What “I Miss You” Really Means
Standing at the base of Uluru I have forgotten how to breathe. Each inhale comes through my chest with a desperate sob- these feelings of loss while traveling have come back. I got another “I miss you” message. After an hour of crying in the back of the car, I have forced myself to get out and start on the hike that my friends have already disappeared on. I have convinced everyone to stay an extra day at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park specifically so we can do the 10-kilometer walk around the base of Uluru, and I am determined to enjoy one of the items on my Australian bucket list- despite some unexpected messages from back home.
“I miss you,” one reads.
Those three words are part of some of my fondest conversations since I arrived in Australia. They reassure me. They show me love. They make me feel connected. Whether they come at the end, beginning or middle of a conversation, these words can support a whole relationship by letting each party know they are still wanted. Having spent years writing “I miss you” on postcards, I always thought the message enlightened memories of the good times and inspired anticipation for when we would see each other next.
What I have come to learn is that in the right hands these three words I once loved to read, hear and even write, can actually be hurtful. When used for ill means they are filled with pressure and guilt, meant to make me feel lonely. Instead of weighed down with love and connection, they are sent with the accusation that it is my own fault I am being missed. That I am the one responsible for my friends’ feelings of loss and also that I am in charge of fixing how they feel. The main solution implied by this darker version of “I miss you” means for me to simply come home.
So I try. I picture myself jumping on a plane so I can swoop in to save the day. With a strong ego, I start making a mental list of everything I need to do to make this happen. How I will pay for the plane ticket? When is it possible for me to arrive home? What I will do once I am there to make things better? And how I will find myself back in Australia to use the rest of my visa?
Then my plans all start to unravel because this “I miss you” means using guilt to get someone to come back home. These friends will not be happy with a visit. They don’t just want to see that person for a week or a month. They want them around always because their sense of happiness has become wrapped up in their feelings of loss. Unable to separate the two, they can’t send an “I miss you” from a place of friendly support.
So now, my feet on the red soil, the first few meters from the car are a shaky fight between my emotions and my determination to get the absolute most out of my trip. I had never considered before I arrived in Australia the weight friends from back home could place on my journey. When I first started traveling I was more concerned with being safe on the road. I squirreled away my possessions, making sure that my valuables were always locked in my bag or in the lockers in my dorm room. I hid in bathroom stalls at airports when I needed to rearrange my recently exchanged cash.
As I travel more, though, I realize that what I am doing is finding safety on the road by protecting myself from the decisions I made back home when I got too comfortable. Abroad I am buffered from the doubters and friends with the dark “I miss you.” I no longer live with an inkling that I would love life in a new country, because I know I do. The pressure to be something other than I am can be turned off with my cell phone until I have the strength of character and clarity of mind to tell my friends “no.”
I will not be going home because I love my friends and I love myself. And for now all I can say is “missing you from Uluru.”