So we sat in the backseat of a car, on our way to the Slagharen pony park, as it was still called then. I think it was my best friend’s 10th birthday in elementary school, as it was then called.
I had already noticed that the lady sitting in the front, next to his father, was not his mother. I had never even seen her before. But his parents were still married, right? We were just leaving Amsterdam when his father announced triumphantly: “And this beautiful blond lady is our lovely tour guide for today.”
Next to me in the back seat was my other best friend, he had a father who was a TV producer. This father had realized later in life that he was gay and made a documentary that ended with him, accompanied by his new boyfriend, forming a large happy family with the family he had left.
Then there was a third boyfriend, I’m not sure he was in the car too. The first time I came to his house, it turned out that he lived there with his mother and two men, neither of whom were his father. How this love triangle worked: it remained a mystery for an eight-year-old boy and I didn’t dare to ask.
That my own parents were divorced—after years of falling asleep to the beat of their yelling at each other—my brother and I actually found quite a relief. We just didn’t know then that we could welcome a series of new partners from both sides in the years that followed.
Who made the biggest impression: Jimmy, I believe he was of South African descent, but my mother claims she can’t remember. I can still see it before me: a freaky apartment in Amsterdam-East, consisting of one large room, with walls full of psychedelic, glow-in-the-dark paintings. My brother and I, both still in primary school, sitting on a bed and looking around us with wide eyes. Jimmy was about to take a “business trip” to Colombia. The next communication I got about Jimmy was that he had to stay in Colombia for ten years, so we wouldn’t be seeing him anytime soon.
And then I had to find a partner myself. How do you do that? How do you know when it’s right? What works and what doesn’t? Like most children, I hadn’t necessarily been surrounded by dozens of examples of successful marriages. In the seventies and eighties, at least in the Amsterdam where I grew up, it was not uncommon for half the children in the class to have divorced parents.
Even now, years later, I still don’t have a good answer to the question of how to find a good partner. I know it does concern people. Millions of Dutch people are on dating apps. Dating shows are about the only genre that both the older viewers of linear television watch on a daily basis (Farmer seeks wife† First Dates† Long live love† Married at first sight) as the younger users of Videoland (Temptation Island† Love Island† the Bachelor and the Bachelorette), HBO (FBoy Island) or Netflix (Love is Blind†
I don’t think I have discussed any other subject in my life than love. Often the conclusion after such a conversation was: why do people still do this, why do they keep trying when they know in advance that it can only fail? It is also a rather absurd ambition: there are more than seven billion people in the world, how could everyone find the right partner for them? As far as I know how to do it after fourteen years with the same woman: you have to be a little lucky, a little tolerant and hope that your partner is too.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of May 31, 2022