Surviving Under Water

One of my last memories of living in the US was planning a surprise party and trip to New York to celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday. It was always important for me to make her feel special and loved especially on holIdays and her birthday. After all, she was also my best friend.

On the day that my mother would’ve turned 52 I’d like to reflect on surviving a year and a half without her. I say surviving because that’s what carrying this grief everyday feels like. Every time someone comments on how “strong” I’ve been since losing her I want to tell them:

On a day to day basis I’m in a different stage of drowning. Some days I feel like I can see the surface, other days it’s completely dark, and then there are the days, that seem sparing, where I feel like I can breathe. When it seems like I’m thriving really I’m just trying to survive until I don’t feel like I’m drowning anymore.

Some people are able to smile and push through the loss of a loved one, choosing to focus on all the good memories they shared. I haven’t gotten to that place yet. Every day that passes, I wish I could call her. Every time I see a woman around my age with her child and mother in tow I think about how my mother will never see my (hopeful) future children. Whenever I’m stressed or unsure about something I miss her ability to find the right words to bring me back to peace.

While many times I feel alone in my grief, like no one can see me sinking or they just choose not to try and pull me out, it’s my own fault. Instead of sharing my sadness I hold it in so I don’t weigh others down or I turn away when someone or something reminds me of my mother in order to stay above water. I think to myself, ‘you have to stop grieving, it’s time’. But when there’s no finish line, the work never ends.

We all experience loss in some way. Whether it be the end of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, or even suddenly having to leave locations or jobs. The only way to the other side of grief is through it. Take those moments to cry, scream, or stay in because you’re sad then push yourself to find people, places, or things that pick you back up.

That is what I choose to do today because I know my mom would never want me to be upset, especially on her birthday.

 

Photo by Bruce Christianson on Unsplash

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There Are Too Little and We’re Too Late

I would always love to hear my grandparents tell me about how they met. My grandfather came into the restaurant where my grandmother worked and tipped her a quarter (which was quite the tip at the time). He kept going back to that restaurant, turning up the charm and making sure she knew he was serious about being with her. He pursued her. And throughout their courtship, even when there were disagreements or hard times, he never gave up.

That was over 50 years ago. This type of meet cute story doesn’t seem likely in my lifetime. The days of men pursuing women without wanting an immediate physical return or building relationships with the long term in mind appear to be a thing of the past. The current dating pool mainly offers men who disappear after a few dates with no explanation, men who want to date for a few months until the idea of committing freaks them out, or men who want to date while they’re in an open relationship with someone else.

Then there is the other percentage of guys who simply aren’t interested in settling down. At times I don’t blame them. As singles, we now have the ability to window shop through apps for other singles without ever leaving our home. With so many options at our finger tips, the temptation of almost unlimited variety outweighs the desire to make it work with only one person.

I met a really great guy through a dating app. He was handsome, funny, and we enjoyed spending time together. After a handful of dates he messaged me saying, “We need to talk.” It seemed too early to get hit with those four words but talk we did. He wanted to make sure that I knew he wasn’t looking for a committed relationship – but at the same time wanted to make sure we could keep hanging out as if we were in a relationship. Essentially he wanted all of the perks with none of the hard stuff.

These short term or casual relationships seem to be the only thing on the dating menu. It doesn’t matter the age or background of the guy. I used to excuse away the behavior by saying, “it’s because he’s younger” or “maybe it’s because of cultural differences”. Whether they’re 27 or 37, from Spain or The Philippines, there really isn’t a reasonable explanation for some of their behavior.

I hear the same experiences from my friends or most of the single women I meet in their mid 20s to 30s. They detail the same unfulfilling and disappointing dating experiences. The idea of finding “the right guy” has been replaced with settling for a guy who “isn’t so bad”. Or they don’t bother with dating at all. They are so jaded that “What’s the point?” seems to be the general consensus when I ask them if they’ve gone on any dates recently.

