Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
On my first date with Kurt, he invited me to come with him on an international business trip.
Well, sort of a business trip. Kurt’s a comedian, so the purpose of this trip was being paid to stand on stage in London and take the temperature of British people’s crotches with a laser thermometer. But still. I’d just broken up with a guy who didn’t like me much — we were together for a year, during which he was always taking fun trips but never asking me to come. So when Kurt asked me to come with him, I didn’t think too soon. I thought, very cool. He had two days off in the middle of his run, so, we figured we could take the train to Paris and … have the best vacation of our lives in 36 hours?
Sure, we just met. Sure, we were riding high on a combined credit card debt of $60,000. Sure, we still had a hard time remembering each other’s last names. But when a person whose G-chats make you giddy invites you out of the blue to another country? That’s a miracle. You have to go.
We take the train from London, through the Chunnel, and arrive in Paris in the evening. Kurt’s booked us a little apartment in the Bastille district, through a brand new internet service that allows you stay in a stranger’s house. (It’s called Airbnb. Exciting!)
The woman who owns the apartment has been writing us emails imploring us not to touch her magazines. We dub her Magazine Lady. When we walk in the door, we realize Magazine Lady must’ve written those emails while chain-smoking in bed, because the whole place smells like smoke. But we aren’t fazed: We’re in Paris. Everyone smokes in bed. Authentic!
Besides, it’s going to take a lot more than a little smoke to the ridiculous euphoria I feel about this weekend. New love, Paris — it’s going to be goddamn Before Sunrise.
It’s funny sometimes, thinking back, just how wrong you can be.
Kurt’s exhausted from a week of shows, so he falls asleep immediately. I’m wide-awake with jet lag, so I spend the whole night listening to Kurt snore. He sounds like he’s boiling water in his mouth. But it’s okay! The next morning, we’re up early and we’re ready for romance.
First on the agenda is making a reservation at a restaurant that’s come highly recommended by a friend who is cooler than we are. We call. The person on the phone tells us they cannot take a reservation from a foreign number, and that we have to go in person. No big deal — we want to explore, anyway. There’s nothing I like better than wandering around a new city on foot, strolling until you feel like your feet are going to fall off.
But we’re not doing that. Kurt has a surprise: He rented a Vespa. He says he’s never driven one before but it looks very fun. Plus, he was smart and paid for a GPS. It was an extra $250, but we get that back when we return it, so no problem. Adventure!
The minute we get on the Vespa, it starts to rain. After a few almost-accidents, Kurt identifies the problem: I just need to trust him and lean when he leans.
Five minutes into our ride we come to a roundabout. It’s beautiful and so very Paris. For some reason Kurt keeps driving around the circle over and over, yelling, “It’s Big Ben, kids! Parliament!” every time. (I’ve never seen European Vacation, so this bit is lost on me.) On the fourth time around, the GPS falls off, shatters, and gets hit by a car.
When we get to the restaurant — without a GPS! — our optimism is still going strong. We’re pretty proud of ourselves for finding our way. But when we arrive, they won’t let us in to make a reservation. They tell us to come back in an hour. Okay, cool. We’ll … ride around in the rain.
I suggest we go into a shop to kill some time. Inside, Kurt tries on an expensive jacket and asks if I like it. I can tell he wants me to say yes so he can buy it, but I have never felt more opposed to a piece of clothing in my life: It’s a pea coat crossed with a trench coat and there are a lot of embellishments. I try to talk him out of it. He buys it anyway.
So we go back to the restaurant (this time with Kurt wearing his ridiculous jacket) and learn there are no tables available until 10:30 p.m. We take the late reservation. So European!
Now Kurt wants to go for a long drive to the other side of the city. The rain is coming down hard. Our clothes are soaked, my hair is sticking to my face, and I’m so cold it hurts. I’m trying to relax and have fun, but I’m not thrilled that it’s late afternoon and the only thing we’ve managed to do is make a dinner reservation. Plus, I’m on the back of a Vespa being driven by a man who doesn’t know how to drive a Vespa, and I feel like I’m going to die.
