I think I might... like myself?
This is new.
When you spend decades artfully mastering a personality centering on self deprecation, suddenly realizing you might like yourself is… off-putting.
I guess suddenly is a mischaracterization of what’s happening here. I’ve been working on, at the very least, showing myself more kindness for the better part of the past decade, before which one could argue based exclusively on my “romantic” “pursuits” that I didn’t like much like myself at all.
With age and wisdom and therapy, these days,, to quote a (slightly less) egregious era of Sex and the City than the one we find ourselves in today, I feel good about myself “not, all day, every day. But every day.”
I like being a good friend, making people laugh, giving (sometimes) sound advice.
All things that directly involve … everyone else.
So when I spent five days hanging out mostly by myself in Paris last week, my mind, typically busy with wondering how much fun other people are having or if they like the restaurant I picked, was suddenly quiet. The only person I had to worry about impressing, pleasing or entertaining was me.
One of many pleasing moments from the trip.
I went to Paris in part to avoid New Year’s Eve, in larger part to walk around and eat croissants. I didn’t go to have any big revelations. And yet there is no denying I came back feeling different. Like after years of looking to others to confirm I’m making the right decisions in life, I finally trust myself enough and comfortable enough to figure it out solo. At least when it comes to one very important truth:
When given the option – Always. Sit. At. The. Bar.
The week before my trip I’d been panic scrolling on Instagram in search of finding someone, anyone, who’d also traveled internationally so that I could bulldoze them with my questions about testing requirements and receive validation. In Tammy Gordon I miraculously found both, plus killer restaurant recommendations. She happened to be in Paris, happened to be posting photos of things I most certainly wanted to eat and happened to say her DMs were open to anyone curious about her experience. When she called a meal at Au Petit Fer a Cheval, a small spot in Le Marais, her “best meal of day one,” it went right on my list, too.
I had planned to try and nab one of the few outdoor tables lining the front of the tiny restaurant, but then I saw the horseshoe bar, which fits in the narrow space the way an IKEA bed does in your first apartment. In this case, though, it’s charming. And when I got there at 5:00 PM, it was just sitting there, vacant.
So when the bartender, whose name I’d learn is Tinnet, motioned for me to take a seat at what looked like the best spot in the house, tucked into the back corner of the bar, close to the action but also rife for people watching, I just nodded. When he told me not to bother looking at the menu but instead just tell him what kind of wine I was in the mood for, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving for a while. When I looked down and saw a little pot of fries and a side of dijonnaise had been put in front of me while I wasn’t looking, I felt special. When I looked around and saw that everyone, not just me, had been given the same little pot of fries and dijonnaise…
Honestly the whole thing still felt pretty special.
I took out one of the four books I brought with me on a five day trip (the only book, it turns out, I would have opened at any point aside from completely devouring The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo on the last day/flight home) and got through about half of one page before three dapper men, regulars, walked in. They weren’t really talking to me as much as I was eavesdropping on them and picking up every sixth or seventh word and smiling, but eventually they included me in their conversation and their rounds of drinks, too.
By the third glass I said to Tinnet, in broken high school level French, that things always taste better when someone else buys them for you, non? He said – I’m going to buy you something, too. And disappeared. When he came back he had a slice of tarte tatin, and said when I was ready for it to let him know. Have you ever teared up at the prospect of dessert? OK. Moving on.
At that point if I didn’t eat soon I wouldn’t have eaten at all, and I really couldn’t let that happen on such a short trip (or ever). One of the guys sitting at the bar next to me told me that “this place has the best duck in Paris,” and it comes “from a box” when you order it elsewhere.
Look, is this true? I don’t know. No? But this same man told me he had published three photography books about New York and before I could ask about them he had run across the street to a bookstore to bring me a physical copy of one to see for myself.
So I ordered the duck. It was outrageous. I don’t know what duck tastes like out of a box but this was not it.
It had been roughly three hours at that point. The regulars trickled out to head home and a new man, let’s call him N, sidled in, taking what was once my duck loving photographer friend’s place at the bar.
He had just arrived from Barcelona and was stopping in Paris on his way home to London. Cute. Funny. We talked for two hours. He paid for the rest of my drinks. He recommended I order the tarte tatin. My mouth dropped open. I asked Tinnet to bring it out. We all shared it. N took me to another bar for one more drink. We made out a little on the street. I paid 30 euro for my duck (plus a big tip for Tinnet). I got home around 3.
I woke up a) wondering if that really happened (my friend I stayed with likened it to a Midnight in Paris situation) and b) aside from a hangover, coming to what seems like an obvious but felt like a startling realization.
My life has been mostly been lived free of mistake. Not because I only make the right decisions (lol, hardly), but because I make decisions that I know involve the least amount of risk. The fear of failure trumps the potential for growth. This dinner or even this trip is not the most high stakes example, but knowing that timing wise it may have ended up being a “mistake” and going anyway helped me learn how to trust my own decision making for my own mental health and stop (or at least try to stop) worrying about what will happen next. I let myself lead from a place of adventure instead of fear.
And I like a person who does that.
Whatever it is, a trip, a job, a meal, listen to you ahead the many other voices, including that of a small redheaded Romanian woman who lives in New Jersey but somehow also rent-free in your mind, when it comes to matters of your life.
Unless someone who knows the menu better recommends the duck. Then get the duck.
For all those wondering, I didn’t do much shopping on this trip. Bought two books at Shakespeare & Co, a beautiful candle at Officine Universelle Buly 1803, a lot of mustard and this container of sugar, for obvious reasons:
Sugar. Daddy. I love French people. And I love you.
Struggling so hard to trust myself. Loved reading this!
This is so inspiring and just such a delightful read. I'm also planning a solo trip in the coming weeks and this gave me such a great lift, just as some apprehension started to set in. Thank you for sharing. Cheers to us in this new year