I dated an Italian for a summer: here’s what happened....
Can we agree that romance has a way of finding us once we stop looking? Nay, even when we try to avoid it? Such was the tale for me this year, and if I said it didn’t lead to one unexpectedly wild ride of a summer fling, then I’m a Kim K’s uncle.
Before I launch into this segment of #storytime, I want to preface with the fact that this person whom I will be describing deserves full anonymity and privacy, and so I will not be sharing Luigio’s name for that purpose.
Gotcha ;) You’ll never know his name, people (except for those who lurk my Instagram but who has time for that because we’re all working busy people who never waste a minute scrolling through the menial details of other people’s lives because who does that amirite?)
So, once upon a rainy spring morning…
I’d been crushing on a guy for about a month. Not your typical start to a love story with someone else, per se, but it’s good to note that nothing about this story is typical SO on that note he’d been a good buddy of mine in our friend group for several months, but my feelings had only recently begun developing. And to be honest witchu, I wanted them to go away. I wished and hoped and prayed prayed prayed to God “God plz plz take these feel feels away because I love our friend group and I don’t want things to change, especially this level of neurosis that only boys and men seem to bring out of me, but also I think about him a lot, even more than I think about Netflix and chilling *with myself* in my own bed in footie pajamas when I get home every night (which is a lot) and just why can’t we be friends why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be frieeeeeends…”
But alas, they did not go away, and so this rainy morning when I went out into town with my friends we ran into him...with another girl. Clearly on a date. After we’d been low-key flirting for a month but it’s fine.
So it was on that note that when I got home, I looked at my foster puppy and said “Puppy, we are saying ‘Bye Felicia,’ leaving this God-forsaken-loveless town for the day and going on a hike.” And he cocked his head at me in response and I knew that he knew all he needed to know. Because dogs know everything they need to know, even when they’re small. Thank God I had a dog at home during this world-cursing and sexually frustrating time I was having.
And so we ventured out into the woods, thirty minutes outside of town where I’d hoped I’d meet no one and speak to no one and basically banish all humans from my vicinity for at least a few hours. Only Puppy Dog was allowed to hang with me today. And at ten weeks old with floppy ears and liquid gold-brown eyes, his cuteness was so over the top ridiculous, that I almost wanted to crush him in a bigger hug than his little puppy dog body was ready to handle.
But eventually the day wore on and it started to get dark and fewer and fewer people disrupted my people-less hike day. I’d reached the peak (having had to carry Puppy Dog the last quarter of the trek, because he’d gotten so tired and refused to walk any further) and so was quite exhausted, but much happier with glorious endorphins coursing through me, bringing both relief and life perspective at long last.
But then something happened, about ten minutes left in the walk and quickly approaching the parking lot. I glanced down and saw a boy walking on a nearby path, further downhill and heading in the opposite direction (him to my left, me to my right, if you will.) The moment I glanced down at him we made eye contact, at which point he promptly but somehow “subtly” went from walking away to walking toward me. He did so with such nonchalance that I assumed there was a perfectly logical reason for this sudden shift in direction (Lost? Forgot his watch? Needed a walking stick? Had to pee before he started his hike? Got lazy and changed his mind after walking 250 feet? Zoophobia?)
Remember now, Puppy Dog and I had a strict agenda, and that was to avoid human interaction at all costs and thereby facilitate optimal stewing for myself and all my feels. So other than a brief “Hi” “Hello” exchange as we approached the point of our paths emerging, there was none of that awkward-mandatory acknowledgement of one another’s existence AKA conversation - in fact, I sped up and quickly walked ahead to maintain some distance to avoid said awk convo. So for several minutes things proceeded in this way, me cantering onward as though my pants were on fire, and willing myself to instantly apparate to my car so I could go home and shower and sleep off this whole day. But Puppy Dog had other plans...he was eager to make his 59th companion of the day, and kept straining backwards against the leash, hoping to play with this mysterious new friend/non-friend. It reached the point where I was half-walking, half-dragging puppy because he insisted on running to meet Friend #59 because evidently the first 58 were not enough.
When I’d finally reached the point of hopping off the trail and crossing the street, an accented voice (but which one?) called out to me and said, “Excuse me?” I turned around to see Non-Friend Boy hastily catching up to me, a bit out of breath, and followed his first question with another: “‘Scuse me, where is de way?”
Up close now, I noticed he had a friendly smile, and incredibly striking hazel eyes. I gave him a puzzled expression and a bit of a nervous laugh. “The way to what?”
“Ah, the way...the way up the mountain,” he said in clipped English, and offered a grin.
“Well,” I said thoughtfully, suddenly aware for the first time that day that I was looking exactly like a garbage can, “the way I just came takes you all the way to the peak. There are other ways to reach the top, but that’s my favorite one to hike.”
“Ah yes, I see,” he nodded, though he seemed confused at my use of the word “hike.” Then he recovered and added, “Would you like to walk to the top with me?”
