While doing research for my book Parisian Charm School, I interviewed hundreds of women (and more than a few men) and asked them about love, beauty, style, and the gifts of travel. I befriended an American woman named Mimi, and she told me the story of how Paris changed her life, soothed her broken heart, and ultimately brought her true love.
Mimi lived in Florida and worked in real estate with her father. She was the youngest of four daughters and close to her family. She and her mother shared a love of antiques, and they often visited Paris together where she got to know all the markets. They loved collecting vintage dressing tables and French linens. Unmarried and the youngest sister, she became known as the aunt who took your older sister's children to Paris as a graduation gift.
And then, in her late 30s, she became engaged to a wonderful man. He was strong, healthy, and a runner, just like her athletic father. Mimi and her fiancé were already talking about long-term plans, and her parents were so happy for her. But before she knew it, her world came crashing down: Both her parents and her fiancé died within two years due to various medical complications.
All of this happened in 2005, when Mimi was just 39 years old. And it would seem that there was nothing left for her in this world, and so she did what generations of women have done before her: She packed her bags and went to Paris.
The healing power of Paris.
One evening, shortly after she arrived in Paris, Mimi was strolling down the avenue when a man in a coat carrying a briefcase was walking from the opposite direction. As they walked closer and closer to each other, their eyes met and locked, and she repeated over and over again to herself—do not talk to anyone. I am not here to meet anyone!
So once she passed the man, she slipped into a café and ordered a hot chocolate. She was cold and tired. The place was almost empty, so she sat at a corner table. She smoothed her skirt and picked up the menu, and when she looked up again—there he was, walking in the door—the man from the street, the one with the coat and briefcase. This seemed very strange to her. After all, on the street, he was headed in the opposite direction.
He didn’t realize she was an American, and so he leaned over and said to her in French, "I know where you can get an authentic hot chocolate." She responded in English, and he quickly switched to English, and then they talked and talked and talked. He told her his name was Jean-Pierre, and she was instantly at ease.
She figured she would never see him again after that night, but despite her best efforts, she kept bumping into him. And one morning, after a night of insomnia, she slept in and didn’t leave her apartment until three in the afternoon. She bought a copy of the Periscope—the newspaper that lists current exhibitions and events—and found a bench. Mimi sat and looked at the paper, and then she noticed a man’s legs next to her. She looked up to find Jean-Pierre smiling at her. He said, "I’m not following you, I promise. Clearly, this is meant to be."
Nineteen months later, they married. And today, Mimi is the editor and creator of a magazine where she uses her expertise in the field of antiquing in Paris to offer private curated tours. She brings boutique owners from the United States and around the world, as well as individuals, couples, and many mother-and-daughter teams. She smiles easily, with the wisdom of a woman who has lived, lost love, and loved again.
Can you imagine what might have happened if Mimi had stayed at home, in Florida, bereft and broken-hearted? Well, she most certainly would not have met the love of her life.
When you hit a wall, make a change.
Mimi was able to heal her broken heart—and even find love again—because she was resilient enough to decide she wanted to shake up her life by traveling. While we may not all have the capability to do something as drastic as uprooting our lives to move to Paris, this doesn't mean you can't learn from Mimi's experience in some way.
This change can be something big and dramatic, such as going to an ashram in India, or it can be something small, such as taking a class in pottery. It can be taking on a new volunteer project, or changing how you wear your hair and painting your kitchen walls orange. Or green, pink, or yellow. This tiny change begets another change and another change, and before you know if, you have pulled yourself out of that rut and created a new groove that has the potential to completely shake up your life.
It's time to say goodbye to your routine.
In my research on French women, I realized they know something that other women don't: When tragedy strikes, or when our hearts are smashed to pieces, we need to stretch, grow, and challenge our own assumptions instead of retreating into safe routines that only make us sad.
Your heart should have an emergency first aid kit at the ready, because while you may not have a broken heart at this moment, it will likely happen at some point—so be ready. Make a list of the things that bring you solace and that make you feel strong. Ask yourself if there is a place you might go to find your courage once again. You don’t have to go there right away, but you might put a photograph of this place in your emergency kit.
Finally, live your life with an open heart. Yes, it may get broken, but you will survive. Actually, you will do more than survive. You will blossom and grow and change and begin anew. Your heart is a muscle, and as painful as this might sound, it needs to be stretched and broken and slowly healed and then even broken again before it is strong and brave and truly resilient.
Want more tips from French women? These 10 wellness tips from French women will get you started.