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Day 311: Je t'aime...moi non plus?


Yesterday while taking a walk through Belleville, I passed an épicerie that was playing the song "Broken Glass" by Annie Lennox, an artist that I have never really loved but also never hated. I have always held a stance of indifference regarding anything Annie related...until last year. 

I had just started working at the American tax office here in Paris, where the receptionist would dominate the space with music from her computer speakers. Her selections were always fairly innocuous, you know office music you could ignore: Creedence, Springsteen, Top 40 Pop...and Annie Lennox. This was when Annie's existence was brought to my attention more than ever. She had an Annie Lennox "Essentials" mix on her Deezer account that always reared its head around lunchtime. 

Your basic Annie Lennox hits could be found on this mix, including the at-the-time torturous song "No More I Love You's". I'm not sure if the song was added twice on the playlist or I was truly meant to hear it because the damn song would play two times. Add that to three months and that's a lot of rescinded love happening. 

But really, do you how awful it is to a hear song called "No More I Love You's" on repeat after you've been dumped while working in an office where your ability to log mail and apply stamps is constantly put into question? It feels like dog poo to put it simply. While photocopying a 300-page document while keeping my finger on the tray in order to keep the paper aligned and hearing this song howl in the distance, I drifted off and remembered when my French ex-fiancé first told me that he loved me. 

It was on a day trip out to Deauville several summers ago and after a picturesque day on the beach, he declared his love. We had been together for maybe two weeks. 

"Je t'aime," he said as we stood beside his parked car. 

"I'm sorry, what?" I recall was my response. 

Having spent the three years before in NY and the five years before that in LA where I couldn't even get a guy to admit he was dating me, I remember being shocked by his sudden declaration. I mean, we pretty much had just met. But what I soon learned was just as easy as it was for him to tell me that he loved me, it was just as easy for him to tell me that he didn't...anymore. Dis. This was not the first time I had experienced this with Frenchmen who can't live without me one day and the next, they couldn't be bothered and blow the relationship off as a beautiful "histoire", soon to be forgotten. 

It hurts every time. What is it about saying "I love you" within the first few weeks of a relationship that they simply cannot resist? It's like, you know, you don't have to say it, right? 

On a walk through Père Lachaise with a friend last Friday, we sat on a bench that looked out onto the city talking about the loves that have come and gone since we've been in Paris. While each of our ex-boyfriends and currents are their own creatures, have different jobs, styles and interests, they all had one thing in common: they all shocked us by dropping the "L" bomb fairly early in the relationship. Ah ha, so it's not just the guys I date.

A man sitting on the bench beside us, who fashioned a bit of a  Crispin Glover look (more like creepy, skinny guy in Charlie's Angels than McFly...I know, McBummer), began to smirk, inviting me to believe that he understood our conversation and was not listening to his iPod. I took his eye contact as a cue to welcome (or rather force) him to join the conversation as a special guest (live!) in the studio, to enlighten us American gals on our queries of love in the City of Light. Obnoxiously, I leaned over my friend and flat out asked him why "he" proclaims his love so early in the relationship.

"We do what we feel," Crispin said with a smile. Okay Sir, yes I get that, but is "I love you" not as strong a sentence as it is to us Americans? 

"I love you means I love you," he added. "but maybe you are all too serious in America."

He then did the uniquely Gallic shrug, followed by that fart noise they make with their mouth when they're trying to convey that they don't know and more importantly, don't care. 

What I loved most about Crispin's response was not his indifference to my inquiry, but that he was not even a drop defensive or insulted that I decided that he too was like this. He just accepted my generalization without argument which only justified my assumption.

In the States, saying the "L" word is a pretty effing big deal and isn't a sentence that gets around too often. Having lived in Paris for several years now and having had this idea of "love" brought into several of my French relationships early on, I can't help but wonder if "je t'aime" means something different in French, or rather, does it just hold less weight than it does in the U.S.? Or is Crispin right, are we're too serious and tend to put all of our oeufs in one basket once we're told "I love you"? Perhaps the French really are just more romantic than us. So many questions...

Ladies...your thoughts?

32 comments:

  1. Oh, Ella! This is a question that needs to be discussed over a glass of wine because I could spend hours typing an answer that would be longer than anything that you would want to read. Even though I've never had a Frenchman profess his undying love for me, I think there's a lot of cultural and historical "stuff" that relates to their willingness to say "I love you" so quickly - it's evident in their day-to-day approach to life as well.

    I've got to admit that I'm surprised by the recent trend in the USA to end every phone conversation or parting with "I love you", whether it's between parents and their children or a couple. It doesn't feel as meaningful if it's overused.

