Once again, I found myself in Paris. Once again, I was there to recover from a broken heart, and once again, it was because of the same person. I had yet to learn my lesson.
It was a last minute apartment swap. I had thrown my hands up in the air just before Christmas and realized that by January I would need to be as far away from New York City as possible. Paris had done the trick in the past; Paris had become my go-to for both escape and healing. And, as they say, "Paris is always a good idea." C'est vrai.
I had been in Paris just over a month when a friend came to visit. It was during her first night there that she tried to pick up a waiter at a bistro, and I, with my less-than-perfect French, tried to translate the desires for a one-night stand between she and he. A few tables away I noticed a man smirking at the ridiculousness that was going on at our end of the bistro. "I will make love to you like Apollo," as the waiter told my friend, is funny in any language.
Assuming the man was fluent in both languages considering his subtle laughing at the situation, I suggested he come join us and he do the translating. I had champagne to drink and cheese to eat; he could take over being matchmaker. He joined us, we talked, I took him home, and before I knew it, I was in love. I had had flings while in Paris before, but this was different.
I always rolled my eyes when people said Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Even after I had lived there for short stints of a few months, run off to it so many times and flirted with pretty French boys who tried to drown me in words of romance in cafés that overlooked the Seine, I regarded it as romantic in the literary sense. The idea of it being romantic in loving way was something I had yet to see. Olivier, the man I took home that night, changed all that.
As a born and raised Parisian, Olivier had a lot to show me about love and romance, and he had his work cut out for him, too. I had, after four years wasted on a person who was incapable of loving me as I loved him, put up a wall of impenetrable steel around my heart. I had convinced myself that my idea of romance was whisky until dawn and hungover brunches, because that's all I knew; that's what I had forced myself to believe was romantic because in those four years wasted, there was no romance at all.
Within a month, I had gone from a heartbroken, jaded New Yorker who wouldn't be caught dead even holding hands in public, to a woman in love who actually, one night, leapt up from her table at a restaurant and greeted her love with a long Hollywood-type kiss.
It was more than charm, more than great late-night conversations into the dawn, but a true, and first-time awareness of romance. And in those romantic moments, the sort that would have made me cringe in the past, I was also able to understand what it means to be in a grown-up a relationship, one that is free of the selfishness and chaos to which I had become so accustomed. Paris, this past time around, not only healed, but cured me. I was changed, and changed for the better.
Paris really embraces its reputation as being a city of complete and utter romance. It's not uncommon to see lovers locked in lengthy kisses on park benches, sidewalks, or even across a dinner table. Whereas Americans, on a whole, culturally shy away from PDA, Parisians do not try to hide their feelings, or even put them on mute. There's a freedom in being honest with your heart, and in doing so, we open ourselves up to a world of, well, feelings -- lots and lots of feelings. It may seem overwhelming, but aren't feelings meant to be felt? Isn't that the purpose of them after all?
As I prepare to head to Paris again, it will be the first time that I will do so under my own terms. Instead of running away from broken love, I will be running to real love. I will not try to lose myself in the streets of Paris as I have done during past trips, but relish in the beauty of being surrounded by such romance, even if it's one that's been prescribed to us since we could first point out the city on a map.
I may never be able to say for sure exactly what it is about Paris that does make it the most romantic city in the world, but I can deduce that their culture's way of behaving when it comes to love is definitely contagious. Perhaps it's the combination of that "love is in the air" vibe, mixed in with the architecture, the thoughts of Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose," all the amazing wine, or simply because no one has dared to argue the notion that maybe it isn't the most romantic city.
However, what I can say for sure is that Paris made me believe in love again. It made me believe in marriage, the sanctity of forever, and an age-old institution at which I used to grumble and laugh. Paris, and the man I met there, stripped me of my negativity on the matter, and most days I don't even recognize myself. I feel light, vulnerable and honest. To allow yourself to let go and feel this way may be scary at the initial thought, but it took me 35 years to get to this place, and now that I'm here, I have zero intention of leaving. I might even give up my beloved New York to feel this way forever.