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Family Cruise: Paul on Sex & Love

KO SAMUI, Thailand – I took this cruise to leave love behind. I thought there would be no better way to distance myself from a past relationship than to travel halfway around the world.

Her name was Katy and she appeared in the doorway of my dorm room, dropping in politely to compliment me on my taste in music. That simple conversation turned into a two-year relationship (a feat by modern college standards), each of us tangled unexpectedly in love.

I respected her independence, her honesty, and her compassion. She once told me she liked the way I breathed—the single greatest compliment I've ever received. I even brought her home to mom and dad—and she still loved me.

But as the end of our college years loomed, neither of us wanted to commit to a long-distance relationship. We had seen the same decision cripple even the strongest of couples we knew. And we weren't the people of my parent's generation. We didn't see the need to get hitched, start working, and begin raising a family right out of college. We still had our 20s to burn.

When we split, I did the usual, trying to forget love by wallowing in ballads, the company of friends, and, of course, cheap beer.

It didn't work

So when my father asked if I'd join him on a world cruise, I agreed, partly because I needed to escape this helpless feeling of lost love. He knew little of my situation. I'm convinced most fathers prefer not to question their children when it comes to sex and love. It keeps us young, and in turn, it keeps them young in the denial.

In Thailand, though, I learned that love is a verb. It's an action, not just a feeling.  Love is available for purchase, like a meal or a tank of gasoline.

After Bangkok, we sailed a short way to the tropical island of Ko Samui. It's known for two things: beach resorts and beach massages. Since my dad had signed on for a Thai cooking class, I have the day to myself. I pack a book and a swimsuit, not sure if I'll need either.

I step no more than 10 feet onto the beach when I'm bombarded by women, gazing at me, asking if I'd like a seaside massage.

"Special. Special today, for you. Very handsome. Special."

I politely wave them away and walk to the sea. I dip my toes in the water, trying to cool off from the embarrassment of their unabashed approach.

What exactly does "special" entail?

From my spot on the beach I can see other women manipulating patrons into all kinds of contortions. One girl flips a guy over onto his stomach and jumps atop his back, working her feet into his flesh.

Eventually, tense from all the deliberation, I approach the massage shack, insisting I want the "regular," not the "special." The massage is brutal, full of pulling and punching and cracking, but by the end, I'm feeling good—very good. At another massage hut down the beach, I watch an employee walk a man inside the neighboring hotel.

I could do the same, I think, for this is the opposite of true love. In fact, these women could carry the antidote to the love I can't let go, and no one would know. But the thought only crosses my mind. Instead, I pay my masseuse, return to my spot on the beach, and think of Katy.

If love could follow me here, across countless time zones and infiltrate a culture that has commandeered its very meaning, then I should follow love.

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