Love Icons: Julia And Paul Child’s Legendary Romance

Wendy Stokesby:

Love & Sex

My boyfriend Nick and I have been together for almost 10 years, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking for love advice or claim to know any secrets. To the contrary, I’m constantly on the hunt for inspiration, insight, and practical wisdom. I love asking long-term couples how they’ve managed to stay together for so long. I love watching new couples and finding ways to borrow that fresh spark. When relationships around me fall apart, I try to figure out why. When unlikely relationships thrive, I’m just as curious.

I believe that love, like life, is more about questions than answers. The day I decide I know everything there is to know about love is the day its magic dies. When you’re constantly learning, questioning, and pondering the subject of love and relationships, powerful lessons will appear in the most unexpected places. The memoir of a famous cook, for example.

Julia Child’s memoir, My Life In France, was the most inspirational book I’ve ever read for many reasons, but beneath the mouthwatering descriptions of Parisian cheese shops and the fascinating look into Julia’s skyrocketing career as an author and TV host, the book is a story of two people creating an extraordinary life, together: Julia and her husband, Paul Child. When I closed the book, I didn’t only want to be more like Julia, I wanted my relationship to be more like Julia and Paul’s. (I also wanted to make more butter-based sauces, but I suppose that’s beside the point.)

Here is a brief summary of their love story: Julia and Paul Child met while working for the US government in Sri Lanka during World War II. After they were married, the State Department stationed Paul, an artist and poet, in Paris to promote American arts. Julia went with him. On their first day there, he introduced her to fine French cuisine, which altered the course of both of their lives. As Julia started taking cooking classes and experimenting extensively in the kitchen, Paul wrote weekly letters to his brother boasting of his wife’s skills. And not in a “my dutiful wife has dinner on the table for me every night” way. In a “my talented wife is working her ass off and becoming a world-class chef” way.

When most of their peers were settling down in the suburbs and having kids, Paul and Julia were exploring France, China, Norway, and Germany. Their favorite weekend activity was hopping in the car to traverse the French countryside, with no itinerary except a freshly-packed picnic basket in the backseat. Paul spoke French fluently; Julia took classes. They routinely hosted 5-course dinner parties and showed visiting friends around the city. Every Valentine’s Day, they made it a tradition to pose for a silly, love-dovey photo (seen above) and send it to everyone they knew. Their government jobs made them nomads, but they created a comfortable home and exciting life wherever they went. They lived in boring little towns and cramped urban apartments that reeked of fish. The only constant? Each other. Oh, and laughter! Lots and lots of laughter.

Paul was often frustrated by the challenges of his own career, but never, ever directed any of that toward Julia, even as her own career began to flourish. My Life In France makes it very clear that without the love, support, and encouragement of Paul Child, the world may never have known Julia the way we do. He was with her every step of the way. He was her biggest fan.

In Julia and Paul’s relationship, I saw parallels of the strengths of Nick and my relationship — we are also playful, independent, adventurous, and ridiculously supportive of each other — but I also saw ways we could improve, and things we could aspire to. Their commitment to a rich, shared social life, for example (see #6) made me realize that Nick and I could probably try harder to build our social circle. At the end of one of the chapters, I slammed the book on the table and said, “Nick, it’s time for us host a fucking dinner party.”

Nick and I also want to live in many places (Paris being on top of the list, obviously) and see the world together. We don’t want to settle down. We want a lifetime of adventures. I don’t know many couples in my real life who have achieved that, but reading about Julia and Paul made me feel that it’s possible.

Nick is a baker, and, like Julia, I’ve watched him spend hours trying to perfect his croissant recipe. Sometimes he runs into the living room, coated in flour from head to toe, yelling, “Come quick! Come quick! You have to see this brioche I just made!” I can’t wait to work the front counter at his French bakery one day. On the flip side, he reads every article I write and tells everyone he meets to read The Frisky. He gave me the idea for the children’s book I’m working on. I want great things for Nick, and he wants great things for me, but I think we both know the greatest things will be the ones we achieve together.

When I excitedly photograph one of Nick’s latest pastry creations, I wonder if I’m the Paul to his Julia. Or maybe it’s vice versa, but either way is fine with me.

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