CARRIE BRADSHAW had Mr. Big; I have Monsieur Big.
We met one June evening at a cocktail party when I was 25. Outside it was a boiling Paris summer, and the cool marble foyer of a spectacular hôtel particulier was the perfect place to cool off with a glass of white wine. At the time, I was on the verge of transitioning from student to salaried employee, complete with a sponsored visa. Immigration battles are never easy, but for me, independence was a hard limit. Instinctively, I knew my life in France would not be dependent on a boyfriend, or marriage.
But there he was.
White button-down shirt. Sharp glasses. Beautiful hazel eyes. A smile to light the world. He had just returned from a 4-year séjour in the United States, which he split cleanly between San Francisco and New York City.
“Incredulous” does not do justice to the sensation of your chest dropping into your stomach when dreams become reality. To make it clear: I didn’t come to France to fall in love. I fell in love with France, and a Frenchman seemed like a nice, but fuzzy, afterthought.
On the 4th of July, we went on our first date. After dinner, sipping drinks at a bar near Opéra, he leaned in cheekily and asked me, a huge grin on his face, how the evening would end. I liked the impertinence of it.
“Well, I think you’re going to walk me home, you’re going to kiss me goodnight, and then you’re going to head home.”
Which is exactly what he did. He grabbed my hand in the Tuileries amid the lights of ferris wheels and cotton candy, and as we crossed the bridge stretching from the Louvre to the rue du Bac, he exclaimed, “Where have you been all my life?”
If this is not something that will make a woman start falling hard, I do not know what will.
If you had asked me then where we would be now, I would have probably answered with something to the effect of “Married. With an adorable Franco-American baby on the way.” Not out of naiveté. Out of an acute awareness that meeting someone who truly lights one’s world on fire is rare.
This is not where we are now.
It takes a large amount of psychological finesse to remain friends with an ex, yet the French believe that lemonade can be made from the sour juice of a failed relationship. For three and a half-years, I have struggled to wrap my head around this idea. Perhaps this is because remaining friends with Monsieur Big has amounted to lots of opacity and omission on his part: he never once mentioned his fiancée of three years, and instead of mustering the courage to tell me about her, I had to discover it all on his Facebook newsfeed. Saying I was livid is putting my anger lightly.
Why did I ended our relationship? I hardly saw him. I had made it clear that I couldn’t get to know him if he couldn’t give me some—hardly all!—of his time. Sensing my fragile heart was in peril of being smashed into a thousand pieces, I ejected myself from our relationship. Anxious-avoidant, guilty as charged.
The moment we ended, in the autumn cold, outside Invalides, he sighed: “I can’t give you what you want right now.” We were a long way from that gorgeous walk through the Tuileries.
In the years that followed, he would circle back predictably. I didn’t get what he wanted. Like all people and things in my life, I tried to assign him a place, tried to weave some sort of story in my head so I could rationalize his behavior and significance. Was he unhappy in his relationship, and was that why he wanted my attention? Was I a looming, unanswered question the way he was for me?
Eventually, the narrative I had created became my truth in our complicated tango: since he hadn’t told me about his significant other, I could only assume he wanted to hide her, so he could keep me on the side. Or that he was ambivalent about his choices. It made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I didn’t know how to wade through it all. And because our relationship seemed so fragile – at times uplifting, at times tangled – it was unchartered territory.
This past November, I lost my cool. At 3 am on Election night, while watching the polls close across America, a photo of Monsieur Big and his fiancée at an American Election Night event flashed across my Facebook feed. The week prior, he had asked me for election event recommendations for his American colleagues in town on business.
I was ready to INFJ door slam him. Hard. And I did. He messaged me at 6 am about the election. I told him he was a liar. Six weeks later, at home in California for Christmas, and still jetlagged, he sent me the same message on Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and email. He wanted my attention, and he wanted me to sweep my anger under the rug. I responded with a long, terse email.
Then everything took a sharp turn down a different path.
At lunch upon my return to France in January, I noticed the wedding ring on his finger. He pulled his phone from his pocket, announced he’d just gotten married, and showed me a few wedding photos. I swallowed.
At one point, he said very gently, looking me seriously in the eyes: “You know, it takes some people longer to get attached than others.”
The cold stone walls at Invalides surged to mind. I can’t give you what you want right now. It hadn’t meant he wasn’t attached, but it did mean he needed more time. Time that, at 25, I hadn’t understood he needed. It paralleled his response to my terse email: “People need to understand how precious you are. I got it. It took me time but I got it.”
I was immediately humbled in a serious way. The story I had constructed was wrong.
My Monsieur Big gets under my skin, irks me, gets me, challenges me, and is probably the biggest unanswered “what if?” of my life to date. I won’t spend my life wishing we had lasted, because what happened was meant to happen; I am happy he is happily married. While our relationship hasn’t been easy, it’s been worth it—he has taught me the most important lessons of my dating twenties, which is that not everyone moves at my pace, and that my pride often gets in the way of my judgment.
My ending with my Monsieur Big won’t be like Carrie Bradshaw’s. He won’t follow me to America and chase me down the Presidio or through Twin Peaks. We will not spend our lives together as I suspected once.
Instead, I have gained what will, I hope, be a dear and close friend for life.