What does the city have to do with love? I’m not a world traveler, I’ve taken a few vacations and spent some time abroad during my studies, but in the end, my life as an adult woman is divided between two cities—my birthplace Heidelberg and my current home Berlin.
I searched for love in Heidelberg early on, and now and then, I thought I had found it. No feeling will ever be as strong as falling in love for the first time. This unconditional devotion and admiration of a person you (mostly) hardly know, at first adore from a distance, and whose announcement seems to throw you so powerfully off course that the entire world around you begins to reel.
Then you stand there, wrapped in pink absorbent cotton, and think, that’s it: love.
We get older, gain experience, and move out into the wide world, learning the hard facts of life. When it comes to love, some would say, “I just raised my standards,” others call it ” good sense,” still, others stick to their learned pattern of falling “head over heels in love, without rhyme or reason.” But what role does the place/city in which we find ourselves play in the search for and finding love?
Let’s consider Berlin. The most excessive city I know. Over 3 million people live here, 55 percent of them in so-called single-person households. The number of singles is exceptionally high in big cities. But are people lonelier here, or do they enjoy their freedom to be alone – is the classic love relationship losing its status?
I haven’t experienced a city where there seem to be so many different relationship models. From the monogamous relationship to open or polygamous relationships between same-sex or even asexual partners. Who are we to condemn a form of living out love or sexual inclination as long as it is based on the consent of all involved? I wonder sometimes, would I be single if I still lived in a small town? Or would I have already moved into the love nest with my partner? Someone who offers me security and the prospect of growing old together in the comfort of a family. It’s probably not that simple.
We humans don’t always choose the place we want to live, but many of us have the privilege of being able to influence our circumstances. So do the free spirits and free lovers move to Berlin to find like-minded people? Certainly. But are all those who meet in Berlin free spirits and able to have an open relationship? Sharing one’s partner, at least for physical desire, takes a lot of energy and requires a high level of self-respect, in my opinion. On the other hand, isn’t that what we all strive for, no matter what kind of love relationship we want to live in?
I’ve been single most of my life. I’ve been the fling of taken men, I’ve been the girlfriend, with Friendship Plus, I’ve been the one desired from afar, and sometimes my love has not been returned. I have often asked myself if I am to blame for the failure of their relationships or my own. But again and again, I concluded that it couldn’t be that simple: it’s about the decision of two people to get involved with each other. A city like Berlin offers endless options. Sit in the Paris Bar for an evening, and you’ll see. No one wants to be alone, and yet everyone is lonely. Beautiful people, rich people, strange people, love-starved people. All those who prefer to be on the lookout rather than in the supposed safe haven meet in the dark rooms of smoky bars, in the flickering disco light, in unknown hotel rooms: under the protection of the anonymity of their completely separable existence. Urban hedonism celebrates the narcissist. One meets fleetingly and remains alone in the end.
How many stories have I been told since my time in Berlin, of nameless acquaintances, will-less sex with strangers, in clubs, in darkrooms, restaurant toilets, or even anonymous sex in one’s own home is possible. Nothing seems impossible. It may sound exaggerated because all this also happens away from the big city, but certainly less often, and the outcry of indignation is great if it ends up being noticed. In Berlin, people don’t even bat an eyelid.
All the more strange it may sound if I now say that I have never said goodbye to “love” as I have come to know it. I believe in finding a partner who loves me without wanting to love others, whom I satisfy, and who can be both friend and partner to me. Berlin, you are my affair, wonderfully captivating, and I will go when it is most beautiful.
Kath Kolumna shares her thoughts and insights about dating in the big city of Berlin, the confusions of a late 20’s woman’s sex life, and never-ending discussions with friends and strangers about relationships.
Artwork by Cara Brock