The other night, alone in Paris, I was thinking about what it means to be independent. I’m in Paris, so I’m not expecting too much sympathy, but after a month of mostly eating alone, wandering the streets without anyone to talk to, and sitting at bar counters with no company other than an overpriced English magazine, I’ve been feeling a little glum. Yes, the steak frites and chocolatines are still delicious. The setting sun still makes the low-rise buildings glow the most breathtaking shades. And the way the city warms up at night — all lights and outdoor seating at cafes and a happy hour that actually lasts many hours and blends seamlessly into dinner — continues to enthrall me.
But I also, for maybe the longest stretch in my life, don’t have any friends to drink and dine with. I don’t have anyone to gossip with and I’m feeling starved of human contact. And I realized the other night that I was counting the days, through gritted teeth, until I could see my boyfriend again. And that made me feel terrible, like I was squandering a wonderful, baked-goods-and-twinkling-lights-and-pretty-little-window-boxes experience because I’ve been feeling like I’m not so independent after all.
I usually really like spending time alone — even need a certain amount of time alone — so I assumed I’d be fine. In all of the visions I had of wandering the streets of Paris, of setting up my own little apartment with my own fridge full of fancy mustards and cornichons, I had always pictured myself alone — and loving every minute of it. And I guess I’d always associated independence with both the strength to pursue the things I wanted to do without anyone else’s approval, and the ability to sustain myself with only moi for company.
But then I decided to give myself a break, and start looking at the happier side of this particular, initially unsettling revelation. I’d always dreamed of running off to Paris — but I’d never imagined what it might be like to be alone for long periods of time. The happy side of this is, of course, that I have people in my life who are so wonderful and important to me that I miss them terribly. I know that needing people and a support system and even basic social contact (with people other than waiters) is not a sign of weakness. But I also worry that the desire to avoid loneliness will prevent me from trying some of the things I want to try in the future.
So what’s the answer? I’m determined to enjoy my last week in Paris. I’ve reached out to friends of friends — who I’ve never met — because I’ve finally realized that I’m not the kind of person who can live indefinitely (or even several weeks) without brunching companions. I’m still eating my weight in baked goods every day. And I still get a thrill from just wandering the streets, taking the time to gaze up and take in all of the lovely little ornate finishings that would be so easy to take for granted here. I’m still a little homesick, and I still miss my friends and family. But I guess it might be a while before I figure out what kind of learning experience this has been.