By Alexander Durie and Felix Hoffmann
Around the world, Paris is known as the city of love. Films like Amélie or Midnight in Paris paint a rosy picture of the French capital as the place where passions arise and love is found.
But for those living in Paris, the reality of love isn’t as dreamy as the films may have us think. According to an Ifop report released in late 2016, only 25% of marriages in Paris last over 20 years, drastically lower than the national average of 41%. Meanwhile, more than one marriage out of two finishes in divorce and infidelity has been recorded to be higher in Paris than in the rest of France (46% in comparison to 40%).
Still, that doesn’t mean that long-lasting happy relationships are impossible to find. For two weeks, we met couples in Paris who’ve been together for more than 20 years to recreate a photo from their youth. As we spent time with them, they reflected on passed time, sharing advice on what makes a relationship last and what continues to make them tick. Here are their stories.
Bodil and Bernard
Bodil and Bernard have been married for 46 years. They met in Paris through a mutual friend from Germany in 1971, one year after Bodil had moved to Paris from Sortland, a small town in the Arctic circle of Norway. Due to Bernard’s busy work as an ex-Director of Hospitals under the French Ministry of Health, the French-Norwegian couple spent many years away from their Paris home in Algeria and in Vanuata. But despite their moving around, the couple has never spent more than two months apart in almost 50 years of being together.
While Bernard was sent to various places for work, Bodil stayed at home and raised their three children: Solveig, Erling and Reidun. The kids grew up with their parents’ passion for travelling and discovering new cultures, as the five of them trekked through Thailand and made regular trips to Bodil’s Norwegian homeland. Although the children all left home many years ago, two of them, Solveig and Erling, still live in the same building in the Latin Quarter as their parents, which Bernard’s family has owned since the 1930s. Being so close means that Bodil and Benard now enjoy taking care of their grand-kids regularly, but Bodil still misses being a mother on a daily basis. As Bodil compared the original picture taken in 1989 with the one taken today, without the three children present, she sighed and smiled. “Well, they grow up and they leave you. C’est la vie.”
Danielle and Lionel
“You have to be happy with yourself before you’re happy with someone else.” This is Danielle’s piece of advice after 35 years spent with Lionel. For Lionel, the leather-jacket-wearing ex-rugby man, the secret to a long relationship is “to argue a lot and start all over again.” They laugh about it together over drinks at the bottom of the Sacré Coeur in the 18th district, their local neighbourhood for the past 20 years.
Danielle and Lionel met in Val d’Oise in the Paris region when they were only 22 years old. They were both studying to become teachers, and though their careers took different directions, they never left each other’s paths.
Danielle and Lionel decided to never marry, saying that they didn’t need a piece of paper to prove their devotion to one another. Together they raised two girls, Hanna and Marie, both university students, who always stay in their duplex floor in the flat when they’re in Paris. Despite this, Danielle and Lionel always find alone time. “We wanted our daughters to have two happy individuals as parents before anything else,” Danielle explained.
The two still go to the Marciac Jazz Festival every summer and have enjoyed introducing each other to their respective passions; whether it’s Lionel bringing Danielle into his sports world or Danielle introducing Lionel to new books and films. As they conversed, Lionel looked at Danielle with gratefulness and respect: “For me, Danielle is a woman first, before she is my partner.”
Angeline and Philippe
Love at first sight is an amazing thing, but it can have its challenges. When Philippe and Angeline met at the ECPAD, the Photo Agency of the French Defense Department, he was the artistic director and she was an intern, curious to learn more about the world of animated films. Also, he was married and she was engaged. But for both of them the situation could not have been clearer. In a matter of weeks, their prior commitments were annulled and a new chapter was about to begin.
They discovered similar passions such as music: Angeline is an enthusiastic pianist and Philippe produces techno and minimal electro in a room full of drum machines, synthesizers and keyboards. But don’t think for a second that they don’t enjoy each other’s jam: Angeline has her ringtone set to one of Philippe’s techno beats. Now that their two kids Marie and Charles have moved out of the house, having left only a dog and a rabbit, they are rediscovering their own rhythm of life. Communication and paying attention to the other makes all the difference, Angeline emphasized. As for the future, “it doesn’t matter where we go, as long as we’re together” said Philippe. “Together and in the sun,” Angeline added.
Virginie and Monzer
The first time Virginie and Monzer went to visit Monzer’s family in Lebanon was in 1989, when the civil war was winding down. Because the airport was closed, they came by boat. The atmosphere on the vessel was heavy and full of emotion, as people were looking forward to finally seeing their loved ones again, after the violence had forced them apart. They only brought two suitcases, but Monzer’s family showed up in five cars, ready to welcome Virginie with typical Lebanese hospitality. For Monzer, bringing Virginie back home to his traditional Christian family was not to be taken lightly. It would be the first of many trips.
Virginie and Monzer got married in 1993, raising three daughters, and for a couple of years two of Virginie’s nephews, in a house in the eastern suburbs of Paris with a large garden. The façade painted in a warm yellow, their home glows in the evening sun and has been part of Virginie’s family for almost 100 years. Together, Virginie and Monzer worked tirelessly to renovate the house, putting in new walls and redecorating, taking decisions together and finding common ground. “It’s important to make compromises,” said Virginie. “You have to take care of each other. If you only think about yourself, it doesn’t work.”