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November 25, 2019

What Berlin taught me about love

The day I left, I was sat on a plane looking out into a clouded sky, with tears streaming down my face.  Four and a half years of my life in the hedonistic, grey capital was over.  Our long romance finally dead.  At the time, I didn’t feel as though I had much to show for it, especially with my departure having been shrouded in heartbreak and misery, rather than the glorious fanfare I had imagined would mark the end of the cataclysmic era, that Berlin had come to be.  In some ways though, it felt like the story of all my breakups: brutal, disappointing, soggy.

I remember the day I arrived in the city, fresh from life in the tranquil Dordogne countryside, still young, naive, hopelessly romantic, and newly in love with a cute French guy I’d just met in Paris on the way.  Full of amorous optimism, I had convinced myself that this big move would provide me with the love that I was looking for.  Until about two hours after my arrival, when a German friend said to me ‘you won’t find love in Berlin; half the men are gay and the other half are commitment phobic.’  Over four years later, I can attest to the validity of that statement.

However, the dating merry-go-round that was Berlin taught me more about myself and love, than any of the exploits experienced in the previous twenty odd years before it.

To begin (and eventually end), there was the German dandy tattoo artist, who quite literally wore more makeup than I did.  No one taught me unconditional love more than he.  He challenged my outdated concepts of what love should look like and forced me to trust my guts, not my Facebook stalking.  On the surface he was outspoken, outrageous, and always overdressed, but underneath he had a heart of gold, a sensitive soul, and an almost antiquated romanticism, which had a sexually liberated woman like myself believing in celibacy until marriage.  Our intricate love affair spanned many years, many lovers, many arguments, many tarot readings, and still sits in my heart as the epic love story to end all love stories.

Then there was the bearded Aussie yogi I picked up in class, who had a penchant for nudity.  Be it at the lake, the park, the bed, you only had to blink and the clothes were off and the junk was out.  However, I quickly came to realise that whilst he felt liberated in his skin, he felt less so in expressing his sexuality, after discovering I was in a ménage à trois with a cuddly Greek guy and an artsy Finnish girl.  The quaint monogamist in me abruptly left the situation, but rather than cntrl alt delete as per, he ended up becoming the first person to teach me what it is to befriend an ex.  I can tell you, it is complicated and fuelled by sexual confusion, occasional jealousy, and loving kindness.  But he taught me what it was to see someone beyond the expectations I’d put on them.  What it was to be intimate and close, without needing something out of it.  It made me compassionate.  Empathetic.  Appreciative.  And in the end, it provided me with a new kind of love and a gay best friend.  For that I’ll always be grateful.

I actually came to collect a many number of lovers down at the yoga studio over the years, both student and teacher alike.  They say ‘don’t shit where you eat,’ but I’ve never been very good at taking advice.

There was the Scottish meditation teacher come DJ, who I met during an overnight dream workshop.  He made me cry during a deep and meaningful over vegan pizza on our first date, only for me to ghost him after a week long sexcation at his, mid-sublet.  Learnt I was still as capable of not being honest with myself and others during that affair.  Then there was the Aquarius from Baltimore, who spent half his time at work as a chef and half his time in my bed eating his creations, whilst we watched Vitamix videos on YouTube.  We fell apart when he started to disappear for four day binges in Berghain and I realised that you can’t make a relationship work, if its success revolves around the other person needing to change the entirety of who they are.  Then there was the yoga teacher from Hamburg, who came to stay every weekend.  We bonded over our mutual love of astrology and our exes.  The latter of which eventually got in the way completely after the dandy got back in touch.  I don’t think I’d appreciated just how hard it is to end things, until I came to end that.  Unable to face being a mature, considerate adult, capable of conversing on matters of the heart, I shamefully did another dishonourable ghost exit.

Needless to say, my zen calm during class post relations was always very rattled.  Many tears were spilt during a heart-opener or two.  Thankfully though, all of my studio acquaintances and I eventually smoothed over our dating history, resulting in friendship, a poetry exhibition, a zine, and some solid lessons learnt on my part.  In fact, my dalliance with the yogi crowd was so impactful, that it ended up nudging me into fifteen months of celibacy and introspection.  Although, admittedly, I did have a grapple with a very handsome donut making Dutch boy with a passion for BDSM during that time.  Which, it should be noted, ended when he revealed he was dating someone else and me subsequently embarrassing myself with a rather long, heartfelt essay after having gone for an interview, which he attended, at the donut place he worked at.  That was a new low, even for me.

