Paris, a city splitting at the seams with hundreds of years of world-changing history, enviably chic culture, mouthwatering food and Gallic beauty. And romance.
So much romance I wanted to throw up.
Couples were everywhere. Entwined in the October sunshine outside the Sacré-Cœur. Reaching out for their partner’s hand in the gloomy eeriness of the Paris Catacombs. Lovingly sharing a bottle of red wine as the Eiffel Tower illuminated the skyline.
It was only in the eternal peace of Père Lachaise cemetery that I found some relief from the endless parade of canoodling. Even there the silent graves of long-dead couples stared back at me more often than not.
I’d just dumped my boyfriend of two years. My head and heart were on the floor and in the clouds. What the fuck was I doing in Paris?
Before I ended my rapidly deteriorating relationship I’d taken advantage of a timely (or so I thought) Eurostar flash sale. With my bank balance £59 lighter I printed off my ticket and excitedly packed my bag for a last minute voyage to the capital of love. Predictably, my soon to be ex-other half announced he had other commitments and wouldn’t be joining me. So it was to be another solo sojourn, the fifth one in less than a year.
The last time I set foot in Paris my age sat snugly in the single-digits category, and I was more interested in getting Donald Duck’s autograph at Disneyland than exploring the city’s myriad attractions. So as I zipped into Gare du Nord station my head was swimming with plans for next three days. Day tripping to the decadent Palace of Versailles, creeping through the Parisian catacombs, browsing the Louvre’s collections, eating up a storm across Paris’s boulangeries and bistros.
But after a long month of ignoring my feelings by burying myself in my work, refusing to shed a tear and confiding in no-one, Paris completely finally made me face up to reality.
Strolling around the beautiful sights of Paris I found my head kept filling with memories of my doomed relationship. Why had I not acted sooner? Had I made the right decision? Could we ever be friends? Why couldn’t he have been like the thousands of boyfriends happily walking hand-in-hand with their girlfriends along the banks of the Seine? I felt consumed by these thoughts.
Eating in a restaurant alone, surrounded by happy chattering couples was torturous. As was sitting by the immaculately landscaped lakes at the Palace of Versailles, watching giggling men and women propel little wooden rowing boats through the glittering water. Even the annoying ‘salesmen’ touting cheap plastic Eiffel Tower replicas and single red roses in Montmartre gave me a wide berth. Paris is not a city that invites singledom.
So I gave myself over to the city entirely. I set about discovering its boulevards until my feet were one big blister – alone. I craved solitude. I spurned other hostel guests’ attempts to make idle chatter. I ate madeleines and baguettes on the move. I read voraciously. I went to bed early and rose early. I thought and I felt. I watched the lovestruck padlock their affections to a collapsing bridge, and felt like collapsing myself. But bit by bit I told myself to carry on, to buy that train ticket to Versailles, to walk down the bright lights of Champs-Élysées in the evening, to order that large glass of Merlot – and another one. To smile. After all, there are worse places to nurse an achey heart than Paris in the throes of a spectacular Autumn.
And by the time I hopped off the Eurostar train at St Pancras and raced to catch my connection to Cambridge (oh yeh, I live in Cambridge now – but more on that in another post!) I felt the anxieties and constant thoughts of him evaporate. My head was totally clear. My trip had given me the space I needed to grieve properly. I felt… fine. I’d left my heartache behind, somewhere between Commerce metro station and the English border.
Solo travel can be the perfect way to get over somebody. People always recommend spending time with friends, jetting off on girly holidays and rebounding with a sexy foreign guy whose name will forever remain unknown. But my three days in Paris was the perfect way to dump my feelings and move on. I finally let out a few tears for what I had lost, watching the Eiffel Tower light up the impending night sky, cheered on by hundreds of lovers in the garden below.
The next day, before I caught my train home, I walked back to lovelock bridge. Every time I travel abroad I always bring him back a postcard, I guess it was our ‘thing’. I pulled out one I’d picked up in Montmatre the day before, showing Paris throughout the seasons, bathed in summer light, winter snow and autumn leaves, the back covered with my handwriting, detailing everything I thought of him. I ripped it in half, again and again, before throwing it into the Seine and walking away.
Will I ever go back to Paris? No, probably not. That’s not to say I didn’t like Paris, but for me the city will always be my relationship’s graveyard.
Why have I suddenly decided to talk about the death my relationship on my blog? Talking about our love lives on blogs can prove difficult – as documented by Kate and Dani so honestly, beautifully – and painfully. But as someone who hasn’t talked about my break-up with friends or family, I found writing about it extremely cathartic. It would be impossible for me to write about my time in Paris without talking about my relationship – the two will forever be joined in my mind.
Have you ever travelled to a ‘romantic’ destination after a break-up? How did it feel? I’d love to hear how you handled it below.