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    1. This 'I love you' thing is a mystery that I'll never get to the bottom of. I've experienced it more than three times and each time, I have been shocked. Let's talk about this over champagne soon! I love your insight! You knew your husband was your husband after only a week...you're a certainly an authority on the subject matter of amour!

      LOL! I noticed this 'I love you' trend in the States as well and I find it to be such a weird and inorganic way of expressing affection. It's like: "Let's go to the mall, I'll pick up in 10..I love you."

      Seb and I pick and choose our je t'aime moments to keep them special.

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  2. How funny! Just a couple of weeks ago, also at Pere Lachaise, I had the exact same conversation with my girl friends. How do these charming French men love you so much one second - you're the one they've spent their whole life waiting for - and then the next, those feelings are over and you're just a beautiful "histoire"?! I mean, same words and everything.

    I truly think they think they mean it when they say it, but I certainly can't turn it off and on like they do.

    I don't know. I have no answers. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we have more words for the different grades of love - I like you, I have a crush, I like you, like you, I'm falling for you, I'm in love with you - but who knows. If you solve this great mystery, please, fill me in!

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    1. Really?! How funny!! That's like the exact conversation I was having with May...to a T!

      I agree, that they truly believe it when they say it, I just think they jump the gun and act before thinking. Perhaps that's the romance of it all!

      I hate that I'm generalizing with this post but I have experienced this several times and just had to bring it to the table to see what you ladies think.

      And the "belle histoire" thing drives me nuts! It's like don't try to justify your transient feelings by wrapping it up in a little package as if we were stars in a nouvelle vague film and now we will all go our separate ways and look back at our lost love that couldn't be. Bleh!

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  3. The guy I just started seeing dropped the "Je t'aime" bomb. I mean, we've been friends for over a year, but this was after one week of what I guess you'd call "seeing each other". I think he sensed my "What zee fuck?" reaction, because he hasn't said it since. We do not take that lightly at all in the States.

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    1. Aww, how sweet! Maybe he has been in love with you this whole time! You guys have known each other for a year so he gets a pass! This doesn't sound like a spontaneous declaration to me. : )

      Sometimes I am a hopeless romantic.

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  4. I dunno..I think its something weird with dudes here. Any French girl friends I have don't seem to be so casual about saying I love you.

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    1. Do they think it's weird to bring love into a relationship only after a few weeks too?

      I've asked around and haven't been able to get a straight answer. I've even asked the gate agent at CDG and she just chuckled at how "cute" I was. I'm not cute! This is a serious investigation that needs to be solved, damn it!

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  5. I agree with Jennifer, I feel that at that moment they really really really do love you with all their little hearts but unfortunately (or fortunately) that moment can be fleeting. I also think that it ties back to overall intensity of French people. This is huge generalization, I know, mais pour moi c'est vrai. I've been dating a Frenchie for 2 years and yeah, they're an intense bunch.

    It's either all or nothing, one extreme to another. It's all about living life fully without withholding your emotions, right?

    But I do agree that the je t'aime's and all that jazz can wait a little longer. I mean, come on, let's get real. Sir, I don't even know your last name and you love me. Puhhhh-leaseee take a few steps back.

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    1. Oh totally, I agree..they do feel it and it is real. It's just the realness may not last forever like you (or rather I) would have imagined and hoped.

      And of course this is a total generalization, I'll be the first to admit it, I'm just reporting on my own experiences and observations.

      Perhaps it is about living life to the fullest and not holding back. I know for sure that I have learned to live, eat and enjoy myself in France so why would love be exempt from this way of living? It makes sense but there's something nice about holding back...just a little, you know?

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    2. Oh yeah, for sure. You can't give it all away in the first shot. :-)

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  6. I think that French men are more apt to give in to their feelings and the passion of it all and allow an 'I love you' to slip out of their lips much easier than American men. It's definitely a cultural thing and is all wrapped up in our American and French histories. I myself can't really picture a bunch of puritan men running around screaming 'I love you' but I can definitely see a bunch of Louis VI clones doing it!

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    1. So true! It's definitely a culture thing. There's a reason why the cliche that Frenchmen are romantic exists. Stereotypes come from somewhere, right?

      LOL! And thank you for that image of Louis VIs running around screaming 'I love you'! Only you, Sara Louise, only you...

      :)

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  7. My French boyfriend did the same thing-I love you in a very short time. He actually married me though so I guess he meant it. Very emotional. I don't know if it's just him or all French men.

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    1. Bravo, Linda! Congratulations (perhaps super belated?), but congrats nonetheless!

