I Am in a Relationship With the World, and Berlin is my Primary Partner
I am polyamorous. That means I am open to having more than one committed romantic relationship at a time. For me, this also encompasses random sexual encounters, play partners, and a higher priority than societal norms placed on my platonic friendships. (For every polyam person, how they define their relationship and how it works is highly personal and different for everyone.) I am also a very experienced world traveler. From 2015 to 2020 (dang pandemic!) I lived in and/or visited more than 56 countries. During that time I lived for more than a few months (in total a few years each) in Costa Rica, Colombia, and Germany.
Each of these places holds a special part of my heart, changed my life in significant ways, and will always be places I visit over and over. Loving one of these places, (Playas del Coco in Costa Rica, Medellin, Colombia, and Berlin, Germany) doesn’t negate my love for the other places. I can indeed LOVE the heat, sunshine, and beaches of Costa Rica while loving the crowded streets and noisy markets in Medellin, and still long with all my heart to be in Berlin where I feel my sexiest self. All of those things are true. Just like I can love my partner of five years in Berlin and still be dating a nice man here in NY. How I feel about Stefan doesn’t change just because I am crushing hard on H and we’re seeing how things go. It doesn’t mean I love him any less when I go on a date with a new person, it just means I believe love is more than a zero-sum game, and that there’s more than enough love to go around.
Usually, when polyamorous people explain how they could possibly love more than one person, they use the idea of familial love. You can love more than one child, or love both your parents, there is enough love to go around. Or they talk about loving more than one friend at a time. So why am I talking about cities? Places on the map? How can I even make that comparison? Honestly, it’s because I have been struggling with having such a strong bond with Berlin. It is the place I would choose to be, given the chance, but I can’t live there. Contrary to what most Americans think, you literally cannot just pick up and live wherever you want in the world. There are Visas and regulations and taxes and other complicated things that make it (for me) impossible to live full time in Berlin.
Back in the USA
When I came back to the US a little over a year ago, I came back “under duress.” I had been living in Colombia during the first phase of the pandemic and they had what has been called “the longest and strictest lockdown in the world.” My relationship with my then-partner, Said, did not survive those extreme conditions. It had turned abusive and I had to leave, quickly. I booked a ticket to the US on a humanitarian flight and came back to the area I grew up in to be close to my best friend (who is my life partner.)
I had never planned on coming back to the US. (At least not for many years.) I had expected to stay in Colombia for 3 months (I was there for 8!) then head off on my usual adventures; back to both Costa Rica and Berlin, as well as a stop in Scotland to see another good friend, before going back to Colombia again to be with Said. Moving back to the US was not in the plan. However, once I got here, in the middle of a pandemic, there wasn’t anywhere else I could go and I couldn’t live with my BFF forever (though I did live there for close to three months- good thing she loves me!) I ended up renting an amazing apartment and fell in love with nesting and making it my home. So now, this town is on the list too.
This past summer, as travel restrictions lifted, I was fortunate to have the chance to go back to Berlin and spend about 10-weeks. It was glorious, wonderful, happy-making… all the good descriptors- only positive words apply. I was able to totally reconnect with Stefan and our relationship is not only stronger than ever, but a lot of that new relationship energy (NRE) and crushing came back. After not seeing each other for almost two years, it feels like a new relationship in a lot of ways, especially because we’re both in very different places in our lives than we were when we last spent any quantity of time together.
When I am not there, Berlin looms large in my heart and mind. I often compare my current situation to Berlin and how I feel there and the experiences I have when I am within those city limits. I make plans for my life based on when I expect to be there again. I may be in a relationship with the world, but Berlin is my primary partner. I am going to Costa Rica for Christmas and January, but I didn’t decide when I would go to Costa Rica until I knew I had my trip to Berlin settled. Costa Rica, Colombia, and even my current hometown are all secondary partners. Their needs or my need for them comes after Berlin in every way. I am planning to go to Berlin this spring/summer, probably May and June. That trip will determine if I make it to Colombia or not next year due to my time and finances being prioritized for Berlin. Two months is a long time to be away from “home.” But since Berlin is the city of my heart, it is also “home.” My trip to Berlin next year may even influence my decision on when or if I move from this town to a more “Berlin-esque” city here in the US. (Is there even such a thing?)
In polyamory, a primary partner is usually defined as the partner or relationship that takes priority over all the others. Other partners are designated “secondary” or even “tertiary” and the needs or level of the other relationship/partner are measured against the good and need of the primary relationship or partner. Often primary relationships are the monogamous relationships people started in and then opened up their relationship together. These couples have often lived together or been married before they became polyamorous and therefore the structure of their relationship was already very settled before they opened their relationship up to others’ involvement.
I learned about polyamory, kink, riding a subway, creating a community, all in Berlin. Berlin was the place I settled after I had a taste of living all over the world for a few years. It became the home base I came back to after trips all over Europe and Asia. I grew in relationships, lost relationships, made mistakes, learned life lessons, and totally found my true self while living in Berlin. It was my long-term monogamous city partner for two years before I had to leave. No wonder it’s my primary city. The place of my heart.
Interestingly, in my polyamorous life, I am solo-poly. Amy Gahran author of Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life says, “What distinguishes solo poly people is that we generally do not have intimate relationships which involve (or are heading toward) primary-style merging of life infrastructure or identity along the lines of the traditional social relationship escalator. For instance, we generally don’t share a home or finances with any intimate partners. Similarly, solo poly people generally don’t identify very strongly as part of a couple (or triad, etc.); we prefer to operate and present ourselves as individuals.”
In my personal relationships, I do not have a primary partner. I tend towards a more egalitarian structure of relationships where each relationship is allowed to find the level that works for it and no one relationship has a higher priority than the others, including platonic friendships. I strongly identify as a solo person who doesn’t really make life decisions with a partner, who doesn’t intertwine their life with someone else in that way. Yet, Berlin and I do all of those things! While I am solo-poly in my people relationships, I am definitely in a hierarchical primary relationship with my city!
It’s Hard But Getting Easier
Honestly, about two weeks before I left Berlin I was really struggling. I was ready to come home to my lovely place here in my current hometown. I wanted to be sitting right here at this desk, writing and working. I wanted to sit at my dining room table and enjoy my meals again or have my “Wine and Nosh” nights with friends. But at the same time, I was dreading leaving Berlin. I hated the idea of not being there, of not being able to easily tap into that Berlin energy that sustains me and gives me the feeling of an “edge” on life. Being able to think of my passion for Berlin and my equally strong desire to be home here in the same framework as my love relationships really helped to calm my mind. It helped me to be ok with coming back to the US and also considering it home.
I know living here, fully enjoying this space, and taking advantage of all the things this area has to offer, does not negate the love I feel for Berlin. If anything it strengthens it because I know all the ways that Berlin satisfies my soul that this place never can. But at the same time, it allows me the freedom to recognize that Berlin will never be home like the area where I was born, the place that’s only one mile from my BFF. It took me a year to come to this place of really being ok with that. But here I am! A gorgeous red wine in my favorite crackle glass stemware, listing to my Alexa stereo, sitting in the office of my 300-year old home that George Washington once slept in, and I am finally content.
Do you have a place in your life that you would consider your “primary partner?” Can you relate to loving more than one person or place?
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