Like all modern love stories, ours started with a notification from a gay hook-up app. We were both looking for something serious and we found it. First on the couch and then in the bedroom.

Shortly after, we were spending all weekends together. Either at his place or mine. Hiding from the world. Nervous when meeting his students in the street for fear of him losing his job or just not wanting to have an unpleasant incident.

Staying in a country with institutional homophobia was never an option for me. It messes with you and casts a long shadow on your life. Living in a city where you can get stabbed for holding hands or beaten up for mentioning you have a boyfriend is no way to live.

Looking for a job abroad took time, but I managed to score something that works for me. Packing up a life that you have been building for years is difficult. Mortgage, job, family, friends, everything needs to change and adapt. Thankfully, my boyfriend followed me, and we could finally live together as a real couple. I will never forget the police officer who came over to our apartment to manage my boyfriends’ registration and nonchalantly asked us if we have any kids, as a lot of gay couples in the neighborhood have kids. I was so used to the notion that having kids is impossible for us that the question shook me.

Acceptance of us as a couple does not sound like a lot to Belgians, but I still struggle to get used to it. Going to work and saying I have a boyfriend, please sign him up for the company insurance or going to doctors’ appointments together without homophobic comments is a new and pleasant reality.

The pandemic obliterated my lifestyle. From someone going to the gym three times a week and running around the office all day I became someone who rarely left the house and ate way too much cake. It’s been difficult getting my fat ass off the couch. Finding motivation, fighting this depressive Covid miasma are things I am still struggling with. For me, the part I still miss is the dancing. We managed to squeeze a couple of parties not always in line with the government guidelines, but at least it allowed us to let out some steam. I am still waiting to harness up for the next big blowout.

Pandemic or not, for now, we are settled in Brussels. It’s far from a perfect city but holding my boyfriend’s hand without looking over my shoulder is worth it for us. I don’t know if we will be staying in Belgium but seeing the LGBT free zones and government-sponsored hate speech in Poland we are not going back.