Facebook has a funny way of being poignant. I’d say it was accidental but it probably has an algorithm that senses when you’re feeling vulnerable. In two days' time I was going to Paris and here was a Facebook Memory from almost a decade prior, of me in the city of love with my ex-boyfriend, Jack*.
This very week, eight years ago, I was in the most romantic place in the world, with a man I didn’t love, frantically planning how on earth I would break up my longest relationship to date.
Jack was my first love. We met at university then moved to London six months apart, me staying with him as much as possible after he’d got a job in parliament.
Over the course of our relationship Jack went from being the funniest person I knew to making me feel like I’d involuntarily enrolled in a scheme to mould me into a political wife. Someone who wouldn’t make a fuss over anything. In general he was a great person, and still is. But I knew I had to get out.
There’s nothing like a weekend in Paris in the dying embers of a relationship to really speed things up. The city tells you that you can’t have doubts; you look around at everyone else, convinced they’re only out of their hotel rooms to get some sustenance before they die of starvation from relentless shagging. Holidays are pivotal for relationships anyway, let alone in a city engineered to make you feel at your most sexual. Paris expects you to pack your suspenders and have the best sex of your life – usually with someone you shouldn’t. It looks down on you if you’re there with a nice man and a stable future but 6/10 sex and a brief spat about which bureau de change to use.
Myself and my best friend always talk about the 'little voice' in relationships. You can be with the most perfect partner on paper but have the little voice in the back of your head telling you it’s not right. Paris turns that little voice into a scream that you can’t ignore.
We broke up on New Year’s Day, in the snow. I don’t recommend it. I blame Paris.
Last week I asked for Parisian restaurant recommendations on Twitter for my upcoming trip. A (Parisian) man I’d met travelling a few years back replied. We had a fling, he started sleeping with another girl in the group we’d met (within a week) and then asked me why I was bothered. If I had to sum him up, he was a man who told men he was from France and women he was from Paris.
I visited him there after we’d returned home. I had no idea what I was expecting; we were friends by this point, he was still seeing the other girl and I didn’t want anything from him. But like so many of my decisions, I was swayed by being able to tell the story. "Yeah I met a guy in Thailand, had a fling, now we’re friends and I’m going to stay with him in the centre of Paris!"
I spent the weekend questioning what I was doing there and trying to spend as much time as possible on my own. The little voice chided me. I’ve had this pervading feeling throughout the years in regards to making too much effort with men who care not a jot, who are not worth my time, who entice me with confidence and laughter, then coast along while I strive to keep that feeling going. I liken it to feeling overdressed at a party – the hot shame of doing too much while everyone else pretends not to notice. That’s how I felt in Paris, overdressed at a party I wasn’t invited to. I couldn’t wait for the lights to come on.
I wandered the streets and wished away the hours in my favourite city, doing some soul searching, wondering why I’d even come. Paris enveloped me, disappointed.
Two months ago I broke up with my first boyfriend in four years. It was a short, very intense relationship.
Everything about it shouldn’t have happened. He’d just come out of a six-year relationship, he had a reputation for a wandering eye (among other body parts) and was five years younger than me. Despite a rocky start we began dating and fell in love immediately. The next five months would be spent glued to each other. We’d be together every night no matter what we were doing; we'd come home early from gigs to see each other (we’re comedians, what do you mean of course it didn’t work?), and the little voice wasn’t there. Essentially you’d have hated us.
We booked to go to Paris for a night to perform at a show there. Finally I was going with a boy with whom I was constantly in bed. I planned on drinking endless champagne, bathing in French onion soup and absolutely rinsing a hotel room.
Then we broke up suddenly. He did something where I realized I could never trust him, and I was heartbroken. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you that they knew this would happen, or that you should have expected it. Heartbreak is the same no matter what the story. It’s like a murder trial; the motive has no bearing on the verdict.
Paris loomed closer in my calendar. I decided to go alone.
As I checked in, the receptionist looked incredulous. "Madame, you are...alone?" I’m not sure Parisians understand the concept of being single; my budget Eat Pray Love wasn’t off to a good start.
The feeling of not needing a partner can exist at the same time as still wanting the one you had. I’m not going to pretend the trip was a coming-of-age montage. I cried three times in 24 hours, twice on the street and once in a restaurant, where the waiter probably thought I was getting overly emotional about red wine and a croque monsieur. But I also laughed, and got drunk.
There I was, beret on (let me live) in a bistro at 5pm, reading my book, when the promoter called. The gig was cancelled. He had forgotten to tell me. I was in the most romantic city in the world, alone, my one excuse for being there gone.
I asked around and found another one not far away. That’s the great thing about comedy, it’s like having a trade. People always want to laugh, so there’s a global network to let you (try to) make them. I went along and made friends with the barman. I drank with him and told him my story as he poured me drinks and only let me pay for half of them. The gig went well, and afterwards the promoter pressed a €5 note into my hand and thanked me. As the comics got chatting and words began slurring, there were shots, stories, and talk of going down the road to a late bar. I didn’t want to, I was here alone.
I slipped away from my new friends in search of dinner. Again, the request for a table for one was met with confusion and an offer from the waiting staff to seat me with a solo male diner. I politely declined. The French really want you to be constantly drinking wine and getting laid.
I sat there, with my steak frites and wine, slightly hazy from the barman’s generosity, looking around at everyone. And I felt…fine. I felt okay. I’m not going to end this with a cheesy quip about Paris actually being the city of self-love. I like myself. I just don’t like the things I let people get away with sometimes. I had a good time, and I was infinitely grateful to be there alone rather than with a man I didn’t love.
I’ll make mistakes in future. I might be back in Paris alone, twice more, thrice more. Who knows. But as I get older and glean what can only be described as a soupçon of knowledge (don’t be the bore who always does the right thing in a relationship, where’s your passion? Give your friends something to bitch about, for goodness' sake), all I know is that it really is better not to know what’s around the corner. The mystery of being single is something I embrace rather than fear, because there’s nothing more terrifying than knowing you’re spending it with someone who makes you feel overdressed at the party. This time Paris sat back, took a long look at me and said 'Huh'. I’ll take that.
*Not his real name.