We arrived in Dublin on a Sunday morning. A fine, flat rain punctured the surface of the Liffey, and the streets were all but empty. We passed three elderly women, each wearing raincoats the colors of jewels. They, and the doors in Merrion Square provided the only color.
We’d flown overnight, a plan that seemed ingenious when I booked the tickets in February (fly out at one country’s dusk, arrive at the second’s dawn), but in reality, it was as brutal as it sounds. We didn’t sleep on the flight. Chris’s restless legs got the best of him, and he described his skin feeling as though it were crawling. The man next to us complained that this was the smallest plane he’d even ridden, and while we have less frame of reference, we were inclined to agree. We landed the walking dead. I was so tired that, even now, those first few hours seemed surreal. Compared to the constant movement of New York, the empty streets were a relief. It took a two mile walk (with suitcases, on small sidewalks and cobblestone–I still have bruises on my ankle) to our Airbnb to orient myself to the clock, to the day, to our trans-Atlantic position.
Dublin quickly became for us a city of lessons. The four days we spent here were decidedly rocky. Jetlag made us susceptible to the anxieties we’re both having about our move, and neither of us handled well the discomfort of the unknown. While Dublin is a small, walkable, charming city with English speakers everywhere, the simple fact that it wasn’t home was enough to dislodge our equilibrium. On our second day in Dublin (the sixth of our trip), we looked at each other and said we just wanted a break from all the decision making. Breakfast — but where? And lunch — but were? And what should we do today? Where is that? How will we get there?
The short of it: Dublin is where we had to admit we didn’t have a groove.
As we planned this trip, we both acknowledged how much we had to learn. This was to be our first trip as a couple, the first (large) trip for either of us without parents, the first we we’re taking as adults. I’d hoped traveling would come as easily to us as so many other aspects of our relationship, but it didn’t. It took some learning.
Our first day in Dublin corresponded with our one year anniversary, and in retrospect, I like the timing. Dublin stretched us, made us grow. We started our second year in a place of vulnerability. We had to get tender with each other, and honest with ourselves. Why were we at odds? Why were we on edge?
A mother once said to me that from raising children, she’d learned that most problems between people can be solved with food, water, or a hug. I thought about that on our third evening, after we’d bickered our way through Temple Bar and ended our evening early so we could talk, uninterrupted by the movement of the city.
Our anxieties are always over connection. How do we tell the other what we want? What we need? How do we ask each other to hold the places too bruised for us to even name?
And as much as these tensions manifested themselves in our traveling (we are kings and queens of “but I want to do what you want to do”), they weren’t about travel. They hadn’t anything to do with travel. We bring ourselves with us wherever we go. It’s the great myth of escape that we could ever lose our pain. In Dublin, we bickered over plans, but when we stopped to address the tension, we talked about deep-rooted insecurities, the mixed fear of and desire to be known. We talked about our move, and about how excitement is starting to blend with anxiety, with sadness.
While Dublin ended up being less about Dublin and more about our relationship, I should clarify: Our days here were good days, punctuated by tension (not the other way around). After my anxiety to see everything! do everything! lessened, our days mellowed. Dublin is a charming city with an understated beauty. Compared to New York, it felt like a village, and we were so happy getting lost in down these twisting streets.
Our first four days here in a nut shell: Irish War Memorial Gardens were an oasis along the Liffey. The Little Museum of Dublin was delightful, and because it’s made up entirely of donations from Dubliners, it’s a fascinating perspective on this city’s history. I wish we’d gone the first day as an orientation to this city. We’re in Dublin, so we had to drink Guinness. We toured the storehouse on our second day here, and as much as the tour was an advertisement for its brand, it was fun, and the best way to share a pint. Temple Bar was far too crowded for us. The Winding Stair Bookshop was lovely; the swans in St. Stephen’s Green made me squeal, and the best food we had all week was the scones. Irish scones have ruined me for all baked goods. I’ll never be the same.
My favorite moment of all though was the quietest. After attempts at two museums failed (one was closed, the other required advance booking), we found ourselves in the Irish War Memorial Gardens. The rain showers of the morning had given way to blue sky, and a sun so warm I shed layers until my arms were bare. We found a rock on the bank of the Liffey and dangled our feet over the clear water. I watched a bird’s small, webbed feet pedal underneath the water. In so many ways, this could have been any other afternoon in the sun, but after spending six months saying to each other “baby, we’re going to Dublin!,” we were here. In Dublin! In Ireland! In the middle of this adventure! Forever let that be enough.