Have you ever said to yourself, “this can’t be all there is”?
That’s what I was feeling back in 2008. I was convinced that there was more to life, more to my life, than what I was currently living. I was convinced that I was too young at 42 to be at home alone on Friday nights, eating a Panera salad and watching crime dramas. There had to be more, I was sure of it, and I thought I might know where to find it.
In late 2007, I’d taken a quick trip to Paris with a friend who had to be there for work. The trip had only lasted 3 days, but I’d fallen in love with the sparkling, dazzling City of Light. Ridiculous as it may sound, I actually cried as the plane taking me home taxied away from the gate at Charles de Gaulle airport.
On our second night in Paris, as we sat on a café terrace in the picturesque painter’s square in Montmartre drinking wine and flirting with the restaurant manager, my friend Susan had said to me, “you’re going to live here.” “Never crossed my mind,” I’d replied casually. “But why not?” Once I was back in the US, that brief conversation haunted me, and the “why not” question lingered. “What if,” I wondered. “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it,” I thought.
At the time, I was living in Raleigh, NC, a city that frequently appears on lists of the top 10 most livable cities. It’s true that Raleigh is a fabulous place to live if you’re 25 and single. It’s also hard to beat if you’re 42 and married, but if you’re 42 and single, it’s tough. I hadn’t been on a date or even met a man I was interested in dating in ages, and since most of my friends were married, I often found myself feeling lonely. I had a nice job and was lucky to have colleagues who were also friends. I owned my condo, and my parents were only an hour away. But passing another year doing the same things week after week and not feeling like I was growing in any way didn’t feel like what I was supposed to be doing. A friend had once said, before I lived there, that the neighborhood I now lived in was where single women went to die. He meant it as a joke, but it had started to feel truer every day.
Of course, I wondered if I was idealizing Paris. Surely, I was. My three days there with Susan were all about making exciting new discoveries every day, eating whatever we wanted (calories and prices don’t count when you’re on vacation, right?), and only needing to communicate with people who were there to serve tourists and, therefore, spoke English. Living there would be entirely different, and I knew it. What I didn’t know was a single soul in Paris except the cute restaurant manager I’d flirted with, if that even counts. And my repertoire of French phrases was limited to saying hello, ordering a few menu items, and asking where I could find the toilets. So I decided that the first step would be to take a trip alone and see how it would feel to spend a week in Paris without my friend who spoke a little French and knew how to navigate the city. I’d just see, I told myself. I might not even like Paris if I had to do everything alone. And if I did like it, then I’d try to decide if I should attempt a move. I booked a week in May and was so excited that I felt like a 7-year-old on Christmas Eve.
So how was it? Fabulous. I lucked out with the weather (May in Paris can go either way), and even though it was only my second time in the city, I was surprised at how at home I felt. Moreover, in spite of the fact that I was alone, I never felt lonely. I met people left and right just sitting on terraces having drinks or eating. One night, I met two comical French guys who were enjoying their giant salads at the table next to mine. One worked in IT at a bank and the other was an actor. Their English was spotty, but it was miles ahead of my French. Another evening, I sat next to a group of Parisians on the terrace of my favorite Montmartre restaurant. They welcomed me into their little group, and we spent a couple of laughter-filled hours talking about my life in the U.S. and their lives in Paris. When I admired the oh-so-chic handbag that one of the women was carrying, she told me the brand and where she’d bought it, and I made a note for later.
During the day, I’d wander about, discovering the beauty around every corner. One day while sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens just contemplating my exquisite surroundings, I met two guys from Mexico, one who now lived in Paris and his friend who was visiting from Miami. Andy, the Parisian, told me how he’d made the move to Paris and gave me insight into day-to-day life in the city. I started picturing my life in Paris, wondering how I might go about finding an apartment, or more importantly, how I could get a job.
When it was time to go back to my life in Raleigh, I again found myself shedding tears on the tarmac. I had loved spending a week on my own in Paris and had decided that I wanted to do it. I was ready to take the leap and move. I didn’t yet know how I’d make it happen, but Paris already felt like home, and I was going to try my best to make it my home.