And then there was John, the happy-go-lucky, Paul Bunyan–looking guy from Detroit I’d met a few months before my trip at a bar in Brooklyn while he was visiting mutual friends. In the midst of my mom’s illness, in the thick of my angst about having to postpone The Plan and move home, I found myself spending a lot of time with John, who also lived at home, was free to see a weekday matinee, and drew me in with his wit, warmth and boyish grin.

As upset and anxious as I was—about my mom’s cancer, about lost Asian adventures, about my growing feelings for John (guys, remember, were not part of The Plan)—I had to laugh at the irony. Here was one of the few times I had actually charted a course for myself, and I’d hit roadblocks on all fronts: the short-term (my trip) and long-term (going back to NYC unencumbered to focus on my career). It felt as though the universe were saying, Ha! Gotcha!
But my disappointment about veering off The Plan soon faded. It felt good knowing that the one time I was truly needed by my mom—a woman who had made countless sacrifices for my sister and me—I could be there for her. She also, thankfully, recovered quickly, so I got to go on a shortened version of my Asian adventure. As far as the travel part of The Plan was concerned, my mom’s situation was more speed bump than roadblock.

My relationship with John, however, was turning into a full-blown detour. I had seen him nearly every day for three weeks, and as excited as I was to leave for my trip, I was worried about what would happen to us after I left. I was falling in love—and, let’s face it, kind of obsessing—when that was just the opposite of what The Plan dictated, and my paramour was at once perfect for me and all wrong. He had the qualities that a decade of bad dates and not-quite-right boyfriends had told me I wanted in a partner—he was romantic and kind, crazy smart but never arrogant, both sexy and goofy and with an off-the-charts sense of humor—but also some traits I had considered deal breakers. Besides living somewhere geographically undesirable (and with his parents), he seemed ambivalent about his future. Red flag—or, rather, flags.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about him. In Cambodia, I wished he were with me watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, and I couldn’t wait to tell him about the sketchy-but-delicious street food in Phnom Penh and the bag of snakes on the commuter boat from Battambang. After I got back to NYC, I didn’t see him for several more weeks but still thought of him constantly. Except now those thoughts were less dreamy. We talked almost daily, yet I stressed over whether I really wanted to keep things going. And furthermore, what was he doing with his life, anyway?