Thomas looked exactly like the man I never knew I should be marrying.
We met on a popular online dating website. I was attempting
to prove to myself that I still had lady parts and something left to give in a
heart that was mourning my curly-haired, neurotic ex. Meeting men in Toronto
was proving to be impossible. In theory I knew that approximately half the city
was made up of them and indeed I saw such creatures wandering its streets. But
lassoing one into a date or even a relationship, if indeed I was ready for such
a formidable beast, seemed just beyond my grasp.
We met on a chilly May day. I was reluctant to don what I
thought was the requisite alluring feminine aura. I’d been happily clomping
about in Doc Martens and frumpy outfits since my break-up, packing on a couple
of insulating pounds and trying to broadcast an off-putting sexlessness. And so
for Thomas I wore not only a shirt but two sweaters, a jacket, and a voluminous
scarf. I arrived at the date sweating profusely.
We met at a rickety coffee shop in a rough-looking but
quickly gentrifying area of Toronto. It was the kind of place that abhorred
matching chairs or indeed matching anything in the name of authenticity. An
appropriate mix of 90’s indie classics, classical music, obscure 60’s soul, and
various tinny bands from Brooklyn played on the stereo. But if the café was in
(albeit artful) disarray, Thomas couldn’t have been a better match.
Tall and lanky with pleasantly square features and adorable
licks of wavy brown hair, he was the very manifestation of my dormant WASP-y
dreams. He wore boat shoes like me. His information studies masters and well-paying
archival job were suitable compliments to my English literature degree and book
publishing job. He was taking French lessons; I was studying Spanish. He was
tutoring a young man; I was mentoring a 16-year-old girl. We both ran, enjoyed
reading literature, had an interest in Internet memes and local politics. The fit
seemed too good to be true. I cringed the entire subway ride home, convinced
that my multiple layers and rusty flirting technique had killed my chance at
landing this unicorn.
And yet he texted me three days later, iPhone to iPhone. We met
for patio drinks in the same charmingly dilapidated area of Toronto. Fairy
lights were strung amidst the low-hanging trees. I wore a pair of high-waisted
jeans to try to prove that I had lady parts.
We squeezed into a wooden bench in
the corner, our fingers wrapped around pints of honey-coloured beer. I noticed
with appreciation his lean, tanned forearms. He was caustic, intelligent,
mild-mannered, politically correct. I liked his easy manner and lightly carried
sense of privilege—it seemed a perfect fit to my upper middle class upbringing complete
with French camp, horseback riding lessons, private school education, foreign
travel, and Victorian literature. I was already dreaming of our future combined
earning power and intellectual ambition.
And yet Thomas was more than just the living embodiment of
my upwardly mobile dreams. For our third date we aimlessly wandered in a field
under the stars, a gold champagne bottle in tow. He revealed his troubled
family history. I was touched by his candor; I fell a little bit in sympathy.
We loitered awkwardly in the playground and after a long glance launched into a
passionate kiss. We moved soon after to my empty apartment—I moving into a
sublet before departing for extended travels in Mexico and beyond.
Thomas was the perfect compliment to a summer of decadence,
which I filled with lazy afternoons on the Toronto Island beach, biking trips
along the shore, and more Korean melon popsicles and platters of Ethopian curry
than any person should eat. He would often show up at my door at 1 a.m. and I’d
fetch him a glass of water before leading him to my candle-lit room. We saw
outdoor theatre, kissed in fountains, ate greasy eggs and sausage at my
favourite new mis-matched diner up the street. I drew emotionally closer to him
while mentally detaching from my home. The contrasting sensations were oddly
pleasant, perhaps because he was keeping me rooted while I was in such a
But our twosome wasn’t just a stopgap; I noted the hallmarks
of a real relationship. He introduced me to his friends, wasn’t moony about his
exs, listened to my emotional outpourings, and was frank about his feelings for
And yet I felt no compulsion to stay in Toronto. I was too
terrified that I would wake up one day in my 30’s still vying to get into the
latest hot brunch place, plotting to see the hot art exhibit, and tearing up
the artisan beer list at the Victory Café. Even if that future included a
lovely feminist husband and two precocious children I felt that the general flavour
of my life wouldn’t be that drastically different.
I had the knawing feeling that although I’d briefly lived in
Japan and traveled to Cuba and Italy I still didn’t have a sense of how other
people lived and thought. Toronto, to me, meant being firmly ensconced in a
life where your Twitter influence was paramount, gossiping about local politics
was a sport, and you’d better have at least one obscure hobby such as crochet
or pinhole cameras. I decided that I couldn’t be married to such a precious
On our last weekend together he gamely attended my goodbye
party and made small talk as I pressed my cheek to his. I felt proud
of this tall, handsome man who stood by me as I was ready to leave him. He
brought me shawarma while I packed and he dried my tears as we sat in the local
high school’s bleachers and watched the Bathurst streetcars whistle by.
bus approached to take me to the airport the next morning I whispered “I love
you.” He looked at me, startled. “I love you too,” he said. And then added,
perhaps because the situation seemed so absurd: “I really do.” I boarded the
bus and pressed my hand to the glass door as I pulled away.
The culture shock in Mexico City was far worse than I
anticipated. Nothing made sense, from the language to the indecipherable bus
system to the taco stands offering every organ imaginable diced and fried for your
Thomas provided an invaluable source of support. When my schizophrenic
superintendent tried to break down my door, Thomas was on the other line. When
I fell into a period of depression that kept me mostly indoors, foggy and
paranoid, Thomas was a reassuring face on the other side of the screen. And in
turn when his grandfather died I tried to provide whatever support I could.
But as my sense of trauma passed and I tentatively began to
enjoy my new home and its temperate climate, friendly people, romantic culture,
and incredible fresh food.
This experience was heightened by the presence of my
best friend, a tough-looking but courteous man who whisked me off to weekend
getaways in the country, the punk rock market El Chopo, Peruvian restaurants.
I began to conflate my sweet new life with his presence and
even developed genuine feelings for him. And my sense of trust and faith in him
became so overwhelming as to confuse my plan to return to Thomas and a normal respectable
life. The temptation of now, with its
blue skies and swaying palms, late-night tripa tacos scarfed down amid plumes
of smoke, and lazy informal Spanish lessons, tempted me with the promise of
I realized with increasing dread that Thomas, once the
embodiment of happiness, was perhaps not what I was looking for at all. I didn’t
want to renovate a Victorian semi together. I didn’t need us to take a romantic
trip to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have our morning coffee every day while
listening to CBC. These things would mean I was my parents, who did all of
those things though perhaps with a lot more explosive emotion, which I much
hoped to avoid.
It is hard to reconcile my BBC-listening, The New Yorker-subscribing, vegetarian
Indian-cooking, yoga-practicing self with my new love. He has told me that I
complete him, while I feel totally lost. But I came to Mexico to disappear into
a new experience, so perhaps that’s my version of feeling complete.
What I’ve ultimately realized is that I don’t want my
perfect compliment. Instead, I want to be myself alongside someone who can
induce the unexpected and uncomfortable.
It is easy to be Canadian Bronwyn and much harder to be
Bronwyn that goes to Colombia for Christmas, who speaks Spanish, who learns
salsa, who Couchsurfs, who is optimistic about a future that looks totally
foreign, in every sense of the word. And who believes that love can last a
lifetime because it’s no longer in a stranglehold of convention but is defined by
a desire to enjoy the strangeness of possibility. This promises a lifetime of
struggle and misunderstanding, but hopefully growth, challenge, and endless new