Paris does little to balance the soul. It satiates the appetite for glamor, history, beauty, and of course, wine, but any emotional stability needs to be created from within. Unlike calmer cities such as Milwaukee, or places surrounded by natural beauty, Paris both fills you up and drains you. It leaves you spinning and dizzy.
Despite having lived here for three months now, the city still fills me with a sense of wonder. I continue to marvel at its magic.
Sometimes, people stare wide-eyed at my choice to move here. And without fail, they always describe how lucky I am, and I can see their eyes gloss over with images of what it must be, or could be for them, while I stand there, feeling awkward in my own skin. Because yes, I am lucky, and I do appreciate it, but not everything can be perfect all the time. Even in Paris.
Living in a magical place can be like living in any other place, in that life still happens. Not every day is this beautiful, wonderful whirlwind. Who knew? And thank god for that! Do you realize how exhausting that would be?
When you live in a place imbued with magic, positive feelings are amplified. The city itself is a drug. We’re all high on each other, dashing around the city in a daze, eating croissants, drinking wine, staring at priceless works of art, exploring the back roads that lead to nowhere, and the others that lead to the perfect cafe, or the perfect bookstore, or just the perfect space to think. We fall into this rush of action and movement, feeling euphoric, resulting in the need to exclaim, “I love my life!” Yes, my friends and I do that sometimes, and yes, sometimes people are embarrassed to be with us. It’s entirely overwhelming yet wonderfully so.
But this coin flips both ways. Feelings of mediocrity become discontent, and anything worse than a vague sense of malaise morphs into this grotesque, horrible, gut-wrenching pain that’s nearly impossible to ignore. My friends and I oftentimes joke that you either feel wonderful or like utter shit in this city. But why is that? And how could we feel anything but wonderful when we’re surrounded by so much beauty?
And when I begin questioning the validity of my own emotions, a quiet voice starts hissing in my head, telling me I should feel guilty for not living in Paris and appreciating the city “the way I’m supposed to.” Whatever that means.
I’ve come to believe that part of this roller coaster comes from simply moving away from home. When the majority of your support network lives across an ocean, or even a state away, you isolate yourself.
As much as I talk about hoping to move here more permanently, sometimes I want nothing more than to sleep soundly in my own bedroom. That safe space where I grew up dreaming and knowing that a hundred hands supported me were I ever to fall.
I’ve always considered myself an explorer. I looked to hobbits venturing out their front door to discover the dragons and elves of the world as inspiration. Sometimes sickeningly idealistic, I never doubted my ability to write and travel the world, yet with that life choice comes the difficult reality of being alone.
Sometimes, nothing feels better than being alone. Sometimes, I feel perfectly content to fall deeper and deeper into my own thoughts as I follow nobody’s whims but my own.
And sometimes it’s simply isolating. Hence the roller coaster.
But still, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s more than just being away from home. Places such as Paris, New York, or London all come with expectations of excitement and wonderment, and in the beginning, your mind is too trapped in the honeymoon phase to notice any potential pitfalls. But when you wake up one day and realize that life is still happening as it always has and you’re unhappy, for whatever reason, the disappointment and guilt over not feeling the magic of the city anymore seems even more pronounced.
Sometimes I think I love Paris for this very reason: the drama. The heightened sense of everything. I like to keep my personal life free of drama, and when Paris affects my feelings too much, I get a little testy with it, but stories with ample drama and high-stakes have always been the clay for my imagination. Paris provides that same sort of high-stakes inspiration.
With the confusing, tangled mess of love and the people passing in and out of my life, I’m coming to realize that my greatest love affair of all is with the city itself. We’ve passed our honeymoon phase and are now learning to live with each other.
The key is learning to live outside the honeymoon phase and simply accepting the city with all its faults (piss everywhere and a bureaucratic system I will never understand) while still appreciating the rich culture and food La Ville-Lumière has to offer. And understanding that even when Paris makes your loneliness feel like an ache that will never leave, the next night you’ll be with your closest friends in the world, smiling, exhilarated, unaware of the worries of yesterday or tomorrow.
Paris and I have had our fights. We’ve reconciled. It has made me feel isolated and lonely at times, as lovers sometimes do, and as with any great love affair, this tumultuous relationship will continue until the end with all the drama of an Andrew Lloyd Weber production. Because it’s Paris.