In April 2021, I met the love of my life: Paula. I had just moved into a three-month Neukölln sublet when we matched on HER. At the time, I had five dating apps on my phone, which I would swipe through daily, dreaming of romance. Most of the time, women would respond passively or not at all. Paula was different. She reached out first; her direct and responsive nature struck me.
After a few flirty exchanges, we followed each other on Instagram and decided to have a picnic in Tempelhofer Feld. A couple of days later, we met at a Späti. I gave her the wrong address, and it took us a few minutes to find each other. When she arrived, I was charmed by her big green eyes and short, dark brown curly hair. She wore an oversized black leather jacket and baggy blue jeans.
We grabbed snacks and walked to the park. It was month six of lockdown, and I felt awkward. I wasn’t nervous about meeting Paula, but after so much time holed up inside, my social skills were rusty, and I was agoraphobic. We sat on a blanket and chatted under a grey sky, but it was so windy and cold that we had to cut things short. After we said our goodbyes, Paula immediately followed up and asked to see me again.
We chose Sunday, but I asked her to come over Saturday. She showed up with a Monstera clipping and a bottle of non-alcoholic prosecco as housewarming gifts. Paula’s attention to detail – I had written I was sober in my dating app bio – made me feel seen. For once, I didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. She was confident and asserted her interest in me, something I was not used to.
About a month after we started dating, Paula, a veterinary graduate, traveled to Schöppingen for a three-week internship at a slaughterhouse. Halfway through her absence, my doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting a delivery, especially not a boxed bouquet of flowers. I opened the accompanying card, and my heart burst into a kaleidoscope of butterflies.
“I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees,” read the text, in Spanish, a quote from Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet. I was overcome with joy. It was the most romantic gesture I had received in forever. I was moved by the knowledge that she missed me and was willing to express her feelings openly and passionately.
A couple of weeks later, on her way back to Berlin, we met in Hamburg for a quick getaway. We ordered huge, sloppy burgers and spent an entire Saturday in bed together, laughing and kissing. The next day, we walked through the city, stopping to snap polaroids of the canals and drink coffee by the river in a light drizzle of rain. Paula wore a Canadian tuxedo, which I found endearing.
At the beginning of June, two months after we met, Paula and I sat at a cafe near the Spree drinking beers, hers with alcohol and mine without. I wasn’t sure if it was too fast, but it felt right. I wanted her, and she wanted me. I asked her to be my girlfriend, and she said yes. At the end of the month, my friends, another lesbian couple, visited from Amsterdam and invited us to an open-air party at Plötzensee. As we lay in the sand under a great blue sky, Paula told me she loved me. I said it back.
Before Paula, I had been dumped by every woman I ever loved. I was used to being the one that chased, clumsily and painfully, forever auditioning for love and begging for affection. I often thought of myself as the lover and never the loved one. I wondered if I was doomed by some cosmic force, perhaps my name, which means sorrow and is derived from an Irish legend about Deirdre, a tragic heroine who dies of a broken heart.
Did I love too hard and with too much haste? Paula has never made me feel this way. In fact, she is the first person to soothe the condition I live with – Borderline Personality Disorder – and its emotional highs and lows. I can be impulsive and intense. I have a tendency to spiral and self-destruct. But wrapped in her love, I have begun to move through the world differently.
I have loved women for ten years and have experienced emotional hardship with most of them due to their inability to accept themselves or me. Coming to terms with one’s queerness is difficult, and I cannot fault anyone for their tumultuous journeys toward self-acceptance. However, too often, internal struggles have inhibited happiness.
In a previous relationship, on more than one occasion, I reached for my partner’s hand in public and she slapped my hand away. On social media, there was little to no trace of our romance existing, an erasure that took a spiritual toll. Having spent the majority of my time on Earth in denial of who I was. Living a closeted life was unbearable.
With Paula, I do not have to hide a single part of myself. Our love is loud and unapologetic. With her, I have found the unbridled lesbian joy I always dreamed of. The ability to express myself without fear or judgment is freeing and uplifting. I no longer feel insecure and out of place. I am at home and exactly where I belong – in her arms.
In February 2022, I traveled home to Vancouver, Canada, for a planned five-week stay. I hadn’t seen my family in two years. Two weeks after I arrived, Paula finished her last exam and flew in from Germany. I was excited for her to meet my loved ones and to share the place I grew up with her. Days later, I received terrible news – my Dad had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
In a strange twist of fate, Paula was with me during one of the most challenging periods of my life. Simultaneously, it seemed like divine timing that I learned about my father’s decline in health while visiting. It meant that I could be there for him, and she could be there for me.
While my visit was painful, it brought Paula and me closer together. I extended my trip by two weeks, and she flew back to Germany. When I saw her again, a month had passed. Cradled in her arms, I knew with certainty that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. For months, we had talked about getting married, questioning if it was too soon or if people would judge us, but ultimately we knew that we were perfect for each other.
One year after meeting in April, we perused cheap rings at Pandora in Alexanderplatz. We chose matching rose gold bands with light pink zirconia stones, each costing €75. Later that night, as she prepared dinner on the stove, I hugged Paula from behind, took the ring out of my pocket, and held it in front of her. She spun around; I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes.
Photography by Bigwig Photography