To mess you up even more while you read, stream our Thinking About The Good Times With Your Ex playlist here.
I recently finished Call Me By Your Name and feel compelled enough to write my first post on this site in nearly eight months. If you’ve followed the DamonAndJo YouTube channel, you’d know that I have been spending much of the year in Paris, where I feel, again, compelled more than any other place to tap into my introspective side, reading books in parks, researching philosophy, sitting with a glass of wine at a brasseries and jotting down memorable quotes from nearby conversations I can hear. Paris grants me this permission. I feel like I have the time, and the desire to do this in Paris, more than in any other city. Because of this, my Instagram Story has been on fire; I’ve been Storying everything from a cute coffee barista that I gave my number to (we got drinks) to me taking a beautiful orange mirror out of my AirBNB’s courtyard’s trash (I stored it in my ex’s basement until I find a place). In other words, in Paris, I feel in my lane. Even more so now that I recently finished two books that have marked me more than any other two books in history.
After a swift read through Giovanni’s Room – another novel that turned me into a complete wreck – I was bombarded by hundreds of DMs not only hoping, but demanding that I read Call Me By Your Name. This had been one of those things I had put off since I was asked by Security to leave UGC Les Halles, a cinema in the center of Paris, where, with my dad hat pushed so far down my nose, I was bawling my eyes out the last twenty minutes of the film into twenty minutes past the final film credits. Call Me By Your Name had struck such a chord and a chord that hadn’t been struck since the year before, when, after six years (and long-distance at that), my Parisian boyfriend and I decided it was time to explore other options. Not because anything was wrong between us, but because there was no end in sight for the long-distance relationship we had been enduring – me living full-time in Los Angeles and him in Paris, where both of our careers “needed” us. Whatever that meant.
Let me tell that story.
Being six hours apart, when I was living in New York, was doable. We were both still awake for a decent amount of the day and could share our day in real-time, whereas nine hours of a time difference is when things start to not only become more lonely, but more aggravating. When one of us would wake up, the other would want to talk about his day, but you had just woken up; you didn’t have anything to talk about. When you were ready to talk about your day, he was just waking up and had nothing to talk about. Nonetheless, although so far apart, it was more intense than any relationship I have ever seen – in real life, in the movies, or in books (until this one).
We knew deep-down we couldn’t continue going months without seeing each other. But we did it for as long as we could. In the duration of our six years together, he had lived twice for three months with me in my studio in New York, that I was sharing with a roommate. He also surprised me one week for my birthday, visited me twice in Indiana for Christmas, and visited Los Angeles twice for two weeks each. 90 days was all he, a French citizen, was allowed in the USA, at which point he would leave, I would save up, and I would head to Paris to be with him until I needed to be back for whatever work came up. Everyone always asked why I was always going back to Paris. Love. This went on for six years. Back and forth. Months apart. Interrogation at Immigration. Why do you keep coming back here? What were we supposed to say? My boyfriend? Depending on the Border Control agent, and his/her level of conservatism, nationalism, or homophobia, anything could be grounds for questioning, let alone taunting for a gay relationship. Having a relationship was the number one reason tourists overstayed their visas.
This is when I fully understood how silly it is that we all have nationalities attached to us from birth, which grant or deny our presence in a country, and that we did nothing to earn or deserve these labels. I was a guy from the States that just wanted to be with a guy from France, but the fact that he was from France was reason enough for all the borders and immigration documentation to complicate our life, and our love. Me as an American getting married to an American? Easy. Me as an American getting married to a Frenchman? Oh no, no, no, see, now that requires a whole ‘nother process, as if he’s some other sort of species of human.
Because of the state of this back-and-forth, up-and-down (yet more downs-than-ups) relationship, you can imagine how magical the weeks and months were that we would spend together. It was like we were at the peak of a movie, for the entire movie. It felt like the world was happy for us. Like our friends and family were happy for us. Like we were happy for us. One time at LAX Arrivals when he had just arrived, then needed to use the restroom, a woman came up to me and said she thought it was beautiful to see two young men embracing like we just had, and that she could see how much we loved each other. She just wanted to tell us, and then went on her way. It felt good and felt like people, even if they were complete strangers, were rooting for us. We needed moments like those, because in those first few moments of seeing each other, we were both nervous and questioning everything – Would we get along as well? Did we make a mistake? Was I happier back “home” with all my friends? Has he changed? Have I changed? Are the feelings still going to be there? – it always felt like our first date…all over again. There would always be a few hours of silence, awkward exchanges, like we had forgotten how to talk to each other in real life, followed by a tight embrace that reminded us that we definitely knew how to talk to each other. Each moment of acclimation happened so slowly, so vividly.
Though the moments made us feel like we were living an enhanced life – like we had leveled up – as lovers who hadn’t seen each other in months, we also felt conflicted. Do we spend the next few weeks together at home making tea in our underwear and falling asleep watching a terrible movie to make up for the life we missed out on as a couple? Or do we get out and create more tangible memories together to keep this flame burning? Riding rollercoasters, hands in the air – ours interlaced? Going to the swimming pool, splashing around together? Tasting new foods, laughing at each other over the table? Even introducing one another to each other’s friends felt like time away from each other. We wanted it all, but we…were running out of time. Each time.
