“Trevor, I need to tell you something…”
“What?” I asked, my 50-pound bags of hoops gear, clothes, and essentials (yes, Lawry’s salt and McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning is an essential) for a 10-month stay in Belgium in the corner of my mom’s cabin on Torch Lake.
“I’m not coming back with you,” my girlfriend said, her eyes misting into shiny wet green ovals. Tears glided down her eyelashes to her cheeks. It took a moment for this to register with me, as we laid on the bed overlooking the turquoise blue water. My dog Bear, a black and white Jack Russell innocently looked at me and yawned. My throat clenched, and my hands went to hers. I knew I had lost something. I knew the summer had gotten away from us, but I could change it.
I could get us back to what it once was.
“Really? You waited until the last week to tell me this?” I asked perplexed. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
I felt the anger rising inside me, but I took a deep breath. I could fix this. I could figure it out. But in the end, I didn’t figure it out.
Europe had challenged us. Our relationship. Our union of friendship. The partnership frayed, yet looking back, I’ve learned so many love life lessons from living abroad.
We all float at times, listlessly, like a sailboat without a rudder or a tailwind, and sometimes this floating process happens right after we have the most success.
I’ll tell you a story about living in Oostende, Belgium, a little city about 20 miles from Brugge. Belgium isn’t a big country, in fact, you can drive across it in a few hours, a rather flat green land nestled in between France, Luxembourg, the North Sea, Germany, and Holland. There were thousands of years of character and culture with old grey stone cathedrals, heavy Trappist beers, golden frites (Belgian fries) and beautiful European women everywhere.
I was there playing pro hoops, and I was ballin’.
I mean, ballin’ — scoring, dishing, winning, and I was awarded the Coaches MVP of the entire Belgian Basketball League. I got offered a new contract for double what I made the year before, so naturally, I took it. The plane ride home with my girlfriend, I remember the feeling of satisfaction, joy, and pride.
I was in complete and utter love with this woman.
That summer before, I had written her a love letter explaining to her how much I loved her, how I gave her my heart, trust, and loyalty. She was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was fiery, energetic, strong-willed, independent, and best of all, she was the happiest part of my day.
“Hey, babe, what do you want to go this summer?” I asked her, nuzzling into her neck on the plane.
“I want to travel to beach. Let’s go somewhere warm.”
“Anything. Anywhere. Name your spot.”
I felt like the fucking man.
But that summer and offseason went by, and I did very little to improve my craft. Slowly, my girlfriend and I drifted apart as I drank beer with friends, partied with family, and drove around the Midwest to see old college chums and spend money like Floyd Mayweather. I kept pushing off the training, the fitness workouts and hiring a personal sports performance trainer as I had always done. She was always waiting for me to come home, unlike the summer before where she had been on the move just as much as me.
I had lost my edge and my balance; in my relationship and my craft, the two most important things in my life.
See, success changed me, but it wasn’t overnight. It broke me down in the small choices I made every day; in the little self-improvement routines I decided not to practice; in the lack of discipline I preferred to apply to my life; in the absence of understanding the psychology of success through self-awareness and knowing complacency tends to ensue victory.
I was complacent, but it happened silently, an assassin, the quiet killer of the night; with my relationship, my hoops career, my habits and it occurred in the smallest details of my daily focus.
I never knew my ex wanted to leave me until it was too late.
At least with basketball, you get immediate feedback, you know when you get your ass kicked and had to go back to the drawing board. It’s why I am adamant about emotional intelligence and the ability to talk about feelings, emotions, and all the hard stuff (conflict) that comes up naturally in relationships, business, and life.
I want to know when I’m not doing enough; by my friends, family, or partner. And I don’t want it to be drama. Just tell me what you need and I’ll listen.
I take a lot of blame for the relationship failing, but at some point in the summer, I realized I hadn’t spent much quality time interacting with my girlfriend. I had been distracted by all the things modern life distracts us with — computer games, beer with college chums I hadn’t seen in 10 months, Instagram, Facebook, family time, investing my money wisely.
In fact, I don’t think most people understand the difficulty of moving to Europe with a partner. Especially an introvert, like my girlfriend was. There is cultural immersion and the culture shock takes time to assimilate. There is a loss of comforts with all the things you know from back home. There is building a new network of friends and confidantes. Yes, it seems nothing stays open after 5:00pm in Europe and the pace of life slows to a crawl. Even flushing the toilet seems odd.
Why do European toilets have two flush buttons?
I never could figure out how one flush was different than the other.
You have to really be present with your partner in Europe because of the loss of comforts, job, and independence. This puts undue stress on your relationship because finding your place in a foreign land with different people takes time. Communication. Compatibility. Emotional intelligence.
Living in a 500 square foot apartment in Europe tested our relationship. It tested our habits, our resolve, our communication, our foundation, our interactions, and I took her being there, every day, of every minute, for granted.
Complacency in relationships is a killer.
So that summer, after a year of living in a new city in Belgium, I realized we hadn’t even traveled anywhere. It hit me that I had wanted more independence and space from her after being with her every day overseas. I had a hard time talking to her about these feelings. She had lost her friendships when we moved to Oostende, and it felt like I was her sole provider of happiness.
I should have told her, but I didn’t want to hurt her. Unfortunately, momentarily hurting one’s feelings is part of life.
I looked at my girlfriend’s smooth cheeks and her stoically beautiful sleeping face, and I glided my fingers along her shoulder, reminiscing the first summer we had been together, the passion and effort I had put into pursuing her. The amount of texts and love letters I had written her. The hours of back rubs and cuddling we had shared. The Citroen car rides and travels across Europe to Paris, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, and Germany.
Damn, life was good that summer.
She opened her eyes slowly.
“Trevor. I need to tell you something...”