Enfant Terrible. Nice Guy.

I blame Jutta: She was the one convincing me to give Tinder another try (I had downloaded the app around Christmas time and deleted it two days later because … nope.). So I set up a new profile in early March and forced myself to check the app at least once a week. There were some matches, but barely any conversation – most of the times, I either could not be bothered or was too busy.

On an afternoon in late March, I languidly went through the profiles again when a photo of a guy sitting on a motorbike caught my attention. He had a cigarette between his lips, and usually I immediately swipe left with smokers, but there was something about him – a cheeky grin and a defiant gaze into the camera. He made me chuckle, and although there were no further information (he had not filled in the “About me” part), I swiped right … and lo and behold, we had a match.

I started texting him the same evening, realising very quickly that he a) was Dutch and b) had an outstandingly good command of English, as well as a great sense of humour. Soon enough, we were texting every day – initially, just a couple of times per day, but after a few days, we spent hours sending messages. He came across as smart, confident, and yet very caring, being equally interested in my life and opinions as in sharing his. It took less than a week to establish a rather strong connection; we were both keen on meeting, but with me being away in Hamburg for some days and he having some family commitments, it took almost two weeks for us to finally meet. As I was in the northwest anyway, visiting some friends, I suggested we could meet in the Netherlands on a Sunday afternoon.

When I arrived in W, I took a picture of a windmill and, on a whim, sent it to him, challenging him to a scavenger hunt; it says a lot about his character that he was immediately up for it. We sent each other pictures of our whereabouts, with him directing me closer to the square where he was waiting …

… and then we found each other.

Ich gebe Jutta die Schuld: Sie war diejenige, die mich überzeugt hat, Tinder noch eine weitere Chance zu geben (ich hatte die App um die Weihnachtszeit heruntergeladen und zwei Tage später gelöscht, weil … nein). Also habe ich Anfang März ein neues Profil eingerichtet und mich selbst gezwungen, die App mindestens einmal pro Woche zu benutzen. Es gab einige “Treffer”, aber nur selten eine Unterhaltung – ich hatte entweder keine Lust auf ein Gespräch oder war zu beschäftigt.

An einem Nachmittag Ende März klickte ich mich gelangweilt durch die Profile, als ich auf ein Foto von einem Typen auf einem Motorrad aufmerksam wurde. Er hatte eine Zigarette zwischen den Lippen, und normalerweise lehne ich Raucher sofort ab, aber er hatte was – sein freches Grinsen und ein herausfordernder Blick in die Kamera haben mich irgendwie angesprochen. Obwohl es keine weiteren Infos über ihn gab (er hatte den “Über mich”-Teil nicht ausgefüllt), habe ich spontan nach rechts “gewischt” … und siehe da, wir hatten einen Treffer.

Noch am selben Abend habe ich ihm eine Nachricht geschickt und schnell gemerkt, dass er a) Niederländer ist und b) hervorragende Englischkenntnisse und einen großartigen Sinn für Humor hat. Nach kurzer Zeit haben wir uns täglich geschrieben – anfangs nur ein paar Mal pro Tag, aber nach ein paar Tagen verbrachten wir Stunden damit, uns Nachrichten zu schicken. Er wirkte intelligent, selbstbewusst und gleichzeitig sehr einfühlsam und war ebenso an meinem Leben interessiert wie daran, mir von seinem zu erzählen. Nach weniger als einer Woche hatte ich das Gefühl, ihn bereits ewig zu kennen. Wir wollten uns unbedingt treffen, aber da ich für einige Tage in Hamburg war und er familiäre Verpflichtungen hatten, dauerte es letztendlich fast zwei Wochen, um einen Termin zustande zu bekommen. Da ich sowieso im Nordwesten unterwegs war, um einige Freunde zu besuchen, schlug ich ihm vor, dass wir uns am Sonntagnachmittag in den Niederlanden treffen könnten.

Als ich in W ankam, machte ich ein Bild von einer Windmühle, und aus einer Laune heraus schickte ich ihm das Foto zu und forderte ihn zu einer Schnitzeljagd heraus; dass er darauf sofort eingegangen ist, sagt schon viel über ihn aus. Wir schickten einander Bilder von unseren Standorten, und er dirigierte mich immer näher zu dem Platz, an dem er auf mich wartete ….

… und dann haben wir uns gefunden. 

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“It’s the Ciiiiiiiiircle of Liiiiiiiiife …”

I went to Hamburg again; it was not purely a family visit, as I had an appointment set up for the afternoon, but Anna needed to cancel it last minute due to health issues.

