Jonatan doesn’t even remember the first time we met and all I remember is feeling incredibly disappointed. It was 2006 and I had just moved to the picturesque South of France for a study abroad program during my junior year of college. It was my first time being out of the U.S. (besides a few family summers in Canada which I don’t count) and I was looking forward to a year of incredible adventures and perhaps a little romance.
I had been in France about a week and had made friends with the other students in my group when my now best friend Bea said she had met a nice Swedish girl earlier who had invited her to a party at her apartment that night. “Her brother just moved here so she wanted to have a welcome party for him,” she said. With the image of six-foot Viking god in my mind I excitedly went along. When we arrived, however, all I saw was a 5’10”, skinny, fresh out of the military Swede with a shaved head who could not be less interested in me. He said probably two words to me that night and spent the rest of the time telling my friends how amazing Sweden was and why it was the best country in the world. As much as I adore “love at first sight” stories ours definitely is not one of them.
As the weeks went on Jonatan and I had many classes together at the University we were attending and also ended up sharing the same group of friends. The Swedes and Americans had somehow formed a bond and we all had a lot of fun. We spent late nights dancing at the bar all the foreign students went to and I always innocently insisted he walk me home. Crushes developed and I even pulled the trick of accidently leaving behind my necklace or something at his place, just to have another excuse to call him or come over.
As much as we tried to deny it, it was obvious to our friends that we were smitten and on the evening of his 20th birthday party when we had popped champagne his sister exclaimed “kiss him!” and so I did. For the next five months we lived in the bliss of new love. I pretty much moved into his studio flat and we spent fewer nights out dancing and more nights in.
But, as all things do, our year of love and dreams in France had to come to an end. I was to go back to California to finish college, and he was to go back home to Sweden. I told myself from the start not to get attached. “There is no way this would ever work out. Long distance, half-way across the world. Never.” This was merely just another study abroad romance that had come to its inevitable end.
Since you are reading this now you probably already know my predictions were wrong. Jonatan promised he would visit me that summer, and while I tried hard not to get my hopes up, I secretly wished with all my heart that he would keep his word. And he did. He came to visit for a week, but ended up staying nearly two months.
Of course, he did eventually have to go back to Sweden yet again. There were unsure goodbyes, and I tried to stay tough and act like it was no big deal. The next two years were confusing ones. After much back and forth thinking and long talks with Bea I went and visited him in Sweden, and then he came back the next summer for another two month stay. Each time we saw each other it was as if no time had gone by, though when we were apart I found myself doubting things and scared and asking constantly, “What are we doing?”
It was clear something had to change, and it turned out there was the possibility for me to go to graduate school in Sweden, in programs held in English, that were entirely tuition free. How unbelievable is that?! It seemed easy enough, but then again, the doubts creeped back in, and I found myself thinking, “Is this insane? Am I really going to move to Sweden for a boy? A boy I met while in a dream state in France?” To answer my questions, I did not get into the university programs I had applied for—something wrong with the translation of my transcripts from the States. So instead, I moved back to France, this time to work as an English teacher, convinced I still needed time for my own adventures before committing to something for someone else.
The moment I got to France however, this time in the cold, gray North, I felt I had made a great mistake. I loved Jonatan. I loved being with him and the truth was, he was right. We had something special together, something that wasn’t just a study abroad fling, or something to daydream about, but something real that not everyone is lucky enough to find.
I tried my hardest to speed up that second year in France. I spent every vacation flying up to Sweden to visit and applied yet again to the Master’s program at the University in the city where he lived. I made sure everything was perfect and correct and that day I received my acceptance letter was the greatest day my heart has every felt. Finally, after years of uncertainty and heartache it was finally possible for us to have a life together without the shadow or anticipation of an indefinite goodbye in the future. We were going to be able to see each other every day, and that was wonderful.
It has been almost two years now since I moved to Sweden, and as cliché as it sounds, we truly couldn’t be happier. It really wasn’t such a crazy idea to move to a country I knew little about where I didn’t speak the language or know anyone. I have actually made quite a few friends here, American as well, who moved for the same reason as me: love. We call ourselves love refuges and delight in the craziness it is to throw caution to the wind and just jump into something with the hope of incredible things happening.
That city in France will now always share a special place in my heart. It is the place I found my love, the place I found my best friend, and funnily enough, the place Jonatan’s sister met her husband as well. We have since gone back to visit and much has changed, but the memories are still there and it will always be the beginning of our own fairy tale romance that we continue to write to this day.
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