This morning one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, posted a quote from Pastor Rob Bell.
“If people love you, they want you to grow.
If people don’t want you to grow, then you can call the feelings that they have for you by many names.
But you can’t call it love.” — Rob Bell
And there, in a nutshell, is the biggest reason why I left Paris.
It’s been almost a year since I left Paris where I was planning an indefinite stay. I blogged about some of the reasons back then and those explanations still stand true. But there was more to the story and I needed time to heal some things inside of me before I could share it with you.
Paris, for me, represented so much hope for big breakthroughs in my life. I went thinking that I was loved by a really special man. I dreamed about being loved unconditionally and whether it would help me to have creative breakthroughs and emotional freedom. I didn’t know how that kind of love felt, but I believed that taking the leap with the man I had met in Paris and being together in Paris would help me to take a bigger leap into my emotional and creative development.
But there is no such thing as unconditional love between humans. God is the only source of truly unconditional love. You can have varying levels of true acceptance and contentment within a love relationship, but humans are flawed and our love is flawed. That certainly does not mean that the effort is not worth it or that people are not worthy of love. And for me, my leap into love and Paris was worth it despite the abrupt ending.
I didn’t have the big creative breakthrough I was hoping for in Paris. I think I had developed a fantasy of being inspired by a city I love, churning out brilliant thoughts and trainings during the day, while resting in the arms of a man who loved me at night. I had placed a lot of stock in the change of environment to unleash things that always seemed to take a back seat to more pressing responsibilities. And maybe, if I had experienced the love I thought I was going for, those breakthroughs would have come. Who knows?
The fact is, living in Paris is hard and no different than living in most big cities. There are still the daily tasks of laundry and hauling groceries up five flights of narrow stairs and then hauling trash down those five flights. Going anywhere involved walking at least a half mile to a metro or bus stop and dragging along anything that I might need while I was out including an umbrella, camera, journal, guide book, French-English dictionary and a bottle of water. I felt like a pack mule most days. It was as exhausting as keeping up my 100-year old house back in Texas.
So where was the magic I counted on? My boyfriend and I had very different ideas about our Paris adventure. I wanted a fuller, slower paced life. He promised to give that to me but it became clear almost immediately that he had no intention on delivering on that promise.
It turns out that Americans and Lebanese have very different ideas about what “hustle” looks like. Instead of having the apartment to myself to write while he was out being productive and beating on doors for work, I found myself with a man who wanted to spend every waking and sleeping moment with me. He couldn’t understand why I would come all the way to Paris for anything different.
If I wanted to work on my computer at the table, he sat on the couch watching me. If I read a book or talked to my coach he accused me of not trusting him and letting other people tell me how to live my life. If I wanted to go to church, he would either come with me where he sat in silence because he didn’t understand anything, or would be waiting on the steps after attending his own church. If I wanted to meet a friend for a drink or cup of coffee, he would follow us and hang around on a street corner or a park bench until I was finished.
We argued about whether his stalking me was for my safety or his obsession. We argued about why women would need any friends when they had a man. I, and his sister, tried to explain to him that American women were different than the Lebanese women he had grown up with. And mostly, we argued about what love was.
What it came down to for me was exactly what Pastor Bell said above: the man who professed to love me with every fiber of his being was not able to let me grow and develop and evolve. His fear required him to keep me in a very small box. My need for growth was foreign to him and frightened him, making him feel insecure.
I had to decide which was more important: being with someone who said he loved me but only in terms he could define, or loving myself enough to be alone again and continue my own journey of growth and development. The decision was a no-brainer.
It wouldn’t have been a no-brainer in my twenties or thirties. The journey to this place and time where I was willing to leave Paris — to walk away from my dream of living there for at least a year — in order to love myself was a long and bumpy one that continues to this day. Even being able to write about this took almost a year.
Sam told me every day that he loved me. He cried over how much he loved me and despaired about our parting. Even as we said goodbye at Charles de Gaulle airport he swore that he would never love another. But I left knowing that what he felt for me was NOT love because he could not let me grow and that is the only kind of love I am seeking in a man.
If someone loves you, truly loves you, then they will want to see you grow. If they can’t support you in that, then what they call love is something else and you have to decide what you will call it. I left Paris for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one was that I loved myself.