Karin McKenna

Image by Karin McKenna.

By Rebecca Bartels.

Driving across the Inner Belt Bridge on my way home from a trip to Bogota, I see the cityscape rise before me, lights twinkling and traffic whizzing by, and cynically think to myself that Cleveland looks like a hundred other mid-size cities. I gaze at the skyline, pumping my brakes and weaving in and out of Cleveland’s signature construction barrels, and I think how the West Side Market is dwarfed by Barcelona’s Boqueria. Little Italy is a shadow of Lower Manhattan’s storied piece of Italia, and East Fourth could be considered a shy little sister to a hundred bar-laden streets around the globe. So why do I love it so much?

Why do I continue to search for hidden gems in the slew of semi-unsafe neighborhoods spread across the metroscape? Why venture out into the moody lake weather to cheer on a team that hasn’t had measurable success in years?

Making my way over the Inner Belt Bridge, I realize choosing a city is like choosing a significant other. I love this town for who she is in on the inside. It’s a can’t-put-your-finger-on-it kind of thing that makes me appreciate the sloshing sound of sidewalk slush under my perpetually moist work shoes and anticipate the butterflies I get when I drive around Deadman’s Curve, worrying I’m going to be the reason they call it that.

I’m a 23-year-old Cleveland native free of a husband, dog, or anything more permanent than a month-to-month lease. As an international trade editor, I travel a lot for my job. I’ve been to some pretty neat places around the world, and often daydream about settling down in one of them. But after my third extended foreign exchange trip and an ill-fated attempt at living in Mexico City, the luster of many of the world’s most celebrated spots began to fade.

Those cities were well worth taking on a few dates, observing their beauty, and putting a pin in your map like a notch in your bedpost. But they are not the ones I’m destined to grow old with.

I don’t require a fragile, delicate beauty, or constant entertainment and flashy displays of affection. I need strength, dedication and perseverance in the face of challenges. Cleveland? Man has it ever got that. Choosing Cleveland means you have to look at that steel grey sky and believe the sunny days are coming. You have to risk heartbreak every year with sports teams and constantly learn new routes to avoid construction delays and potholes. Settling down with Cleveland is like loving a moody girl who is a terrible cook or looks adorably awful in the morning.

Cleveland will never be Paris like Amy Poehler will never be Giselle Bündchen. Stuck in traffic on the Inner Belt, though, I see her beauty candidly. No matter how many places I go in the world, I’ll always be coming home to Cleveland.

Rebecca Bartels is a business-to-business magazine editor in Cleveland.