However, rejuvenated from my months of abstinence, I stepped off a plane from England one evening and headed straight to the bearded yogi’s birthday party, only to meet an unassuming beautiful twenty-one year old Australian friend of his.  Having only arrived a fortnight prior, he was so fresh to Berlin, that the city’s debauchery had yet to corrupt him.  After months of self-reflection, this sweet adolescent was the first person to teach me what it was to be honest.  Both with myself and someone else.  For what felt like the first time, I saw in him the reality of what we would truly both offer one-another and it wasn’t anything longterm.  Yet, in the acknowledgement of its limitations, we were able to embrace its gifts and when it ended, with him jetting back off to his native lands, I cried, but not so much with sorrow, but with gratitude that it had happened at all.

That experience paved the way for the Jewish vegan baker from Chicago.  He didn’t believe in marriage.  Didn’t want kids.  Thought crystals and astrology were woo woo bullshit.  And was depressed as hell.  I knew it was not a match made in heaven, yet every part of me felt the need to participate in it all the same.  I just made sure to do it with my eyes wide open;  No projections;  No unrealistic expectations.  Just an open-door policy to whatever was gonna happen, was gonna happen, until it was meant to end.  And honestly, the outcome was beautiful.  He taught me how to love without restraint.  What commitment and honesty felt like.  What it is to want the best for someone.  What it is to be supported and accepted.  He brought me in to his home, his family, his business.  He blossomed and unfolded in front of me and ultimately, became a pillar of stability, in an otherwise rickety place.  After our breakup, he told me I was the best thing to ever happen to him emotionally, but really, I think he might have been that for me.

The penultimate Berlin love affair came by way of an El-Salvadorian American Director, whose name, for years, I couldn’t pronounce.  He actually became a little like the underrated lover.  Early on I’d made a mental note not to get too emotionally invested, due to his predilection for cocaine and nightclubs, yet he was so kind, considerate, talented, and sweet, that it would be difficult not to sway even the most hardened of hearts.  Although, he would also continually switch between being endearingly loving, and then anxiously detached, in a way that endlessly baffled me and ultimately ended it.  Whilst our romance was somewhat short-lived, in the years of friendship and trysts that followed, I got to know the tell-tale signs of fear and self-sabotage quite well.  And being close enough, without the requirements of a relationship, we actually got to dissect those bad habits and in doing so, I came to realise it wasn’t just him who was subject to them.

The final nail in my romantic coffin though, came by way of a flame haired Irish writer, with an addiction to Vipasana and a fixation on enlightenment.  He was the only one who ever came close to matching the weight of the German dandy.  On our first meeting – a sun kissed trip to a lake -I was initially unconvinced by my affection and already seeing his, I asked him to promise that he wouldn’t fall in love with me.  I even made him shake on it.  Only, in the end, it was I who broke the deal.  All the ones in-between the first to the last, I’d managed to stay clear-headed and honest with myself.  I could see a mile off when someone was going to be a flash in the pan and I always accepted the repercussions of my involvement duly.  But with this one it was different, because I saw more.  Over the course of only a few short months, we moved in together, made plans for the future, traveled to Ireland, met his family, showed each other our vulnerable sides, our broken bits, our doubts, our fears, our patterns, and loved each other in a way that felt old and new and terrifying…So terrifying that we eventually spooked each other in the wrong direction.  Back into snooping rather than talking.  Judging rather than accepting.  Fighting rather than loving.

One day, in what felt at the time like a blaze of empowerment, that later came to resemble blind panic, I ended it, packed up what I could fit into a suitcase and took a one-way flight out of town.  No farewell party.  No lover in hand.  Just me, some tears, and some tales.  I can honestly say, it felt brutal, disappointing, and soggy for a long while.  Long enough to include a disastrous fling and six months of therapy.  But in the end, looking back on it now, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced love the way I did in Berlin.  Or been gifted the kind of clarity and understanding that those relationships gave me.  I might have ended up single and unrooted, but I’ve never been more sure of myself and what I need in love or in life.  I guess maybe sometimes you need to end up in the most commitment phobic, transient place in the world, to comprehend just what is actually worth committing to and staying in place for.

Everyone always says, ‘you’ll find love when you leave Berlin.’  Admittedly, I may not have found it just yet, but at least now I know what I’m looking for.

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