I went to Paris alone on Valentine’s Day

I went to Paris alone on Valentine’s Day

By Molly Heath

For a while, I’d had a very romanticised view of going to Paris on my own. ‘Romanticised’ seems a strange choice of word when talking about going to the City of Love without company. But that’s the way I wanted it. I’ve never been one for soppy romance; the idea of upping the ante in a city famed for locks on bridges and making commitments atop landmarks was beyond me. I just wanted to wander without the distraction.

When my friends suggested a trip to Berlin, I finally saw the opportunity and the days of IMG_2099annual leave I needed to use up. I checked the feasibility, and found it was almost cheaper to go via Paris the day beforehand and stay the night. Everything was perfect. I could have my glorious day to myself, then join my friends elsewhere. I booked the train the day before our Berlin arrival date and thought about how cool and artsy I had just become.

Then I took another look at the booking confirmation. There was something significant about the date and I ran through why it might feel that way. My mum’s birthday was the day before, that couldn’t be it… but then… hang on…

OH GOD I’M GOING TO PARIS ON 14th FEBRUARY. ON VALENTINE’S DAY.

ON MY OWN.

The side of me that loathes cliched romance had betrayed me and thrown me into the belly of the beast in the most tragic of ways. I instantly saw myself trudging behind people in love, growing more and more frustrated until I was forced to shout about how not sad I was.

While this could have been easy to ignore, it threw me into doubt. I’m typically extroverted and don’t normally do well on my own for long periods of time. Without company and taunted by loved-up couples, this could be a nightmare.

I decided I need to have a plan; I found a walk which went past most the major landmarks, and decided I was going to do that. This was fine, I knew what I was doing, maybe everything was going to be okay. Thus, armed with fear and no grasp of French, I went to Paris alone on Valentine’s Day.

6:00am – I arrive at the Eurostar terminal and begin to move through security. There are some couples, but probably no more than are normally present in a London train station. Everyone’s expression is the same as mine; sheer confusion and mild upset about why they are currently awake. It is not romantic yet.

6:13am – I get in an outrageously long queue at Pret to buy an outrageously necessary coffee. This is less romantic than walking through the human scanner. Any visible couples look like their relationships may not last the queue.

7:00am – I have achieved the coffee! I am onboard the train! It is moving! I become briefly obsessed with how fast it is going! I nod off to a podcast about serial killers.

Either 08:00am or 09:00am – We emerge from a long tunnel and I think that we could be in France. I suddenly realise I don’t know. If I had someone with me I could ask them. But I can’t. Am I in France? Does that field look French? How do I not know what country I’m in? What if I’m just an idiot in Kent? Does the Eurostar even go through Kent? WHERE IS KENT?

09:03 am – It becomes clear that I am in France.

10:35 am – I arrive at Gare Du Nord and walk down to my hostel. I get lost on the very short walk and learn that in Paris there is an alarming lack of regard for road safety. It seems that without supervision I am unlikely to survive the day.

10:41am – I check into my hostel and mercifully, the woman at reception realises my French is unusable so speaks to me in English. No-one here is a couple; there is a man on his own and he looks fine. I could be fine like that. I buy a bottle of water and leave.

11:20am – Having had a walk far longer than I expected it to be, I arrive at Notre

Notre DammeDame. I take a seat and eat a yogurt that I have cleverly packed awaiting this moment. There are a couple making out very aggressively next to me with brief interludes to look at their phone. Love appears to be at a normal density here.

11:21am – A man asks if he can draw me. I say no. He tells me he is heartbroken. He leaves. My Paris love story is over.

11:30am – I walk over to Shakespeare and Company, a famed beautiful bookshop that I anticipate being a very romantic old-timey setting. What it actually is however is incredibly quiet and somewhere that would have been awkward to walk around in silence with someone. I appreciate being alone for the first time and sit down and read.

12:00pm-1:30pm – I continue walking along the Seine, going past various monuments. Paris is effing beautiful, and there still aren’t that many couples; in fact, for all the clichés you wouldn’t yet know it was Valentine’s Day. I go past Les Invalides, where I learn you do not need a boyfriend to take a perspective shot. A man on a bike laughs at me. I do not care.IMG_2095

1:30pm – I stop for lunch. It is expensive. I wish I had a rich husband. I read and enjoy no-one speaking to me. Walking recommences an hour later.

