Awash with Wonder

The Girl Who Didn't Go to Paris

LoveShannon Butler7 Comments

I met my boyfriend, Joerg, for the first time in New York for New Years Eve. Responding to his invitation to meet him there was an act of bravery for me, but he made a bigger commitment, traveling from Germany, via Paris, while I only flew from Orlando.

Still, it was the furthest I’d ever travelled for a first date, and I was already half seduced by the romance of it. I wasn’t, however, expecting too much. I was trying to avoid the temptation of attaching too much significance to New Years Eve and the people I spent it with. When celebrating the New Year, we're so filled with hope that it's easy to believe the people we’re with are going to be a part of at least some of our new beginnings.

I didn’t know what this trip would mean for the future, and I didn’t care. I went to New York to have an adventure.

It was not love at first sight. He was delayed by five hours because he’d mistakenly bought a ticket for the wrong day, and I spent long, anxious hours in the airport waiting for him. When he arrived, his luggage was lost, and our first adventure was figuring out how to get his bags sent to a house we’d never visited.

It was a lot of wrong starts for two strangers to encounter. Maybe if I had believed in signs, these moments would have been a sign to go home. Or maybe I would have interpreted the setbacks more hopefully. If I were writing the story of our meeting, as if watching strangers, I would have observed that love requires flexibility as it’s often born in the messy and unscheduled moments. There was no time for signs or observations in the unfolding of this new us though, so I just let everything happen without analysis.

I fell in love an hour later in the darkness of a New York City bus.

The bus was a welcome relief from the bitter cold that greeted us as soon as we exited the airport, and we immediately melted into each other. My legs flung over his lap, his hand tracing the outline of my knee, as we talked. From the beginning, our relationship has been marked with this casual touching. At first, it was out of amazement that the other person existed, and we needed the confirmation of fingertips on solid flesh; then, out of celebration; and now, out of recognition: “There you are, my love.”

I’d always thought of love as something you fell into. It was the impossible made possible, and it needed to be discovered. This was different. This wasn’t a discovery but an awakening.

In past relationships, I was always so aware of where I ended, and they began. The weight of our individual hopes, dreams, and worries created a barrier between us that I had no desire to overcome. In the darkness of that bus, I felt something new. With him it was a surrender of outlines, a dissolving into the empty spaces.

When we arrived at his friend’s house, I already felt safe in what we had created on our journey there. As I was the only stranger, I should have felt a sense of otherness in the presence of their already established relationships. Instead, I felt as if I had come home. My previous experience of romantic love had been isolating, a private world we built between us. With him – even though it was too early to speak of love – the love that was already there felt inclusive. It was as if as long as I loved him and was being loved by him, I was able to experience all the love that was present everywhere. Loneliness and otherness ceased to be.


The night and day leading up to New Years Eve were beautiful. That seems too simple a description, but despite the ubiquitousness of the term, beauty is still extraordinary when you’re surprised by it.  Being around him made me feel so exquisitely grateful for ordinary moments. I felt so proud every time I looked at him, as if my heart would burst, and I cannot even tell you why.

It wasn’t that I believed he was mine now. We hadn’t discussed what we were or what we could be.  It was the oneness I felt. When I looked at him, it was like seeing myself, seeing everyone, for the first time, and I was awed and joyous at the revelation. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I thought he was really fucking attractive.

We travelled to Brooklyn the day after we arrived, with plans to celebrate New Years Eve in the home of a friend of a friend. The homeowner was out of town, but we’d planned dinner for eight people. We were with a couple Joerg knew, and whom we’d stayed with the night before, and their friends were coming over. Probably because Joerg and I were the only strangers there, everyone who walked through the door assumed that the home was ours.  Even as we explained that we’d only met the day before and hadn’t even met the guy who lived there, it didn’t feel like a ridiculous assumption.

It didn’t feel weird that we’d so easily slipped into the role of host, welcoming people into a home that was not ours, when we’d known each other for an amount of time that was still more reasonably counted in hours than days. I am not a girl who ever imagined white dresses and the pitter-patter of little feet on the floorboards of a place I’d call home. I didn’t even imagine forevers. But all of sudden here it was: delicious possibility.

Not long after the countdown, we found ourselves in a noisy and crowded bar.  In the early hours of a new year, I felt myself needing to make a promise that terrified and thrilled me.

His arms were around me, as they had been from the moment we met, and I was oblivious to the people who surrounded us, as I had been from the moment we met. Tilting my chin up to look at him and placing open palms on either side of his chest, I swallowed my fear and tried to sum up everything I’d been feeling in one declaration: “I will follow you anywhere”. 

I don't know why I said it. Maybe because I knew that I was moving to California in a week, and he was leaving to North Carolina. Maybe because I had already followed him to New York, and I wanted him to know that it was only the beginning. All I knew was that I had to say it.

For me, that promise was bigger and braver than saying I love you. It was complete surrender. All my plans, my careful qualifications of when I would love and how much, ceased to matter. There was just him and my desire to be wherever he was for the rest of my days.

It is a promise I want to keep.


A few weeks have passed since our first airport meeting, and we’ve already had many more airport hellos and goodbyes. It is not what I want for us. In March, I will be moving to North Carolina to start a new adventure with the man that I love. I am committing to a new dream.

For the first time, I’ve had people openly disagree with the choices I’m making (I guess I’ve lived pretty safely up until now). They can’t believe that I’d leave California, a place I’ve dreamed of for years, for a man I’ve known for weeks. They make very reasonable arguments against my decision to move, and I understand that they’re well meaning. The problem is that other people's fear has a way of poisoning even the purest of experiences – and I want it to stay the hell away from me. It is braver for me to go than stay, so I’m going. It’s an experiment in surrendering to love, and it terrifies me already; I don’t need anyone else’s fear dressed up as concern.

I do understand their concern though, because it’s how I felt when I was on the outside looking in. When I was a teenager, I used to watch a reality show, The Hills. In a pivotal episode, the lead character, Lauren, decided to stay home with her boyfriend instead of spending a summer in Paris with Teen Vogue. At the time, I didn't understand how anyone could choose another person over a dream city and a dream job.

I didn’t know that surrendering to love requires that you give up on your idea of what’s supposed to be – even what you hope will be.  You have to be braver than your plans and what other people think is best.

During my flight to California, our first time apart since we met, I wrote to him: It’s never going to be about time for us. I didn’t need months to know that I loved you; I barely needed hours. What we have is infinite.

It is an infinity I want to explore, and the only way to do that is to commit to loving him deeply and following whatever path I have to in order to do that.


Living in California was always my dream, but it was a shallow one. I didn't imagine much past arriving here, past calling this place home. And when I imagined it, I hadn't met him. He is a dream I didn't know how to have, and I will follow him anywhere. 

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