It was a balmy night in Paris. Earlier that evening my single friend and I had dressed up for one last night on the town. A magical Parisian sendoff was glittering ahead of us and we shone back, relishing our youth and the freedom of travel.
At a little bar on Rue Mouffetard I found myself talking to a charming French man named Etienne. I told him from the start that I had a boyfriend but he just shrugged, a twinkle in his eye and said: “I have a girlfriend also.”
I can’t say I wasn’t tempted by his accent, or by the art of seduction he’d obviously been practising all summer, but I kept reminding him about the man I’d left in Melbourne. Even when my friend cheekily whispered in my ear: “Go for it, I won’t tell.”
After a while Etienne gave up. We contentedly chatted about life, love and the general meaning of things. We exchanged Facebook details and said goodbye with a chaste kiss on the cheek.
My friend and I, still a little drunk as dawn approached, took our shoes off, blasted Faux du Fafa by Flight of the Conchords on our phones and ran for 15 minutes back to our hotel.
As soon as I got to our room, my only thoughts were with Serge. The French man had vanished from my mind; the only evidence of our encounter a Facebook friend request.
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I smiled to myself as I logged on to the hotel wifi and checked my messages:
I’m watching Ratatouille with my sister. Paris looks beautiful! xox
I laughed out loud. Serge, so sincere, was watching a cartoon and telling me how beautiful he thought Paris looked. I allowed myself to dream of the day we would visit the city together. I wanted him to see all the sparkling lights in person, not just animation.
I felt warmth in my solar plexus, a newfound knowledge that this was the person I wanted to be with forever: the kind of guy who would watch Ratatouille with his little sister just so he could feel closer to me while I was off exploring the world.
For the rest of the trip, I took Serge with me in my pocket. Risking the expensive phone bill that would follow, I switched to roaming to share moments with him.
I loved that there was no jealousy between us. Serge laughed at the stories I told him of the different boys we met along the way and their various romantic tactics.
I recounted the evening in Venice when two Brazilian boys asked us to dinner. While my friend was happily making out with one at our table on the Grand Canal, the other, stuck with me, began declaring that I was the only one for him: “I am a penguin … now that I’ve met you, I shall never love again.” I explained that I too was monogamous. That I had a boyfriend back in Melbourne. He pretended to hurl himself into the canal.
There was an ease with Serge, a contentment. I was so used to the game playing of previous relationships that I was confused by how peaceful this one felt. There were no hidden meanings in messages, no punishing silent treatments when I failed to live up to an unspoken standard. We were just us, and I liked who we were with each other.
Although I had already known I liked him a lot, it took 10,427 miles of distance between us, and a buffet of international men, to realise that everything I wanted was back in Melbourne.
We’ve been together 14 years. We have travelled the world together. And now we’ve settled in my home town, with a daughter and a ginger cat joining our adventure.