3:00pm – I hit the spot I knew would be the worst; the Eiffel Tower. It is as bad as I thought. There are literally rose petals on the floor. I have no intention of going up it but I’m sure love is happening up there. I actually don’t mind – the queue looks long and if someone was with me they might want to get in it. I march on.

IMG_2098.jpg
Who has done this

3:05pm – 4:30pm – I continue walking through Paris, stopping whenever I would like without having to be concerned for anybody else. It’s really nice. No-one judges me when I take a picture of a fancy crepe shop with a red carpet and a man guarding it.

4:30pm – I am utterly exhausted and cut my walk slightly short before hitting the Louvre. The sun is shining and while my feet hurt, I feel extremely relaxed. I realise how pleasant my own company has been, and return to the hostel for a nap.

6:30pm – Nap completed, I hear other human beings in the room.

7:00pm – I spoke to the humans and have friends now! They are American!

7:01pm – 9:30pm – I go for a drink with the Americans and have good chats about cultural differences. I realise I am now inebriated and go to bed.

It was a really long day. But, it was actually a wonderful one; once I eased in, I felt peaceful and relaxed in my own company. And a few unexpected things came from my solitude – namely that:

  1. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not sharing the view with someone. In fact, I possibly enjoyed it more. This is what I feared the most from being on my own; that I would see something, want to talk about it, wish I was sharing the moment with someone else. I’ve had that feeling before when doing things alone. But on this occasion it was okay. If I saw something funny, strange or interesting, I could text people and tell them about it, or tell the story when I got back. However, I had the space to take in the view, look at it for as long as I wanted without feeling like I could annoy someone else, and it was great.
  2. Paris is mercifully nowhere near as romantic as you’d expect on Valentine’s Day. The cliché really is just a cliché, and you realise that it’s just a normal day for most people in the city. Sure, things heat up around the Eiffel Tower, but that was actually it and I didn’t feel like my loneliness stuck out.
  3. Being alone makes you enjoy the company of others a lot more. Where previously a weekend with 10 friends might have been overwhelming, I left the day now incredibly excited to be around some of my favourite people. I had calmed down, exorcised some of the stress I had from the UK and made room for them. As my wonderful friend Jess arrived to meet me the next day, I felt so content in the company I was about to keep. Even if it was just for a day, being alone had made me so much happier to be around other people.

I’m not sure I could do it for a whole trip; like I said, I’m still an extrovert and like other people too much. But to decompress for a day without feeling social pressure was wonderful, and contributed to me really enjoying the trip as a whole. And I still left with the same opinions of Paris and romance.

 

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Why are Queer Friendships important?

Why are Queer Friendships important?

By Em Robinson

Age 14 I fell in love with a girl.

This kinda came as a shock to me but not, apparently, to the people closest to me. I had a boyfriend at the time (long story, don’t ask) so I came to the conclusion that I was bisexual. My mum accepted it straight away like it was nothing, my friends had all seen it coming, even my dad took it in his stride. They were all there for me when that romance quickly and painfully fell apart and when I was outed to the rest of the school.

With 45% of LGBTQA+ pupils reporting being bullied at school for their sexual or gender identity* it’s no surprise that young people fear coming out while still at school. These figures continue to be pretty dismal as people move into the workplace with 1 in 5 queer people reporting that they have experienced verbal abuse for their sexual orientation at work.* On top of this 42% of trans people don’t feel safe enough to present as their actual gender in the workplace.* With so much fear and abuse thrown at them on a regular basis queer individuals often flock together for safety, support and understanding. I decided to talk to some of my friends to explore their feelings on the importance of queer friendships.

As far as I know, I was the first one at my school to come out and at the time it was hard and confusing, even with all the support I received. It’s always scary being the first to do something and this was no different. Over the next few years, more and more of my friends started coming out as bi, gay, queer, nonbinary, asexual. We really began to cover the whole rainbow spectrum! We grew a supportive environment where we could talk openly about our identities as we discovered them.

