On our last day in L.A., Michael and I woke up, limbs entangled, in the bleached landscape of our hotel bed. He poured my coffee while wearing nothing but briefs, a delicious sight.
We swam in the pool, swallowing up morsels of crystalline sun before heading to the airport. On the flight back to New York, we nuzzled like teenagers, sharing one set of headphones.
And as L.A. receded in our wake, I knew we'd have to make our breakup stick.
I'd started falling for Michael soon after we met on Tinder. On our second date, I got food poisoning, and he stayed to stroke my hair each time I crawled back into bed. A month later, we spontaneously booked a trip to California. A vacation together meant something, surely.
But days before we left, I listened, petrified, as he explained that he didn't want more than a short-term monogamous relationship.
I asked if he never wanted a commitment. He said maybe someday he'd feel differently. Feeling stabbed, I asked what was wrong with me then. "Absolutely nothing," he said.
We'd broken up, as much as a couple never really together could, but decided to go ahead with our trip, stay present, enjoy each other. We blithely went west.
In San Francisco, we wandered around Sutro Baths and marveled at the views from Twin Peaks. On Stinson Beach at sunset, we wrapped ourselves in my sarong, reading alternating chapters of "Cannery Row" aloud.
In Saratoga, Michael snuggled my friends' infant son, puréeing my heart. We spent a night in sleepy Carmel, and, at daybreak, he kissed me countless times and held me while I wept. We said "I love you" for the first time.
In Big Sur, we sang "Teach Your Children" in harmony, hiked through redwood spires, and watched the Pacific sky turn hazily orange and pink, then dark.
When we made it to L.A., I took him to the La Brea Tar Pits, which have intrigued me for years. On Sunset Boulevard, we nursed a fantasy about what our kids would be like — firebrand rebels, no doubt, named Daisy and Rex.
Michael is a paradox — so tender, then so brutally honest, telling me that breaking up with me now will save me future pain, that he tends to pull women in too close. "I'm not going to make this mistake again," he said.
He thinks I fall for unavailable or unstable men: the Romanian actor 10 years my junior, the metalworking biker just separated from his wife, the bipolar "soul mate" who disappeared from our home for six weeks during a psychotic break, consigning me to police reports and the beginnings of an ulcer.
I defended my paramours: This one was so charismatic, that one made me laugh so much. I can't choose who I fall in love with … can I?
But Michael, clear-eyed, said, "You're still trying to get your father to love you."
He knows that my father spent most of my childhood eroding my self-worth and that I fought back like a rabid animal. And he's probably right. I haven't left it behind yet.
I don't know how long I thought we could coast, riding the momentum of warmth, sex and dearness we cultivated on vacation. Secretly, I hoped all that laughter and dazzle had cast the spell that would change his mind.
Yet I forced our swan song. He asked me over right after we got back, but he felt more unreachable than the whole time we wound our way down the coast.
So we broke up all over again. At the subway stairs, he said, "Stand up straight. I adore you," and kissed me, before I turned away, as perplexed as ever.
In coasting, there's relief. You pedal your bike up the hill and are rewarded with a shift from effort to passivity, the wind in your hair, your heart beating fast. I thought all our care in California meant we could coast in New York. And we do, just down different paths.
Michael is not some noncommittal brute, and I'm not some clingy brat. We are two creatures who have fallen into patterns that don't serve us well.
I hope we both find freedom, that after the labor of these few months, of the guileless concord of our time on the California shoreline, of two breakups in three weeks, of saying several times now, "I love you," with our full selves, we are rewarded with repose, deep breaths, liberty.
Or maybe, in the shadows beneath those bright wishes, I hope he'll read this and think, "Damn, what was I thinking?" and show up at my apartment with yellow snapdragons, remembering I said they're my favorite, promising me fulfillment of all the girlish reveries I can't seem to shake.
Rachel Rear is a teacher, writer and actor who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. She is working on her first book.