Maybe I was born in the wrong era or maybe I’m just having a hard time adjusting to the one I’m in. I used to believe in romance, true love, and happily ever after. Now I’m ready to build a life filled with love and happiness with an amazing group of friends but most importantly, with myself. If you think this sounds overly cynical, try enduring almost two decades of mind games, ghosting, habitual liars, and emotional neglect then see if you want to don’t want to get off the ride. I’m not saying it’s impossible to find a guy who is actually looking for a long term relationship – I’m just saying there seems to be too little of them.

 

 

 

Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

Life After Loss

Today marks a year since the worst day of my life. On that day I lost the most important person to me, my mother. Because of that, I lost the only life I had ever known. There was the life I knew before I lost my mother and the completely altered life I was faced with after I lost her. As with any other tragedy, I want to use the anniversary of that day to reflect and remember.
I was always an extension of my mother. When she passed away, a part of me left with her. Since I could remember we were inseparable. She was the first person I called with any good news, the person I leaned on when I was at my lowest and the one who knew exactly what to say when I needed advice. She was my North Star, always guiding me where I needed to be. Without her, the world became very dark.
Over the last few weeks I’ve come across a lot of stories of grief. I wasn’t seeking them, but they continued to find me. A woman who suddenly lost her husband was speaking on her life after loss and commented, “People who are dealing with loss end up becoming very isolated.” That’s exactly what most of this last year has felt like.
My support system changed. The only person I could always count on to be there for me, no matter what, was gone. Instead of feeling like the rest of my the people in my life rallied around me to help build me back up, over time they drifted away. Everyone went on about their lives while I felt like I was drowning in sorrow.
In order to keep from completely falling apart I needed something to fill my time and distract me from the overwhelming sadness I felt. Which led me to reading. In order to help with the loss of love, I began reading about it. In all about love by bell hooks a line stuck out to me – “Knowing love is the anchor that keeps us from falling into that sea of despair”.
My mother’s love was that anchor. Many days, the memory of that love was the only thing I had to hold onto. The kind of love that lifts you when you fall, that believes in you when you doubt yourself, that surrounds you in your darkest moments. Once you know that kind of love, you feel it even if the person is no longer there.

Over this past year I’ve struggled to understand and cope with this loss. I’ve struggled to move past it and find joy in life. I’ve shed so many tears, felt physical heartache and cried out for answers. There were none. So I’ve tried to battle those days with memories of my mom’s encouraging words, her laugh, her smile and how full of pure love she was.

Even though I can’t call her to laugh about something silly I see while walking home, or cry to her about how much I miss her or share the ups and downs in my life, I know she’s still that anchor. She always was and always will be. Her happiness came from seeing me happy. Even though this loss has been devastating, I try to be happy for her.
While our time together was cut too short, how grateful I was to know such true, unconditional, unwavering love. That sort of love transcends life and death.  Some people haven’t known that kind of love for a day. For that, while it hurts that she’s no longer here, I’m incredibly grateful to have had her as my mother.

All About Honesty

Love is at the core of what I write about. Love of people – love of travel – love of self. Through a desire to learn more about love I started reading all about love by bell hooks. In it she establishes a definition of love and its core components. One of them is trust.

It should go without saying that in order to have trust, honesty is required. Not only honesty about our actions or feelings but also honesty about who are as a person and what we really want. Throughout the book she touches on the integrated pattern of lying in our society.
We are raised being told that lying is wrong all the while being taught that lying makes things easier. So the normalization of lying is ingrained in us from a young age. We lie to stay out of trouble, in an attempt to protect other’s feelings, to be liked or to get ahead.
As women, many times we aren’t honest in our relationships in order to make our partners more comfortable. We tell them that we are fine keeping our relationship casual even though we actually want commitment from them. We tell them that it’s fine if they blow off our plans to go out with their friends for the third weekend in a row.  We tell them we will put off talking about having kids, again, even though our desire to have them grows stronger each day. We tell them that we are happy in our relationship even though our desires aren’t being met.
Being blatantly honest doesn’t seem like an option when we think about what will happen afterwards. There are times that we fear the outcome our honesty so much that we silence ourselves. However, our needs will never get met and we can’t have a truly solid relationship if we can’t be honest. That isn’t love.
I make it a personal mission to be as honest as possible. But it seems impossible to be entirely honest. I’m honest with the people in my life about my thoughts and feeling except when they’ve done something to upset me. I feel that if I bring their offences up, it will only make things worse. But what ends up happening from that one unaddressed offence: resentment begins to grow. Love can’t be built on resentment.
While we may think lying or withholding information protects those in our life from pain or disappointment, according to hooks, where there is lying there cannot be love. Being completely honest is easier said than done, but overall transparency is possible. How nice would it be to not only have a truthful and loving relationship with others but also with ourselves?
 Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