I knew Call Me By Your Name would have this same effect on me and act as a catalyst to the emotional turmoil I had felt for years. Everyone from complete strangers who knew nothing about my love life to close friends who knew this international, tumultuous backstory of mine, warned me, but they were always good warnings. Know what you’re getting yourself into, but read it. You have to read it. Sam from the I Booked a Trip To Prague Just Because video was the first to encourage me to read the book, reminding me that if we’re humans, we should fully live the human experience – allowing ourselves to feel sadness when we’re sad and to feel anger when we’re angry. In a way, it’s beautiful to be able to feel these emotions. Imagine life without sadness or even anger? Would happiness feel as good? My other extremely-emotional friend (I have a thing for Cancers), Dominique, had read the book more than just a few times and had it with her every place she went. Her emotional Bible, in a way. I had to pick this damn book up.
At FNAC Les Halles in Paris, I was one cash register away from reading it French. I didn’t know if this would f*ck me up more or less. More in the sense that my 50% of my former relationship was in French, so I might be more triggered in this way. Or would the French version f*ck me up less since I’ve grown into my being and spent more years getting to know myself in English that the French words might have less meaning? Less feeling. Less depth. I chose the English version, and walked home, getting to Page 54 in one shot. By Day 2, I finished the book. I had bookmarked so many pages throughout, but this one got me good.
“Triggered” would be the right word to use. I have never read a book that I could relate so much to – I thought I was gonna have to be the one to write it. “Sorrow” would be the next right word to use. I have also never in my life felt as much deep sadness – not unhappiness, but a deep sense of losing someone, longing for someone – than in this very moment, that repeated itself so many times in my relationship that lasted six years. Airports, time zones, loneliness, heartbreak. Hearing the words, Bébé, tu me manques déjà. Bébé, I miss you already. No one had ever called me baby, let alone bébé.
There were so many similarities in Call Me By Your Name to my story with my French ex that even writing this has got me all choked up. An American studying abroad. Falling in love with a guy. Falling in love with a guy as a guy. Falling in love so unexpectedly. A relationship in multiple languages. Knowing your days together are numbered. Hating yourself for counting down the days anyway. The goodbyes at the train stations and airports. Scheduling the ride home with close family and friends so you’re not completely alone.
Over time, we tried to develop goodbye strategies, but I was always the one to crack the night before. We had a rule to not speak about the departure days prior to the departure, but as soon as that first thought entered my mind This time tomorrow, you won’t be here, my body’s movements would slow down, and I knew I would not be able to speak without my voice cracking. It always did, and when the first tear slowly streamed down my cheek, there was no stopping what would follow.
At the airport, looking him directly in the eyes was off-limits. Every thought becoming, In 20 minutes, you won’t be here. And after a minute, In 19 minutes, you won’t be here. There was no stopping it – we had no choice in any case. Our goodbyes were inevitable. Our conversation would slow down, but I couldn’t bear the thought of beginning to say goodbye. I remember wanting to buy him anything so as to distract myself and to also give him one last bit of pleasure, to let him know I cared about him. A magazine for the plane? A coffee? I didn’t care if it cost ten thousand dollars. I am positive that my love language is not gifting, but in these vulnerable moments, I would use any love language that applied. To me,
Love was more valuable than money.
The first few times we said goodbye, we would hold each other outside of Security and whisper in each other’s ears that we would be back together soon enough. Again, I was always the one to break, which always surprised me. Stereotypically, I was supposed to be the emotionless American, and he was supposed to be the sensitive, touch-feely European. For much of our relationship, that was true, but for our goodbyes, I couldn’t handle it. The more we said goodbye, we learned that doing so at Security was never going to make it easy. After the third or fourth time, we figured out that placing ourselves near a corner of two intersecting hallways was “better,” – as better as it could ever get? Far too often we had made the mistake of looking back, only for one of us to be so far along in the Security process that it was too late to give up and hug one last time. It would feel like defeat. We chose this corner-hallway technique in case so that we knew that if we did look back, there would be no glimpse of the other. Besides, what was another hug going to do? Perpetuate the next walk-away, look back, and run-back to hug again?
I always wore a hat and a hoodie. Two people crying at an airport was enough to draw attention, but two men crying, and on top of that, crying about leaving each other would not just draw attention, but unwanted attention. It felt unfair. Even from 2011 – 2016, when much of the world was legalizing same-sex marriage (including France and the United States), it was still a risk to take to be hugging, kissing, holding hands in public (I mean the same still applies today really). But as my ex would always say, on s’en fout. Why should we care? He knew even I felt uncomfortable in those very public moments, but he’d refuse to let how others may feel uncomfortable be what I was thinking about in these final moments with him. I was devastated that I wouldn’t be seeing him for months, let alone months on months on months? Many times, we didn’t know the next time we would see each other – we had no money, no visas, and no concrete career plans. It was all up in the air. It could have been a recipe for success, but for us, it always felt like a recipe for disaster. And I think I always knew that I was the one who made it that way. Always choosing career. Always choosing career.