My stay was still put to good use: First, I visited my uncle and aunt for a couple of days and then stayed with Jen for a further two days. We did something I had never done before – we went on a harbour tour, spending a sunny afternoon ferry-hopping, commenting on other passengers, and laughing our heads off (Jen was particularly amused by me reenacting Simba’s introduction scene from The Lion King with a bag of M&Ms whilst singing “The Circle of Life”).

Even though my appointment fell through, I still had another great time in Hamburg … and Anna and I will have another try in about two weeks.

Und wieder stand ein Besuch in Hamburg an; ausnahmsweise ging es mal nicht vorrangig um meine Familie, da ich heute Nachmittag einen Termin gehabt hätte, aber Anna musste aus gesundheitlichen Gründen kurzfristig absagen.

Meinen Aufenthalt habe ich trotzdem gut genutzt: Zuerst besuchte ich meinen Onkel und meine Tante für ein paar Tage und blieb dann noch zwei weitere Tage bei Jen. Wir haben etwas unternommen, das ich noch nie gemacht hatte – wir gingen auf eine Hafenrundfahrt und verbrachten einen sonnigen Nachmittag auf diversen Fähren, lästerten über andere Passagiere und lachten uns immer wieder scheckig (Jen hat sich köstlich darüber amüsiert, wie ich die erste Szene von Simba aus Der König der Löwen mit Hilfe einer Packung M&Ms und gesanglicher Untermalung von “The Circle of Life” nachgestellt habe).

Obwohl mein Termin ins Wasser fiel, hatte ich mal wieder eine schöne Zeit in Hamburg … und Anna und ich werden in circa zwei Wochen einen neuen Versuch starten.

Klootscheeten.

As mentioned before, I do some teaching at a company in the northwest from January to March, usually going up for a full day on Tuesday and half a day on Wednesdays. It is some nice extra cash on the side, although the fact that the finance authority taxes me heavily on the money, taking away roughly 50%, makes me sometimes wonder whether it is actually worth doing.

But then, I really like the people I teach (and I use the word “teach” in the widest sense here, as we mostly drink tea, eat sweets, and talk about our respective private lives); in the seven years I have been doing this course, a lot of them have become acquaintances, if not friends. So when it was time for the lab department to have their annual Klootscheeten (which is basically an excuse to first get drunk during a walk and then get drunk inside a party tent), it was a no-brainer for them that I was to be part of the team.

As I had to work until 2 pm, I was a bit late and hence “forced” to catch up on booze; even though they had just started the tour an hour earlier, some of the ladies were already dangerously imbalanced when I arrived. Give them a little metal ball to throw, and you have an almost deadly combination; it still surprises me nobody was seriously injured, although we came quite close once – thankfully, even after 5 beers Jan still had fast reflexes and managed to duck.

If there is one thing I can count on during these kind of parties is that after a while, men tend to flock towards me; the drunker they are, the more they seem to have the need to discuss private matters with me … including guys I have never met before. We hadn’t even reached our destination yet when a young bloke from another team started asking me whether he should continue studying or instead find a job to support his girlfriend who wanted to have a baby. Rather startled, I told him that given his age (he looked about 19 to me), they shouldn’t really aim to have a baby yet, to which he replied, “My girlfriend is 30”. And then, giving me a meaningful look, “I like older women”. Oh dear.

Whilst slowly backing away, I bumped into Daniel (one of “my” people) who wanted to discuss his relationship issues with me; after I had patched him up, Robin was going on about his relationship and whether I could help him make a decision (short answer: No.). I finally made it to the dance floor and just stayed there for the next couple of hours to be out of harm’s way, even though the music was mostly shite (something we all agreed on, and yet everybody was dancing. The miraculous powers of alcohol …).

I had booked a hotel room to be more independent when it came to partying the night away; it was a wise decision, as I was (as usual) one of the last to leave at about 3 am – but not after arranging another meet-up in about three weeks’ time.

Sawdust.

It took me almost a year, but I finally managed to reduce my first pair of sticks to shreds. To quote Marcel (my drum instructor), “It is easy to distinguish the rock from the jazz drummer – the former looks like he has just finished his shift in a timber mill”.

Looking Beyond the Horizon.

In my Master courses and the advanced Bachelor courses, the underlying theme I torture my students with is “ethics”. When I realised a couple of years ago that our students were quite brilliant when it came to economic analyses, but often lacked the basic understanding of decent business conduct (much to my horror), I decided to make ethical practices – in research as well as in professional life – the topic of some of my courses. Students are now supposed to create a lesson based on an ethical dilemma and then pick a (sometimes unrelated) topic for their research paper. I usually leave them free reign in choosing said topic, as I believe that giving them such freedom means they go for something they are passionate about and therefore more involved in.

