When you go to Paris with a romantic partner, it’s implied that you’re going because it is romantic. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Paris three other times in my life: once with my mother, once on a school trip, and once with a friend at the end of a month-long backpacking excursion. Before each of those trips, no one had oo-ed or awed whatsoever over my plans to go to Paris. But now, 31 yrs old and with a boyfriend, romance was all anyone wanted to talk about.
When people asked if E and I were going on a romantic getaway, I laughed awkwardly and said, “No. It’s just a trip.” I wanted to point out that no one asked this when I went with boyfriends to Ireland, Iceland, or India. I also knew that, of all the cities in the world, Paris is practically synonymous with love and romance. When you think of Paris, you think of people securing a heart-shaped lock on the Pont des Arts and gazing longingly into each other’s eyes while the Eiffel Tower sparkles somewhere in the background.
This, however, was not why E and I were going to Paris. We were going because I’d wanted to go to Morocco or Luxembourg, but the flights didn’t work out. E had never been to France. He’d studied French in school and had dreamt of one day moving from Brazil to France, but ended up in Portugal instead. When he suggested Paris, I said yes. The reasons seemed practical, not romantic.
Yet, as the trip approached, and more and more friends gushed over the location, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was this a romantic trip? And if so, what made it romantic? Were we supposed to split a bottle of champagne at the window seat of some fancy restaurant? Eat the same spaghetti strand ala Lady and the Tramp? Kiss on top of the Eiffel Tower? Romance has never been my forte. My boyfriend of seven years even dumped me by citing my “emotional unavailability” and “I just never knew if you really liked me” as keys reasons for the break-up. Ever since, I’ve tried to be more obvious about my feelings with romantic partners, but where are the lines between sincerity, vulnerability, and plain self preservation?
While checking our bags through security, all I could think about was why hadn’t we chosen anywhere else in France? Normandy, Nice, Strasbourg. I liked E and was keenly aware of not screwing things up. He’d been the one to suggest Paris, but what if it wasn’t just for practical reasons? Was he expecting champagne and romance while I was researching ghost tours and vegan restaurants?
We stayed in a small hotel near the Gard du Nord. E and I got a room on the top floor overlooking the busy street. The room was small and cozy. The wall at the head of the bed was plastered in a black and white photo of the underbelly of the Eiffel Tower. It’s like having sex under the Eiffel Tower, I thought. Is that romantic?
We spent the first night searching for a place to eat and finally settled on an Indian restaurant in a nondescript alley. The next morning, we set out for Montmarte, winding our way through residential streets until we finally found the Sacre Coeur. From there we walked some more, stopped for pastries, and then took a train to one of my two favorite places in Paris: the Arc de Triomphe.
We walked around with pigeons at the Louvre, saw the burnt body of the Notre Dame, and waited in line for my absolute favorite Parisian, and European, place: the Sainte-Chapelle. We ate crepes, drank coffee, and made our way back to the hotel, where we fell into bed behind the legs of the Eiffel Tower…and slept for nearly two and a half hours.
The next day followed this same pattern: walking, eating, walking some more, stopping to get coffee again before my mood dipped, back to the hotel for a nap, and then out for dinner and maybe a drink. At one point, we were so exhausted from wandering, that we debated simply ordering Uber Eats to the hotel. Then we learned of a vegan burger shop just down the street and we roused ourselves enough to make one last journey before bed.
Our third and last day was planned around the two things we’d each been most excited about when traveling to Paris. For E, it was going up the Eiffel Tower. For me, eating Ethiopian food. These would be the pivotal romantic moments, I thought. Things we were most excited about; things that meant the most to each of us and were something we were excited to share with the other.
When we left the hotel that morning, and I felt the same way I used to before heading to school on Exam Day. I imagined myself like Rocky Balboa before his big fight: jumping side-to-side, shaking my arms, and flexing my muscles. I had that exciting yet nervous feeling of: This is it. This is something you have planned for and studied for, and now it’s time to put it to use. In just the few months that we’d been dating, I made sure to always say sweet things to E, tell him often how much I liked him, and generally be emotive in the way that that ex had made me feel like I was incapable of and therefore would fail in every future relationship because of it.
And now this was it: going to the top of the Eiffel frickin’ Tower. The ultimate Can You Be Romantic? Olympics.
We got to the tower earlier than expected, so we spent a few hours walking along the river and eating sandwiches at a cafe. We explored the park that stretches between the tower and historic École Militaire to the southeast. Families walked around us, also stalling before their allotted ticket entrance to the tower. Men saying, “Eiffel, one euro,” sold Eiffel Tower trinkets off oversized keychains. A few had their goods spread out on picnic blankets, and one man had to quickly pull his blanket out of the way from a police van that either didn’t notice him or didn’t care.