This is when I would let go.
I never thought I was someone who could cry that hard. I was never someone who cried. To me, crying meant you were sad, and for the most part, I was a very happy, go-lucky person. Admitting you had cried meant you were weak, and that you didn’t have enough emotional intelligence to control how you feel. Being with him (and spending a lot of time in Europe, around Europeans) changed this in me. I now have a new, almost, respect for crying, and that allowing yourself to cry is actually what emotional intelligence is all about. Someone who allows themselves to let their guard down and be vulnerable in front of others. To not have to always play this social game that you’re tough and invincible when we all know, behind closed doors, we’re not.
Walking away got harder and harder each step, but then Buzz. A text from my friend. Buzz. A text from my mom. Buzz. A text from another friend. These texts were premeditated. Leaving him meant notifying all of my friends the exact time I’d be saying goodbye so I’d have something to do, somewhere to go, and someone to see upon leaving the airport. In fact, every move was strategic. Playlists were carefully curated with songs about being free and moving on. Any movie or novel revolving around love was a no-go. It hurt too much. Friends was always the answer because it took away the thought I needed someone else’s love when I could just have my friends’. I even avoided places we had gone together in New York City and Los Angeles, so as to not trigger the dark thought that He was just here, but now he’s not. And who’s to say it won’t be another year before he’s back? An entire year before we can spend another moment, or create another memory back here in my “home?”
And in those moments, I felt like a double-agent, to myself. I was smart enough to know I would be too fragile. It’s funny how you have to trick your own self as if you’re not in control of your own self. But my past self was exactly right about my future self. I was a freaking beautiful wreck. A lover who had just been left.
6-12 hours from now, my phone would buzz once more. But it wasn’t a friend or family. It was that one person in between.
Made it back.
And just like that, you were back to zero.
It was in those first few fresh moments back home when you start questioning the alternatives. All we wanted was to be together, but being together is what would maybe make us both the most unhappy.
Back then, he had offered to move to LA to be with me. “We could get married!” but I said no. And I said no because I knew it was selfish of me to request him to move in with me, where I knew his personality wouldn’t vibe with the lifestyle. I also knew that I was not ready to sacrifice everything Jo and I were building for, excuse my cynicism, a love that might not last? It was such a crazy thing to think about – that while I was so madly in love, I also understood realism and that no matter how great or terrible life situations are, they’re all, for the most part, temporary. That was nothing against him or anyone I’m with in the future; I just think it’s extremely important to weigh every potential outcome so when in three years from now, you’re still where you want to be in every aspect of your life, regardless of anyone else. I think this is where the rational, individualist Americanism mentality we grow up with in the States really shows. I don’t think I have ever, in my life, heard of an American valuing love over work. In Europe, I feel like the majority might drop it all for their love, and figure out the rest. Now that I’m living in Paris, my views might even be changing.
The whole scenario made me feel terrible. I felt terrible for him, that he didn’t deserve all this, but I also felt terrible for my career. Again, it was an odd position to be in; I was in the midst of an intense, dreamy relationship, and also a bustling, on-the-rise career, yet I felt stuck. No matter which move I made, somebody would be pissed off. For example, if he had moved to Los Angeles, and if a brand deal to Vietnam came up for our YouTube channel, I wanted to be able to take it, without feeling extreme guilt for abandoning the guy who uprooted his life to move to be with me. Again, me, someone who was prioritizing career over the relationship. I knew it wasn’t right, and I knew it would end badly if that happened. So it remained hypothetical, along with the option of me moving to Paris for him. Me moving to Paris back in 2015, when our YouTube channel was at 40,000 subscribers, could have radically altered the life I live today. Would YouTube and Shut Up and Go have become my full-time job? Would our YouTube channel or Shut Up and Go even be around? Would I still keep in contact with him and have such a healthy relationship with him today, like I do…today?
There was no right solution, besides the painful mutual decision that it was time to let go of this beautiful, yet toxic relationship until the time is right to join forces again if that moment ever comes.
Bébé, are you ok? I made it back.
I’d go from being so emotionally aware at the airport to being so numb on the way to meet my friends. My past self tricking my future self worked, as I sat in silence in the back seat of my Uber. We both knew that being the one leaving was always easier – you were distracted by the process of travel. Being the one who was getting left was a goodbye that lasted days, weeks, even months beyond the literal goodbye at the airport. The driving home alone from the airport in your now empty city, the having to go back “home” knowing he wouldn’t be there, the knowing that all the moments we had just shared would now be invisible – almost like they had never really happened.
Another knot formed in my throat.
I can’t believe this book figured me out.
Watch the movie: Call Me By Your Name by Luca Guadagnino
Read the book: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Read the book: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin