REAL LIFE RELATIONSHIPS: Cruisin’ for a love

A solo trip to rest and recover brings a silver lining to the pandemic

I met the love of my life on a cruise ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

We were passengers on one of a dozen ships trapped at sea in March 2020 when the pandemic broke out. I had left my job for a year to travel and heal after my mother passed away and began a series of mostly solo travels because no one else I knew had the time, money and desire to go on long trips. The three-week cruise was to be my last trip before returning to work.

The Norwegian Cruise line “Spirit” set sail on March 2 in Dubai with stops in the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion Island and four ports in South Africa before disembarking in Capetown. Though I read about COVID-19 before departing Atlanta, the virus had yet to invade the area of the world I was planning to explore.

On the first night of the cruise, all of the solo travelers gathered before dinner and I sat with people who I had traveled with previously.

The solo groups are notorious for being mostly female and usually a few random older men.

I was not looking to meet anyone but, of course, my friends and I checked out each new person who walked in.

The last person to walk in the bar was cute. Tom had a buzz cut and a mega-watt smile. I had given up on dating years ago but I wasn’t dead.

Over the next few weeks, he and I would spend time together in groups but never one-on-one. By the last week of the cruise, all of the group fitness classes had been cancelled so Tom and I, and our friend Jane, began doing yoga together in the mornings. If you want to find out if there is chemistry with another human being, do yoga together.

But Tom is shy until you get to know him. He never said anything directly to me but he told my friend Raina that he was interested in me and she told me the next day.

Our ship visited the first three ports in the Middle East as planned, and then no island or nation would allow us to port for the next 17 days. No one on board the ship was ill, not even with a cold. Yet, each day we woke up to new restrictions.

No more group activities.

No more buffets.

The crew was working double-duty with extra sanitizing along with their regular tasks.

We were always hopeful that the next port would allow us to get off the ship, but every country turned us away until finally, we were permitted to disembark in South Africa.

It was very chaotic when we left the ship. Many flights were cancelled and everyone had to book last-minute flights to be able to leave the ship. The Capetown airport shut down the day after we departed.

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Real Life with Nedra Rhone introduces Real Life Relationships, a monthly reader-contributed essay that explores the many ways in which we are connected and the attendant emotions — happiness, sadness, fear and anger — those connections can bring into our lives. Interested in contributing? Email nedra.rhone@ajc.com with the subject line “Real Life Relationships.” Here are some recent essays from Real Life Relationships that you may enjoy:

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Tom was helping an elderly gentleman book flights using the limited Wi-Fi and didn’t join our group on the last night of the cruise. I never saw him at the airport even though I was there for seven hours waiting for my flight to Johannesburg.

So I sent him an email with only a simple subject line: “You didn’t say goodbye.”

After 24 hours of travel, I returned to Atlanta to begin a two-week quarantine.

Tom replied to my email as soon as he returned to his home in Maryland. After a few written exchanges we began talking on the phone, speaking an hour every night for four months.

In August 2020, we met in Tennessee and had an eight-day first date at Tellico Village, an area Tom wanted to explore for retirement. During our long conversations, as we questioned whether this was a friendship or something more, I told Tom that it all came down to the first kiss. I was kind of kidding, but then I was definitely not kidding.

After a couple of days, we drove to Gatlinburg to hike in the Smokey Mountains before spending the last four days exploring my hometown, Atlanta, as best as we could during COVID restrictions. Tom bought a plane ticket back to Atlanta before he left to go home.

We continued long-distance dating until July 2021 when he retired and moved to Atlanta.

I hadn’t lived with anyone since college and I thought it would be a struggle comingling our lives, but it has been the easiest transition for both of us. We agree that if we met 10 or 20 years ago, we may not have clicked.

Tom and I went on a cruise to Iceland in July. The final day, my 55th birthday, was spent exploring waterfalls in Isafjordur in the western peninsula of the country. As we approached the first waterfall, Tom looked at me instead of the scenery, dropped to his knee and asked me to be his wife.

“Yes!”

The pandemic has been horrible for many people, so I feel a little guilty that the last two and a half years have been wonderful for us but he is my pandemic silver lining. And I am his.

Kimberly Goff is an Atlanta native who recently retired from a career in economic development and nonprofit management.

Real Life Relationships is a monthly reader-contributed essay that explores the many ways in which we are connected and the all of the emotions those connections can bring into our lives. Interested in contributing? Email nedra.rhone@ajc.com with the subject line “Real Life Relationships.” Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/).