I thought my heart was broken in Paris, but my life changed in a big way

(CNN) — April, autumn and midnight; Everything seems better in Paris. It can be said that it is the only city in the world that attracts more than 30 million people every year to its monuments, connecting them with a single feeling: love.

However, for a long time, the mere mention of Paris stirred up feelings of sadness and humiliation as my heart broke beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Nearly a decade later, I finally did something to change that.

I traveled from London to Paris one afternoon in April 2011 to spend a three-day weekend with my boyfriend, who lived in the city.

Our plans were simple: see the tourist sites, walk along the Seine, and eat at every possible restaurant. The Eiffel Tower has been at the top of my travel list ever since my mother gave me a souvenir model of her visit at the age of nine.

The spring sun was caressing my face as I walked out of the subway station. My heart started pounding with nervous excitement as I walked to meet my boyfriend at our rendezvous: the Eiffel Tower.

Although it was my first visit, everything seemed strangely familiar from the photographs and films. Cafés on every corner were as busy as beehives. Waiters in black vests and white aprons were hurrying in and out, their matted hair barely moving as they expertly balanced trays.

I looked out the window and tried to understand what the menu on the blackboard said. When I turned, the traffic had stopped and people were crossing the road together. Wherever I looked, it seemed as if I had walked onto a stage in the middle of a performance.

“I’m going to enjoy being here,” I thought.

My boyfriend had spent part of the year in Paris for work and had come to know the city well. We were planning to spend the long weekend together before I returned to London.

“Meet me at three o’clock on the road leading to the Eiffel Tower. I will slow down the car and you get in the car. The river will follow you,” were the instructions he sent me by SMS.

At a time when everyone relied on Google Maps, directions seemed simple. Although he did not mention the street names, it seemed so simple that I did not ask him any further questions.

Time is Running Out

That day he had left early from the English port of Dover for Calais on the north-west French coast. There were still three hours to go by train from Calais.

I arrived with an hour to spare and wandered around Paris aimlessly, until suddenly I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower looming on the horizon and a scream of excitement escaped my mouth. Mesmerized, I moved towards her and she looked taller, wider and grander than I had imagined. It was exactly like my mother’s memory of the Eiffel Tower.

As the time to meet my boyfriend was approaching, I set out to find the way to the “Eiffel Tower”. After wandering around for 20 minutes, I couldn’t find anything that fit the description.

The only road directly accessible to the tower was the Ponte d’Ena on the River Seine. All other main roads ran parallel around it. Frustrated and short on time, I turned back to the scene. I picked up my phone and found an angry text message.

“Where are you? I can’t believe you’re not here.”

What followed was an exchange that exposed problems in our relationship that I knew about but that I hoped would become a thing of the past in Paris.

But even the city of love could not help us.

“I can’t find the road,” I replied by SMS.
“I can’t believe it! It was a simple instruction.”
“I don’t know which way you mean. I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.”
“Tell me where you are”.
“I’m in front of the Eiffel Tower and I have the river in front of me.”
“This isn’t where you were supposed to meet me.”

This chaotic exchange of messages continued for a few minutes before I saw him coming towards me. It had started drizzling. The sun was hidden behind the clouds and I could feel the moisture on my skin and on my clothes.

“I gave you a very simple instruction! All you had to do was wait for me there,” he said angrily, waving his hands in the opposite direction.

“Can we forget about it now?” I asked, my voice breaking with frustration.

“No, we can’t forget it. I had flowers for you. I threw them in the trash.”

tears near the tower

Heartbroken, exhausted, and devastated by his words, I burst into tears. He walked away angrily without saying a single word of consolation to me, while I was crying in the middle of Paris.

We were friends for five years before forming a romantic relationship. As someone who had a very reserved upbringing, I found her carefree attitude towards life extremely attractive. I admired his spontaneity without understanding his careless nature.

Crying, she thought about the countless times she had enthusiastically explained to him that she had wanted to see the Eiffel Tower for as long as she could remember. While I was away, we also exchanged long emails and text messages about the happy memories we spent together in Paris.

But now, all the anger and arguments from the entire relationship came upon me at once and I felt like I had fallen to the floor. I couldn’t move. This moment of despair will change everything, because it brings an invaluable gift: dazzling clarity.

Instead of following her to the car as she expected, I turned and walked slowly in the rain toward the subway station.

I wanted to leave Paris.

I have never been so sure of a decision. The metro took me to Gare du Nord and I bought a Eurostar ticket to London, which cost three times what I had paid to get there. At that moment, it was appropriate to keep a lot of distance between us.

While waiting for the train, I got a load of text messages on my phone:

“Where are you?!”
“If you get lost again, I won’t come looking for you!”
“I’m going home by car!”

I ignored everything. I didn’t want to find out why he got so angry, like he always did. Our relationship ended in what I hoped would be a beautiful moment of reunion under the Eiffel Tower. I returned to London and never contacted her again or tried to retrieve the items I had left at her house. I broke all ties, including our mutual friends.

For many years, I was terrified at any mention of Paris.

I didn’t dare tell anyone that, unlike other people who had fallen in love or been proposed to in Paris, my heart had been broken there.

It was a story too pitiful to repeat. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower no longer remind me of my mother’s gift, but start to make me nervous.

happy return

Years later, when social media exploded and the most beautiful photos of Paris filled my feed, I silently responded in my mind: “It’s not for me.” I felt the same way about the city as I did about my former partner: it was not a place I wanted to return to.

It took me a decade to cope with the withdrawal, but I finally decided it was time to fix my relationship with Paris.

So I started planning my return. I booked a business class train ticket from London. When I got the confirmation on my phone, I knew I had embarked on a journey I had been waiting for for a long time.

On the morning of the trip I arrived at London station and boarded the train along with hundreds of tourists and Frenchmen returning from abroad.

At Gare du Nord station, my final destination, the transfer took me out onto the streets of Paris. As we were traveling along the Seine River I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and there was nothing but a smile on my face.

From the back seat of the car, I felt as excited as the first time I saw her.

My hotel was classic Paris: marble entrance and gold details. From my room, I could see the Eiffel Tower from all the windows, even the bathroom. I stepped onto the terrace and the whole of Paris spread out around me like a tapestry spread out for inspection.

I whispered to myself, “I’m back.”

For the next three days I wandered everywhere. I took every opportunity to sit outside in cafés, drinking wine and looking out over the Parisian landscape.

I read for hours sitting on the grass in the Tuileries Gardens, eat pastries for breakfast in small bakeries, and drink soups in Michelin-starred restaurants. In this city, where watching people was a way of life, I was just another stranger walking alone; Nobody blinked.

I took deep breaths with every step and understood why Paris is the most visited city in the world.

People may come here for different reasons, but ever since then the reason I’ve come back is because of how Paris makes me feel.

There is a connection and flow to everything that happens here. Instagrammable bakeries exist to serve people, residents look out from high windows at the beautiful streets below even if there are no cameras on them, the metro takes you anywhere, and the Eiffel Tower keeps an eye on everything.

None of this stands out from the rest, nor is it built for tourists or staged to attract visitors. What I feel when I walk in is the beating heart of the French experience.

On the last night of my solo weekend, I was sitting on the rooftop of my hotel, with the Eiffel Tower in front of me, lights flashing around its beautiful 19th-century architecture.

And I realized that maybe my heart wasn’t broken here. What Paris gave me so many years ago was the greatest moment of clarity that changed the course of my life.

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