How the Camino de Santiago Broke My Heart

 

There are all kinds of reasons people decide to undertake the 800 kilometre pilgrimage that is the Camino de Santiago.  Some people walk, or cycle, their way across Spain to grieve the loss of a loved one.  Friends and family take the journey together to strengthen the bonds of their relationships.  Others do it purely for the physical challenge.  For me, the Camino del Norte was supposed to heal a broken heart.  Unfortunately for my heart, the object of my unrequited affection decided to join me on this epic trek.

It should be noted that I had yet to declare my feelings to this girl (we’ll call her Lisa).  I wasn’t even certain of her orientation.  However, I am not especially skilled in concealing my feelings and I am sure she must have been at least a little bit suspicious.

 

Camino de Santiago, Spain, Cammino del Norte

 

When you start to fall for someone, your brain explodes with crazy ideas about how to manifest the fantasy into reality.  The first brainchild born of my misconstrued lust was to invite Lisa along with me on the Camino.  KLM was having a great flight sale to Barcelona and I had just watched The Way (don’t judge me), so I was feeling optimistic about the power the Camino had to bring people together.  Much to the relief of my rational brain, Lisa was not enthusiastic about this trip and declined my invitation.

But a few weeks later, as I was getting psyched for my first solo adventure and ridding my heart of its suffering, Lisa called to tell me she had changed her mind and had booked a flight to Spain.

Perhaps this was Fate bringing us together in a confusing and dramatic fashion.  I imagined the romantic comedy that would be based on our love story – Natalie Portman would play me and her blockbuster performance would earn her an Oscar.  Spending every moment of every day for a month with someone I hardly knew and harboured secret feelings for was such a stupid idea that it could only turn out well in the end.

It didn’t, obviously.

 

Camino de Santiago, Spain, Cammino del Norte

 

The journey itself was at least superficially amicable.  We both had a lifetime of practice in hiding our true feelings from others.  So, except for the time I touched upon a nerve when I casually called her a coffee addict (she was) and she proceeded to argue with me for at least an hour about why she wasn’t, there weren’t any serious blowouts.

We passed the days quietly as we rode our bikes through the deserted countryside of Northern Spain.  Passing fields full of goats wearing cow bells and watching the sun set over an isolated coastline were tranquil experiences that softened the deafening roar of my inner turmoil.  Thankfully, the route along the Camino del Norte had a lot of hills.  The physical effort of climbing up and down mountains for six hours a day did wonders for clearing my head.

Whatever emotional difficulties I endured during the day, it was nothing compared to the pure romantic torture that awaited me each evening.  Every conversation we had was laden with desire and secrecy.  The evening cuddles we shared did nothing to help matters.  I knew I was going to tell Lisa how I felt, but for practical reasons – like having to spend a month awkwardly travelling with someone who didn’t reciprocate those feelings – it seemed best to postpone such a disclosure until the end of the trip.

 

Camino de Santiago, Spain, Cammino del Norte

 

After 17 days of cycling the Camino and a week relaxing in Portugal, we returned to Spain.  The previous three weeks had been filled with confusing moments that my brain obsessively tried to categorise as ‘She Loves Me’ and ‘She Loves Me Not.’  Did sharing a bed when there were three in the room indicate romantic feelings or was it just to feel less lonely?  Was her reluctance to put sunscreen on my back because she didn’t want to encourage my feelings or because she didn’t want to lose control of hers?

Only two days before I would tell her everything, things took a turn for the worse.  Lisa told me she ‘loved me like a sister.’  I interpreted this as a pre-emptive rejection on her part and responded, not by telling her how I felt, but by trying to get drunk in a tourist flamenco bar that charged €7 for a gin and tonic.  Since I could only afford one drink at that price, I resorted to plan B – ignore her as much as possible and bottle up my feelings until we got home.

It was a lot to bottle up and, as well-detailed throughout this story, I was not exactly exhibiting much in the way of emotional maturity.  So, it wasn’t a surprise when everything erupted uncontrollably as soon as we returned.  The damage that ensued was irreparable and I did not find the strength to remain friends with someone I was in love with.

 

Camino de Santiago, Spain, Cammino del Norte

 

Many people experience personal breakthroughs on the Camino de Santiago.  Indeed, that’s exactly what many of the people who undertake this pilgrimage are looking for.  Completing such an undertaking, one expects closure on their issues upon receiving their Compostela – the certificate granted to qualifying pilgrims.  However, my spiritual pilgrimage did not end in Santiago de Compostela, as I am sure it doesn’t for a lot of people.  Instead, I experienced an emotional breaking that took two years to fully process.

Maybe it wasn’t the happy ending I thought I wanted, but I did learn many lessons on that journey.  Even though life may not always provide us with Hollywood worthy endings, it does provide us with continuous opportunities to learn from our experiences and develop into wiser, stronger, and better human beings.  I myself learned a lot about platonic intimacy and what it really means to love another person.  Without these lessons, I don’t think I would be in the happy and healthy marriage I am blessed with now.