My Battle With At Home Dates

Prior to moving to Europe, the idea of having a first date at home was out of the question. To invite someone to my house or go to theirs, the assumption is that the night will end in sex. That arrangement was usually reserved for late nights after the club when I guy would walk you out asking, “What are you up to after this?” Clearly at three in the morning, there’s only a few options to choose from and two of them consist of your house or his.

However, it seemed, that at home dates were the location of choice for men abroad. They would offer to make dinner and share their wine selection, which under most circumstances would be impressive. Except in these cases, coming to their house would be the first time you’d meet in real life. After chatting it up with a guy on some version of some dating app, instead of having a standard first meeting at a bar, they would suggest you coming to their house or them coming to yours.

At first I adamantly declined every time, saying to myself, “What kind of girl do they think I am?” But after receiving several offers for the same thing, I figured that must have been the norm. So I tried as hard as I could to make it clear that I wasn’t interested in meeting men for sex, from writing in all caps “NOT LOOKING FOR HOOKUPS OR ONS” or selecting the most modest photos for my profile. Still, I would get guys trying their hand at getting in my pants.

Usually I could weed them out early on. Entirely too many men would message me saying, “I’ve never had sex with a black girl before” or “I really like your {insert body part here} in that photo.” Every time I would roll my eyes and immediately unmatch with them. But then there were the crafty ones who would slip through the cracks.

In good faith, I would believe them when they said I could visit their home simply for some nice conversation, libations and hopefully a few laughs. The evening always started off innocently enough, we would ask each other the standard questions in an attempt to get to know each other and then decide what music to listen to or movie to watch. Then the inevitable would happen – after a drink or two, their hands seemed to find their way onto my knee or back. Not long after I would be battling my way through the evening trying to keep them from kissing my neck or maneuver their hands down my shirt or pants.

I can’t speak on behalf of anyone but myself but when I meet a man, my goal is not to have sex with him immediately. This is something I will never understand or get used to. You meet someone virtually via an app, chat with them any where from a few hours to a few days and are able to determine that you will have enough sexual chemistry to have sex with them the first time you meet. Or maybe some people don’t need sexual chemistry, just a willing participant.

This battle over my personal space is exhausting. I don’t want to deal with someone touching my body without me allowing them to. Maybe men assume that because the two of us are in close proximity, it gives them full reign to my body. If that is your train of thought, I’m here to clarify that isn’t the case.

I don’t think that it is unreasonable for me to go throughout life with the belief that I should have a say over who I let into my personal space. There are clear signs that a woman is interested in you: she won’t wince or move her body away when you touch it and she will meet you halfway if you try to kiss her instead of turning her head. If you are ever unsure about if a woman wants you to touch her, then don’t.

I’m sure that there have been situations of the like but I wonder how men would feel if women went around grabbing their crotches or caressing their chests and rear-ends without warning or invitation. How would men feel if women grabbed their faces and tried to force them to kiss them even though they resisted. For women, this is a constant reality. And if you have experienced it as a man, then you know that it doesn’t feel good to be subjected to a touch you don’t want.

I long for the days where men asked you out to actually get to know you and without ulterior motives. Maybe I’ve missed my window of opportunity to meet a man looking for any interaction that doesn’t include grab-ass. Having a date at home can be a nice idea, but let the evening progress organically, don’t try to force anything, especially yourself.

