It’s official! Today, I’ve lived in Paris for one year.
I’m celebrating with a glass of Prosecco, and writing this article.
Quite honestly this has been one super tough year. I hesitate to jump into that deep well of a topic, for fear of never getting out to the other side. So, instead, let me jump backwards a bit… I’d like to explain how I got here in the first place. Why am I an American in Paris?
It all started 6 years ago. (Sort of.)
I started reading this book called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, which is the narrative of one woman’s quest to discover what makes a person happy and to increase the level of happiness in her already relatively happy life. It took me at least 2 years to read because I kept putting it down to implement some of the ideas, and then I’d open it up again after a few months of lallygagging about.
Ultimately, this book transformed the way I look at my own choices and actions. It led me to really question my actions and my motives to see if they were in line with what would bring me the most joy and long-term happiness.
Long-term happiness is not the same as short-term hedonism.
Yes, I want more joy, but I want it to be the lasting kind, not the fleeting, exhilarating kind that leaves you exhausted and unsatisfied the next day. So, I tried to do a bit of my own research.
I read any article and watched any TED talk that related to happiness and life satisfaction. This will sound morbid, but I read articles on the internet about what dying people regret most (here’s a long one) (here’s a short one).
Then I read about the 70-year study of Harvard students that found the one thing that correlated with happiness more than anything was strong long-term relationships. “Happiness is love. Full stop.” (To quote one of the researchers.)
One of the primary insights of all these sources was that relationships and experiences are what bring us the most happiness, not money or accomplishments. Some of the supposed regrets of the dying were: working too much, not spending enough time with family, not taking vacations, not getting out of unhealthy relationships, not taking risks to pursue things they would love, not taking care of their health earlier, not preparing for their own financial needs soon enough, etc.
It became my quest, my ultimate goal: to live a satisfying life.
As a result, I changed my career direction to find more satisfaction in that part of my life; I focused on building stronger friendships that were most meaningful to me and I separated from people who were unhealthy for me; I tried to focus on building stronger relationships with my family; I chased down and felt the comfort of financial stability; I adopted a dog; and ultimately I felt quite a lot of joy.
There were just a few things that were nagging at me: I wanted to get out of Baltimore, and I wanted to start a family.
Baltimore is a wonderful place filled with warm, strong, smart people, and has wonderful architecture and a beautiful harbor. It is also racially divided and politically corrupt, and filled with an unreasonable amount of crime and poverty. It’s complicated.
I didn’t really feel safe there. However, with my house and my job and my friends and my professional network, I had a lot of reasons to stay in Baltimore.
And in the few years after I began reading about pursuing long-term happiness, I started to get a really good handle on what I wanted in a life-long relationship. I listened to this TED talk at least three times about one woman’s very nerdy way of finding the love of her life with an incredibly detailed prioritized list of ideal character traits of her future beloved.
Her method seemed really great, but I never created such a detailed list.
I did create a short-list, and met a man who matched my list exactly, and we had a really good go of a relationship for three years. Everything seemed to be perfect, but there was always something that didn’t feel quite right. Eventually I realized that in spite of all of the great stuff, there was a certain chemistry that I needed, that had been missing the whole time. Soon after, I ended the relationship.
I started a new list.
There were 7 deal-breakers and 20 essential characteristics of my ideal man. A deal breaker that had never been on my list before was that I needed “the one” to appreciate my silliness. I wanted to be with someone I could be totally myself with, and playfulness is a key element of that!
On the one hand, I was devastated to be single again at 32, because 35 was inching closer and I would really like to be a mom someday. Statistically speaking, making and having healthy babies gets more complicated after that point. On the other hand, I was excited that I might find a relationship that offered a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain spark that I believed was possible.
Also, now that I was single, I knew this would be the best moment to leave Baltimore.
I immediately started to plan my departure. I told friends and family of my idea: apply to teach English at American Schools in other countries. I had a friend in Chile, so maybe I could go there…? As a backup plan, I was looking into transferring my teaching credentials to the state of California, where several dear family members live. I figured it would take me about a year to organize the move, so I planned to teach one more school year in Baltimore.
Two months after the break up, during summer break…
I was visiting my French host family in the south of France. My host brother was getting married. I met his fiancée for the first time and adored hearing her tell me their love story as my host father drove us between vineyards to the wine cellars of Gigondas. I joked and played with my other host brother and his life partner, who had been together for nearly 10 years. I spent time chatting with my French host parents who are still very much in love. And I truly enjoyed my time with my French host sister who is my closest friend in France. I had been a witness at her wedding three years prior, which had been one of the happiest weeks of my life.
