Lola Rykiel, photo by Beth Garrabrant
It was early 2014 and I had just started documenting my journey through the murky waters of the Parisian dating scene via Dbag Dating, when not one but two people sent me an article entitled “New York Guys vs. Paris Guys.” It was written by a Parisienne named Lola Rykiel, who happened to be going through the flip side of my Parisian culture shock while living in New York City and channeling her experiences in her column on HarpersBazaar.com, Lola on Love. A few years later, Lola and I were introduced by a mutual friend, and since then she has become my go-to source for all things Parisienne, as recently documented on Vogue.com. The coolest thing about Lola (besides her keen knowledge of the best cocktail selection in downtown NYC) is her ability to delve deep into any subject matter and shed an alternate light on a topic in a way that only a truly insightful person can. In honor of today’s Bastille Day, we sat down to chat about trans-Atlantic dating discrepancies, the intricate art of self-love, and the ever-green enigma that is the Parisienne.
Marina Khorosh: Let’s go back to your first article for Harper’s Bazaar. I remember when I first read it and got to the part where the guy had “double booked,” I immediately thought “Oh man. That’s New York!” Did anything similar ever happen to you again?
Lola Rykiel: Not like that. But I do think that with each New Yorker I met, there was a discovery of something that was different from what I was expecting. Coming from Paris, I was used to dating being approached as something more romantic, with some hope of love – or at least you would pretend.. Definitely not this pragmatic, “OK we are done, now there is another girl, I am going to see if she is going to be a more valuable asset than you..” So that was probably my first culture shock, after which I realized that this was what everybody in New York is doing, that there is this whole concept of floating, where you just pick and choose, pick and choose..
Marina: It’s almost like job interviewing. You know what always surprises me though? New Yorkers have this reputation of being all over the place, and as a whole, I agree that this is true. But then, every time I talk to a person individually, they all seem to want the same simple things – just to be with somebody they love and to be happy.
Lola: I think we are just being a bit greedy. Actually, there is greed and there is insecurity. I think that some of the people who are dating multiple people definitely want to be with just one person, but because they have this fear of not being enough or getting hurt, they are protecting themselves by dating all these other people. Do you know what I mean?
Marina: Yes, it’s a way of cushioning yourself. If you are ok with yourself, you’re not going to run around like a crazy person dating everybody. You’re not going to do it, because you’re focused on other things.
Lola: For me, personally, it would be very difficult to give intimacy to multiple people at the same time. It is definitely not my thing
Marina: I actually find that once I actually start liking somebody I am simply not that interested in getting to know other people. So, no, I can’t date like that either.. Although I suppose I should?
Lola: Why, because you have a higher chance of finding the right guy?
Marina: Yeah, technically it’s all about probability. I have heard this many times, and what’s even scarier is that I have seen it work. I have seen girls stock up on dates, and then suddenly they have boyfriends, and then suddenly they are engaged.
Lola: Ok, true, if you are putting yourself in a situation, you have a higher chance at success. As long as you recognize when you meet somebody who could be the right one for you and stop dating other people.
Marina: Yes, and as long as you don’t go overboard. I think people don’t realize that you can put yourself out there too much. It’s good to be alone sometimes. Just because you are alone tonight or tomorrow night doesn’t mean that you will be alone forever. Also, with all this “double booking” and “stocking up,” have we lost track of love and romance and all these things, things that literature is based on? We should probably work on finding them again.
Lola: Yes, but now, with all the freedom and the dating apps, it’s almost like we have an unlimited selection of love.. I think that anything that excessive can’t be good. Personally, I find that too much freedom gives me anxiety. I need some kind of structure to feel peaceful. But that’s just me.
Marina: So, basically New Yorkers need some rules. Not dumb dating rules, but structural ones. Like in France, there was this rule I heard when I arrived – if you kiss you are together.
Lola: Yeah, it has changed a bit, but there is definitely none of this openness about actively dating and looking and searching, it’s not something you have on your schedule as an activity, it’s something much more beautiful and intimate and personal. It’s funny, in New York this is a common conversation topic, it’s like “So, what’s going on? Who are you dating? ” In France, who you’re dating is definitely not something that you put on your resume.
Marina: Speaking of which, don’t you feel like in New York, part of dating is about who you are, where you live, where you work, how many Instagram followers you have… It’s something I wrote about once, because I was having so much trouble adjusting to this when I moved back.
Lola: I think that, wherever you are, you are just marketing yourself on a date. In the U.S. it’s more geared towards success and acquisition and accomplishment. In France we are also trying to show the best side of ourselves, just in a more effortless way.
Marina: So, when you get down to it, we are all pretty similar..
Lola: Yes, we have different formulas but at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We all want the same thing, we want love. No?
Marina: I hope so! But I do have to say, New York can be very aggressive at times. People here are just so confident. I think that, in other countries, we are just not raised like this. We are supposed to be more modest and self-deprecating.. Not to promote ourselves in such a straightforward way.
Lola: But do you think it’s healthy to put yourself down?
Marina: No, but if you are good at something you don’t need to promote yourself? People know it regardless.