 

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

SATC Reality Check

My entire adult life I saw myself as a Carrie: a relationship focused writer with unconventional style that had been jaded by the behavior of men. From the nameplate necklace to developing my blog into a book and having a group of incredible and diverse friends, the parallels were nearly complete. Then a friend recently invited me over for a Sex and the City marathon. After just a few episodes, everything I thought I knew about the show, and whether I actually wanted to be like Carrie, shifted.
The show originally aired in 1998, as I was heading into the 8th grade. Even though I couldn’t related to the characters by age, race, or privilege, I connect to the stories about the seemingly endless quest to finding forever love. While I had seen every episode, as well as the films, at least half a dozen times over the years, I had yet to watch them in consecutive order as an adult.
In the dim room of a top floor flat in Berlin I watched the entire first season in one night. I watched as Carrie met Mr. Big, looked on as Samantha had sex with whoever she desired, rolled my eyes at Charlotte’s obsession with finding a husband, and pitied Miranda as she tried to keep up. As each storyline developed, I realized that the entire show was a complete contradiction: there were four strong and successful women who measured the quality of their lives through their relationships with men. Instead of being praised for their sexual freedom and financial independence women, they were labeled as “behaving like a man” if they ever decided to focus on anything other than their feelings.
Each episode was filled with completely unrealistic situations in which each woman would walk into some ordinary situation and walk out with an extraordinary date. All of them, at one point or another, would obsess over how they should behave in order to keep him interested, obsess about every little thing he did trying to find hidden clues, and eventually blow every issue out of proportion to the point of self-destruction. My unwavering admiration for each of these characters began to wither away as I saw how obsessive they could be.
Charlotte was annoyingly predictable. Every man she met, despite them only going on one date, it never failed that she would meet with her friends and gush that he was the one. Not because she knew him well enough to love him but solely based on her delusion of finding the perfect husband. Miranda never seemed to fit in and was always made out to be an undesirable character. For the most part, Samantha stayed true to form: no muss, no fuss sex. For Carrie, her character could be classified as one word: overdramatic.
When it came to relationships, her incessant need to know where things were going and for the man she was dating to confess his love for her always seemed unauthentic since she rarely spent time deciding if she actually wanted to be with him. Every little thing the man did carried the highest significance. He didn’t call for 2 days, the relationship was over. He wasn’t ready to introduce her to his mother, he’d never love her. Things were quite bad for her main counterpart, Mr. Big.
I had previously spent my entire time watching the show despising Mr. Big. That was until I realized he was simply trying to be true to himself and take things at his own pace. Because he made some decisions that put himself first, Carrie deducted that she wasn’t a priority in his life. Despite Carrie’s overdramatic habit of convincing herself that he didn’t love her because he didn’t do things her way, everything wrong in their relationship was his fault. While he did carry some of the blame for his careless behavior, I realized the real reason I rooted against him was because I didn’t know any better.
As adults with our own careers, goals, and desires, being in a relationship shouldn’t mean that we have to compromise on those things. While it is important to make decisions with our partners in mind if we see a future with them, the significance of their impact on our decision making should develop over time. If you find someone that you want to be with, and they feel the same, they will be there for you while you continue to achieve the goals you set for yourself before you met them.
Seeing the show in a new light made me think, since I was so misguided about Carrie’s outlook being parallel to my own, was my perception of my previous relationships misguided as well? Maybe it wasn’t always the best habit, in the case I did ever want to get back with one of my exes, but I’ve always been open with my friends about the men I date. I will give them a detailed account of the man’s undesirable behavior and seek their advice about how to proceed.
No matter the dramatic antics towards men displayed on Sex and the City, the women always had each other’s back. Despite only knowing half of the story, they sat ready to annihilate and exile the man perceived to have done their friend wrong. I agreed on using friends as a sounding board to make sure we as women weren’t blowing things out of proportion. But with a second, third, and even fourth opinion, are my friends just backing me up because those men actually treated me poorly or simply because they were always on my side?
Despite the dissolution of personally identifying with main character, one central theme from the show still rang true – the severe level of hopelessness women experience after dating throngs of assholes. Back then men were disappearing after dates, lying to women in order to sleep with them, or treating them poorly because of their own insecurities and unfortunately that hasn’t changed. While dating twenty years later hasn’t seemed to get any easier, watching Sex and the City, while still entertaining, gave me a lesson on the way I want to build relationships in the future. And it isn’t the Carrie Bradshaw way.

