It wasn’t the first time. I’d had crushes before. Indeed, I had just come out of one. My first crush had been when I was 18 and a half. I had a major crush on the girl at the supermarket where I worked. It was my first day there. I just walked into the greengrocery department and there, at the weighing machine, was the most beautiful girl in the world. I had always believed in love at first sight and it happened to me. That had gone on until I started college. The next crush was a redhead girl in my Media class. Her dad had a surf shop in Falmouth, Cornwall. There was an all-night party at her house – my first. It was awesome! Later, I moved to London. During my days of poverty in New Cross Gate, I fell in love with a black girl from Cameroon. She turned out to be the landlord’s mistress, so that didn’t last long. The fourth was a girl who worked as a waitress in the bar where I worked part-time. That turned into a major love triangle and I was the only one whose job survived. Finally, I had got a job on a cruise ship sailing from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and Key West. There I had a major crush on a beautiful Filipino nurse with beautiful soulful eyes who was very kind, with a big heart.
It was on my final Key West cruise before my contract ended that I found out that she had a boyfriend who was a deck officer on board. During the cruise back to Canaveral, I had spent four hours in my cabin, where I cried and I cried and I cried. However, it was good for me because I got all the feeling out.
The next morning, I disembarked the ship and took the ship’s agent station wagon to Orlando Airport. I had arranged a 2-month vacation before my next contract. I was going to spend 20 days in Vietnam with an American guy who was a Vietnam Veteran. After that, I would spend 20 days in the Philippines, staying with the families of some of the 60 Filipinos I had been friends with on the ship.
After, I would go back home to London for a couple of weeks to stay at the bar where I had met the fourth crush.
I flew out, changed at Paris, then flew into Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City the next day. I watched as the plane passed the US Army-built helicopter bunkers all in a long line. “Wow, time for an adventure!” I thought.
I got a taxi to the hotel my veteran friend had pre-booked. The driver overcharged me about three times too much but I had read enough guidebooks to know this was standard practice in Third World countries for your first trip from the airport to your hotel upon arrival. I saw crowds of motorbikes racing around, old guys on bicycles eating bowls of noodles, road construction going on in several places and lots of sights, sounds and smells. The hotel was full of heavy, lacquered wooden furniture and was clean and orderly. I stayed there overnight, then flew to Da Nang the next morning.
The veteran was there waiting for me, together with a Vietnamese guy. “We brought two motorbikes – I thought you might need them and it looks like you do!” said the vet. We loaded up the bikes and I got to experience my first motorbike ride, with the wind whistling through my hair!
I checked into a nice, clean hotel – no frills but the Catholic landlady was nice. I showered and freshened up and went out for dinner with the veteran. Then I had a well-deserved sleep the next day.
In the morning, we went out on his motorbike to look at the surrounding scenery – the river and the fabulous beaches. It was awesome. Returning at around lunchtime, I entered my room to find two cleaning ladies in there.
“Hello,” I began. They smiled and introduced themselves as Thoa and Nga. Nga was already married and her husband was in the countryside somewhere up north. Thoa was single and lived locally. We just talked for a couple of minutes, very normally. Her English wasn’t very good but she was friendly and nice.
Over the next couple of weeks, I saw her several times and we continued talking. She was pretty, with short hair. I told her what I was doing and where I had been with the veteran. The veteran had already established a good relationship with all the staff, so they all knew him. She told me about her life and her family and we got on quite well. She also gave me advice on Vietnamese culture and other related things.
In the third week, she told me that she had told Nga at the beginning that she liked me very much. I thought she was cute, too. Now she told me that she loved me. I was a bit unprepared for this – I had never experienced someone loving me before. I had loved five women already but none of them had been interested. Just the day before I left the ship, I had spent those four hours crying in my cabin – it had felt like a break-up, even though, in fact, I had never even started anything with the Filipino nurse. Having experienced this, I had nothing to go on when a woman loved me first. It was new and different.
However, I was still open-minded to love. I always had been – that’s what hadn’t changed. I was willing to open the door to a new experience. Could I be loved just as I am? So when she told me, “I love you”, I said, “I love you, too” right back. At the time, I worried whether this statement was true; but I also couldn’t trust my heart because it had no experience. What if I did love her but didn’t know it yet? What had I experienced up until that moment? Just five occasions when I felt great passion and emotional ups and downs but this tremendous feeling had done nothing to change the reality that those five women had still shown no interest. So, in short, my heart had been wrong. It had shown great love for women who didn’t care. The first time had felt amazing, the second time a little less amazing and now, after five separate occasions, I was beginning to tire of my heart doing this. A woman loving me first was substantial. I wanted to know if there was another, more fruitful way to love and be loved.
So I took the leap. I jumped into the unknown realm of saying yes to being loved by someone who wasn’t my own family. I didn’t want crushes any more. So I said “I love you, too”. I wanted to say yes to Thoa!
We became boyfriend and girlfriend on St. Valentine’s Day, 1999. The next day, I was due to fly to the Philippines. When the time came to say goodbye, the veteran and Thoa and all the staff stood outside to wave goodbye as I moved off in the taxi. “Will I see him again?” asked Thoa.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be back,” smiled the veteran. He was right. I came back later that year to visit Thoa again. I kept coming back, eventually setting up a life in Vietnam. We married in 2003 and had a son the following year.
I made the right decision. It’s much easier to fall in love with someone who loves you first. I’m glad I did. Thoa has taught me that I can be loved just the way I am; and I am forever grateful to have learned that fact.
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