Woah woah woah,...this is breaking Cardinally-Unbreakable Rule Numero Uno for the day, which was NO humans allowed. ESPECIALLY no MEN allowed, because they were all Satan. So the lie flew right out of my mouth: “I actually have plans with my friends, so I better start heading back home.” He seemed a bit crestfallen, so I asked, “But what’s your name?” to which he replied, “I’m Thomas.”
“Taylor,” I said and smiled back, and he not only shook my stuck-out hand, but proceeded to lean in and kiss my right cheek and then my left. I froze, mildly shocked by this unexpected form of affection, and yet it seemed so natural that I went with it, and even found myself wishing that we Americans had the same custom of greeting one another.
Persistent as anything, as I’d soon come to better learn, he finally asked, “I take-ah you to dee-ner this week, no?” Taken aback, and still clutching my boys-suck stubbornness, but also not quite ready to say no to the poor guy’s face, I said lamely, “Maybe! It depends on what I’m doing this week.” So I gave him my number (figuring I could always block his if push came to shove) and we parted ways.
The next forty-eight hours were interesting. You should know that I left that meeting having no intentions to see this boy again. Because men were all the devil, you see, and that was not changing. They ate Love and Emotions for breakfast lunch and dinner, washed it down with a liter of Stupid, and shat out purely vile Arrogance and Overall Loveless Existence. So no, I was not going to let a handsome and charming and confident and well-traveled and endearingly poor-Englished Italian jabroney to take me out to dinner, or to anything else for that matter.
But after two night’s of sleeping on it, I had a small change of heart, thinking, “I mean……...Taylor…...as ridiculous and random as your frequently outrageously self-deprecating life tends to go, how many times is something like this going to happen to you again..Hmmmmmmmm?”
So I went.
I picked the restaurant. I met him there (again greeted with a kiss on each cheek), and as we sat down and started to chat, he actually seemed a bit nervous. Gone was the determined and dashing Italian who marched straight up to something he wanted, and persisted until he got it. But as the wine flowed and we ushered our first-date jitters out the door, I noticed that despite the small lapse in language, he was descriptive and very animated, and quite the gifted storyteller. The stereotype of Italians, I saw right away, being grand gesturers is 100% true. He painted vivid and adventurous tales of his work in factories all over the world, waving his arms, making sound effects, and adding humorous facial expressions for each character mentioned. He was definitely a funny guy, and I loved watching him launch into a new story, and he had many.
A cultural quirk he had, was how much he loved food and drink. Only the finest things for this lad - on our first date we enjoyed a bottle of wine, a three course meal, and a luscious dessert - not to split, but one for each of us. On another date to follow, he had a hankering for a late night snack and I suggested pizza, or burgers, but he corrected me swiftly: “No, steak.” “Oh yeah, same...steak.” He simply wanted to try everything, a pension of his, I happily followed suit with. When we went to a bar to play a few games of pool following dinner, he promptly ordered cocktails for both of us.
Something that I had quite fun with was the universal nature of sarcasm: shared cross-culturally, and cross-lingually. My first few test-runs with him (“Ready to lose?” over our first game of pool) were met with an endearing challenge accepted, mischief dancing in his eyes (“You arrre-ah fah-nee…” rolling his r’s and waggling a finger at me.) The date ended on a wonderful note - again, far from what I’d expected, as I drove home with a bouquet of flowers tucked safely in the passenger seat next to me.
From there we embarked on a fantastic series of varied dates, spending every weekend together for the next two months: a baseball game, weekend markets and music festivals, a wine tasting at a fabulous winery, a British car show, pool parties (where I learned about his nipple piercing and more massive tattoos), a drive-in movie night, and all the culinary delights in my town that I’d likely never have ventured out to find at the extent we did together. We took turns cooking dinner and visiting each other, as we were both twenty minutes from the mountain where we’d met, but in opposite directions. I met his coworkers, and he eventually met my friends, joined us at our many friend gatherings, and even cooked homemade gnocchi for us. They loved his accent and giggled at his quips and teasing directed at me.
Growing up in an American dating scene, I’d come to believe that guys were generally unromantic and shied away from openly expressing themselves, especially emotionally. (hello, unnecessarily harsh cultural/societal confines of what it means to be masculine in America.) Not so for dear Thomas. Unashamedly, he’d pick flowers, once braving a thorny bush to pluck a sweet rose for me, not caring who saw. Being very well-read, he’d show me his favorite excerpts from Italian authors and poets and took painstaking time and effort to handwrite their translations so I could read them. Thomas loved to give lavish gifts and sweet gestures, taking me shopping, finishing a list of repairs throughout my apartment that I’d grown lazy with, and insisting on driving us everywhere we went.
Not often, but sometimes the public affection was too affectionate - very Italian was his tendency to initiate making out in front of other people. “Babe...” I said once when he wanted to take a cute kissing picture that he’d turned into a full-on make-out picture, “We’re in public!” I couldn’t make eye contact with the poor guy we’d commissioned to take the shot for us. “Dai baby, please,” he’d plea, or mock me in a girly voice, “Ahhh, we arrre-ah in poo-blic,” making a sour face, and would repeat that phrase every time I protested over-the-top PDA.
