As I looked around the misty bar in Barcelona last February, I noticed a man with beautiful brown hair and a beard.
I was with my friends and he was alone when I suddenly realised something. Every girl in that bar was distracted, throwing quick glances and flirtatious smiles to theman. His silent confidence had us all captivated.
As the night progressed, he seamlessly migrated around the room while dancing and joining new circles of people. In a haze of tequila and Romeo Santos songs, the beautiful man ended up right next to me, dancing with my circle of friends.
One by one, he introduced himself to my friends, saving me for last. ‘My name is Rodrigo*,’ he whispered to me in Spanish, holding one side of my face with his hands and leaning into the other to speak.
‘Mucho gusto’ I responded, pulling back and trying to play it cool.
But the minute our eyes met, my stomach tingled with butterflies and I knew that my efforts to resist him were in vain.
A couple of minutes after dancing with all of us, Rodrigo broke the circle and turned to face me. His hands cupped my face and staring into my eyes, he slowly brought our foreheads to touch. I moved closer to his chest and matched the right and left sway of his hips to the bachata beat.
Without thinking twice, I slightly parted our foreheads so our lips could meet.
For hours, I ruminated in his oh-so European cologne and soft lips. When the clock struck 4am, the bartenders ushered Rodrigo, my friends, and I onto the dawn-lit streets of Barcelona.
Rodrigo turned to me and pulled out his phone, open to a blank contact page.
‘Actually… wanna come back with me?’ I said with a cheeky smile.
‘Sure, but no pressure. I’m around for you any time,’ Rodrigo said, his Portuguese accent peeking through. Smiling, I reached for his hand and gave it a quick tight squeeze and didn’t let go till we made it back to mine.
For the rest of the morning, in my broken Spanish and his broken English, we giggled and shared about our interests, families, and favourite Barcelona spots till I had to head to class.
This is where I learned that Rodrigo was only in Barcelona for a week, visiting from Portugal, and I told him that I was here for a few months while studying abroad from New York.
Considering the distance and cultural gaps, it was clear to us both that there was no serious future for us.
But, neither of us minded that. It was implied that all we had together was the present, so we decided to spend the week together.
Rodrigo showered me with affection and showed up for me in ways my lovers accustomed to college-hookup culture’s bare minimum could never deliver.
Previously, I had never even been taken out on a date. All my romantic interactions happened in a sweaty frat basement or on a dating app, and rarely did we ever talk about anything deep.
Yet even with our language barrier, Rodrigo and I still managed meaningful conversations.
One morning, after our first passionate night together, Rodrigo pulled up a video on YouTube, ‘What It’s Like to Date a Portuguese Guy’. It was endearing how much Rodrigo wanted to help me understand where he came from.
As I was listening to the narrator talk about how romantic Portuguese men were, and Rodrigo finger was tracing the small of my back, I turned to him, beaming and let a ‘te quiero’ roll off my lips.
‘Pranjal, te quiero means I love you… I don’t think that’s what you mean,’ Rodrigo softly corrected – and he was right.
It wasn’t what I meant at all. In my high school Spanish class, I learned that the verb querer means ‘like’, so I thought I was very casually telling Rodrigo that I liked him.
My stomach plummeted, kicking in a watered-down fight or flight response. I didn’t want Rodrigo to think that I was crazy and had fallen in love after just a few days of knowing him. I wanted my ‘I love yous’ to be more exclusive and earned.
Not doled out to random men I met at bars.
‘Pero te quiero tambien’ – but I love you too – Rodrigo continued a split second later with a reassuring kiss on my forehead.
A smile washed over my face, and warmth flooded my body. I know Rodrigo didn’t mean I love you in the mystical, star-crossed way love is often described, but it felt like he was saving me from hurt.
By loving me – even in an ephemeral way – Rodrigo unlocked the part of myself that guarded love. He taught me that romantic love doesn’t need to be gatekept, and saying ‘I love you’ doesn’t need to be a behemoth task.
Rodrigo and I didn’t get to officially say goodbye because of a surprise exam that I begrudgingly spent the end of my week studying for. Yet, we stayed in touch, swiping up on each other’s Instagram stories and occasionally sending cute ‘te extraño’ – ‘I miss you’ – texts for my remaining months in Barcelona.
It was when I was on the flight back to New York, waiting for takeoff that I was struck with cinematic flashbacks of him. Emboldened with Google Translate, I sent him a long goodbye text, telling him how nice it was to meet him and to learn how to love from him.
‘I’ll miss you a lot, beautiful’ he responded.
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From his recent hard launch on Instagram, Rodrigo is now happily seeing someone. We both stopped talking when I returned to my college campus, but the week I spent with Rodrigo is forever ingrained into my subconscious.
In fact, for that last year of university, I didn’t go on a single date because no one came close to the standard Rodrigo set for me. I would rather have no one than someone who can’t match my newfound definition and capacity of love.
But, I’m hopeful.
Next week, I’m moving to London, and – after a year of penance – I’m convinced that a boyfriend is waiting for me across the pond.
Thanks to my time with Rodrigo, I am confident that I will now only accept romance that overwhelms me with love – even if it’s uttered whimsically after a date or two.
*Names has been changed
So, How Did It Go?
So, How Did It Go? is a weekly Metro.co.uk series that will make you cringe with second-hand embarrassment or ooze with jealousy as people share their worst and best date stories.
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