Lola: I think the difference about most New Yorkers I met is that they are very aware what their strengths are and they really try to push them forward, while their weaknesses are not something they focus on and share. I think it’s so interesting – it’s not that they are bragging about themselves, they are just presenting themselves to the world by being very straightforward and clear about what they can bring. They are not afraid of asking for something back either. I think it’s pretty brave to be direct.
Photo by Kelly Stuart
Marina: A year ago, I would have argued you on this, but I am definitely starting to see that sometimes it’s good to cut to the chase. Meanwhile, Americans have this fascination with the French, especially the French woman.. Let’s talk about this – what are they all about? Also, do you think French women feel the same pressure to find somebody and to settle down?
Lola: I think so. Sure, the search is definitely less obvious in Paris, but I think that overall, this is something that is deep in human nature, to be in love and be loved and have some stability. So, unless you want to live a life by yourself and have this experience for yourself, there is this biological clock and a certain need to find somebody, at least for me. French women, we are just less expressive about looking for love, in the same way that we are not expressive about the fact that we spent hours getting ready. We want to be these fantastiques – we want to look like we just happened to fall in love, and happened to get married and happened to have kids..
Marina: But why?! Why this desire to seen so effortless?
Lola: It’s more attractive, I suppose.. It’s more mysterious and desirable. There is something that’s just not very attractive about rigidity and being controlling. And, maybe, by not being clear the French woman comes off as less controlling.. But at the end of the day, she wants the same thing, she’s not just going to put all her cards on the table, leaving some room for uncertainty and surprises.
Marina: So this game that French girls play, changing their minds and their moods every five minutes, it’s all an act?
Lola: Not exactly an act. I think that it’s also the knowledge that the French guy is aware of her game, that he is going to know what she’s doing and he will keep pursuing her. I remember I was dating this American guy and, one day, I told him: “Never call me again!” But, of course, I was expecting that he would call me again… And the guy never called me again! He hadn’t read into what I had said! Lesson learned.
Marina: I was always so confused by that while I was living in France. I remember I once went on a trip with two French friends who had just started hooking up. All they did was fight and then have sex, which I had to listen to through the Airbnb walls..
Lola: Yeah, there is this constant “cat & mouse” game. We are very dramatic, the guys know that we are being dramatic, so they are dramatic too. I think that maybe in France the guys understood that the French girl loves to be begged and asked several times. They are not afraid to chase and to try again, because they know that the girl is playing a game.
Marina: Wow. I wish I would have known this before I moved to Paris.
Lola: It’s the same thing here, there are all these rules, in a way. I remember a few years ago, I liked this guy and I told my American friend, and she was like “Well, did you text him?” And I was like “No, I’m not going to text him, he has to text me!” And she was like “Which century do you live in? you want something, why are you wasting your time and being so passive ? They think of it as being proactive, and I think that there is something really cool about that. Taking risks.
Marina: And it works! I have a friend who is like that. She always says “I know what I want, and when I want something, I try to get it.” And all the guys fall in love!
Lola: She is sure about what she wants and doesn’t put herself down.
Marina: That has something to do with what you wrote about self-love. That story about the woman you met on that retreat…
Lola: I still think about that woman. I came up to her and told her: “You are so beautiful.” And, instead of being self-deprecating, she just said “Thank you so much, I know!” It wasn’t vain at all, she just accepted and honored the compliment. And she wasn’t perfect at all, at least according to societal standards, but she was definitely beautiful and radiated such confidence. I will never forget her.
Marina: It’s sad that most women have such a complex approach to beauty and body image. It’s not healthy how much pressure there is for women to look a certain way.
Lola: Men have a lot of other pressure in other things. We all have a lot of pressure – if we want to listen to it. That’s a decision we make.
Marina: So how do you get to that place of self-love?
Lola: You need to have perspective. You need to understand that there is always going to be somebody who is better than you and prettier than you and thinner than you and more successful than you, but comparing yourself is just a direct path to unhappiness and misery, at least for me. Whenever I catch myself comparing myself to someone, I try to stop and revert the focus back to myself. I am learning how to be kind to myself. It is a process.
Marina: You almost have to treat yourself like you would a close friend – with kindness and compassion.
Lola: Yes, we are always asked to be kind and be good, but the place to start is with yourself. I think that self-love is definitely something you have to cultivate. You have to stay centered and listen to what you like and don’t like and act according to this. This way, you are going to do things that will make you love yourself.
Marina: I feel like it gets easier as you get older.
Lola: Definitely, you also stop trying to please everybody when you get older. Because you can’t!
Marina: Any other advice?
Lola: Again – and this is the thing I have to do every day – just to try not to compare yourself. I think when you are young and especially if you work in fashion, everything around you is driven for you to compare yourself – social media, advertising, models, Victoria’s Secret models. Also, successful people! You see examples like Sophia Amoruso or Mark Zuckerberg.
Marina: Oh my God, I retired the model game so long ago.. I think I gave up. Now I just compare myself to the “real people”. But that’s not healthy either.. You have to realize that everybody has their own path in life.
Lola: Exactly. There needs to be a way to admire other people and keep focusing on yourself, on the things that make you a happier and better person.
Photo by Kelly Stuart