Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2021

Using a semester in Paris to fall in love with myself

By KATY WILNER | December 5, 2019



Wilner is relearning the value of being alone after years in relationships.

I have never been a very independent person. It’s not simply that I enjoy the company of others, but the idea of doing certain things alone fills me with debilitating dread. 

This kind of thinking used to limit so much of what I could do, whether it be going to a restaurant, taking a trip or even riding the metro alone. I make my friends do everything with me, even if it is something as mundane as buying groceries.

Also, I’ve always had a boyfriend. And no, it hasn’t been one continuous boyfriend, but an incredibly long series of different variations of the same archetype. Ever since seventh grade when my first crush asked me out, I have transformed into a serial dater — leaping into commitment after commitment, sometimes with only a day in between multi-year-long relationships (and sometimes a day overlap).

That isn’t to say that each relationship didn’t mean something important to me. They were all very lovely men, and all taught me different things. But by constantly being with another person, I never had a chance to figure out what I wanted as an individual and I never did anything by myself because I didn’t have to.

But, for the first time in my life, I am single. Now, I am totally alone. And it is wonderful.

Being without a partner, especially abroad where there are so many things to discover, seemed daunting at first. It’s so easy to do activities when you have someone else to figure things out with you.

However, I found that in my relationships, and most of the relationships I see around me here, it’s incredibly hard to get anything done when you have two people making the plans. Mobilizing two romantically involved people can sometimes seem like trying to mobilize a boulder. 

Trust me, I know how safe and warm and simple it is to order in food and watch Netflix and cuddle. But it’s important to go out sightseeing, to experience nightlife and to go wherever the city takes you. I didn’t travel thousands of miles to do the exact same thing I could be doing in the comfort of my own home.

Now, totally alone, I wake up from a good night’s sleep where I didn’t have to fight for the blanket. Totally alone, I take a shower and I’m able to take up the whole shower. All by myself, I get dressed, go out the door and go into the world excited to follow my itinerary at my pace, without the risk of anyone slowing me down.

To some people, this might seem unenjoyable or even sad. But because I’ve never had it before, it honestly feels a little bit like I can breathe for the first time. A year ago, I doubt I would have been able to walk into a foreign restaurant and ask for a table for one. But now I do so without hesitation, and nothing feels so good. I can sit and read and enjoy my food at my pace, undisturbed in blissful silence.

Since coming to Paris, I have done more things by myself than ever before. It was a challenge at the beginning to say the least, but I think it has been an essential part of my development as a person. Now, when I talk to girls who seem to need either the accompaniment or permission of their boyfriends to do mundane things, I feel like taking them by their shoulders and shaking them out of whatever false reality they are living in.

But I know it is unfair of me to think this way about other people because I know that’s how I acted in my past relationships. I know that just because I’m single now and I’ve become so much more in-touch with my own preferences, it doesn’t make other people’s preferences wrong. And it doesn’t make mine better.

I do think it is important for everyone to experience alone time because that’s the best way to get to know yourself and to figure out what makes you happy. I have nothing against relationships, and I have nothing against men, but I needed to be away from both for a while to realize how those things should supplement my life, not be my life.

I would love to come back to Paris later in life with a partner. It is after all one of the most romantic places in the world. Yet, I think it was more important for me to come on this trip and fall in love with myself as opposed to fall in love with another person. When I come back with a partner, I hope I will remember the happiness I felt walking along the moonlit Seine by myself at 20 years old. And this amount of happiness will be the new standard that I will hold both myself and my partner to, and I hope neither of us will settle for anything less.

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