Many things can be excused with the phrase 'that's Brussels for you': the plumber that never arrives, the woman that's killed by a large wooden box falling from a crane, the landlord that forgets to insure the house. Now the phrase is being extended to a phenomenon that seems to be magnified in this tiny city: irreconcilable love triangles that bite you in the bum. I'm talking about expats.
Expat love lives
I have been turning this over in my head for a while. Why in Brussels do my friends of every nationality land themselves in the most bizarrely complicated relationships? For argument's sake, let's begin with a lovely Mediterranean lady of 27. Nationalities and names are not revealed for reasons of privacy. She fell for John who was devoted to a girl in New York. She had yet another squeeze, Jim, who she'd confide in about 'the girl in New York'. One year on, Jim wants more than just a squeeze from my friend but his relationship status on Facebook reveals that he has in fact also fallen for the same girl in the Big Apple. My friend is left wondering how and why even in a blue moon or a black swan could this happen?
Or this other classy French girl I know - pretty, smart, funny etc. She and this Italian had been dancing around each other for a while only for them, on one rainy night, to land in bed together. A second date revealed that he 'was in a different place right now and needed space'. One morning my friend left her flat to see him crawl out of his house - he lives a few doors down - holding the hand of a very beautiful and well-dressed girl. You might even venture that she had not changed her clothes from the night before. Ouch. In addition, the proximity of their houses meant that my friend had to stop and make polite conversation with the two on her way to work. Double ouch. I've coined a phrase for this: The wider the net, the less chance that you will hit the jackpot. In quaint Brussels, the net gets wider all the time. A very quick survey among fellow expats reveals that most of them have lived in, at the very very least, two countries and can also, at the very very least, speak one other language on top of their mother tongue. Most of us also don't stay for very long; a Brussels-stayer is usually the subject of great awe at any party I've been to anyway. This breed is also usually lucky enough to find a stable Belgian to play house with.
Long distance love from Brussels
In short, we are hyper-globalised nomads. And at that, we are also a paltry 10% of 1.8 million inhabitants. The facts lead me to believe, that, perhaps, in that small but sundry percentile, there is just too much choice for us to settle on one guy. To add to that admission, it is just too easy to have different beaus in different lands. They come, they go, they email, we fly, we kiss, we leave and we both find happiness elsewhere. The same goes for men, it seems.
We can have all the Pablos, Laurents, Pauls, Pierres, Bernards, Giovannis and Andrews that we want here
Take the man in Argentina who has been making Latin cyber love to a friend of mine since he left Brussels last year. There is of course a glitch to this long-distance affair. A girl claiming to be his girlfriend in situ has gone to the trouble of making long-distance calls to Brussels to warn off my friend. 'No mi curazon, she is not my girlfriend, she is crazy,' the man in Buenos Aires tries to reassure my friend. Hmmmm. Another journalist friend of mine recently made the mistake of falling for one of her best sources. The two were living in Brussels at the time but he decided to pull her heart strings in Prague, his home and one of the most romantic cities in Europe. Post-kiss on the city's Charles bridge, he tells her 'oh and I have girlfriend…' The man then gets confused and runs.
At a Sunday morning natter with a few girls about our inability to hold a guy down (the usual feline navel-gazing), we asked: do we give off the wrong signals or are we just too fickle? Three questions repeatedly came up: Do all men in Brussels just want sex? Do we just want sex? Why is one girl or boy at a time not enough? We don't all see ourselves as victims. You might even say that we play the game with great skill. Why? Because we can. We can have all the Pablos, Laurents, Pauls, Pierres, Bernards, Giovannis and Andrews that we want here. All of that can even be squeezed into a six- or twelve-month stint, if you are really good. Then we can go home or to another country and try our hand at stable relationships again, either to succeed or to fall into old habits of temporary expat poking. The only perhaps negative side-effect of all the impermanent poking is that you may end up either a very suspicious lover or, at worst, a nervous wreck addicted to facebook.