The Camino de Santiago broke my heart, and I couldn’t be happier (Natalie Portman will have to forgo that Oscar for a while yet).

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There are many reasons people undertake the 800km pilgrimage that is the Camino de Santiago. For me, the Camino was supposed to heal a broken heart.

 

 

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26 Replies to “How the Camino de Santiago Broke My Heart”

  1. Pretty amazing how you can now write about this. Good job. I feel for your pain. I’m certain so many people have gone through the same thing, or at least something pretty similar. We’re all human.

  2. Sometimes it’s the bad things that happen to us that keep us on track for the good things to come. Such a beautifully written and honest article. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Aww it’s a sad yet lovely story. I’m currently with my girlfriend after being friends for a year and then one night we just… made out…. I’d never had a girlfriend before but was more than open to being with a woman. We are so happy and will start travelling together in September 🙂 🙂

    1. I am so happy to hear you’ve found someone you are happy with and shares your love of travel! Making out is a great way to start a relationship:)

  4. it seems like you had a good time cycling around though! at least you will have those memories and you’ve come out better for it anyway!

  5. This Lisa does not know what she missed ! Hope that despite the non love story, you will keep a nice souvenir of Northern Spain and its people 😉

  6. You are pretty brave to talk about your heartbreak on this trip. I can only imagine the agony of going on a trip with someone you’re interested in and not knowing if he/she will reciprocate. P.S. I also watched “They Way” and yes, it did make the Camino look so attractive!

  7. I know this all too well! Isn’t it funny how life works itself out? So glad you found your life partner!

  8. I am all emotional right now. Only the strong ones share their life-changing experiences. Good you are at peace now

  9. It’s really brave of you to share such a personal story. I’m glad that you managed to work through your feelings and learn from the experience. I think most of us can relate to unrequited love but it must have been agonising on that trip not knowing for sure.

  10. Thanks for sharing the story. Sometimes things work out for the better even if getting there is painful. I recall coming to the conclusion that my girlfriend, who roped me into going on the Camino, was not the right person for me just as we reached Santiago de Compostela. It was as though the two journeys unfolded in parallel. Where something ends, another thing begins, as you’ve found out as well. Happy trails!

    1. This pilgrimage really does bring to light to strengths and weaknesses of our relationships. I’m glad you found your epiphany too.

  11. Sandy N Vyjay says: Reply

    I can see that the Camino De Santiago trip was a roller coaster one in more ways than one. I can understand your emotions and feelings. But time is definitely a great healer and helps one move forward.

  12. What a wonderfully honest post and thank you for sharing. The truth is, the Hollywood endings don’t always allow us to grow. I always believe that we are are at our most broken points in life, that is where we grow the most. It is amazing how this pilgrimage can, not necessarily change lives, but have a profound impact on a person’s view on life.

    1. It is true we learn more from our difficulties and mistakes. Though it’s painful at the time, coming through the other end always feels so good!

  13. Vicki Louise says: Reply

    Good for you for having the strength the write about your experience. I’m sure almost everyone can relate at to it with their own experiences at one point in their lives; and awesome that you’ve found someone that you are so happy with now!

  14. I am glad to read that even if it didn’t ended up in a Hollywood romance, you had the power to move on and not dread on something that will never happen. And that you have learned something from the entire experience. I think that this is what matters most, the experiences we go through and what we learn from them. I love the tragicomic way you decided to write this article and how honest it is.

  15. I loved the way you have penned down your personal story. Though it did not have the Hollywood-style ending, I am sure that you had some great experiences throughout the journey. The layers of emotions are so well expressed. We meet people, fall in love with them and sometimes we have to let them go. I am sure that you will meet someone soon on your next expedition to fall in love with wholeheartedly.

    1. I am happily married now and celebrating our first wedding anniversary this month:)

  16. Never watched “the way” so can’t really judge you! We always wanted to do that adventure. Interesting how you shared with us your personal experience from your “emotion” side than the actually journey. It does seem like a perfect place to bond and develop emotions with someone you do it with, pity it didn’t go the way you wanted.

  17. Ooh I’m glad you waited until the end of your journey to try and express yourself. 17 days on the trek would have been torturous! Even though you weren’t able to have the “RomCom” ending you pictured, it sounded like a fantastic learning experience and physical challenge to clarity!

  18. Glad you eventually found someone and that you’re happily married. Seems the pilgrimage was emotionally tough, but a great experience and one that taught a lesson. I think I learned about this pilgrimage through a movie, but I can’t pin point which one.

    1. The movie was probably ‘The Way.’ There are others, but that seems to be the one most people have seen:)

  19. This is a lovely post. I’m so sorry your friend didn’t feel the same way, it must have been so tough to spend so much time together on the Camino. Thanks for sharing your story!

  20. Although I’m super sorry things didn’t turn out, I loved reading this. It’s wonderfully written and really paints a good picture of the pain some people go through without anyone else knowing. I’m sure you’ll find someone soon 🙂

  21. Yes it is quite amazing how you can have someone so important in your life one moment and then they are not there at all.

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