love games

I'm reaching the end of the fourth month of my contract, a momentous occasion. Not because I've reached a career milestone or because I went on some memorable excursion or because I received a great accolade. Here, in the fourth month of my contract, the secret is out: I have a sort-of boyfriend.

Here's the story.

For the last four months, I have been secretly dating (for lack of a better word... I'll get to that in a minute) one of my co-workers on the ship. The reason we kept it secret is two-fold. First, we were warned by another co-worker that relationships of our nature were discouraged because in the case that a severance needed to be made due to poor performance by an employee-slash-one of the participating parties, feelings would be hurt and grudges would be held. (This, we were told, came from witnessing such a scenario unfold on a previous ship.) This warning contradicts our company policy, which supports romantic relationships among co-workers. The warning was more like a safety net. Alright, and second, neither of us wanted a relationship. Hence the loose use of the term "dating." We were by no means exclusive.

At first, that's all it was. A casual thing. Oh man, it was so much fun. Trying to be sneaky and thinking we were actually succeeding at it. Of course, things like this are never black and white, no matter how explicit you are about the rules. Sooner or later, the walls break down and you start to feel something against all sorts of good judgement. I started to fall for this guy, which surprised me, mostly because if we were in a different environment - well, to be honest, any environment other than the one we were in - I probably wouldn't have given him a second thought. He's not really my type. But the heart wants what it wants, and eventually, things got complicated.

It wasn't a one-sided thing either. Jealousy fought its way into our "relationship," and there were a handful awkward conversations over the course of the last four months. But that's the trouble about having a quote-unquote-relationship; while you get the benefits of being with someone, you don't really have the right to question their motives. At least that's how I saw it. Sometimes, it felt like we were in a battle, trying to come out on top in a series of love games.

Over time, things fell into place. We were significant to one another without being significant others. And that was enough.

He's gone now. Having finished his contract, he left for home this morning. It's a strange thing to know that your relationship with a person has a concrete expiration date. There was never any intention to pursue what we had beyond the confines of our predetermined timeline, and as the date of his departure approached, an overwhelming sense of bittersweet nostalgia came over me. In the last few days, I've replayed moments of sheer perfection spent on sandy Bahamian beaches, on the open decks of our floating home, or in the comfort of my private cabin. Despite the fact that what we had wasn't real by any normal standard, I gained a lot from my relationship with this man. I learned to let go of judgement, expectation, and worry. My self-esteem skyrocketed, not only from his attraction to me but also in his belief in the strength of my character. He piqued my curiosity with his intellect and life experiences. Above all, he showed me that I could have a meaningful and positive relationship with a guy, something I have questioned after countless years of being a single girl.

While I'm definitely sad to see him go, I'm so happy to have met him and had him as a part of my life. He'll always hold a special place in my heart.