They met on a cruise ship. A man and a woman whose paths would never have crossed in their everyday life. They were very different people with very different lives, they didn't even live in the same country. But this is not the usual boy meets girl on a cruise ship story. This was not a romance, it was a meeting of minds, of emotions, of need. And you can’t help but wonder what inexplicable forces bring two people like this together.
Martin was a 45 year old surgeon. He was trapped in an unsatisfying marriage (his words), unhappy with his life and travelling alone. Searching for something, but he didn't really know what that was.
Christine was a 70 year old widow. Her husband had died quite recently after a long and happy marriage (her words) and she was still coming to terms with her grief. They had cruised together many times, but this was the first time she was on a cruise ship on her own. Unbeknown to her, she was searching for something too.
They met on day one, a chance meeting, as you do on cruise ships. And something clicked. It was hard to say who latched on to who, but a bond was created almost immediately. An observer would see two people, full of fun, getting involved in all sorts of activities, chatting to other people, really enjoying themselves. But that was on the outside. The faces they showed the world weren’t really who they were. On the inside were two people who were floundering, unsure of themselves.
They sought each other out over the next seven days, they talked, they opened up about themselves. Each was a counsellor to the other. They had deep and meaningful conversations over meals, coffee and shipboard activities. Neither of them really wanted to be alone, they craved company, they forged a relationship that worked for them both.
Christine had been simply going through the motions since her husband had died. Unlike her many previous trips, she was strangely unexcited about going on a holiday. She had convinced herself that she was, but the feeling wasn't there inside. There was an emptiness in the pit of her stomach. She did what she always did, just arranged everything to the nth degree. That made things easier, once the plan was made, she didn't have to think, she just followed on automatic pilot. She wasn't sure who she was, now that she was a single person, no longer part of a couple. She wasn't sure she wanted to stay single. She didn't see herself as attractive to anybody and certainly wasn't ready to put herself in the world out there.
Martin had been struggling for many years. He was a very unhappy man, he had no confidence in himself, hated his job, hated his life, was very discontented in his marriage and thought he was repulsive and unattractive to anybody. In reality he was a handsome, intelligent man and a lot of fun, people gravitated towards him. Unlike Christine, he wanted to be out there. He wanted to prove to himself that somebody would be interested in him. “I know I'm married”, he told her. “But, please, don’t judge me”. She didn't. Even though this went counter to all her beliefs. She knew instinctively that this was what he needed and actively encouraged him.
He set his sights on another guest and pursued her like a teenager. He bought her gifts, he took her for a drink, he took her dancing. Christine tried to bring him back down to earth. He was going way over the top. This was a shipboard romance, not a lifelong commitment. “You’ll scare her off”, she warned. However, that didn't happen and with the inevitable result, they shared his cabin. He was definitely not unattractive to her. She spoke no English and he spoke no Japanese, so verbal communication was difficult. Obviously the iPhone translation app and nonverbal forms of communication was all that was needed. Perhaps that was part of the attraction, it created a surface level relationship that satisfied his imminent needs.
Martin went from deep lows to deep highs. Christine listened to him, she heard far more about his exploits than she ever wanted to hear. She was worried though, that he set so much in store by this. At the end of the cruise when the two parted, he was like a love sick puppy, back to the deep low, symptomatic of how he saw himself and his life.
Reading this you might assume that this was all about Martin. However, that was definitely not the case. Their conversations were two way, he listened to Christine as much as she listened to him.
Her innermost fears were unlike Martin’s. She felt that she was unattractive to people too, but in a very different way. She craved companionship, not romance, but was worried that people found her boring, uninteresting or even annoying. Gregarious by nature, Christine had always been able to start conversations with strangers. Over the years her friends had complimented her on this and said that they wished they could be more like her. But nobody understood how hard she had to work at this, it didn't come as easily as people thought. Sometimes she was concerned that people weren't really interested in her or what she had to say, they were just being polite. The self-doubt was always there.
Shipboard life was different without her husband. Christine had a lot of fun, met and mixed with a lot of people as well as Martin. She made it happen. There were times when she became quite maudlin, seeing herself surrounded by happy couples, everybody seemed to be in twosomes except her. And in the evening, she would go back to her cabin, shut the door and feel very alone. She was still grieving, she was still missing her husband and their life together. Life would never be the same for her. But she was a strong independent woman, she could do this.
Her time with Martin helped her in ways that she didn't understand. Their relationship gave her reasons to rethink how she felt. The fact that he had actively sought her out, that they had bonded, that he confided in her, that he listened to her. All these things made her feel good about herself. He saw something in her of which she was unaware. She could open herself up to him, she told him things that she’d never told anyone before. When he told her that her personality shone through, that she attracted lots of people and had a lot to offer the world, it was as if a whole new world opened up. Nobody had told her this before, she was amazed that somebody would see her this way. And it felt good.
Seven days together, a holiday affair with a difference. They shared some emotional and draining times together, but also lots of fun times. They made each other laugh, they made each other cry. They made each other feel good about themselves. They met as strangers and built an incredible trust. At the end of the cruise, they parted company, never to see each other again. Strangers passing through each other’s lives fleetingly. They missed each other but went back to their lives, albeit with greater insight into themselves.
It would be nice if this story were to have the happy fairy-tale ending, but that's probably not what happened. Martin had serious issues and they weren't going to be resolved with a seven day friendship and a whirlwind shipboard romance. Christine had more grieving to do and more growing as an independent single person.
But neither of them forgot this little interlude in their lives and were thankful for what the relationship had achieved. Both Martin and Christine thought of the other often in the years ahead and hoped that they had found some peace and happiness.