(Photos courtesy of Chris Mei.)
Back in early March, I somehow managed to enjoy a trip to Montauk with my boyfriend of three and a half years. Yes, you read that right, SOMEHOW.
Montauk has been a trip we’ve dreamed of since the beginning of our relationship. It’s all because of a movie we both love: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Three years ago, we watched the story of Joel who undergoes a procedure to erase his memories of his ex-girlfriend, Clementine. During the procedure, he regrets his decision and he clamors to save what little pieces of Clementine he can. Some of his fondest memories with her take place in Montauk. Montauk is where the couple first meet one summer; it’s also where they continue to escape New York City life many winters after.
I remember watching the movie with the bf in his Brooklyn studio apartment. We huddled in front of his Mac laptop as scenes of Joel and Clementine running around the wintry Montauk beaches beamed brightly from the screen. We both love NYC, how there are endless amount of things to do here with just a subway ride away. Yet the image of two people going to a barren beach, enjoying a space that no one else would bother visiting off-season, looked appealing.
There was definitely something to learn from Eternal Sunshine, but the lesson seemed to fly over my head when my boyfriend and I planned our first trip together to Washington DC. Then to Montreal, Canada. And then again to Disney World in Florida. The common theme of our trips together was stress. I was always anxious about the smallest things, whether it be about the weather, what outfit to wear, or what picture to post on social media.
What stressed me out the most was the #FOMO factor. With each place we visited, I worried that we had to research and meticulously plan everything we did for fear we would miss out on something important. In DC, I was upset when the bf said no to a water paddling tour. In Montreal, I was upset when a Canadian-brand animal pillow I wanted to buy was sold out. And then in Disney World, I was upset when the bf said no to getting an expensive brunch with Winnie the Pooh and Friends. These activities were things I had never even considered doing before. I just found them in my research and felt compelled to add to my itinerary in order to get a fulfilling experience of the place. The blogs said it’s worth it, so it must be, right?! The bf had a better handle on what he actually wanted to do. I was just frantic about getting left behind by the crowd.
When we decided to take our Montauk trip this year, FOMO gripped me before my vacation even started. When I scheduled the time off with my boss, I received confused looks and questions from my coworkers about my choice. Why Montauk? Why in March? Whenever I gave my timid answer that it was because of a movie, I could hear the quiet scoffs. My coworker Esau (whom I hate with a passion) was particularly vocal about the silliness of the idea. There’s literally nothing to do in Montauk right now. Montauk is Beach Town, where rich people buy beach houses to spend their summers. When it’s off-season, all the shops are closed and there’s nothing to do. Not to mention that it’s usually cold in early March. Forget a nice walk by the beach, we’re going to freeze! What made us think this would be a good idea?
I was worried about our trip, perhaps to the point of paralysis. Instead of working out a to-do list for our vacation, I became stuck on one decision–which AirBNB to stay in–and agonized over it for days. Meanwhile, the bf had a particularly stressful work month and was too tired to plan. By the time our vacation days rolled around, we had no set itinerary. I tried to ease my anxiety by telling myself that I could research things to do during the car ride. The day that we left for Montauk, it was raining heavily nonstop. Sitting in the passenger seat, I frantically searched Yelp for a museum to visit, a mall to browse, or any indoor activity that seemed remotely fun for day one, but was saddened to find everything closed for the season. I regretted not planning further ahead of time. I questioned why we were taking this trip. I wondered if this was a bad omen for the remainder of our visit.
An hour into the drive, I suggested that we look for a cafe to take a quick break. I can do even more research while sitting somewhere atmospheric and cute, I thought. I was hoping to find an eatery that was unique to Long Island or at least something photo-worthy for the Instagram #aesthetic, but of course, we couldn’t find anything according to my particular criteria. We settled for plain ol’ Panera. How boring, I thought. More bad omens.
It was about to get worse. As soon as we sat down at our booth, laptops plugged into outlets, a stranger took a seat at the table next to us and began to chitchat. At first, I thought he just wanted to make small talk about the rain. But what was supposed to be a thirty-second comment on the weather somehow turned into an actual hour-long rant session. First, about the suicide rate among teens. Then, about how Asians in particular have it hard with their tiger moms. Something we must know a lot about right, “considering that you’re Asian,” right? Then a whole monologue about racial divide in America. All serious topics, sure, but we were certainly not in the mood to have Asian-American difficulties mansplained to us by a random non-Asian.
That was the breaking point for me. Here I was on my first day of vacation, trying to work on my laptop while forcing myself to politely listen to a rando, instead of, I don’t know, enjoying myself! In the time I was spending pretending to be invested in something I’m not, I could’ve at least been enjoying my cheddar broccoli Panera soup. Because let’s face it, I LOVE PANERA (who doesn’t?) and I LOVE BROCCOLI CHEDDAR SOUP–“cute” cafe or not. Listening to this guy rant while stressing over my schedule was the equivalent of listening to Esau rant everyday while laboring over an Excel sheet at work. And I did not go on vacation with my boyfriend to be stressed out by other people.
That’s when I decided to leave. I told the rando we had to go. The bf and I booked it for the car. Sitting in the middle of the parking lot, watching the rain fall, we sighed and laughed over the awkward encounter. We looked at Google Maps for a new place to go. We spotted a Target nearby–good ol’ Target–and that’s where we spent browsing the rest of our afternoon with no rush to buy any “unique” souvenirs.
The thing about FOMO is that it’s not really about what you want, it’s what you think others want. Just as Gallantly, gal mentioned in a previous blog post that she doesn’t think she’s missing out on something until she checks social media, I don’t usually feel that way either until I find some activity that some other tourist enjoyed. I assume that I would enjoy it too. And if not, at least I could fake the illusion that I enjoyed it by sharing via social media. I didn’t pursue these activities for myself. I pursued them because I thought other people liked them. I thought following the crowd would make my own life look good. And then maybe I could be the one inducing FOMO in others. It’s like some kind of contagious disease I wanted to pass on. And it’s definitely not healthy.
It wasn’t until I let go of the idea of activities “worth doing” or “worth sharing” that I actually started to enjoy myself. We spent a total of 4 days and 3 nights in Montauk. On the first day, after our Target trip, we settled into our AirBNB, ordered a large Sicilian pizza, re-watched “Eternal Sunshine,” and talked about our feels for the movie while playing the video game Overcooked. For every day after, we visited different beaches, took pictures of the landscape, went back to the AirBNB, ate more pizza, watched more movies, and drank lots of rosé. Everyday I found something small that I enjoyed–like the colorful pebbles at the beach, a pretty sunset during a drive, a rosé-and-cider-in-one combo-wombo drink I found at a store. Everyday felt slow-paced, relaxing, and carefree. At some point, I realized that this was the first time I was genuinely enjoying myself during a vacation. And all it took was getting away from the city with someone I love by my side–regardless of weather, activity, or lack thereof.
On the day of our drive back from Montauk, as soon as we reached Manhattan, I received a phone call from our friend. He sounded grouchy on the speaker as he ranted about his weekend plans and how he hated people. At one point, he remembered that we were coming back from a trip and asked us what we did.
Not much, I said, We just chilled at the AirBNB and visited a different, cold beach everyday.
Wow, he said, That sounds so boring.
I wasn’t fazed. Of course to him it sounded boring, because he didn’t live my version of Montauk. He didn’t see the colored pebbles, the pretty sunset, the rosé cider. Maybe even if he did live my version, he’d still be bored because he’s not the type of person to enjoy these things like I am. And maybe that’s what vacation is supposed to be–a memory that’s yours entirely, regardless of whether the rest of the world thinks that they missed out or not.
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