The Man With Two Faces 

As I sat at my work desk swiping through guys on Tinder I asked myself, “what’s the point of this?” Holding onto the one story of one friend who met her boyfriend from the app, and are still together three years later, I continued to swipe. Even though I had gone on nothing but numerous cringeworthy and unfulfilling dates I thought, if it could happen for her, it could happen for me.

Finally I came across a guy who sparked my interest. He was incredibly handsome but with no description. I swiped right anyway figuring that it didn’t matter because even if we did match, he was never going to say anything. Just like the dozens of other guys sitting in my match queue.

I was wrong. He messaged me right away and shortly after we moved our conversation to Whatsapp. After a week of consistent ‘Good morning’ text and flirty conversation we made a plan to meet. I said to my coworker, “If this guy’s an asshole I’m done with dating.”

This may seem like an exaggerated statement but this wasn’t my first rodeo. After dating for 10+ years I was no longer the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed optimist I was in my early twenties. Whether it was guys who got too handsy on the first date or the ones who were so terrified of commitment that they would freak out if I made plans two weeks in advance, I had had enough. I had no interest in meeting another guy just to waste two months of us getting to know each other only for him to reveal himself to be an asshole. That story was a reoccurring one in Berlin and I was over it.

So I walked to meet my date with no expectations of it going well. Either he wasn’t going to look like his photos, we weren’t going to hit it off, or he was going to give me some predictable monologue about how he wanted to keep things “open”. Men seemed to think that having open relationships or being anti-commitment gave them an excuse to dick women around.

As my date approached me on the sidewalk, I was overwhelmed by how handsome he was. From his photos on his dating profile he was ridiculously good looking but the man who stood in front of me took my breath away. So I figured, if he’s that good looking and still single in his mid thirties, he must be an asshole.

Instead, by the end of our first drink together I saw no hint of that. He was humble, kind, a good listener, and we connected on so many things. He also got major bonus points for reading my blog before we met. He told me all of the things any woman looking for a decent guy wants to hear: “I’m not into playing games,” and “I believe in being with just one person.”

As the night went on, one drink turned into several more at different bars in Friedrichshain and those drinks led us to falling asleep next to each other. The next morning we woke up, got breakfast, and spent the entire next day together. He was doing everything right. For once, I didn’t feel like I needed to convince a guy to spend time with me, he was the one who wanted me to spend time with him. Even though those full 24 hours went unbelievably well, I was still skeptical. As with all my other dates, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

To my surprise, his stellar behavior continued. Shortly after we met we made our relationship official. For weeks we spent everyday together. I kept telling my friends he was too good to be true because I had never been with anyone like him. He was kind, supportive, present, and I didn’t have to consult a fortune teller to find out how he felt about me. He made me feel safe like I could stop being cynical and guarded about finding love.

Then suddenly, a storm rolled into town. It was as if someone flipped a switch and turned him into a completely different person. We stopped spending everyday together, our text exchange decreased, and he was no longer the open book I had met just weeks before. Even though I was completely confused and blindsided by his change in behavior I wanted to be there because I saw myself in him.

Someone who was self-sabotaging. Someone who felt like they weren’t deserving of a good relationship, who had previous partners put them down and in turn made them put themselves down. Whenever I looked in his eyes I saw that he needed to be uplifted and I didn’t want to let him down. I tried to hold onto those first few weeks because that guy had to still be in there somewhere, right?

He wasn’t. And I had to face the fact that the other shoe had finally dropped. The man who originally treated me like a gem suddenly started treating me like dirt. In an instant, I went from feeling butterflies to utter disappointment.