And then there was me: the single girl, the same age as the oldest sibling in the house.
I couldn’t stop thinking of the negative, the lack of a life-partner in my life. Mentally, I compared my life to each of theirs, all with such wonderful love stories. And I broke down. I walked alone to the back of the garden behind the tall line of trees, which is hard to see from the house, and I just started bawling. I couldn’t keep it in. I continued walking, slowly, just crying and walking and thinking about how single I was and how I might never find “the one” and how time was running out for baby-making.
My host father came to find out what I was doing and he attempted to console me once he saw the tears. I tried to pull myself together. At that time my French was at its worst, and explaining my fears and my struggles wasn’t easy. He told me that 35 was nothing to fear. I tried to cheer up for him.
And then my host mother came too.
And her response to “35” was raised eyebrows, a nod, and a knowing “ah, oui.” Yes, it’s a real thing, she assured me seriously.
Then they sent my host sister, and at that point I felt very silly having everyone attend to my out-of-control emotions.
I knew what to do, and I hadn’t been doing it.
I needed to focus on the positive. I needed to re-wire my brain to stop focusing on the lack, and focus only on all the things I was grateful for. Gratefulness is scientifically proven to make you happier, and I wasn’t following the exact advice I had spent years reading about.
So, I got my emotions under control, re-framed the situation to myself, and then did all of the floral arrangements for the wedding, which was no small task! haha
No less than two days later, I met my future husband.
When I first set eyes on him my initial thought was, “That is a good looking man.” He wooed me right from the start, chatting me up, offering me rides, winking at me from across the dance floor, offering me a shoulder rub in the cold 2am air, being an utter gentleman the entire time.
He was silly and playful and generous and kind, and a sworn bachelor. He told me he was purposefully single and wasn’t looking for a relationship.
I assumed this would be just a summer fling, but didn’t think about it too much and just enjoyed one amazing week together at my host family’s house with post-wedding relaxation, swimming in the pool, and big family meals.
At the end of the week he said he didn’t want whatever we had between us to end. He had developed feelings for me! A week after I returned to the US, he asked me to officially be his girlfriend, and two months later he assured me he wanted to marry me.
Logically speaking, dating someone who lives 3,700 miles away is not a good idea.
Unless you are me, and you have finally found someone who loves that you are playful, who tells you how beautiful you are more than once per day, who is generous and loving and sweet.
That I had already decided to move across the world made dating Romain just that much easier.
4 months after meeting we were engaged, another 4 months and we were married, and another 3 months and I had moved my whole life to France.
Somehow, that was the easy part!
Now, one year after the big move, I see how crazy I was to start this relationship, how insane this whole process of moving to France has been. After finally arriving in France, I had so many new adjustments to make. Being married, in a new apartment, in a new town, living with a new language, searching for a new apartment, jumping through so many administrative hoops…
It has been one really difficult year.
So lonely and stressful and psychologically challenging.
To be honest, I lost a lot by coming here:
that financial stability I had set up, those really deep friendships, my satisfying career, and my professional networks. I’ve had to start over from zero in those regards.
I also lost time: time with my mom, my dad, my family. I don’t see them nearly as much I as I used to.
Don’t let me go on sounding like a sourpuss. Of course, I’m grateful. Truly.
I’m grateful to feel safe in my home city. I’m grateful for the chance to start a family. I’m grateful I have such fabulous in-laws. I’m grateful to be in the gorgeous place that is Paris.
And above all, I’m grateful I’ve found my love, the man who loves my playfulness, who tells me I’m beautiful, whose values match my own.
The road is still bumpy ahead as I build a new life in France.
I took one step forward two steps back by marrying my love and moving to Paris. Now I need to muster up the energy (often a challenge) to improve the other elements of my life: the finances, the friendships…
Always in the pursuit of my personal form of happiness.
It turns out pursuing happiness is a lot of work! 😉
P.S. The gorgeous feature photo for this post (of my wedding bouquet) was taken by the most amazing Australian photographer (living in Paris), Katie Mitchell. She was a pleasure to work with and I couldn’t be happier with my wedding photos.
Should I put up a post with more photos from our wedding?
P.P.S. This post may contain links to products and I may earn a very small commission if you buy anything after clicking on my links. I will not earn any commission if you hire Katie: I’m promoting her because deserves credit for that lovely photo! 😉