When I was 17, I spent the summer in Brittany, France. I was working as an au pair for a family friend with a home there. Every week, I took care of their kids, but I spent my weekends in Paris.

Each time, I stayed in the 6th arrondissement, on the Left Bank, in the tiniest possible room at the Hotel Bonaparte. Right around the corner was my favorite parfumier, Annick Goutal. And a short walk away was the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I spent my first weekend there wandering down tiny alleys, going into quirky shops, drinking espresso and eating incredible croissants. I visited the Musée d’Orsay, in a fabulous old train station. It was incredible, and, by the time I got home each night, my feet were in excruciating pain from traversing the cobblestone sidewalks.

On my next trip, I went for a stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens. They were gorgeous – acres and acres (I don’t actually know how big an acre is, but I’m just gonna go with it) of perfectly cultivated flowers, trees, and paths. Soon, it started to rain – the kind of summer rain that soaks you through and through. It wasn’t cold, but it was very, very wet, so I sought shelter under a gazebo with dozens of other wanderers.

Under the gazebo, I struck up a conversation with an older man. He thought I was French, at first, because I “didn’t look like an American,” I was “too natural.” Of course, I was flattered. He didn’t speak any English. But I spoke fairly fluent French, which I was eager to practice.

We talked about politics. I explained the American electoral system to him, in French, which I thought was pretty impressive – the electoral college is hard to explain, even in English.

He told me he was 34 years old. I told him I was 19, which seemed extremely old at the time. Much older than 17. I told him I was in college, studying history. I lived in my own small apartment in New York.

I had just broken up with my high school boyfriend – he was my first love, and I was absolutely devastated. The attention from this older Parisian man was exceptionally flattering, and I melted under its influence. I so needed a man to tell me I was charming and beautiful, and it didn’t hurt that we had met sheltering from the rain under a gazebo in an extremely romantic, beautiful, sprawling French garden.

When it stopped raining, the man and I started wandering around Paris. I wanted him to take me to fabulous local places, but he didn’t really get the memo. Instead of taking me to quirky restaurants and shops on Rue Saint-Michel, we took the tourist route and went places I probably wouldn’t even have wanted to visit on my own. We went to Sacré-Cœur, a gorgeous church in Montmartre. It was pretty gorgeous, sure, but I wanted cool Paris culture! We went to the opera house and made out on the second floor balcony.

I should mention here that I, frankly, wasn’t attracted to him. In fact, he kind of grossed me out. But I was very, very attracted to the idea of a Paris romance. And he was exceptionally romantic.

So we made out all over Paris. He called me “cheveux d’or,” meaning “golden haired.” When he tried to describe the meaning of the word “chevalier,” I misunderstood “knight,” as “cowboy.” He teased me about that all weekend.

When the weekend was over, I got on a train back to Brittany. He accompanied me to the train station, telling me poetically how much he wanted me to stay, how he wished I didn’t have to go. He told me that he’d email me all week, and couldn’t wait to see me the next weekend.

Over the next week, I got daily emails from my Paris boyfriend. He called me his golden-haired princess, and signed his emails, “your cowboy.” He wrote me poetry. Yes, French men actually write women poetry. Like, entirely un-ironically. Even at 17, I thought it was total bullshit, but it was still kinda fun.

The next weekend, my last in France, I went to Paris again. Once again, I spent the weekend with my Paris man. As the weekend went on, I was more and more repulsed by him, but the whirlwind Paris romance was just so, so appealing. I don’t really like 19th century novels, but I do love the tropes – and nothing says “19th century novel” like a Frenchman writing you poetry and making out all over Paris.

Our final night together, he took me to dinner. He told me he wanted to get lobster – a huge, huge luxury in Paris, where they were probably imported from Maine. I didn’t mention that I could get plenty of lobster for, like, 25 bucks anywhere in DC, and hadn’t come to France to eat lobster – but it was still sweet that he was trying to treat me to something special.

So we ate our lobster meal. After dinner, we went into a photo booth and took a strip of three very happy pictures.

Finally, I told him I was tired, so he walked me back to my hotel. On the street outside, he took me in his arms and kissed me. He had tears in his eyes, and told me, for the thousandth time, how much he wished I lived in Paris. I nodded, by then desperate to get away from his grasp. The fact that he was kind of gross and smelly finally outweighed the romance of the situation.

I went up to my room and sat on the bed. I took the photos out of my pocket. There we were – this Parisian man I was now entirely repulsed by, and me. I didn’t want to look at them anymore, but I wasn’t able to throw them out. So I hid them at the bottom of my suitcase.

When I got back home, I hid the strip of photos in a box where I kept secret mementos. The Paris man emailed me almost every day – more poetry, more references to my golden hair and inside jokes about being my cowboy. I responded for a little while, and then stopped. The romance had faded. I was no longer in Paris. And I no longer needed the affirmation of a man I was actually kind of grossed out with, no matter how sweetly he talked to me.

I don’t know what happened to those photo booth pictures. At some point, my parents emptied out my bedroom in their house, and they probably threw away that box of little treasures.

And even though I was entirely disenchanted with this man in the end, I still love that I met him. It’s just a perfect story; a perfect scene in a 19th century novel. Two lovers meet in the rain, in the Luxembourg Gardens, and have a whirlwind Paris romance – three weekends of making out all over the city, culminating in a single strip of photos.

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