This post was contributed by Steven Knollmeyer.
If you never dreamed that you would find the love of your life by stumbling upon a dark-haired pop star no one has ever heard of on a Vespa on the streets of Rome on your unrealistically expensive 8th-grade field trip to Italy, you obviously aren’t a basic American millennial like myself who grew up with the Lizzie McGuire movie playing on repeat. Whether your cinematic love bug drug was Lizzie, Eat Pray Love, or virtually any other rom-com set in Italy, I can confidently declare that I speak for the other basic hopeless romantics out there like myself that whisking yourself off to Italy with the secret hopes of finding the love of your life is one of the ultimate fantasies.
My mom turns sixty in the fall of this year and about a year ago she, myself, and my sister decided that we would go to London and Paris to celebrate. I had just started a job that gave me the option to work remotely as desired so I figured this would be the ideal time to manifest my Lizzie McGuire-inspired fantasy into reality and book myself a solo trip to Italy for two weeks after I finished my trip in Paris with my family. I went on Airbnb’s website, discovered a pricing error on a listing that allowed me to score the most beautiful flat in central Florence for 14 nights at a rate of only $33 a night and I remember thinking: this is IT.
Common to all of our stories: Miss Rona came into the picture.
Flight to London: canceled.
Airbnb booking in Paris: canceled.
Wine tour in French castles: canceled.
One after another, every piece of my 2020 European trip got canceled, but there was something about the Florence Airbnb booking that I could never muster the strength to click “Cancel reservation” on. I wasn’t naive- I knew I would have to cancel, but something about the mere thought of my solo adventure of possibly finding international love still existed in the interwebs of airbnb.com provided me with weird unsubstantiated hope.
A couple of weeks ago I finally pulled the trigger and canceled the reservation, and a sinking feeling dug deep into the pit of my stomach when the refund hit my checking account. I poured a glass of wine from the Franzia box I had sitting on my desk and I watched Taylor Swift’s music video, Blank Space, to distract myself. As I watched Taylor galavant around this majestic fairytale castle in the video it dawned on me that this music video was shot just an hour outside of New York City, where I live, and I quickly opened a new tab on my web browser to see if I could go there. The castle is mostly just for events and tours, both of which are suspended during the pandemic, but they did have 32 guest rooms that were available to book and stay in. I checked the rates and they were astronomical- a night there cost more than a week in Florence. I continued scrolling through the website when I saw their tagline was “Europe in America” – without hesitation I pulled out my credit card, entered the number, and clicked “Book.” I then started to ask myself:
“Why would you spend THIS much on one night somewhere?”
“Is it weird to go to this romantic of a location alone?”
Before I allowed other questions to clutter my head, I consciously stopped myself and said out loud to myself in my bedroom: “Steven, you already budgeted this money. You’re not going to Europe this year. Just fucking do it.”
I masked up, sat my ass down on a nearly empty LIRR train into Long Island, and arrived at Oheka Castle. I checked into my room and was greeted by majestically high ceilings, a full parlor, dining room, TWO bathrooms, and the scrappy hostel traveler in me started fiddling with the couch to see if it turned into a bed before realizing that my room (suite?) had an entirely separate bedroom with a large luxurious bed. My surroundings looked like the rose-colored European love-infused fantasies living in my head- I wandered through the perfectly manicured gardens behind the castle and truly believed I was in Tuscany.
I’ve watched the Lizzie McGuire movie more times than Trump has lied on national television!
I did quickly conclude that I was one of only a few people at the castle and my quest to find a lover probably wasn’t here. I went back to my suite and realized that I was free to do whatever the hell I wanted to. I took a long bath while watching one of my favorite films, Call Me By Your Name, I threw on one of the posh hotel robes in the closet, and realized after scanning the menu of high-class food from the castle restaurant that what I really wanted in that moment was a cheap and delicious Domino’s pizza, so I tossed the menu aside, opened my Domino’s app, and ordered the weirdest pizza combination of olives, bacon, pineapple, and garlic sauce that I knew no one else would ever dare to let me order if I was with them. My pizza arrived, I ate every slice, I started blasting the Great Gatsby soundtrack on my laptop while dancing around the suite in my robe, and there was a defining moment where I jumped on top of the antique 19th-century coffee table, twerking, with a pizza slice hanging out of my mouth, that I turned around and saw myself in the gold-framed mirror hanging above the fireplace and I started uncontrollably laughing to the point that I thought I was going to vomit on the collection of Hamptons magazines under my feet. It was the moment of realization that I’d had before but not reminded myself of recently: I have to the ability to make myself laugh, I can be the company I want, and I am both my half and “my other half”- anyone else that brings joy along the way is just a supplementary bonus.
I’ve watched the Lizzie McGuire movie more times than Trump has lied on national television and yet I somehow focused more on romanticizing the infatuation Lizzie had with the human trashcan, Paolo, and ignored that the true love story of the movie is Lizzie falling in love with herself whilst singing on stage in the Colosseum and realizing she is THAT independent bish. Without trying to sound like a broken TikTok viral sound record, we have to start romanticizing our lives and prioritize the love we have with ourselves before trying to exhaust it on others and unimportant things.
Meet Steven: Another twenty-something New Yorker that can be found anywhere tacos and bottomless mimosas are served. Keep up with him on IG.