Paris Syndrome, romanticizing your life and changes

TW: Mention of depression, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and eating disorders.

The Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota first coined the term whilst working in France during the 1980s. In 1998 Katada Tamami of Nissei Hospital registered a patient suffering from a manic-depressive episode related to the Paris syndrome. Later on, more and more cases were registered, with an yearly average of 20 people being diagnosed in 2011. However, what exactly is the Paris syndrome? 

The Paris syndrome is a feeling of extreme disappointment disclosed by tourists when visiting the capital of France, who sense that the city was not what they had expected. The phenomenon happens mainly since Paris is one of the most photographed cities in the world, especially due to the way the city is romanticized in the media. Not only noir movies but also hipster Netflix series, thousands of Instagram posts and daily TikToks portray the city of lights as a living perfume advertisement, suggesting that you’ll meet the love of your life while wandering through Champs-Élysées and only see models drinking coffee and smoking their tenth cigarette of the day. 

Although this sounds like a dream, Paris streets do not smell like Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle and pigeons will not dodge you, depriving the living of a filmic experience. 

As a matter of fact, the city is home to innumerous social problems, including crime, inequality, dirtiness, and huge indifference towards tourists. Therefore, the symptoms experienced by mainly Asian tourists are not that of a shock but still very much classist and privileged. It is not only extremely hard to sympathize with the ones who suffer from this syndrome but also to take such a first-class problem seriously. It is obvious that having high fevers and hallucinations are no fun, but suffering from those because of a city not being what you imagined is too far from my (and most people’s) reality.

Image Credits: Willy Ronis

Nevertheless, when applying this concept in “real life”, or to something at least I am most likely to experience, the syndrome indeed makes a lot of sense. I am no longer talking about travelling to Paris and having all your expectations shattered when natives simply ignore you speaking to them in any language that is not French. I am talking about real, deep disappointments that we, mere mortals, experience simply because we had high expectations towards something. And this ranges from going to one of the best-known bakeries in the world and the pastries having a deplorable taste to putting all your hopes and efforts in a relationship that ends with the other person telling you they don’t care about you that much in the end. 

The newest TikTok trend deals with romanticizing your life. Users of the platform record numerous videos with the following sentence standing out on the screen: “You need to start romanticizing your life”. Besides the imperative form of the verb not leaving room for questions, the fact that it has become one of the most popular trends, reaching over ten million videos with the hashtag #romanticizingyourlife, already says a lot about how popular this mindset already is. That’s where trouble lies. 

When typing “Romanticize your life” in the Google engine tool, the first result page is filled with 101 Guides on how to join the trend and on how to become “the main character”. When trying to read some you may encounter wise knowledge and suggestions, such as appreciating what you already have and enjoying the nature around you. At the same time, articles are filled with situations we only see in Hollywood romantic comedies and make absolutely no sense, such as leaving your favorite book on a park bench for someone to read it. Talking for myself, I am really attached to my books (especially my favorites) so just leaving it on a bench is not really an option. Besides, when living in Amsterdam, the next person is most likely to find a soaking wet block of paper and end up throwing it away. 

Another personal favorite recommendation I came across while scrolling through tutorials is “tell someone you love them – now”. I might be too cynical and pragmatic, however I simply cannot digest this obsession with telling people you love them, even when you don’t feel like it at the moment. Love is one of the strongest and most beautiful feelings, and telling others you feel something so powerful in the same frequency you ask the local barista for your favorite drink just doesn’t feel right. 

What I am trying to say is that all those situations are lovely on paper, but attempting to fit them into your day to day reality in order to have a “perfect” life is just way too utopic. Furthermore, believing that every problem you have will disappear if you manage to follow all tips and tricks magazines give you, is even more dangerous. Even though the idea gained popularity through TikTok, this is a tangible problem, and you will, just like the Parisian tourists, feel relentless disappointment when your life doesn’t feel like your favorite guilty pleasure romantic movie. 

The funny thing about life and being satisfied with where you are is that it looks like a sine function. A sinusoidal is a curve with periodic oscillations and even though life’s waves are not as periodic as a mathematical equation. I really like this analogy. There’s beauty and relevance in understanding that life is not meant to be filled with only good days and amazing moments, and accepting this is the first step towards serenity. By romanticizing every second of your life, people deprive themselves from embracing the bad moments and realizing that those are just as important as the good ones. This is not only lamentable because you end up in a state of suffering when trying to ignore any emotion that doesn’t bring you instant happiness, but also because it has a deep impact on mental health.

Credits in image

When putting expectations towards something, in this case your entire life, the odds of things happening the way you imagined are extremely low, and as a result you experience frustration, and this leads to a much deeper hole. According to psychology, and personal experience, the typical responses to frustration include quitting, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, stress, and depression. Other common reactions are abuse of drugs or alcohol and eating disorders. Taking all of this into account, is it really worth it going that deep into romanticizing your life? 

The benefits you may receive from romanticizing your life are, from my point of view, definitely not worth the ache that is likely to come with it. However, we must be realistic and understand that it is impossible to live 100% expectation free and the most important thing to do is find balance between a deep romanticization and not caring at all. 

The idea of romanticizing your life can look really attractive and it is easy to be drawn to, especially with all the online content convincing you that this is the magic formula for a happy and healthy life. What we should do is realize that romance is an imagined state, caused by a psychoneurological high, and that means that the low must come eventually. Life can be colorful, pretty and filled with happy moments and gratitude but this does not mean that all moments will be like that, and that’s fine too. Relationships are messy, work is messy, mental health is messy, living is messy; and therefore, it is destructive to have these high moments as your ultimate goal. 

At one moment you are at your productivity peak, working non-stop in all areas you need to, and after a couple days you cannot write a single phrase for your article due tomorrow. 
You can be enjoying your single life, being happier than ever, and unexpectedly you have a weird connection with someone, which ends up ruining the feeling of self-possession you worked so hard to feel. 
The disappointment you encounter when Face Timing your parents and all you can think of is packing your bags and taking the next flight to where your home has always been, after finally starting to feel at home in a whole new city.

Image credit: Diana Markosian

Dealing with all those ups and downs is maturing. Those are the moments when you create barriers that make you stronger. When you learn your most valuable lessons that shape you into who you are today and who you will become. And romanticizing your life can make us skip one of the prettiest things that happen to ourselves: Changes. 

I like to think of changes as something that happens to all of us. Maybe that’s naïve, however I never believed the idea that people can’t change. It for sure happens in various intensities and it depends on who is going through what, but I think everyone will change at least once in their life. Those changes come with experiences that make you feel something, usually strong emotions like sadness, disappointment, frustration, and the list goes on and on. My point is that big changes usually don’t come with major happiness and joyful feelings, meaning (once again) that by romanticizing your life you are most likely to stay in the same place, mentally, for years. Trying to stay away from suffering and convincing yourself that your life is a Disney movie will deprive you from learning new lessons in order to actually be able to become a better version of yourself. 

Instead of romanticizing thousands of situations, we should start living them instead. Going out for a run before creating imaginary scenarios of how it will look. Grabbing a coffee in the store that just opened close to your place without checking their reviews online beforehand. Spontaneously calling that one friend you haven’t seen in ages and inviting them out instead of fantasizing about them reaching out to you first. Visiting the city of love without reading travel guides or looking through the beloved Google Images. By doing so, you will most likely notice the beauty in the details, gain new experiences, come across changes and finally enjoy life for what it is. 

Written by Olivia Lucchesi

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