Romance in France
When I first arrived in Northern France to work as a teaching assistant, I had no plans to date anyone. Freshly emerging from a long string of unsatisfactory relationships, I decided to put romance on hold for the year in order to concentrate on strengthening old friendships and developing new ones. Considering both my impressive history of serial monogamy and the aura of romance that much of the Western world has heaped onto France (romantic weekend to Paris, anyone?), many of my friends believed that I was doomed to fail at this endeavor.
Unsurprisingly, they were right. Perhaps it was due to a combination of sheer boredom in my tiny isolated town (population 2,500 + livestock) and a rising level of, “What the hell, why not? You’re only young once!” that I started exchanging a high volume of text messages with a certain French man I had met in a “nearby” city during my first weeks in my new home. Our communication and subsequent rendezvous were strictly platonic, though I did notice that he was more than willing to drive several hours out of his way to visit me or to pick me up for an excursion to a neighboring village. A few weeks into this, he offered to take me on a weekend trip to see the castle of Fontainebleau in a city of the same name. One small catch: his father lived in a flat directly across from the castle, so we would be staying with him. Of course I agreed, but the American in me found the entire situation quite strange. Furthermore, it was our first overnight weekend trip together, though there had never been even a hint of romance between us. Nevertheless, if he was pursuing me romantically (a possibility to which I was open at that point), it seemed extremely early to be meeting his father, and playing guest in his house, no less! Intrigued by the entire scenario, I proceeded with curiosity.
Sure enough, we ended up kissing that weekend, and from there, the rest of the relationship was a whirlwind. I desperately searched the blogosphere for information about what I was experiencing. Everything that I found confirmed my suspicions: the French do not procrastinate when it comes to romantic relationships. Americans have a long tradition of “dating” that simply does not exist in France (and perhaps not anywhere in Europe). It is quite possible, in fact common, to wander around in a twilight zone of “togetherness” but not “together togetherness” for several weeks or months during the American dating process. After a few weeks or months of “dates” and doing most (but not all) of the things that “official” couples do, there is often the fated “discussion” in which the pair decides whether or not they have reached the level of Certified Monogamous Couple. If they are both in agreement to proceed, partnership is achieved. Several months down that road, and the partners might decide that their relationship is “serious enough” to meet each other’s families. The entire process is very official and laden with strange rules and benchmarks. To a non-American, it could be downright baffling.
The French do not play this game. There is no strange in-between land, and unless explicitly stated to the contrary, many French people seem to consider a first kiss to be the commencement of an official monogamous relationship. This is where I found myself during that epic weekend in Fontainebleau. Despite the fact that we both knew that I would be leaving France in six months to return to New York, we were immediately transformed from casual platonic friends to exclusive romantic partners. I was fine with this, but a bit shocked when he invited me to visit his mother with him the very next weekend. Within seven days of beginning our relationship, I met both of his parents, and soon after, most of his friends. This would be nearly unheard of in New York, yet I went along with it. We continued like this for several months before I decided that I needed to be on my own, and bid my French man adieu.
Overall, I do not regret my short romance in France. As the man I was dating was born and raised in the North where I am living, I learned so much about this region and came to appreciate it in a more nuanced fashion. Without my time with him, I would not have taken road trips to not-so-nearby towns, and I may have never tried escargot (which is delicious, by the way!) Nevertheless, I look forward to spending my last few months in France embracing my independence and exploring other parts of the region with the new friends I have made here. I guess I got the best of both worlds!