      I love a good a happy ending. : )

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  8. Hah. i love May's comment. As I have no experience w/ French men, I have two thoughts: it does seem that they jump to it quite quickly here and I like how Americans take it more seriously. Love to me is serious so saying it should be. Secondly, when I first started learning French, I always found it weird that "i love you" - romantically to your lover/husband/bf, etc is "je t'aime" which uses aimer which is "to like." in Spanish, there is a separate "i love you" for lovers and one for friends. i found it odd that the French "I love" literally translates to "i like you." i'm sure i'm missing something..as always with French.

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    1. Yeah, the different levels of like/love can be confusing to a new French speaker. Duchess explains it below. Luckily, my first two French relationships were in English, so we didn't bump into this problem but I can imagine that there have been misunderstandings around this.

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  9. They're drama queens, that's why!

    Oh... and we do the gallic shrug and "fart" sound in Quebec too;)

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    1. Ahh you too!! LOL! I have to confess...I totally do it too. Seb busted me the other day. Ahhh! I'm morphing!

      I just can't help it...it's addicting and says everything without saying anything!

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  10. Je t'aime bien means I like you.
    Je t'aime beaucoup means I like you a lot.
    Je t'aime means I love you.

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    1. Oh yes, the different stages of "aimer"...

      When MF was breaking up with me, he busted this out and said "ecoute, je t'aime beaucoup mais..." Can you fucking believe that? I LOL now..but at the time, it wasn't so funny.

      Quel con, ce mec...!

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    2. Ahhh. Ok. This would have been helpful to learn in French class. They taught us the different levels but never in relation to actual relationships!

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    3. Oh, it doesn't even surprise me!;) Could have been worse: you could have had "écoute, t'es une brave fille", which would have added insult to injury by being patronizing!

      A few days after a break-up many years ago, I had some guy sign off an email with "BEST REGARDS"!!! Timeless!;)

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    4. Oh...t'inquiéte! I got the brave fille one too and I said to him, didn't you say that I wasn't independent just last week? So how am I suddenly a brave girl?

      What a great guy he was.

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    5. @kbh - isn't it sometimes just easier to see the translation right beside it?? I'm all about full immersion but sometimes you need to just know what the brouhaha you're saying!

      I used to struggle with this in FIAF NYC and would go home and google it and then it all made sense!

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  11. I've actually had a totally different experience with this subject Ella! I thought the contrary- that ze Frenchmen wait until they really mean it 100% to say something of such significance. I guess it depends on education, on parenting. It's not a word often heard in my world. I had to wait a LONG time to hear it. Welcome to the Alps.

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    1. Ella - the option to reply to the post as a whole rather than one specific comment seems to be AWOL? Anyway, I have no experience with Frenchies declaring their love for me early or late, but I'm definitely in the noooo, not so fast! camp. Or I would be if I had half the chance ha ha

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    2. @Grenbloise - Really?? How interesting! Now this changes my whole argument and want to know more! Unfortunately, I don't know many people (or anyone) from your neck of the woods to interrogate but I'm curious to know if this is now a regional thing!

      @Gwan - Oh Gwan! You make me laugh. Perhaps you will be getting some time off in your future where you can put more energy in the love (boy toy?) department. ; )

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  12. I really love your blog. I can relate to it on so many levels. Such a great read--keep it up!

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    1. Thank you so much Coco Marie (love your name!). That's so kind of you! : )

      I'm glad you relate..I'm glad you ALL relate! What would I do without you ladies?

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  13. Wow. I feel like I've just landed on a goldmine, what with this visit I've just had to this post, and your blog on the whole.

    Too many things to respond to, so a few bullets:
    - I adore that Crispin and his type remained entirely unembarrassed to having been caught eavesdropping. So familiar.
    - I adore your description of the Frog puff to the lips. From here-on-out I shall consider it the frog face fart. So familiar, again.
    - in answer to your question, my vote goes with Crisp's assessment: Americans are serious. We are earnest. We do take things seriously. Which makes it hurt when we're troddled upon, but also makes us a hell of a lot more trustworthy.

    And yes, I'm big at generalising.
    Look forward to reading more, Miss Ella!
    xx

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  14. As a French, I've always been surprised by the opposite. In many American TV shows or movies, you can see couples dating, be crazy about each other, making out, having sex for days or weeks, and they look stunned when one says "I love you" to the other... Well, in a French perspective, if you date someone it's obviously because you love them, so why should it be a problem to say it? Maybe that's the way the French see things, hence the quick "je t'aime". Maybe we ARE romantic, after all ;-)

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