I wasn’t looking for love, but love found me. A little over a year ago I decided to cycle my way through France. A solitary journey, I suppose a kind of a spiritual odyssey, or at least that was my intention at the time. The trip itself turned out to be an epic adventure, however that’s a story for another time. Nearing the end of my journey, as I was making my way down the Atlantic coast towards the Spanish border, I came upon the town of Mimizan. There was little about this surfer’s resort to distinguish it from other costal towns I had passed through on my way. It was early October, and although the weather was still gorgeous, the streets were empty, the tourist season all but over. I stopped at 3eme Vague, a charming little café, which has sadly since closed. As I was enjoying my vegan bagel and almond cappuccino (happy, as vegan options are extremely hard to come by in rural France), my phone buzzed with a Grindr message. A guy I had a pleasant exchange with the night before was asking whether it was me sitting outside 3eme Vague…what a coincidence! It turned out that he was the chef at the restaurant next door, and seeing me arrive with my massively overloaded bike, he had put two and two together: was I the cycling Londoner he had been chatting to the previous evening? He was working late that night, and I had to press on. What was I to do? He was a handsome guy, and he seemed genuinely nice, but the timing was all wrong.
And so, I was back on the road, and my handsome chef was back in his kitchen. It wasn’t long, however, before we messaged again, chatting for hours. By the time I completed my trip and returned to London some two weeks later, I felt like Sylvain and I had already known each other forever. The next two months are a blur. I found it extremely challenging to get my mojo back and to return to my life as it had been before. Some journeys change us forever, and that was certainly the case with my French odyssey. Beyond all else, however, I couldn’t get Sylvain out of my mind. We shared so much, we truly cared about each other, but the fact that we couldn’t physically meet was becoming more and more difficult. There were still many obstacles to overcome, not the least of which was the fact that I was at the end of a long-term relationship, and still sharing a house with my partner. I wondered if Sylvain was my chance for true love. As a closeted romantic, I just couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by without at least giving it a try.
That December, two months after returning from my bike trip, I flew to Bordeaux to meet Sylvain in person for the first time. We spent four magical days in Mimizan, and at the end of my stay I was left with no doubt that I was in love and that I wanted to be with Sylvain. What followed were months of uncertainty, during which I left my job, my apartment, and most of what I had known, to eventually join Sylvain on his pre-planned trip to Southeast Asia. Because of COVID-19, we remained stuck in Thailand for nearly four months, a period we now call our quarantine of love. When we were finally able to return to Europe in June, neither of us wanted to risk getting separated, so we decided we would both go to France and build our life together.
Moving to a new country, without speaking the language, not knowing anyone besides my boyfriend, and having rather limited job prospects, naturally felt quite daunting. Swapping big city life for a completely different rhythm of a beach resort town was also a challenge. And while not a day passes by without me missing London and my friends, I never for one second regret my decision. Because starting a new life, with a new love by your side, is perhaps the best reason for moving to a new country if there ever was one. I realize now that I had been miserable for a long time, longing for something that London just couldn’t afford me. If someone had asked me last year why I was embarking on my mad bicycle dash across France, I don’t think that I would have been able to come up with a really good answer. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can reflect that the trip was my attempt to find out what was missing in my life. While moving to a new country, or even falling in love, might not solve all of life’s problems, it is certainly a new and exciting path.
Whether you are moving for love or any other reason, there are certain things to keep in mind. From the beginning, language has been my main problem. As someone who has always relied on being articulate and communicative, it’s been really hard to not be able to express myself freely and communicate with the people I’ve encountered. Although the majority of young people in France speak English, it must never be taken for granted that you’ll be able to get by on English alone. If you have more time than I did to plan your move, it might be a good idea to start learning the language in advance. Although interacting with local people daily has given my previously non-existent French a real boost, I still find everyday communication a challenge.