What I learned about love from my summer romance

I have always been married to the idea of L.A as the main love of my life, but sometimes I think about flying the coop. I’ve dreamed of one day claiming a small place abroad for making the occasional quick escape in those times when L.A. begins driving me crazy. I’ve imagined finishing a novel in a cozy garrett in Paris; sipping Cabernet on a vineyard in Provence; and finding a dashing man somewhere in the South of France. The last thing I ever expected was for one to find me, right here.

He stood out immediately, in an all-black suit and a whiff of Armani Black among a sea of leather motor jackets, stylized beards, and tattoo sleeves.

Over a whiskey sour, he explained to me, in what sounded like a Maurice Chevalier impression, that he had always dreamed of leaving his small town two hours north of Cannes for a life as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. We were two counterparts on opposite ends of the same spectrum.

He was in town for two weeks to get a lay of the land, and said he would love to take me to the beach tomorrow if I’d like to join him. I worried, as I watched his rented silver Mustang pull up to my curb the next morning, if we would have anything more to say to each other. If we would be able to communicate any thoughts more complex than the basic niceties and getting-to-know-you questions; if our conversations would just be one long game of charades. Would it be enough to sustain an entire afternoon?

I had packed us a lunch full of French provisions— a baguette with ham and cheese, a sun-dried tomato tapenade, sparkling wine, and macarons. We ate luxuriously in the sand, and talked for hours over the sound of the waves and screams from the Santa Monica Pier. He told me about growing up in France, about the father he’d barely known who’d shown up one day only to steal money from him, about his concerns for the future of his country and its changing politics. We talked about our dreams, optimistically and fearfully about our careers, what we wanted out of our lives. Something about knowing he was leaving made it easy to speak freely and unencumbered by the nagging fear of judgment. His English, roughly polished from watching American films, was excellent, and the words he didn’t know found a way of filling themselves in.

On the way home, I played him the French music I always listen to while I read or write—soothing old melodies by Yves Montand and Tino Rossi—thrilled that someone else could finally appreciate them.

For the next two weeks we were tourists in my town. We spent playful days at Universal Studios, and elegant nights over dinner and champagne at the Sunset Tower. We tasted vintages at Malibu Wines, speaking in a meld of English and French. My world was suddenly a hybrid of my two favorite places—as if France had come to me, sparing me the pesky twelve-hour plane ride.

I learned the limitations of American vocabulary when he groped for certain phrases. What is the word for a person who is always hungry? I guess, just a person who’s always hungry. Someone who enjoys hugging? A hug enjoyer? What do you call a homeless person who isn’t dangerous, the kind who has a pet? Uhhh…

Of all the French phrases I know, my favorite is C’est trop beau. He used it to describe everything, from a cut of steak to the sloping mountainside view from the Pacific Coast Highway. He had a wonderfully European way of seeming content with what was in front of him, instead of always looking around for something better, like most of the Americans I was used to dating.

When the reality of his departure became imminent, I worried again. Was it the expiration date that had made everything so idyllic? If he were to come to L.A. for good, would he fit within the context of my life, I wondered, or would he be like an evening gown in my closet, unfit for my practical everyday life?

On his last night, the mood shifted to melancholy. We listened to Charles Trenet croon the classic, La Mer, and I thought of the English translation as my mind swam with doubts.

Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me, my lover stands on golden sands and watches the ships that go sailing…

Who was to say what could become of this? Weren’t the endless possibilities, the constant question of What if? the most tantalizing part of this kind of experience? Of never really knowing what could be? The inevitable choosing of one life path ensures that we’ll never really know what we’re missing, and maybe that’s all part of the experience; the lessons we learn and the people we meet.

“I wasn’t expecting to feel like this,” he admitted as we were saying goodbye, promising to keep in touch and meet again soon. “What’s the word in English for when you feel connected to someone right away, but you can’t explain why?” he asked.

“Meant to be,” I said.

[Image via iStock]