Our trip to Denmark gave us the space we needed to break apart


In December, we traveled 5,454 miles to save our relationship. What led to this point was six months of anger (on both our parts), a sudden leaving (on his part), and complete bewilderment and heartbreak (on my part). What had led to that is another story.

This story begins with a flight to Copenhagen.

Denmark’s capital seemed ideal: English-proficient, a flight that wasn’t too long; good food; safe; easy. This was supposed to be a trip during which we reconnected, found each other again, tried one more time. I valiantly hoped that if I could just get him on the plane, get him to Copenhagen, we could fix things in this land of hygge.

I was hopeful as the trip began. The year was coming to a close, and I was ready to wash off the mistakes and hurt from the year and start 2020 with renewal and love.

Copenhagen in late December was picturesque, the ideal place to cuddle up with a loved one and drink glogg. Public transportation was easy, seemingly made for travelers wanting to get lost in themselves instead of the train system. Tivoli Gardens was delightful, and we were able to visit the original Mikkeller bar. I loved the San Francisco version but loved the Copenhagen original even more.

Our hotel was modern and sleek, and it had a sauna where I could meditate.

But the thing I learned about traveling to a new country with someone: There’s nowhere to hide from the hard truths about the relationship. So many miles from home and all I could feel was the distance between us. Surrounded by another language, all I could comprehend was the silence between us.

I had my first Aquavit sour alone at the hotel bar and contemplated the fact that my best friend and partner of seven years had become a stranger.

Swing attraction in action, at Christmas, Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens in winter in Copenhagen

(Rosemary Calvert/Getty Images)

We spent the next few days in Kokkedal, and stayed in a castle. We ate our fill of smoked and pickled fish, napped in the spa and played rounds of gin rummy in the lounge. On one day we took the train to Kronborg so I could fulfill my dream of visiting Hamlet’s castle, then visited the stellar Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. We spent the afternoon strolling around the exhibits. “To be or not to be,” I kept thinking to myself.

All of it would have been wonderful except I was still walking on eggshells, scared of triggering a fight, uncomfortable in my own skin, acutely aware of the unhappiness that lingered in every pore of my being. This man who used to waltz me around the kitchen could barely look at me. On the train back to Copenhagen from Kokkedal, I actively wondered whether I could find the person I loved buried under the hurt of the past months.

When he told me at the last minute he had decided to stay in Europe for two more weeks, I realized that Copenhagen wouldn’t be where we found each other again but where we went our separate ways.

That night as I was packing for my solo flight home, we finally unpacked some our pain from the last six months. I stared at the flickering lights of the city and cried over the man who seemingly had disappeared overnight. In that corporate, sterile hotel room, we completely broke apart.

The next and last day was strangely wonderful, reminiscent of our former fire. I’m not sure if the fact that we had finally ended things had taken the pressure off, but for the first time in a long time he was the sweet and kind partner I had fallen for.

He suggested doing a biking architecture/food tour ourselves. We mapped out the sights, then biked from place to place: Torvehallerne food hall, the Royal Danish Library, Kulturhuset Islands Brygge cultural center. At lunch he held my hand over a smorrebrod (open-face sandwich) as we exchanged memories of better times.

We walked along the Nyhavn waterfront, and I remembered with a jolt that seven years ago we finished a puzzle of the same brightly colored houses lined up in front of us. We were young, poor and in love back then, dreaming of visiting a place we could access only through a puzzle. Yet here we were now. On a bridge with love locks all along it, he held me as I cried.

As midnight came upon us and the New Year’s countdown began, I looked at my former partner with a smile and tears in my eyes. We kissed chastely as fireworks erupted over Copenhagen Harbor. And as the new year began, my old dreams came to an end.



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