The November rain fell in succulent drops on the ancient, cobblestone streets.
I stuck my tongue out to capture a raindrop. But then I remembered I was in Paris. Sophisticated world-travelers didn’t walk around the Left Bank with their tongues hanging out like a dog in summer heat. And then I remembered I was heartbroken.
Three weeks before I ended a relationship with George, the manager of a Japanese restaurant whom I fell in love with over endless helpings of sushi, Udon noodles, Tempora, Yakitori, and Sake. As break-ups go, it was civilized. We realized we wanted different things and that was that.
Except now there was a hole in my life where he had once been. I couldn’t pop into his restaurant on the way home. No one was going to surprise me at midnight with an excellent bottle of wine, my favorite sushi roll, and a wicked grin. Who would I watch European soccer matches with and yell at the TV?
I wasn’t ready to stare into the George-sized hole in my life. And the typical avoidance strategies available after a break-up – crying on the phone to friends, getting drunk, watching movies based on Jane Austen novels, and shopping – seemed frighteningly dull and predictable. So I booked a vacation to Paris.
It wasn’t the first time I dealt with loss by traveling abroad. I coped with the death of my stepdad and a break-up with my then boyfriend while sipping cocktails on the beach in the Dominican Republic. I marked the end of another relationship with three days of hiking, meditation, yoga, and vegan meals at an ashram in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
Before I go on, it’s important to acknowledge that I’m writing from a privileged perspective. I am a single, childless, black woman in her 40s who, through hard-work and life circumstances, had the means to spontaneously travel. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean my heartbreak nor my search for self-understanding are any less valid.
Unlike most post-relationship strategies, travel is not self-indulgent. Travel enables me to be present, get outside of myself and into the world. It’s hard to replay what went wrong in a relationship while marveling at the majesty of Notre Dame, perusing the tattered shelves of Shakespeare & Co, or gazing at the meticulous design of Paris while standing on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower.
Post relationship travel reminded me there was a whole world outside the shattered cocoon of the relationship. Admiring the fall foliage while hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, watching a family play volleyball on the beach in Punta Cana, or riding the Metro with dozens of Parisians dashing off to work reminded me that life goes on.
During my trip to Paris I remembered who I was – a loving, compassionate, curious seeker who is also intensely interested in art, history, literature, fashion, and beauty. I discovered a newfound love of the mysticism of cathedrals. I realized my inner resourcefulness as I navigated the city alone without knowing French. I spent an entire afternoon searching for the perfect bottle of perfume to give to my mother. She died less than a year later, and it would be the last present I ever gave her.
I found myself crying into my lobster bisque two days before the end of my vacation. I dreaded returning to a life from which I wanted a vacation. However, I could lament being single, or I could appreciate the life I had and make the most of it.
I chose the latter. A year later I moved to the Mexican Caribbean. George calls from time to time. He tells me about the relationship with the woman he began dating after we broke up. I tell him how blissfully happy I am alone.