> Zed Book Club / Glynnis MacNicol Takes Paris – and its Men – in ‘I’m Mostly here to Enjoy Myself’

Photos: xbujhm/Getty Images (Paris); Tatiana Krakowiak/Getty Images (croissant); 'I'm Mostly Here To Enjoy Myself' by Glynnis MacNicol

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Glynnis MacNicol Takes Paris – and its Men – in ‘I’m Mostly here to Enjoy Myself’

In a Q&A about her hedonistic sojourn, the author, 49, talks about dating 27-year-olds, how society punishes unmarried women and the joy in aging / BY Rosemary Counter / June 14th, 2024


I know Glynnis MacNicol is my kind of people when she appears on Zoom with a towel on her head to talk about her new memoir, I’m Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself: One Woman’s Pursuit of Pleasure in Paris. “I’m getting ready for my book party tonight and I have curly hair that takes hours to dry,” she explains, not that she needs an excuse for giving zero effs. As she closes in on 50, the Canadian-born, NYC-based author has made a career out of writing unapologetically about doing things her own way. 

Happily single, never married and child-free, MacNicol sparked awe and ire from all sides of the internet when she published essays in the New York Times like “I’m in my 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” and, in a nod to the late, great Nora Ephron, “I Feel Great About My Neck.” Not that she cares to read the comments. She’s too busy living her best life. 

Then the pandemic happened. The jury is out on whether locked-down singletons or couples (with kids – even worse) had it harder, but MacNicol, facing a solitary year of mounting sexual energy, was Googling “skin hunger”in her apartment building, where everyone who could leave, did, and the mice moved in. When COVID-19 rules relaxed just enough for her to pack her bags and take off for six weeks in Paris, MacNicol was out the door in record speed. 

 

Glynnis MacNicol

 

“Has anyone ever had Paris to themselves?” she writes. “Surely the answer must be yes, though it’s difficult to imagine. It feels like the entire city has been laid out just for me.… I try to envision other women whose paths I am unknowingly recreating. Women of the resistance. Women racing home to slip in after curfew. Women escaping. Foraging. Working. How many were simply enjoying?”

Where her first memoir, No One Tells You This, tackled turning 40, I’m Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself is about reclaiming pleasure. MacNicol, making up for lost time, meticulously chronicles her vacation in France, through rich food, richer friendships and sexual adventures. On the night before her book launch, she was keen to chat about forgoing a “happy ending” à la Eat Pray Love, the lore and lure of Paris, the challenges of selling the new book and the pros and cons of single and married life. 

Rosemary Counter: I kept a list as I read your book because we like all the same things: Nora Ephron, Working Girl, Fear of Flying. We’re the same person, just a bit! 

Glynnis MacNicol: That’s funny, I just had that same experience with this book called Flâneuse. The author’s walking around Paris, discovering all the places I found. It’s both lovely and frustrating that we all think we’re having these experiences in isolation, when in reality we’re all having these shared experiences. We just maybe don’t have a common cultural language. Plus we all love Working Girl! I used to work across the street from a similarly tall building and we’d sing the song as we got on the elevator. 

RC: I have the movie poster on the wall in my office. Whenever I get upset, I ask, “Would Tess McGill give up? I don’t think so!” I’m jealous you live in her city. 

GM: I’ve lived here since 1997, so a long time. I grew up north of Toronto, went to university for a year in the Maritimes, switched and went to UBC in Vancouver. But New York’s been home since the second I stepped foot here. Paris is a secondary life that I’m able to access semi-regularly. I have friends there and can drop in and out with ease when finances allow.

RC: When you got the chance to leave the city, you chose Paris. Could it have been any other city? 

GM: I’d been going there for a month or so every summer for four or five years. I stay in the same apartment, so when it happened to open up, I had to take it. I was so desperate to see people and replenish myself – which I suppose I could have done anywhere – but the French have a particular social structure that has pleasure built in as a human right. It’s in their laws, their culture. In America, you have to earn pleasure – financially and through hard work. Not so in Paris, where it’s a given. 

RC: On the other hand, what’s “Paris Syndrome”?

GM: Paris Syndrome, which may or may not be real, is the idea that this fantasy of Paris has permeated global fascination to such an extent that people arrive there and they’re disappointed. Young women in particular are said to be so acutely affected that they report to the American Embassy and need to be flown home. It’s very possible someone just made this up, but it speaks to me about the larger idea of Paris. All cities have these sorts of myths around them that have some truth and lots of untruths. It’s tied to young women finding themselves, like Sabrina and Emily in Paris. I actually think Paris is so much more emotionally enjoyable when you’re a grownup. 

RC: You’re 46 in this book and about to turn 50 now. How are you feeling about aging? And how’s your neck?

GM: Just like I wrote before, I feel great about my neck! I feel wonderful! I don’t feel envious of younger people ever, like, at all. It’s hard to be young, especially now. And whenever I write anything, I hear from women who say, “Oh, just you wait, things get better!” I imagine writing a book about turning 90 and some 99-year-old writes to me saying, “Just wait! You don’t know what’s coming!” I’ve learned that very rarely does someone’s comment or email have anything to do with you. Memoirs are a bit of a Rorschach test. All these conversations got easier when I realized anyone making a judgment call about my decisions was really making a judgment call on themselves. It’s so much socially less punishing to be unmarried these days than it used to be. 

RC: I’m married with a kid, but most of my close friends are single. I’m always telling them it’s so not perfect over here.

GM: It’s hard to be the only person in your friend group living a certain way, especially for mothers who have kids when their friends don’t. But definitely the rituals we have to celebrate women’s lives are all pegged to marriage and children. I don’t get rituals to celebrate my life,  except for my book party tonight, ha! Generally, though, no. Financially, our structures are all pegged to partnerships, especially in the States where we don’t have socialized medicine. Married women benefit enormously just from the health insurance. Being in a  partnership lets you increase your wealth by something like 70 per cent. 

RC: But being single lets you hook up with whoever you want in Paris. You’re so lucky!

GM: I wrote a whole essay once about the word “luck.” I’ve worked hard to construct this life and shouldered a significant amount of risk. At the same time, I get it. I enjoyed myself a lot in Paris. I had a fully pleasurable experience. Twenty-seven-year-olds are great. 

RC: You meet lots of them on a Paris dating site called Fruitz. That cannot possibly be real…

GM: It absolutely is. For that summer, to have that app as the popular one, in a book about pleasure? Talk about timing! 

RC: Your matches include “the silhouette,” “le spanker” and “the masseur.” All fun, but I’m so glad you didn’t fall in love with one at the end. 

GM: I will never ever write a story that ends with me falling in love and getting married. I’m not interested and have never been interested in those stories. But selling this book was challenging for exactly that reason. We do not understand women’s resolutions outside of the “then she found the love of her life” ending. With all due respect to Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat Pray Love, she divorced the guy five years later. 

RC: And she left him … for a woman! 

GM: Who subsequently died. Now that’s an interesting story, and all that came after Eat Pray Love. I was turning 47 when I wrote this book, so firmly into middle age, and it really solidified my point of view of what’s next as optimistic, exciting and powerful. I’ve maintained that sense that everything’s available to me. If I want it, I can have it, within reason. Maybe not $10 million. I can’t necessarily have that. But I mean my options are not diminishing, they’re widening. That’s what Paris taught me and I’ve internalized it. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

 

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