Moving Back to Move Forward
Why my return to Amsterdam feels like anything but regression.
I’ve always been slightly allergic to the idea of moving back to somewhere I’ve lived before. The metaphor is silly and simple: Returning seemed to imply regression, perhaps even failure or weakness.
And yet, moving back to the Netherlands one year ago was one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I was not just leaving an unhappy marriage, I was walking into a place that feels like a warm, safe embrace.
Now, after a year in Alkmaar, I’m moving to Amsterdam. And it seems I’ve cured myself of my allergy to moving ‘back’. As it turns out, this feels very much like moving forward.
The seductive powers of the Dam
My relationship with Amsterdam goes back a long way. From my first encounter as a 16-year-old exchange student, I was enchanted.
The cobblestoned streets and squares; the carts selling poffertjes or raw herring on bridges.
The ‘buzzing haze of flying monkeys’ of its bicycle traffic.
The haphazardly leaning buildings, exacerbated by their wiggly reflection in countless canals.
The waft of weed; the wink of red lights.
Its village size, layered with a bustling cosmopolitan energy.
Ja. I’m enamored.
During the years I spent based elsewhere, I’d visit every summer and fall hard for Amsterdam again each time.
“Amsterdam,” as I once mused to a friend, “is like an ex who looks really, really good. It’s been working out; it’s got a tan. Maybe it’s done something different with its hair? And it’s charming as hell. It’s throwing itself at me. I can’t resist.”
The day before I left Amsterdam to move to California, I wept openly as I walked its streets. Tears dripped from my chin as I climbed the stairs to the friend’s place where I was staying.
My friend comforted me. “This place has meant a lot to you. It’s where you’ve lived longest in your adult life. Amsterdam has been a constant and safe harbor. No wonder it’s sad to leave.”
Alkmaar has been gorgeous. Its proximity to the beach, forest, dunes and my adopted family has been healing. Still, I couldn’t pass up what arrived as a random chance to move back to Amsterdam.
And as I pack up my belongings, I realize that this year of moving ‘back’ to the Netherlands has taught me something important. As long as we keep growing and evolving, we never really move ‘back’.
I’m a vastly different person to the woman who first moved to Amsterdam in her twenties. I’m even a different person to the woman who sobbed on a friend’s couch just a few years ago, before heading to California.
As long as I continue to seek growth and evolution, there is no way but forward.