When strangers ask me how I met my boyfriend, I’m always struck by how old-fashioned the story seems to my generation. We met on the first day of college ten years ago – his room was down the hall, and in a moment of shameless confidence I knocked and introduced myself. When I tell this story to fellow millennials, they marvel and swoon at the strange idea of meeting “offline,” while Gen Zers look at us suspiciously, as if beneath our (relatively) fresh skin lurks a secret old person. But they all agreed: our “origin story,” as a worldly teenager once described it, is quite romantic.
Yet textbook romance has never been particularly easy for us as a couple. Shy and private as a hermit crab, it took him almost two months to hold my hand in public, his penchant for logic and efficiency clashing with my dreamy impulses.
Our most dramatic story of romance gone wrong happened during our fifth anniversary trip to Mexico. After dinner, our heaving bodies were led away from our table by a conspiratorial waiter to discover a trail of flower petals leading to our cabana, where the staff kindly staged a surprising, rom-com-worthy tableau. by Chris Isaac Bad game The loudspeaker was playing softly, a huge perfumed bath, strewn with more flowers, had filled up, candles glowing in every corner while a bottle of champagne sat on ice. But before I had even put down my purse, my friend had fallen fully clothed on his side of the bed and was immediately fast asleep. “No one loves no one…” Isaac sang mockingly.
And so I decided that for our tenth anniversary – a remarkable milestone that couldn’t be ignored – we would find that elusive spark of romance once and for all. Extensive Googling revealed that the Greek island of Paros is one of the world’s most quietly romantic destinations, so charmed by the idea of the translucent sea and small white-stone fishing villages, we set off.
We got off to a promising start. After catching a bad cold the day before our flight, my friend sat buried in a handkerchief during the three-hour ferry ride from Athens, arriving at the port of Parikia waving like a sailor, exhausted by the motion of the constant sneezing. “You know,” I whispered to him as we were led into the newly renovated Minois Hotel overlooking Parsporas Beach, “this doesn’t discourage you, romance-wise.” He settled into a swinging wicker chair by the pool with a welcome cocktail, where he lay for several hours, occasionally looked at by concerned staff dressed in white tunics so immaculate they could have manned the gates of heaven.
But after a day of recovery on the coast – including more invigorating fruit drinks from Minois’ excellent bar and slices of Greek orange cake soaked in syrup – the handkerchief was wrapped up and things started to improve. The next morning we ran down a sand dune to Parasporos beach to watch the sunrise, with the Aegean Sea already warm at seven o’clock. Then we strolled through the slippery, winding streets of the capital Parikia, sipping the Greeks’ beloved freddo espresso, while visiting Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a beautiful 1,700-year-old Byzantine church, as well as the 800-year-old Frankish castle that overlooks sea. At dusk we sat in Minois’ impressive restaurant Olvo, eating chunks of tuna and beetroot as the orange sky liquefied over the water. It was textbook romance – but no matter how hard we tried, and how lucky we were, romance with the stars of the silver screen eluded us.
The next morning we woke up to the sight of our wet swimsuits (which had been placed on our balcony to dry the night before) doing somersaults across the hotel foliage – one pair of pants never to be seen again. The Cyclades are known for their powerful winds, and for the rest of the journey it felt like Zeus was furiously blowing on a stubborn candle. “I’ve never seen waves like that,” declared one waiter, looking grimly at the usually peaceful rocky lagoon. “You brought it back from London!” We watched the rain clouds gather above us. “Maybe,” my friend remarked solemnly as we held our palomas against what now felt like gale-force winds, “this romantic stuff just isn’t for us.”
We reluctantly took refuge from the elements indoors – our search for romance thwarted once again. But as the hours passed, something changed. We started the day tucked away in bed in sleepy, silent awe, watching the sun rise over the vast ocean, as the island of Naxos loomed through the mist; then spent the afternoon lazing in the underground spa at Parocks, a luxury hotel on a nearly deserted stretch of Paros’ northeast coast. Instead of lavish shows of petal trails and champagne, it was in these moments of quiet togetherness that we actually felt happiest. Maybe, we thought, romance is more than lame songs and fireworks – and gradually the pressure began to ease.
The next day the weather calmed, and – buoyed by this lifted weight – we explored the charming northern harbor of Naoussa, where gleaming fishing boats lined powder-blue restaurant tables and pink bougainvillea sprouted from blinding white boutiques. Drunk on the hot sea air and good Greek wine, we tumbled out of the restaurant and sat by the water listening to the fishing boats tinkling in the dark.
The next day we checked into the majestic new Cosme hotel and spent a day exploring the beautiful inland hamlets of Paros. In the quiet, hilly village of Márpissa we were invited to the home of a woman who wove on her grandmother’s loom. After offering us spoonfuls of jam – a ritual of traditional Greek hospitality – she told us her story: married at 16 after an irate father caught her kissing a Greek boy next door, pregnant at 17, a widow at the age of 40. Now in her seventies, she had a wonderful new boyfriend. “Finally, I choose now,” she beamed, relaxed and happy, no longer living up to any standards but her own.
On our last evening we walked to Cosme’s stargazing point, where the sky was a thick, sparkling black. As I lay side by side on pillows, amidst buzzing crickets, my heart felt full and relaxed. I remembered what a guide had told us the day before, when he explained how to mine Parian marble. “You have to take out the marble in its entirety, in the shape you want,” he had said. “You cannot add or remove items later.” I squeezed my friend’s hand. The gold standard of big, grand gestures just isn’t part of our marble – and if our style of romance is quiet togetherness instead of lightning bolts, that’s good enough for me.
I started to share this revelation out loud, but then stopped. When I looked over, I found him happy, deep, asleep.
Eleanor Halls was a guest at Cosme Hotel Paros (00 30 2284 440000; cosmehotelparos.com), which doubles from £1,198 per night, and at PAROCKS Luxury Hotel & Spa (00 30 2284 440500; parockshotel.com), which doubles price. from €600 per night.
Several airlines fly direct from regional UK airports to Athens, with returns from £34. Direct ferries from Piraeus (Athens) to Parikia (Paros) depart several times a day (from £110 return; go-ferry.com).