I loved being single. But I didn’t know it at the time. During the ten years between serious relationships—aka my thirties—I thought I wanted a boyfriend. I yearned for a partner in crime, a sexy love interest, a soul mate. But the men I found myself yearning for were far away—Los Angeles, Alaska, The Upper West Side—and so, these yearnings never compromised my freedom or workaholism. In fact, quite the opposite, thinking about a new man always generated new work. Many a play was written under the influence of unrequited, semi-requited, ambiguous, or otherwise messed up love. I didn’t think about commitment during those years, I thought about adventure. And sometimes, I was lonely. But I was okay with that, it felt like a fair price to pay for the independent life I wanted. There were plays to see, parties to drop in on, an endless array of people to enjoy, and mostly, my creative self to explore.
During these years, I often felt pathologized for liking my life. Friends who were in relationships saw me as a problem to be solved. They urged me to stop dating men in the theater, to find a nice accountant/lawyer/doctor and settle down. Magazines and websites insisted I learn The Rules and get with the program. Love, they all agreed, was about getting what you want. And what you want, they reminded me lest I forget, is a ring on your finger. I was even told, regarding that ring, that there was “wrong side of 25” on which to get it. (Clearly, I’d missed that memo in my twenties.) Most depressing, the magazines and talk shows and cultural reference points agreed that when I took the brave and valuable risk of loving and the love didn’t turn into a committed monogamous relationship, the sole lesson to learn was: “He’s just not that into you.”
I didn’t buy it; I still don’t. I believe that the purpose of love is to transform us, to help us become more patient and more generous, and ultimately to bring us closer to our most authentic selves. Each experience, however “successful” or painful, holds a piece of love’s transformative power. And I experienced a lot of transformative power. I wasn’t a slut or anything. But I got around. I told myself, I was gathering experience. Through being single, I learned who I was and what I wanted. Love affairs—both the ones that materialized and delighted or broke my heart and the ones that stayed at arm’s length—and the friendships I made along the way taught me about need and expectation, trust and failure, about the value of boundaries and the moments in which I could release them. This was how I came to know myself. What I valued. What I needed. And what I would stand for.
I’ll admit I made a few bad choices. There were situations I put myself into when I wasn’t sure what was love, what was sex, or how to tell the difference. I drove across the country for love, up the Pacific Coast for love, and sometimes all the way to the South of France for what I thought might be love. I didn’t understand that commitment could feed desire; I thought that the energy of the love would create its own container. I believed in a knightly code, a solidarity between lovers. I was idealistic. My friend Doug says, “Once you have sex with someone, you have to answer their email for the rest of your life.” “Exactly!” I said. Love, no matter how “casual” or how alternative should have a set of ethics attached—“sexual ethics”, a friend called them. And I couldn’t stand to play games. When an actor I’d been flirting with told me, “I like girls who act like they don’t care about me.” I replied, “I don’t have time to play hard to get with you; I’m too busy playing hard to get with CAA. You either want to do this, or you don’t.”
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But all this aside, I was having a good time, pursuing my goals and becoming the kind of adult I wanted to be—a self-sufficient, prolific artist, someone who could produce a play or two a year, creating a body of work, an inquiry into contemporary hearts and souls and often, lingo. A wise friend once told me, “You do what you do until you start doing it another way.” And it was so for me. Everything changed when my mother died. She had been sick for some time, years in fact, but the period of time in which she was actually dying was excruciating. She went back and forth over death’s proverbial doorstep for a few years, like a Clash song, wondering whether she’d stay, or go. And like the song, both staying and going meant trouble. Finally, she died. And when I needed support most, the person who was there for me was not a lover, but my childhood friend Susan. Susan came to the funeral, in Detroit, flying in for the day, when none of the men I’d asked would do so. I didn’t even ask Susan; she offered.