Beyond frustrating was my frequent run-in with sacrificing good character for an adventurous spirit. Both are non-negotiables for me, but almost always, they seemed to be mutually exclusive. With him, he seemed to exhibit both (emphasis on the word seemed...dun dun duuunnnnn.) And so I absolutely relished our time together. Without a doubt, Thomas thrived in adrenaline-fueled adventures like a fish in water: driving fast cars, shooting guns, blaring music, always trying all new things with a huge grin on his face. He dove into everything new life had to offer him, explaining that after a near-fatal car accident as a teenager, he vowed never to take life for granted as long as he lived. And as I watched him and the way he lived, I found myself wanting to live with the same zest for all life had to offer, wishing I were more of a risk-taker, and taking life less for granted than I knew I did.
His sensitivity to my feelings also showed early in our relationship. One night at dinner, he’d said something that led to hurt feelings, and right away he noticed I’d fallen silent on the drive home. When he’d coaxed out of me what was bothering me, his response was surprising but pleasing: he not only acknowledged that he’d been in the wrong, but willingly took on my own pain as his own, earnestly apologizing and exhorting, “When you are ‘urrting, I am ‘urrting, especially when it is me who is dee cause of dee pain.” His plea was so solemn and heartfelt, that after he mentioned that his broken English was a frustrating obstacle keeping him from sharing all he wanted to say, I asked him to repeat it all in Italian, even though I didn’t know a lick of what he was saying. But he obliged, and it sounded like music to me anyway.
We even shared spiritual depth: without question, he wanted to come to church with me every Sunday. I’d pull up scriptures translated in Italian so he could follow along more easily. We’d talk about the message together afterward, how it impacted our personal lives, and how to live out being better people. This piece of his character surprised me, because someone I’d found so hot as he was certainly didn’t seem to have the capacity to ponder life’s deepest questions. And yet here he stood.
But as some time passed I started to see that his emotions could sway in both directions: from affectionate and loving to bitterly angry when hurt. As fun of a challenge as I thought our language barrier was, miscommunication happened frequently. And one night I said something in a joking way, but his pissed reaction said joking or not, it didn’t matter. He refused to let me touch or console him as he sat sulking and turned away from me. And only once I’d left the room crying and came back silent did he change his mind to offer a hug, and a white flag to go with it. (This, by the way ladies, is one sign of several of a destructive relationship, but I was none the wiser at the time.)
Another instance, he’d invited me away for a Memorial Day weekend getaway with his coworkers, which I’d kindly declined, saying I’d already had plans to go home. In response, snarky and sarcastic texts turned into outright petulance and ignoring me next time we saw each other in person. I had to learn from his friends that despite his insistence that things were fine and we should drop the topic, he’d actually been very hurt that I hadn’t jumped at the chance to join him for a long weekend - especially with his return to Italy looming ahead. And so went the middle school drama communication chain until I sat him down and got his thoughts out at long last.
It turned out to be a blast of a weekend, because I conceded, knowing how much it meant to him, and decided it would be fun. Thomas, his fellow Italian colleague David, and I all road tripped from North Carolina to Indiana for the Indy 500 race. Both the road trip and the race itself were both a wildly fun - after all, if you’d told me mere months earlier that I’d be running all over my town and the East Coast at large with two boisterous Italian young men, I’d have laughed my way out the door. But there I stood, in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, watching Kelly Clarkson sing the national anthem, Chris Hemsworth waving the white-checkered flag, and Danica Patrick zip through her last race before retirement. All went well, lots of pictures and videos for proof of great memories, and I can now say I’ve witnessed the largest sporting event in the world. There tend to be only a handful of people in life that help create unforgettable memories like these, and for me, my bello Italian was one of them.
The following weekend, my other half was to return back to Italy for the summer. I drove him out to Charlotte for his departing flight, and we shared an emotional goodbye - to my surprise I burst into tears in the middle of the airport, and proceeded to cry alone in my car all the way home. Desperate for distraction, I settled for retail therapy, and dropped $200 in a Walgreens on things like false eyelashes and bubble bath for all the pathetically lonely nights I’d now be spending over the next several months.
The month that followed was difficult, in increasing stages. I had to learn to readjust to finding other things to do, after spending every weekend and then some with mi amore, so I kept myself busy. The first two weeks we kept in touch well enough, but by week three I’d started to hear from him less. A month in I was frustrated out of my mind, as my pleas for better communication and reminders of how unhappy it made me went unanswered. Certain areas of my life started to go to absolute hell (job, money, relocating unexpectedly, the works), and when I needed the person I loved, he wasn’t there for me. We’d met the first week of April - I broke up with him the week of July Fourth. Again, I witnessed an emotional seesawing from kind “best wishes in the life for you” to a more ominous “I told you to never break an Italian’s heart…”
Our summer together made for one of the best I’ve ever had - but our romance fizzled seemingly as fast as it had started. Beware of the fast loves, my friends, especially with those crazy Italianos (did we not learn from my preves piece on those romances that die hard?) ;)
Stay woke laydeez, and beware of accented men.