España

Friday I flew to Barcelona for my summer mini-break booked semi-spontaneously a few weeks ago. As always it was a chance to leave life’s problems behind for a while, but of course, even when I travel to the other side of the world I never really leave them behind. It was lovely to be in Spain again, and I’ve come to think that Barcelona is my favourite holiday destination: it just never stops being lovely. But I arrived in baking heat, and everything is that much harder to do in the heat, such as walking, and sleeping. I’d forgotten that Barcelona is a lot hillier than London, and after a day of walking up and down hills under the Spanish sun, as well as sweating buckets I had this constant back ache to contend with. I’ve had back ache before, and I’ve always suspected it to be related to poor posture; a quick search online confirmed that the majority of back pain is related to posture. But trying to correct your posture in thirty degree heat when you’re tired isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I spent the evenings unhappy because of it.

Of course, this was the first time in years that I was in Spain on my own. Every year since 2012 I have gone with P. This would be my first chance to experience ‘life after P’, so to speak. Now that I’ve done it I have no doubt that it was for the best. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the holiday with him, especially with the excessive heat and the back pain. It’s nice being able to go out in the morning at whatever time you want and have a full day to do whatever you want. I had chosen to go for just three days this time, the perfect amount of time to enjoy one’s company in a beautiful city without getting bored. Plus I know Barcelona well enough not to feel unsafe there. The only trouble was that at certain points I found myself wanting to turn to P and share something of the experience with him: point out the sunset, perhaps, or talk about the visit I paid to Casa Batlló, Gaudi’s other masterpiece.

When I go next year I must go earlier in the year. Five degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. Yes, I will be going again. Probably every year for the rest of my life, if I can make it. Despite the pain I find the place very soothing to think about. The more I get to know it the more I love it. And it’s so close. Less than two hours on the plane, a journey even I can cope with.

I saw all I wanted to see this weekend despite feeling like an old man half the time. Before going, I had half debated whether I should pay a visit to Sitges, before realising I couldn’t not go. Last year, when I left Spain I’ll admit part of me thought I would never go to Sitges again. I’d grown out of the gay partying lifestyle, and it no longer held the same attraction that it held five years ago when I could go and expect to score there. But being in Barcelona, just half an hour away on the train, I felt an inexplicable draw to it. So on Sunday I bought the train ticket and went, planning to spend the afternoon and maybe some of the evening there. I’d try and keep it low key, not stress out about taking my clothes off on the beach or anything like that. The last few years with P really drained the attraction of Sitges, as trips there always had to be rigidly focused around the beach and going naked and looking my best for other men’s eyes. It was why I believed I’d never go again, or at least not for a long time. But despite all the stress and boredom I felt in this little Spanish resort in the last few years, it still has a place in my heart.

What exactly is its draw, if I’m not going there to find men? Well, if I’m honest with myself the men still are the main draw. I may not be looking to meet any of them now, but I can still look at them. Sitges is a beautiful part of the world, with stunning white beaches and cliffs, and every summer it fills with beautiful people that just have to be looked at. The first time I went seven years ago I was shocked at how much looking I could do, and the best thing was that I wouldn’t get into trouble for it. Here, you can’t look at anybody, but in Spain, and particularly in places like Sitges, you have to look.

Naturally I ended up on the beach, despite thinking last year I had grown to hate it, and I simply couldn’t keep my clothes on because it was so bloody hot. I took off everything except my underwear and sat under a parasol for a couple of hours, watching tanned bodies go by. I’d chosen the town’s easternmost beach, the one that P always said was the official ‘gay’ one, forgetting all about this aversion to doing specific ‘gay’ stuff that I’ve developed recently because, frankly, I was more likely to enjoy what I saw there. It would be my only opportunity this year to enjoy such a thrill so I was going to take it and to hell with the consequences. After a while I couldn’t help noticing that the beach was markedly more family friendly than it used to be; there were a few brave men strutting around with everything hanging out, but they were in a small minority. I lost count of the number of families with kids that I saw, all of them passing the naked men without batting an eyelid, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

I realised that Sitges as a whole must have seen a surge in popularity with families in recent years, and the explosion in visitors must have spilled over from the town’s other main beaches to this one. The gays, meanwhile, must have decamped en masse to the small, secluded beach three miles down the coast, the one that involves a long walk over hills and beside railway tracks. I’d love to have gone there yesterday but I simply didn’t have the energy. I had a good time anyway.

A dip in the sea would have made it even nicer, but I couldn’t yet feel safe trusting my bag and possessions not to disappear in my absence. I’d have had to leave them on my towel on the sand, and with so many people around, anything could have happened. That’s the main downside of going to Spain on my own – no more P to look after my stuff while I go for a swim. Of course, other more trusting people do leave their bags and clothes alone while they take advantage of the warm Mediterranean, I saw plenty of them doing just that yesterday; but I just wasn’t ready yet. Next year, perhaps.

When I started going to Spain seven years it was a very different holiday. I went expecting sex, and I never had to leave disappointed. This time sex had nothing to do with my holiday, it wasn’t even on the cards when I left these shores. I had a good time in my own company; I got the break I needed. That said, even away from the beach I was spending a lot of time doing what comes naturally to me, i.e. staring at men, making them unobtainable.

Since I’m in therapy now I have to try not to see the unobtainability as a fact but rather as a barrier I choose to put up. I could have approached any of the men I saw and asked for their number; I’d have been rebuffed by many of them, but the chances are in a place like Sitges I’d have been lucky eventually. The majority of the men I noticed may have been selected by my subconscious for looking ‘straight’, but still, stranger things have happened. I can no longer say that nothing happens sexually for me these days because I’m just too old and it’s not meant for me any more. Factually speaking, I chose not to approach anyone because of the terror of rejection, therefore it’s my responsibility. Seven years ago that just wasn’t an issue, because men were more willing to do the work for me.

I didn’t expect anything to happen this weekend and so I don’t have to be disappointed in the holiday. I suppose I’m more aware than ever that I can choose what happens in my sex life and be at peace with that. Making a choice to approach someone rather than fall back on the safe, old, familiar pattern of avoidance will be so hard, when eventually I have to do it; but I want to keep moving towards it and building the confidence and faith if I can. After all, I must have some hope that at some point something good will happen to me, otherwise why would I be in therapy?

Sex and relationships are dominating my thoughts at the moment because they’ve come up so much in therapy (as expected – it’s the reason I went back into therapy after all). Then again, I guess they’ve always dominated my thoughts, it’s just I’m talking more about them at the moment. Well, we’ve got to get everything out in the open, haven’t we.

At least the holiday was nice. Now it’s back to reality, which means back to budgeting, and back to dieting! I failed so badly on both counts in Spain it’s shameful. I dread to learn how much I spent there; even more to learn how much weight I put on. God, why must it be so easy to spend money and eat food?!

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