When it was our time to go up the tower, we spent very little time waiting in lines. We were shuttled along with about forty other people into one large cable car, which took us to the first level of the tower (the one you can also walk to for a cheaper price). We stayed in the car and went up to the second level. From there, everyone disembarked and tried to push and snake their way to the second set of elevators, which would take you to the very top.
At the very top of the tower, E and I looked out over all of Paris and its suburbs. We pointed at places we walked to over the previous days, and took obligatory selfies. We tried to see if we could locate the Ethiopian restaurant. The wind picked up and I could feel the ground beneath us move slightly. After making one full turn around both the open half and the closed half of the top, we made the trek back to the ground.
Finished with the Eiffel Tower, we yet again found ourselves with hours to kill before a normal dinnertime. We chose a random nearby cafe and ordered rounds of Happy Hour drinks. Although we’ve known each other for nearly a year, we managed to find new topics to talk about ourselves, discuss past relationships, and plan our summer trip to Brazil.
While we chatted, I again thought about whether this was romantic or not. The Eiffel Tower had been fun, but it hadn’t been brimming with romance and warm, fuzzy feelings in the way you’re led to expect from movies and marketing.
I thought about past trips with boyfriends and what, if anything, had made those romantic. There was the night in Iceland, drinking wine in an outdoor Jacuzzi while a green Aurora Borealis ball rolled across the sky. There were drinks inside a speakeasy in Charleston, where my date and I were humored by the fact that people kept thinking we were on our honeymoon, yet it was only our fourth date. And then there was a dinner on a rooftop overlooking Jaipur, killing time beside an empty hotel pool before a red eye flight.
The location of each of those moments had been romantic, but what really made them standout in my mind were the moments with each guy. With the Jacuzzi, it was the fact that it was the first moment my longterm bf had agreed to move to Asia with me (turns out that was a lie, but the nice in-the-moment feel still stands); in Charleston it was the excitement of feeling a connection with someone after having my heart broken months previous (re: Jacuzzi man); and in Jaipur, it was the first relaxing moment after a whirlwind trip and the beginning of a new relationship.
E and I ordered one more round before heading to the Ethiopian restaurant. While I swirled the wine in my glass, E told me about telling his parents that we were dating.
“Are they horrified I’m American?” I joked.
E smiled like one of my past students when they didn’t want to confess to plagiarizing a poem by Langston Hughes. “I don’t know if this will offend you,” he said.
“They think I own guns?”
He laughed. “They said, You never make it easy for us, do you?”
It took me half a second to realize he meant the language barrier and that come June, both his family and I were going to stumble through the awkwardness of me having the communication abilities of a child.
As we continued to talk about his family’s initial impression of me, I realized that if there was a pivotal romantic moment in our Paris trip, one that I would look back to as the point of romance, it was this: drinking cheap happy hour beer and wine at a random cafe while we waited for an “appropriate” dinner time to eat our weight in injera, lentils, and wot. I’d never dated a guy who felt confident enough to say he’d talked about me with his family. I’d never even dated a guy who expressed an interest in me meeting his friends or family (to be fair, with the long-term bf, we’d already known each other long enough to know each other’s families and most of our friends). It was nice to know that, for once, the person I was dating liked me enough to tell others.
Now, a month away from the trip, it’s easier to see that the romance of the weekend wasn’t simply going to Paris. It wasn’t a kiss on top of the Eiffel Tower (which we did) or eating in Montmarte (which we had). The romance was E talking to me for two straight hours during both of our flights because he knows I’m scared of flying (even the 7 a.m. flight when he’d even openly stated the night before that he planned to sleep on the plane–LOL NOPE, not when there’s the slightest tremble of turbulence that might just be the flight attendant’s drink cart rolling by). It was me researching vegan and vegetarian restaurants so that E would have meal options. It was E reaching his hand out to mine when we walked or me taking him to the Sainte-Chapelle because I hoped he’d be wowed. It was spending a few days together and continuing to get to know each other (and learning to tolerate people, *cough*me*cough*, when they get hangry).
So, if you go to Paris with your boyfriend, does it have to be romantic? Or can it just be a normal, everyday trip? What’s the difference between a normal trip and a romantic trip?
Obviously the answers to all of these depend on the person. Do I think the trip to Paris was romantic simply because it was romantic? No, I don’t. I think when you’re with a pretty neat person, a trip anywhere can be romantic.