found it to be relatively easy. We saw each other about every two months after I left Madrid. Even though we were 6 hours apart while I was in India we always found time to video call and talk almost daily. We’re both very independent so while we certainly missed each other we were both pretty content and busy living our own lives. I actually think the distance made us stronger. In a long distance relationship all you really have is the time to get to know each other, all you can really do is talk endlessly for hours. Had we spent all that time together in real life I don’t think we’d know each other as intimately as we do. The most difficult thing was not being together to share experiences – even mundane things like an amazing cup of coffee.
Julio came to India in March and we took in the beauty of one of the world’s greatest monuments of love, the Taj Mahal, together. We went to the festival of colors in the city that originated Holi and threw colors and flowers at each other to celebrate spring, love, and new beginnings. In Varanasi we witnessed the circle of life and raw, real, humanity. We even survived having Delhi belly together and we’re able to laugh through it even though we were incredibly ill.
Two months later Julio and I met up again in Asia, this time in Nepal. We roamed around Kathmandu and discovered the infinite beauty that not even the deadly earthquake could subdue. We were amazed by the kindness of locals, ate our weight in momos, and paid respects at the various Hindu and Buddhist temples. A bus ride hanging off the edge of the Himalayan cliffs landed us in the incredible Chitwan National Park. We lived out of a treehouse for a few days and ventured off on an 8-hour walking safari to track rare one horned rhinos. We even had to climb a tree to escape certain death from two that were loitering below us. In Pokhara we witnessed Mother Nature in all her glory as the sun rose behind the Himalayas and lit up the plains below us. Nepal was magical, but the best part was that this time when Julio left, I knew he’d be coming back for good.
This summer Julio resigned from his role as a partner at a design firm in Madrid, got rid of all his possessions, hopped on a plane and met me in Malaysia. We don’t remember how we reached the decision that it was time to take a wild risk and jump into the unknown – we just knew we had to be together. Julio says he got to the point where the only thing he wanted to do was leave everything behind to reunite with me and see as much as we can of the world. For the last month we’ve been exploring this incredible country together. Each morning we wake up astonished knowing that we don’t have to face any more painful goodbyes. It’s been beautiful to discover the world hand in hand with the person you love most. We plan to travel around South East Asia for the next year, the rest is unknown. We’re in Singapore now and headed soon to Borneo for a few weeks and Bali for my birthday. It will be the second year I get to celebrate my birthday with Julio in an exotic locale, something I know we’ll continue for many years to come.
Julio has impacted my life in ways he’ll never really know. I’ve had a treacherous past in love and with men. He’s given me the time and space to learn how to trust and love again. He pushes me to be the best version of myself and has even taught me how to be a little bit more patient. He is my biggest champion. He believed in me more than anyone else and encouraged me to pursue my dream career as a travel writer, which has taken off with him by my side. Julio tells me that his world completely changed when he met me, that I gave him the courage to pursue his dreams. He gives me credit for him evolving as a person, and becoming a more mature man- finally at age 35! Once, Julio told me that I had turned him into a feminist. It was the sexiest thing a man has ever said to me. I care deeply about humanitarian issues and Julio says that through our relationship he has become more aware of animal, environmental, and human rights. I couldn’t dream of a better effect to have on someone.
We’ve learned that love should be easy, even in distance. We never put pressure on each other or the relationship and let everything take its natural course. If you want to be together badly enough, you can find a way to make it happen – no excuses. When we were dating long distance we always had the best time together because our dates were essentially always catered around our love for travel. We are truly having the time of our lives traveling with the person we love discovering the world together. Our love has crossed language barriers, time zones, and borders. We have love, and we will travel.
Follow Lola and Julio’s love story on her blog, Miss Filatelista