When I finally convince Kurt to stop at a café by the Seine so I can use the bathroom, I feel my jet lag coming on strong. He makes a push for us to keep exploring, but I need to lie down. He says he wants to look at the river and takes off speed walking ahead of me. Cool, cool, cool.
This is the moment when I let go of the romance of our situation — new love, Paris, spontaneity — and wish we knew each other better. If we knew each other better, we’d have a fight. We’d admit the pressure to have a perfect vacation is wearing on us, and move on. Instead, we let that awkward tension build. And build. And build.
That’s when I look down and realize we’ve stumbled upon the Pont des Arts, the world-famous Love Lock Bridge,. Couples from around the world come to this spot to lock a padlock to the bridge signifying their love. Kurt asks a passerby to take our picture in front of the locks. I look at the picture on his phone: We both look completely miserable.
“Great.” I say.
“Yeah. Great.” he says.
We don’t speak again as we head back to our place to rest and change before dinner. And then Kurt sees an email from Magazine Lady. She’s apparently decided she will be coming back to the studio apartment and she will sleep with us, here, tonight. She says we will not mind because she is very small and she will sleep on the stone ledge by the fireplace.
Is this how Airbnb works? I curse Kurt for getting suckered in to some new-fangled internet scheme.
But then Kurt takes a stand. He emails her back, telling her she can’t sleep here. He tells her if she does sleep here, we’ll check into a hotel and demand a full refund. Seven minutes later we get a response: Magazine Lady is backing down. She won’t come after all.
We start laughing. We sit on the stone ledge and try to figure out just how small Magazine Lady is. Suddenly, it feels like everything is turning around. We had a momentary lapse. A blip, that’s all. And even if this whole day was a bust, we get to have dinner at the best place in the whole city.
When we pull up to the restaurant a little later, newly buoyed by our clearly flawless and unbreakable love, we discover that it’s set up like a house, and we’re seated on a bed. Unconventional! There’s no prices on the menu. Exotic!
We wait 15 minutes before anyone approaches the table. I try to speak French, but the waiter laughs and walks away before we order. (To be clear, he’s definitely not being rude; he’s giving us our space. Fun!)
When the entrées finally arrive, I feel our combined good mood tank again, rapidly. My veal is covered in some type of maple syrup. Kurt ordered beef, but … it’s white. We literally don’t know what we’re eating. Neither of us, though, lets on that anything is amiss. Instead, we’re back to that aforementioned awkward tension — it feels like the worse things get, the harder we have to pretend they’re great. I choke down every last bite and clean my plate. It tastes like nickels.
When the check comes, we’re blown away to see the meal is over $400 American dollars. Half a month’s rent for me.
And that’s it. That’s when I decide this is all a sign. I’ve been trying to ignore it, but the universe is clearly looking down on our union and telling us: “Definitely no.”
Well after 1 a.m., still waiting for someone to take our credit cards and put us out of our misery, we grab a passing waiter and he tells us to go downstairs. But, when we go down, there’s no one there besides a few patrons playing ping-pong in the corner. We stand in the middle of the living room feeling like assholes, looking for someone, anyone, to collect our damn payment. Then Kurt hands me my coat. “Shall we?” he says.
We slowly put our jackets on. We take one last look around for someone to pay. Then we very calmly walk out of the restaurant, very calmly walk around the corner, and take off running through the streets. We’re bad. We’re garbage Americans who walked out on our check. It’s wonderful.
Outside, we can finally speak the truth: that was a nightmare. We’d been so afraid to say it out loud, because if we couldn’t have a romantic time in Paris, there was something wrong with us. But saying it out loud feels great. It’s the highlight of the weekend. There’s nothing wrong with us. We just had a string of very bad luck. And terrible taste in jackets.
We can laugh about it now: The real miracle isn’t that we decided to take this trip; it’s that we survived it. And that we didn’t get arrested.