No one I confided in could figure out why he suddenly went from Prince Charming to Mr. Hyde but they could figure out that I deserved better. I tried my best to get back to those first few weeks but there was no going back. The version of him that I was holding onto was gone. My head was spinning at how quickly things had taken a turn for the worse.

The rapid demise of something that started off so beautifully led to feelings of self-doubt. How naive could I be to fall for someone so quickly? Feelings of self-loathing. How could he treat me so poorly when I didn’t deserve it? And then feelings of general hopelessness. When someone can completely change their behavior towards you at the drop of a dime, how do you ever know who to trust? Ultimately, the entire situation amounted to feeling hurt and disappointed.

As I tried to pick up the pieces and move on, a thought occurred to me. Instead of allowing myself to be heartbroken by another asshole, maybe I should put on another face. A face that makes men feel like they’re important, valued, and respected, then, out of nowhere, begin to treat them as poorly as possible.

Despite the heartbreak I had endured, my heart was still too whole to behave that way. I could never bring myself to tell someone I care about them, only to make them feel unimportant. The way we treat others is our choice but be upfront about who you truly are. If you’re an asshole from the beginning then at least the other person knows what they’re getting themselves into.
Image via marskid12

New Year’s Refusal Resolution

As the year comes to a close many people proudly proclaim their New Year’s Resolutions. Some want to make changes to better their health: “I’m going to exercise more” or vow to curb their habits in the hope of a more fulfilling life: “This year I’m going to travel internationally for the first time.” There’s a varying list of things that people want to start doing once the clock strikes midnight at the beginning of a new year. However, I believe 2018 should be the year of doing less.

By that I mean, saying the word ‘No’ more often. Adding a negative into your vocabulary can have a positive change in your life. There comes a point where you have to start saying ‘No’ in order to make space for the things that will make you happy. Whether that means saying no to doing things your heart isn’t into or saying no to toxic people. Remove any negative people from your life and remove yourself from draining situations.

Coming from a person who too often puts other people before themselves, saying no sounds like an easy task but it’s very difficult to put into practice. There’s always an excuse to be made for doing something you don’t want to do or a reason to excuse away other people’s behavior. You believe that being a giving and selfless person will pay off in the end but what actually ends up happening is that you give so much away, you end up losing yourself.

Too often we forsake the urge to say no in order to please others. When your boss asks you to stay late for the 4th time that week, you say yes because you believe it will better your career. When your partner doesn’t invest enough time in your relationship you continue the relationship believing they will eventually change. When you want to splurge on something but your family’s judgment on how you spend your money keeps you close to home. Say no to your boss: you can be successful and also have a healthy work and life balance. Say no to people in your life who don’t appreciate you: you shouldn’t have to beg someone for love and attention. Say no to people who don’t financially support you: treat yourself, as long as it’s within your means.

There’s nothing wrong with saying no and being a little selfish, that is, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else in the process. There are some people who are so good as being selfish they have no regard for anyone else’s feelings. Saying no shouldn’t be an excuse to disappoint the people in your life but it’s an opportunity to take some well deserved time to focus on yourself. Which means that you should also say no to selfish people, since they’re always going to take care of themselves first so should you.

In the case that you aren’t already, make 2018 the year that you begin to reject the people, things, or situations that don’t best serve you. Don’t feel bad about making yourself a priority because you can’t always count on other people to do it. From those who stick to their New Year’s Resolutions to those who don’t make them at all, saying ‘No’ more often could be the solution to a Happy New Year.

