How a solo cruise cured my heartbreak after a 10-year breakup

  • My ex suddenly ended our 10 year relationship. I was heartbroken thinking that one day we would get married.
  • Two months later, feeling confused and sad, I boarded a cruise ship alone for a work trip.
  • I was reminded of the importance of being open, hopeful, and proud of myself, even if I’m still learning.

I stood in my new apartment, examining the shiny hardwood floor and then looking up at the cloudless blue sky through the balcony door. Sunlight shone through the freshly cleaned glass, bouncing off the eggshell walls like the glow of nature. It was a blank canvas and the best I’ve ever had. I hated it.

I was 27 years old, a beautiful space to call my own in a city I loved. I had rich friendships and rewarding work. I wanted to feel grateful, but fresh out of a 10 year relationship, I felt all alone. What was the point of fulfilling so many of my dreams if I didn’t have a special person to share them with?

In August 2021, after moving to two different cities together and discussing marriage, my ex said he needed to be alone. He said it had nothing to do with me, or how I acted, as if that would make me feel better. This did not happened. I wanted to believe him, but I didn’t. Instead, I felt useless and hopeless.

Two months later, I found myself aboard the Celebrity Cruises Summit ship to report and write about the first Goop cruise. I was excited about the trip because of the story I was going to write about it, but now I was desperate to go just for a change of scenery and a distraction from the heartbreak. Typical work anxiety had to be a welcome break from the anxiety of suddenly having no control over my relationship status, right?

During the four-night, two-stop Mexico cruise, I felt like I was in my own little world. It was full of endless cocktails and food (I don’t think there’s anything more luxurious than access to pizza and ice cream at any time of the day), lively top 40 and reggae music and the warm ocean air that accentuated my wavy, frizzy hair in a wild way I loved.

Aside from the distractions of work, I’ll admit that I had some trouble to wallow among the carefree tourists and ship workers, many of whom welcomed me into their circles with surprisingly lighthearted conversation. To be honest, the cruise was almost also jovial for my personal taste. But I think that level of silliness was just what I needed to gain some perspective.

The bartenders on the cruise were full of lighthearted tricks and jokes, which lifted my mood.

The bartenders on the cruise were full of lighthearted tricks and jokes, which lifted my mood.

Julia Naftulin

Talking to Single Women on the Cruise I Felt Hopeful and Excited

On my first night on the ship, I sat at the bar and watched the couples nearby sipping cocktails. By the time I’ve ordered my second Cosmopolitan, what I assume are two 50-something friends in elegant beach dresses have arrived. They took pictures together, then held hands, twirling, dancing and singing along with the live band behind them. I pictured my own friends an ocean away and smiled thinking how I would like to dance with them on a cruise ship. So I went back to my room for the night.

The next day, one of the women at the bar, who looked a lot like Allison Janney, invited me to join them for lunch. Vacation Janney explained that the other woman, who had beautiful red hair, had been her best friend for 15 years. Both were married with children when they met, but have grown even closer since their divorce. Traveling with the children was a tradition, the redhead told me. “This is amazing,” I told them, feeling the love and respect they had for each other across the table. After that, I vowed to focus on how I could love my friends better instead of wondering if I would ever find romantic love again.

I met another single woman, who looked to be in her forties, while we were participating in a traditional Mayan healing ritual on land. After offering to take my picture (which I happily accepted), she said, without being asked, that she came on the cruise alone after her own breakup. She wanted to do something nice for herself, and a cruise felt less overwhelming than planning a vacation from scratch, she told me. “She’s right,” I thought, hoping to remember this moment after my next breakup.

Then, on the beach in Mexico, a woman my age asked why I was visiting and introduced me to her parents and aunt as we drank mojitos on the sand. She still follows me on Instagram and kindly comments on my stories and photos.

In my fleeting but meaningful interactions with these women, I realized how much I had to wait despite my loss. Of course, I no longer had someone to share a romantic kiss with or go to a dream destination. But I had myself, a person capable of genuine connection, hope, and the ability to feel wonder in moments big and small. Floating on a boat full of slot machines in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, I started to see a version of myself again.

While docked in Mexico, I noticed a jewelry store full of gemstone rings. I thought about the time I told my ex that I wanted my future engagement ring to feature a blue sapphire. “A ring is a ring”, I thought, taking a deep breath and walking into the store. I asked the shop owner to take one with a pear-shaped sapphire out of the window so I could try it on. It looked good and I remembered that I could make things myself, so I bought it.

With a view like that, it was hard not to feel small.

With a view like that, it was hard not to feel small.

Julia Naftulin

I learned the beauty of being by myself while browsing alone

When my relationship ended, the thought of doing everything myself and making all the decisions myself was almost paralyzing. After spending most of my twenties in a serious relationship, I really didn’t know if or how I could do that.

I didn’t want to pick a place to live alone, decide who to go with on the first Hinge date, or think about all the chores I couldn’t share with someone else. But deciding which Mexican excursion to try, which foods to eat from the buffet or which classes and dance parties to attend on the boat left me feeling happy and free.

On the last night of the cruise, I ate dinner alone in the grand dining room and then walked out on deck to listen to the waves lapping the boat and look up at the stars, my new cruising ritual. Breathing in the salty air and silence, I realized that I would never have taken these moments for myself if I had been here with my ex. I took a few more deep breaths, then glanced at my phone, seeing a notification on the cruise app. There was going to be a moonlit dance party on deck, and everyone was invited.

After the night ended with drunks dancing among strangers (yes, Vacation Janney the redhead and her kids were there), I went back to my room and got ready for bed. In bed, I opened the Hinge app and answered some promising matches, wondering if I’d actually date any of them when I got home. Before the cruise, I gravitated towards wallowing in solitude. But here, I was creating new memories with myself and my fellow cruisers while existing in my pain. It didn’t look perfect, but it looked better, so I wanted to keep trying.

Back in Philadelphia after the cruise, I unlocked my apartment door and walked into the dark, narrow entryway.

No one called to me from inside, anticipating my arrival. When I flipped on the light switch and looked around, everything – my carefully placed rack of trinkets, the odd dirty spoon in the sink, the pile of clothes I’d intended to fold the week before – was where I’d left it.

I was home, and I finally felt good.

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