During my 10 months or so in Paris, there came a real low point in mid-January. A few weeks before, I’d been completely ripped apart by my ex from Amsterdam, Alex, who came back into my life for a brief New Year’s romance, only to leave me (inevitably) disappointed that we’d never have a relationship. Some 10 days after our official break-off, I was at a rock concert, when all of a sudden, in the middle of a crowd of Parisian hipsters, I began bawling. Uncontrollably. The kind of childlike crying where snot and tears prune your face, forming a sticky, moist mess on your blouse. I somehow made my way out of the club, feeling my way to the subway like I was in a dream, wailing without volume control. Slumped on a chair in the nearly-deserted République metro stop, I didn’t even try to subdue my outburst, doing only as best I could to hide my face. At one point, a young woman passed me and stopped. “Ça va, mademoiselle?” she asked. I couldn’t even see her through my tears. “Ça va?” she asked again. I somehow nodded, and began crying harder out of embarrassment.
It was this moment that made me question every decision I’ve made in the past year … On one hand, I asked myself over and over again, Why did you have to fall in love with Alex, why, WHY?, and wanted to hurl thinking about how I’d lost the person who was perfect for me. The man who I looked at and without a doubt felt I could marry. There was the whole checkbox thing about Alex: Physically attractive, smart, excellent taste, close with his family, good job, kind and caring. And then there was the intimacy quotient: I’d never felt so connected with someone before, and, well, I’d never had mind-blowing, amazing sex before him. I couldn’t help thinking, You’ll never find this again. Never. The Alex debacle also made me doubt my motives for coming to Paris. What was I learning here? Wasn’t I just as naive and clueless as ever? What if coming to Paris was more about running away than building something new? At that point, I reckoned that I’d gotten myself into a huge mess.
And then, slowly, things started to get better. I didn’t try to improve my life, and in fact, I pretty much gave into sorrow for a few months. There were days in the winter when I wouldn’t leave the house (much less the bed) and I’d drink a bottle of wine by myself. Sad days like this weren’t just about Alex. They were about just getting through a period in my life when nothing was really happening. I spent my time feeling option-less. Feeling like I’d failed to build the life I wanted in Paris, and that there was nothing bringing me home, nowhere to fit in back in the U.S.
To be fair, living in Paris is a privilege and a novelty, something I have never taken for granted. Nothing can replace the incredible romantic swell you get while walking over the bridges of a moonlit Seine, discovering tiny, winding streets in the Latin Quarter, sipping a cold kir at a cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower, window shopping the designer boutiques in Saint Germain, or kissing a lover while lounging on the grass of the regal Place des Voges park. But something I’ve learned, which anyone who has a romantic fantasy of living abroad should know: no matter how incredible of a place you live in, it inevitably becomes a place you live in. This is not to say that I’ve lost my sense of wonderment when strolling through the Marais, but that you eventually become used to your surroundings, and yes, slightly desensitized at times by them. In the end, I’ve learned that an adventure isn’t so much about the plot drivers but more about the contextual details. I can’t expect amazing things to happen to me every day, every week, or even in the course of a year. It’s so hard to live in the present, but making your everyday living enjoyable seems to count more in the long run if you have to tally up your accomplishments. As I sit here reflecting on “the things I’ve done” this year, I can think of the clichéd obvious ones that will bore you to tears. I can speak French! I managed to not go broke! I’m in love! I, like, learned stuff, about, like, life, you know?
But overall, what I’m taking out of my move to Paris has to do with this aspect of time, and living in the day-to-day. For ages, I’ve had this deranged notion that “youth” ends sometime around 25, and after that point, I’ll have missed out on my opportunity to have become an ingenue. To have “done something,” as I say in my mind. Perhaps to have published my first book. To start a company with potential. To have climbed the ranks quickly to an editor position. I’m reaching 25 and have done none of these things. Thinking like this—grandiose, big-picture, Hollywood-ized thinking—makes me feel like time is short and running out quickly. It causes me to freak out and freeze, not actually doing anything (writing more for myself, for example) to get there. This, I’ve realized, is completely unproductive. To be frank, I can’t quite say this overachiever mentality is something I’ve managed to overcome. But I now know it’s something I want to work on.
Which brings me to today. Today, I’m in love and some 70-odd days into a relationship with Henri. I know I’ll be in Paris for several more months, but I don’t know what will happen after that. I don’t know what I’m “supposed” to be doing to grow more as a person, or to advance more in my career. I don’t know if love should come first. I don’t know if I will get my heart broken. I don’t know what I really want next. I don’t know. I don’t know. Je ne sais pas. But for today, I’m going to try not to think about these things. I’m going to finish my work and pay my rent. I’m going to help Henri pick out new eyeglasses and make him dinner and watch the World Cup. I’m probably not going to write 20 pages in my novel. I probably won’t even write one, but I will try not to hate myself for it. Later, Henri and I will
waste spend a few hours fooling around. He’ll hold me and kiss me all over and tell me he loves me, and it will make me feel safe and happy. Around midnight, we’ll discuss our plans for the day ahead, set our alarms for tomorrow, and go to sleep happy, excited to see each other when we wake up.
A quick note: I just wanted to thank all of you guys for reading over the past year and being so supportive. I’m not the “commenting type,” preferring to observe from the sidelines, but please know that I’ve read all of your comments and considered them always with care. In my previous post, a few of you asked if there would be a way to read updates on my Paris life. I invite you to visit my personal blog, Tales of a Twentysomething, where I sometimes post about Paris-related happenings. What you’ll read there won’t be nearly as personal as what you’ve seen on 365 Days in Paris, but it will keep you roughly in the loop. Merci et au revoir!