Carefree or Careless 

A large part of what drew me to Berlin was how ‘free-spirited’ the city was. People could be themselves, explore those parts of themselves they kept hidden for fear of embarrassment, and no one would bat an eye. After living here for over a year my bright-eyed wonder at all the freedoms afforded to its inhabitants has shifted to concerns about the lack out genuine relationship building.
I’ve heard countless times that ‘Americans are superficial’ from various Europeans. Accusing them of acquiring friendships fast and forgetting about them just as quickly. While it is true that Americans have mastered the art of small-talk and will invite just about anyone to our cookouts, at least there’s a sense that people care about, no matter how fleeting.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone here who greets you when you walk into a store, smiles at you on the street, or simply asks, ‘How are you?’ throughout the day. While shopping or dining there’s no ‘standard of customer service’. Generally people don’t care what you’re looking for nor do they care to help you find it. Go in, do what you came there to do, and get out. Some people appreciate that kind of social experience: no one hovering over you, pressuring you into something you don’t want to spend money on, and no need for niceties.
But what happens when someone’s wallet gets pick-pocketed, or someone is stuck in the train doors and unable to free themselves, or passed out in the middle of a club? There’s no one to ask how they’re doing or offer any assistance. Everyone is so accustomed to keeping themselves at a distance, and become desensitized to the plight of others. I, myself, have been guilty of this while living here.
For some reason, I see a lot of women crying in public spaces while by themselves – on the train, on the street, in stores. Many times I’ve wanted to ask them if they are okay. Maybe because I’m afraid I can’t offer any real help because I’m not a fluent speaker or because I believe they just want to cry in peace, I don’t approach them. After I walk away I think about all of the people who are dealing with so much pain and stress who are literally crying out for someone to show concern.
This is not to say that there’s a lack of people willing to lend a helping hand. I’ve seen a man cut the hair of our neighborhood homeless man, I’ve seen people offer to help a mother carry her child’s stroller up a flight of stairs, I’ve seen people warned that their bag is open so it keeps them from being pick-pocketed. There are many moments were I’ve seen generosity and care amongst strangers but it’s the daily personal connections that I miss.
Most of the smiles I’ve received or help offered without asking was from those who originated from English speaking countries i.e. The US, The UK, or Ireland. My longest formed friendships here are with people from those countries. We seem to all have this shared longing for people to smile back when we smile at them on the street, or for someone, anyone to start up a conversation with us on the train or while waiting in line.
Many have said that ‘Germans are hard to get through to at first but once you do, you’ve made a lifelong friend.’ They aren’t fans of small talk, they don’t really get sarcasm, and being in-direct will fall short. When beginning relationships, in my experience, it’s built on small talk and subtle cues until you know the other person well enough to dive deeper. So how do you get to that lifelong friendship if you can’t even make it past the basics?
No city exists without its downfalls. While Berlin is a uniquely international, creative hub that offers everything from art galleries to all-weekend parties there will always be room for improvement. Having to deal with a standoffish person or less than friendly service isn’t enough to make me jump ship. However, I sure do miss being able to tell a woman that I like her bag and have her say ‘thank you’ in return instead of snarking at me and walking away without a word. So they say: a little bit of kindness goes a long way. Being carefree doesn’t mean that you have to care less about the people around you.

Are You Sure You’re in the Right Place?

One afternoon, the day after a particularly bad storm in Berlin, the clouds began to open up and the sun shone into my living room. As I exited my apartment I commented to no one in particular, ‘It’s so nice out’. Fast forward twenty minutes later, as I rode the tram towards my destination, I looked out the window as it began to down pour. There I was wearing only jeans, a sweater, and a light jacket, with no umbrella or even a scarf to use for cover.

I got out at my stop and waited underneath the awning for shelter thinking the rain would let up soon and I could continue on my way. Another ten minutes passed, heavy rain still fell, and I was trapped in the same spot. Instead of continuing to wait I decided to take my jacket off, cover my head, and make a run for it. After I made it across the street I stopped under the balcony of one of the buildings to check my phone after it alerted me of a new message.

The person I was supposed to meet would be thirty minutes late due to transportation delays. It was bad enough that I was beginning to freeze because my legs were soaking wet and my body had no coverage because I had taken my coat off, but then I’d have to find something to do for the next half an hour. There was an ‘open’ sign flashing at a bar, cafe combination nearby so I figured I could order a coffee and sit inside for a while to warm up.

As soon as I walked through the door, the eyes of every person in the room were focused on me. I had entered a classic locals haunt, a Berlin smoking bar, with walls filled of paraphernalia from around Germany and no sign of the cafe part that was advertised outside. While I made my way to the bar top to order my drink everyone’s eyes followed. Quickly I realized I wasn’t going to feel comfortable sitting down and enjoying my drink so I would just take it with me.

