See you in … Brussels

When I first told P about I was thinking about moving to Brussels for a year for work, he wasn’t exactly thrilled. No was pretty much the first word that came out of his mouth. Not the best start.

To be fair, I had sprung this on him out of the blue. We’d only been dating for a few months, and mentioning it casually while we’re grabbing a quick lunch in the middle of the week probably wasn’t the ideal time to bring up the idea of a potential long-distance situation.

Of course, both of us realised that long-distance relationships are difficult, but I was optimistic that we’d be able to manage it. It didn’t come up again for a couple of months (I figured I’d let the idea settle and we’d discuss it again nearer the time I had to confirm I was going). Then suddenly, on the train back from a friend’s wedding, he dropped it — equally casually — into the conversation — “Oh, and I meant to say a couple of weeks ago, I’m fine with the Brussels thing, by the way. We’ll make it work“. Well, at least that avoided one awkward conversation…

The one with my parents was on a wholly different battleground: safety. I never thought this would be an issue — after all, I was moving to Belgium, not some war zone — but, in the wake of the Paris attacks and Brussels lock-down, the thought of their only child heading to some terrorist hotbed filled them with some trepidation.

It didn’t help to quell their fears when, two weeks after moving to the city, the Brussels attacks happened. Needless to say what a terrible tragedy that was. For those of us working in the Brussels office, it was surreal to say the least, especially given that Maelbeek is only 5 minutes from our apartments (most of us live in the same block) and 15 minutes from work. My previous reassurances to my parents — “Don’t worry, our area is very safe — it’s right by the European Parliament, lots of security…” — backfired pretty quickly once the news started rolling in that European institutions may be the targets of the attacks. Since then, I’ve got used to random phone calls from family and friends checking everything is ok because they’ve seen reports of some raid or protest in the city (often, I haven’t even been aware anything has happened, having been too busy at work to check the news). People ask regularly “What is it like in Brussels these days?”, and to be honest, things settled surprisingly quickly — evidently Brussels has a pretty strong “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality. What will happen post-EU referendum is a separate question…

But anyway, here we are, a couple of months down the line, settled into ex-pat life in Brussels. Initial reservations about long-distance aside, P and I are enjoying the prospect of travelling around Europe to meet up: our compromise from constantly shuttling back and forth between London and Brussels is to meet in the “middle” in various cities across the continent, so that we can make the most of our weekends!

So next time, P, see you in… Paris!

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Originally published at on June 5, 2016.