Breaking up with Paris
I remember the first time we met like it was yesterday. I was a school girl of 16 on exchange in Bordeaux. I travelled to Paris for a weekend, bursting with immature awe. I travelled with a friend and we stayed with the grandmother of her host sister, who had an old-world apartment several hundred meters from the Eiffel Tower. It was full of red velvet upholstery, dim-lighting and black and white photographs. We ate Croques-Monsieur in cafes, wandered aimlessly through the Louvre, and as we took a Bateau Mouche tour alongside the Eiffel Tower, it began its twinkling evening light display the moment we passed it. The weekend conformed exactly to my romantic pre-conceptions of you.
By the time I came to live in Paris some eleven years later, I had thankfully adopted a more nuanced attitude towards the city. I had returned several times, and on these trips I shunned the traditional sights in search of a grittier and more authentic side. I spent a lot of time in the North of Paris, shopping on the Rue des Martyrs, sipping coffee along the Canal St Martin and wandering through the colourful, disorienting streets of Belleville. And yet, when I accepted the job that would bring me to Paris, I think there was still a part of me that expected something of the city. Something more than it could give.
And would I be the first tortured soul who came to Paris claiming to be in search of inspiration, while other less honourable motives bubbled away beneath the surface? When I was first offered the job in Paris I was at the end of my time in Munich, which for all intents and purposes had been a wonderful experience, despite the fact that I still felt like an outsider. I was considering opportunities in English-speaking countries, the UK or the US, where I anticipated a better chance of integrating. The opportunity in Paris presented me with the tantalising possibility that I wasn’t an outsider or a failure at all. Maybe I was just different - special even! - and maybe Paris was in fact the city for me.
Oh, Paris, how much I wanted you to like me! How much I wanted things to work out between us! I put up with so much shit from you. When I first arrived in May 2016, the city was plagued by the triple threat of floods, strikes and demonstrations. I didn’t let that put me off. I found it difficult to make friends with Parisians, and struggled with a working culture that was individualistic and unstructured. I persevered. I struggled with my neighbours; I struggled with real estate; I struggled with the French administration system (don’t we all?).
In Spring last year, I hit breaking point and decided to stop caring so much about pleasing you. I started seeing other cities, with opportunities presenting themselves in two other locations. But as has often been the case throughout our time together, you lured me back. I didn’t want those other cities, I wanted you. And for a while it looked like things were finally looking up for us. I found a new job, which promised to be much better suited to me. I found a new apartment that I really liked, and I found myself surrounded by a group of wonderful like-minded friends (barely any of them French, might I add). But it was not to be.
Pairs, I am writing this letter to break up with you. I have realised that you and I are just not meant to be. Partly, we have had a lot of bad luck. I could never have imagined the professional twists and turns that would take place in my new job, and quite frankly it was beyond me to put up with it. Partly, I think we are just incompatible. I just don’t appreciate your working culture; I crave a more open way of socialising. I don’t think we can ever make each other happy. We want different things. It’s time to move on.
I want to thank you, nevertheless, for the experience of being with for the past 2.5 years. You made things difficult for me, but in doing so you helped me to see just how capable and resilient I am. When you rejected me, when you were cruel to me, even, you forced me to stand up for myself. I will always be thankful to you for that.
And thank you for all the good times, too! Thank you for the opportunity to travel your windswept beaches, your dramatic clifftops, your rolling fields and hilltop castles. Thank you for the amazing people you brought me in contact with. Thank you for the hilarious moments shared between friends, for the funny side that we were always able to find throughout the most unlikely of situations.
I think a lot of people looked at my life and thought, how can she be complaining? How can she not be happy? She lives in Paris! Believe me I have asked myself the same question many times. But we are all falling victim to the same fallacy here. There is no city romantic enough, no job exciting enough, no lifestyle glamorous enough to fill any void inside ourselves. I could have continued searching for acceptance in every city around the world, and finding disappointment at every port.
In the end, Paris, I didn’t chose to leave you so much as I have chosen to follow the momentum that was pulling me elsewhere. I am not walking away from you; I am walking towards new prospect. I am following my heart.
I don’t know what awaits me in the next city. Maybe I will find myself in a difficult working culture; maybe I will encounter difficulty making friends; maybe I will have my heart broken. Who knows what lies in store for me.. But I am sick of asking a city to manifest its acceptance of me in order to feel good about myself. I am sick of searching for a particular scenario in order to give myself permission to be happy.
I stick by all of the millions of tiny decisions I have made throughout my life so far that have brought me here. But I am not fool enough to believe that I have had any agency over the way that things have unfolded. I’m also wise enough now (I hope!) to know that none of it matters. I might have decided that I see myself leading a glamorous lifestyle sipping cocktails on rooftop balconies, dressed in outfits from the latest Marais designer, while chatting in flawless French with a different — yet equally cute — Parisien each night. I might have wished this with all my heart. But it’s not up to me to decide what happens next. And that’s ok, because the universe has far more imagination than me anyway!
Sure, it sucks when things don’t work out; sure it’s tiring to pick yourself up and start again. Believe me, I have agonised over this one a lot. But what else can I do? Personally, I believe that the only thing we really have control over in life is the way we respond to the series of random events that make up our lives. You get knocked down, but you pick yourself up, and in doing so you’re exerting the only creative freedom you really have.
Paris, I hope we can stay friends. I plan to come back and visit from time to time, and I want us to be at peace with everything that has happened between us, both the good and the bad. I know it’s for the best for us to go our separate ways now, but I know that it was also for the best for us to spend the time together that we did. This has contributed to the person I am today - the person I have never been prouder to be. And I will always remember our time fondly. I hope you do too.
Editor’s note: As of November I have moved to London. I have activated my visa, moved into a new flat, and start my first day of work tomorrow. I am doing this partly because things didn’t work out in Paris, but mostly because I have prospects in London (both personal and professional) that I have actively chosen to pursue. I am not closing off this blog for now, but I have changed my Instagram handle (not to London Is Just Not That Into You ;P, but to candieraejay). I have also created a new blog which is attached to my portfolio website, should you wish to follow my adventures in London.
I know that a lot of people have related to and found solace in the experiences I have shared on this blog, and the last thing I would want is for people to believe that because Paris didn’t work out for me that it won’t work out for them. Paris DID work out for me very well, it just led me somewhere else. Maybe Paris does open up to you; maybe it doesn’t but you say to hell with it anyway and stay; maybe, like me, your Paris story is part of a larger story that propels you on to new adventures. Whatever the meaning behind it, I assure you there is one. It just might not be the one you expected.