WALKING LESSONS IN PARIS
By Jesica and Brian Eames
Twenty-two years ago we came to Paris for the first time. We were barely into our 20s. We saw Rodin’s and Cezanne’s and Bonnard’s, we walked around Monet’s water lilies, and we enjoyed cheese at the end of dinner. Other than being accompanied by a set of parents—whose generosity made the trip possible—it could have been a postcard trip, the quintessential journey of discovery and amour in one of the world’s most iconic cities.
There were some delightful moments, of course, but traveling challenged us. With disrupted routines the small irritations loomed large and tensions built. Away from home, it was not as easy to sweep the dust under the rug that had been gathering at the feet of our six-year relationship. When we reflect on that trip, it’s not the masterpieces and architecture that come to mind, but rather the fight we had while walking along one of the avenues paralleling the Seine. The argument was concrete and simple: one of us wanted to walk fast, the other wanted slow. Neither of us can remember now who wanted what, but we both recall vividly that we were out of step and out of patience, and perfectly content to squander this rare and precious moment together.
We know now that the conflict in Paris ran much deeper. We each held onto the belief that if he or she would just act “the right way,” the problems would cease. We believed in being right over being together. The thought of marriage percolated, but we were waiting until the dust settled, that we settled, and it wasn’t happening. If we can’t walk down the streets of Paris without arguing, then maybe it’s time to stop.
Within a few months of that trip a trusted beloved shoved rather than nudged us into the Imago “Getting the Love You Want” workshop. Nervous and uncertain we got to work along with a dozen other couples. It wasn’t easy. We learned skills we desperately needed, and we began to see how our personalities and our histories were impacting how we showed up in our relationship. That weekend we glimpsed a different way of being together, a way that would invite and even compel us to see and experience our selves and the other in a different light. A few months later, optimistic and inspired, we got engaged.
In the decades since that trip to Paris, we’ve done a lot of living. We bought our first home, we welcomed three sons into our world, and we nurtured important friendships. We figured out that we liked each other in addition to loving each other, and we learned that play and fun is a requirement not an option. There’s been lots of laughter. But not all that living has been joyful. Together we buried two beloved parents, both of whom died suddenly and too young. Our oldest son Jack fought to survive a traumatic birth that shocked us into the fragile identity of parenthood. We struggled through early and later career setbacks. And a few times we threw our marriage and ourselves into dark places of our own creation that took time to heal and mend. In all of this living we discovered that our goal is not a conflict or crisis-free marriage. Our daily practice is about winding our way into a more conscious relationship, so that when we get ourselves into trouble we can trust that the conflict is a signal of something more trying to show up.
We are back in France this week to celebrate twenty years of marriage and twenty-eight years together, just the two of us this time. We’re laughing and bumbling along with almost zero French between us in a city that feels tender and kind in the wake of its last year. Traveling can still be a challenge. We hopped off our train to Paris too early and almost stranded ourselves in a remote town. This time, though, we giggled, jumping back on the train with too many bags looking silly and very American.
Yesterday we walked all over Paris and finished the day back at the Seine, crossing the same bridge we’d argued on so many years ago. The Fitbit announced we’d walked over twenty-thousand steps together.
This time we’re in step the whole way.
Jesica and Brian Eames
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