It also dawned on me that this place probably didn’t get many tourists so I ordered my drink in german. “Haben Sie Kaffee für take away?” The woman behind the bar snapped, “To go?” In the past, take away and to go implied the same thing but I simply replied, “Ja, danke.”

I set my backpack down on a bar stool to remove my wallet and I noticed the two men sitting at the bar watching my every move. Seconds later the man seated closest to me leaned towards me with a half smile on his face and asked me in English, “Where are you from?” I told him, “The US,” the look on his face seemed unsure so I added, “near Washington D.C.” He was satisfied with my response.

“And what are you doing in Berlin?” After I informed him that I was a resident he replied, “For how long?” I told him, “One year.” He continued, “And, it’s okay for you…living here? You feel okay?” He wasn’t asking out of genuine concern for my satisfaction with the city I resided in. “Yeah, it’s fine,” I answered. Then he quipped, “You should learn German.”

As the woman behind the bar handed me my coffee, I threw in two splashes of sugar, unable to stir it because she gave me no utensils, and quickly walked out of the door without saying another word. While the exchange between myself and the man at the bar was unpleasant and undercover hostile, I recognized what he was implying. Because it wasn’t the first time during my year of living in Berlin that an elderly white man asked me if I was “okay”.

A few months before I was dog sitting for the weekend and took the mixed breed puppy for a walk on the main road by my house. I was meeting a friend after our walk so I wanted to make it brief. As I pleaded with her to hurry up and use the bathroom a man, who was seated quite far away from where I was walking rushed over and stood directly in front of me.

My german isn’t that great now but back then it was even worse. When the man started speaking in german I politely asked him if he could speak in english. He smiled and struggled to find the words he had just rambled off. I figured that he was lost or looking for a particular place. But in actuality, he thought I was the one that was lost.

After also starting with the question of where I was from, he continued on with “Are you comfortable here?” At first I was taken aback by the question but I answered that I was. He looked so confused, almost hurt, as if he had taken a pill that was hard to swallow. As he shook his head he said, almost to himself, “Before the wall fell, there wouldn’t be any Black people walking here, walking their dog, it just wouldn’t happen.”

I couldn’t figure out the purpose of his line of questioning and given that he was standing so close to me, I wasn’t sure if I should be afraid or not. He didn’t seem to approach me out of malice, early on he told me that he had lived in the States for a period of time, but regardless of his intentions, I was incredibly uncomfortable.

These interactions are the equivalent of going to a store where they sell expensive things and having an employee of said store come up to you and ask you if you’re looking for someplace else, because obviously you’ve stumbled into the wrong store. When you assure them you’re in the right place they follow you around because they are suspicious of your existence. You stand out, you don’t look the part, you don’t belong.

There are many times while on the street, in a bar, or public transportation where people stare at me. Most of the time I think nothing of it, going about my day without a care in the world, then there are these times where I’m confronted about ‘what I’m doing here’. It’s a common question thrown around which, to me, means, “Why are you in this space where you don’t belong?” Whether the offense is intentional or not, the impact is the same.

Granted, I am a foreigner in this country and I don’t look the part, being Black and all, increasingly who looks like what from where ever looks less standardized. At the same time, these inquisitions are like a fruit fly that doesn’t adhere to being swatting away, annoying yet harmless. It’s nothing compared to having the n word called out at you on the street or not being able to get a job because of the color of your skin or the style of your natural hair, or the systematic precedent holding back people of color in the United States.

Whether I live in the US, in Berlin, or most other places, I’ll get confronted about where I’m from, judged on the way I speak, and at times, be made to feel like I’m in a place where I shouldn’t be. So if anyone wonders if I am comfortable being in a place where I may look out of place, I hold my head high and assure them that I am because no matter where I am in the world, I have built enough strength to stand tall and be comfortable in my own skin.

Photo by AtlantaBlackStar.com