Samantha Eyler and her partner are committed, but spend half of each week on opposite sides of their city. She explains the background of their two-house experiment and how it’s working out so far.
Those of you who’ve ever been in love must already know that having other loves in your life is essential to keep you from smothering your other half. And if you’ve ever been an expat, you know that you can very quickly develop love-hate relationships with places.
With this in mind, I hope it won’t seem too strange to say that I am madly in love with ugly, chaotic, faceless Bogotá. Last September, when we moved to Medellín, I was broken-hearted, as if I’d been cruelly ripped away from a mistress and forced into an arranged marriage. The effects of that heartbreak on my relationship with my partner Migs have been anything but pretty. But I’m quite sure that what has saved us, amazingly, is our decision to spend two-thirds of our time away from each other.
The truth is that I walked into quite a tidy life in Bogotá when I arrived there in August 2012, with a badly paid but satisfyingly demanding job at a magazine; entrée into a social network (the magazine was owned by an old friend who’d already been living here for years); a posh and sunny flat in a leafy Strata-6 neighborhood (the highest rank on Colombia’s bizarre scale of urban desirability); a husband back in England who I didn’t actually talk to very much; and, within just a few months, an affair with the magazine’s art director (Migs) that led to an acrimonious-but-still-necessary divorce and a haze of the headiest romance I’d ever had in my life. Between us, we had two dogs, two professional incomes, a vibrantly alternative circle of friends, and (allowable under the terms of our relationship) a couple of love interests each.
Colombians (including Bogotanos themselves, Migs among them) seem united in their hatred of their capital, and even I will admit that Bogotá is an utter disaster. Thus, when the magazine folded, it seemed reasonable to move someplace tidier. Medellín—a city I’d never visited but that was rumored to be one of Latin America’s most livable cities, with always-perfect weather, pristine infrastructure and architecture, and cheap living costs to boot—seemed the perfect candidate. Migs found us a three-bedroom flat there in a Strata-5 suburb called San Diego for half the cost of what we’d been paying for the two-room place in Bogotá. Although the word “suburb” raised red flags straightaway—having spent my youth as a homeschooler on farms in Wyoming and Kentucky, I suffer from an agonizing fear of missing out that prevents me from living too far away from metropolises without getting stressy—we loaded up our dogs and scant furniture and came to the City of Eternal Spring.
And I hated it.
Medellín, with its perfect metro and machismo and money, is unlike any other place I’ve ever visited in Colombia in that it is not a mess. Many Paisas—people from the region—do have an infuriating, smug belief that Medellín is the best place on earth. Their lack of interest in the outside world felt similar to many Midwestern American attitudes I’d spent my life trying to escape from.
In our isolated flat in San Diego, I fell into a depression and took my frustration out on Migs by switching on my monogamous brain. I took to monitoring his porn-consumption habits, keeping tabs on his interactions with all past and potential paramours, fantasizing and then freaking out about having a baby with him, and in general trying to ensure that the only thing I really liked about my life at that point—my relationship with him—would never change. I became Scarlett Johansson’s character in Don Jon: more concerned with projecting and protecting a future fantasy of our relationship than with actually connecting in the present with the person I love.
After a particularly terrible fight, where I flew into a jealous fit at one of Migs’s friends, I somehow shook myself out of it. Realizing that I would self-destruct if I didn’t put some space between us, I agreed with Migs to do an experiment, inspired in part by a column I’d read here on Role/Reboot about a couple who are very much in love but choose to live apart. I rented a room in a Strata-3 barrio called San Javier, and retreated there with my fat novels and journals for four days a week.
I’d expected to do little more than sulk in my new room, but to my great delight, what I’ve discovered here is exactly what I’ve been needing: new friends, and a budding affection for bustling, messy San Javier. I share my new house with an unexpectedly amazing collection of people: a vegetarian fitness enthusiast; a French photographer; a fired-up lefty econ major who loves drunkenly talking about socialism as much as I do; the most beautiful gay man I’ve ever seen, who walks around mostly naked and helps me choose outfits before dates (I’ve put myself out there in non-monogamy land again, which is terrifying, but in a good way); and a very serious Norwegian woman in her late 20’s, just finishing up a Master’s in mechanical engineering. Without exception, I adore them.
On Thursdays, I go back to Migs in San Diego. I can’t say that it’s always easy to get close again after being physically and emotionally removed from someone you love. But that, ultimately, is the lesson I think all of us need to learn in our relationships with our partners, children, families, friends: to love without clinging, learn to stabilize ourselves in our own identities when we’re alone, and come back to our loves with trust and good will without needing to control the other person’s behavior in the meantime.
Not an easy lesson to learn, but—in my experience so far—a very gratifying one.
Samantha Eyler is a freelance writer and editor raised in Kentucky and London and now based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman, and is one of the founders of the London Fields Feminist Book Group. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo courtesy of the author