So over the last years, a very diverse set of research papers have been handed in; the papers were not always up to the academic standards I had hoped for, but their range in topics meant it was almost certainly an interesting read. I had the pleasure of marking, among others, the influence of James Brown on the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, the economic justifications of surrogate mothers in India, the de-manning trend on cargo ships in the European Union, the agricultural subsidies system and its consequences for German dairy farmers, the questionable trend to award major sport events to countries with a dubious human rights record, the problems of detecting plagiarism in programming assignments for IT students, the ‘greenwashing’ principles behind the latest H&M campaign, and the use of performance-enhancing substances in sports where sponsorship is only available to the top performers.

Reading those papers always reminds me that, as much as I may think I know what I am lecturing about, there are questions and perspectives which make me see things in a new light or tackle them in a different way. The value of these assignments for me is not just in the confirmation that students have understood the ethical concepts I was trying to convey, but also the realisation that concerning myself with sometimes very obscure topics helps to spark and form new ideas in my own mind.

North by Northwest.

‘Tis the season which sees me on the road again. As per usual for this time of the year, I am doing a company course for which I have to drive more kilometres in three months than I will do for the remaining nine months of the year taken together. The course also means that I have days with really long hours, starting way before dawn and coming home in the early to late evening.

However, there is one day when I actually drive home at about lunch time, and given the quite lovely winter weather we are having at the moment, it provides me with wonderful views of snow-covered trees lining the canal. And sometimes I just stop and have a quick walk along said canal, with the snow crunching below my feet, and the crisp air clearing my head from all the stress and tension these long days bring with them.

Blessed Are the Hearts That Can Bend.

I often use the last day of the year to reflect on what was important in the last 12 months: What are the things I will remember? What kind of memories will bubble up when someone mentions the year 2016 to me? At the moment, only time can tell what events, feelings and people my brain deems relevant enough to tag and put on a shelf, where they will lead an inconspicuous existence, only to suddenly explode back to life at the most unlikely trigger. But I have the odd feeling that most of my memories from this year won’t be happy ones.

Looking back at 2016, I find it difficult to see many positive things; of course it was not all bad, and I have met some great people, did amazing things, felt happy and loved. And yet, the main topic of 2016 was apparently “saying goodbye”, as there are a couple of people who no longer take part in my life; some of them decided to leave or were taken, some I walked away from. I can’t really change the former, but the latter is something I have thought about for a good while this year.

I don’t really have any friendships that are older than 15 years (Robert and Neil being the sole exception). There aren’t many people out there who can claim that they have known me for 10 years or longer. I have realised this year that I seem to “shed” people after a while; in the last 20 years, there have been quite a few friendships and even family relations which crumpled after a couple of years. Occasionally there was a fallout, but mostly we were just drifting apart; things changed in a way that there was no longer some common ground to walk on. At least that’s how it felt like for me, as with the majority of these fading relationships, I was the one walking away.

Now, there is nothing unusual about people moving apart; a job change, a relocation, a new lifestyle, and suddenly you don’t have the time, the energy, or the resources to meet up with your old friends anymore. But it has dawned on me that I am “leaving” people without any of these things happening; even though my life stays (mostly) the same, I decide not to interact with them anymore. The problem is that I often do this without informing people about my decision; apparently, I am really good at ghosting (and when I say “really good”, it is not supposed to sound like an achievement): Without any further explanation, I don’t meet, call, write, or text people anymore who were really close to me.

In my defence, I should add that before my disappearing act, I had usually made it clear that there was something bothering me; I am fairly communicative, do reflect a lot on how I feel and why I feel that way, and I can express myself in a rational and calm way (or so others say). But while I like to think that I am a rather loyal person, it seems that my attachment to other people only goes so far. At some point, I just give up on them and on our relationship; the rational part of me, the one which is so great at dissecting my emotions, takes over and overrules any feelings I might still have for that person.

The weird thing is that I am actually an idealist when it comes to relationships: I do believe that love, in whatever form, can last forever, which is a bit rich coming from somebody who effectively disregards people as soon as I have reached the point of no return. I am very aware of how hypocrite my behaviour is, and I am not exactly proud of it. But when contemplating my conduct the other day, I came across a quote by Albert Camus which had me thinking: “Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken”.

Initially, I thought that this was indeed a smart mantra to live by, but now I am not too sure if I actually want to have a “bendy” heart. My reaction to a lack of understanding and trust might not be a charming one, but it is one I have learned the hard way: For my heart was broken in the past, sometimes also thanks to my loyalty and idealism. The good news is, however, that it has also healed, and with the healing process, there was a learning curve. I still believe in love and friendship, but I know now how much my heart can take before I have to step in and protect it – by moving it out of the line of fire. If only I could learn to communicate that in a better way than by sealing myself off.