“I wasn’t worried about being “the other” anymore”

I met one of my best friends, Saskia, in year 10 when we ended up in the same Textiles class. I was the first openly queer person she’d ever encountered directly even though she herself had had some non-straight feelings since her early teens. I asked her about how she felt about meeting me and she told me that “meeting someone who was my age, had similar interests to me and whom I got along really well with was a super freeing moment, I wasn’t worried about being ‘the other’ anymore”. Looking back, it means a lot to know I helped someone start to feel comfortable in themselves just by existing as an openly queer person.

My friendship group from secondary school has lasted through us all going off to different universities all over the country and settling down. It’s been roughly a decade but we still meet up whenever we can and have a facebook group chat that’s constantly full of memes and gossip. Although this group chat is mostly just banter and making plans it’s nice to have a space where we can talk openly about pretty much anything without fear of judgement. This close bond we have meant that when I realised I was in fact a lesbian when I was 22 and then when I realised I was nonbinary (NB) a year later I had no fears coming out to them.

This is a sentiment shared by another friend, Sin. “Coming out as bisexual was really easy because it was a time we were all coming out as bisexual/gay,” they told me. “It was a real time of self discovery for all of us. Coming out as NB was almost even easier because we’d been friends for so long it literally became a case of “sup guys I’m non-binary, please refer to me as Sin and use they/them pronouns” they were all great.’

My girlfriend, Catherine, on the other hand didn’t have any queer friends when she was growing up. When she was 17 she started attending a local Scouts Explorer group where she made some LGBT friends who, she says, ‘gave me a safe space to explore my identity and they helped educate me on trans issues. Until that point I was so ignorant about them that I didn’t even realise I was trans’.

“Until that point I was so ignorant about them that I didn’t even realise I was trans”

Getting to know trans and nonbinary people is what helped me realise I was nonbinary. Talking to people and hearing their about their feelings and experiences and relating to them made me feel less alone and helped me find the language to fully explore who I am. My real lightbulb moment when I realised I was nonbinary came when I was with a friend talking about gender and her personal gender identity and she drew a graph to explain where she felt she fitted. Seeing gender displayed in such a visual way showed me where I fitted and I’m so grateful that she helped me figure that out. Although my personal feelings about my specific place on the graph have changed I would recommend anyone who’s questioning their gender try something similar. It can be really helpful to lay things out on paper sometimes.

During my time at university I formed many more deep and meaningful friendships with other queer people. Some I met at lgbtqa+ related events, some just through chance in classes or at other random societies, even some through Tinder. I was lucky because the university I attended has a massive queer scene. I felt so comfortable and accepted there by my fellow students and lecturers. I felt so secure in my identity that I even wrote my dissertation about reclaiming slurs and titled it “Queer, Slutty Bitch”. Being around so many out and proud people at university really helped be become as confident in my identity as I am today. Previously I’d felt accepted and comfortable around my nearest and dearest only, but now I’m unashamedly queer and will shout about it from the rooftops. Now I’m working full time, all of my colleagues know I’m gay and if the topic comes up I’m not too worried about talking about gender although it may be a slightly trickier conversation, partly because I’m still figuring some of it out myself. I’m incredibly privileged to be working in a very safe and accepting environment and I hope over time more people can be open about their gender and sexuality with their colleagues without fear of repercussions.

Someone I met at university who really helped push me into my identity is Cam. I will forever remember their badass black denim jacket with the words “Fear This Queer” scrawled on the back. They are gay and nonbinary and even represented their peers as the universities trans and nonbinary officer for a year. We’ve spoken a lot about how special queer friendships can be and we often joke about how few straight friends we have. Obviously we do both have straight friends and we value them as much as we do our queer friends, but as Cam so eloquently put it; “straight people will never get it and that’s not a detriment to them as such but a man who’s never had to question his masculinity will never understand what it means to live at ends with it”.

If you are a cis, heterosexual person then, try as you might, you will never fully understand what it’s like to have these inner battles with yourself. Inner battles that are only really necessary because of the attitudes of the people around us. Maybe one day queer people won’t have to battle to claim their identities, but in a world where we do, support networks of friends who understand what it’s like can be lifesaving.

* Statistics found on the Stonewall website: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/media/lgbt-facts-and-figures

If you identify as LBGTQ+ and in need of support or looking for stuff to do in your area, here are some resources you may find useful:

Stonewall: Whats in my Area?

The Trevor Project

Mind: LGBTQ+ Mental Health