This was the moment everything changed. After years of cultivating emotional independence, I realized that in certain situations, it was permissible to ask for help, and to lean. I’d always had a warm and supportive circle of friends. And as my friend Susan proved, they had my back. But my romantic relationships, while scintillating and revelatory, weren’t based on any kind of promise or commitment to be ethical or kind or to take care of one another. And so, the men I’d been with, left me alone. And I realized, I’d been making choices that left my heart unprotected.
“I am closed for business!” I proclaimed. No dating, no hook-ups, no love affairs, no flirtations, no make-out sessions in the small bathrooms of seedy bars. No, no, no. I’d had enough adventure. I was vulnerable and needed to learn how to protect and honor my own heart. And it was during this period of abstinence—which lasted three months—that I met Gordon, the man I’m about to marry. Gordon is a writer, like me. He values his privacy and his independence as I value mine. He doesn’t play games. At the beginning of the relationship, before anyone had kissed anyone, I asked, “Do we need to discuss this awkward sexual tension?” He said, “Yes.” We’ve been together ever since.
To use the word “date” would be a gross misrepresentation. Gordon and I went from making out in his car to moving in. My grandmother insists that my dead mother sent him—and I agree, she probably did. And although Gordon and I started talking about the longterm very quickly—we both admitted to feeling something with each other that we’d never felt before—the more pressing affair was that both of wanted to, needed to, keep writing. He was in the throes of an eight hundred-page novel and I was finishing a screenplay and then the book proposal that would ultimately lead to my memoir. And so, we vowed to protect one another’s writing much the way that Rilke tells lovers to protect each other’s solitude. And because of this, because of his commitment to his own work, I could commit to him. At the end of the day, a writer needs to be married to someone who values what she does, who believes in it, who supports it, and he does something of his own that is equally as crucial. And who understands what a gamble it is, every time we try to write, every time we sit alone in a room, wondering if the words will come. Gordon and I can give each other that understanding. We support, nourish, feed and sometimes just listen to one another. And I love my life with him.
But it’s hard for a woman who cherishes her independence to settle down. There was a mourning process. After years of doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, being with someone came as a shock. There was a lot to learn. For one thing, he wanted to cook for me. One night, he asked, innocently, whether I was coming home for dinner, and I went nuts. “What do you care if I’m coming home? I don’t know what I’m doing! I’m …” until I realized, he just wanted to know if he should pick up a few salmon steaks and a bottle of Pinot Gris. Another night, when I was CERTAIN I had to be out, going to a play, going to a party, I found myself missing him and coming home early, to sit in his lap and drink a glass of wine and be together. He was more exciting than any conversation or experience I could possibly be having anywhere else in the city, without him. I learned to share space and responsibility. And I have learned to be available for him—a much more exciting and substantial lesson than those that revolve around someone else’s purported “unavailability”. In return, he has learned to give me space to “wander.”
One night in Queens, cooking dinner together, I found myself crying. “What?” he asked. “We just get to do this every night?” I asked through tears. “Yes,” He said, “We get to do this every night.” Not one of the relationships I’d had in my thirties involved an “every night.” My one serious ex—the guy I dated throughout my late 20’s and early 30’s, a macrobiotic chef I drove across the country with—was, like me, raised by divorced parents. Although we adored one another, when we talked about commitment, we didn’t know what it meant. We promised to “be true to the love and not to the form the love takes.” Which meant, that whether or not we stayed together, we’d “be able to access the love” in our hearts. “That’s bullshit,” says Gordon whose parents have been happily and faithfully married for fifty years. At their recent anniversary party, Gordon’s dad leaned over and told me that the happiest day of his life was the day he married Gordon’s mom. And now, Gordon and I are getting married.
What a treat to have my whole life first, to have explored, fought, moved, won and lost and won and lost again—before this merging of fortune and future. I am so grateful to have had enough time alone, working and loving and learning, sowing my proverbial oats and healing my human heart. Because now, I can receive Gordon fully. After years of gathering experience, I can promise my whole heart to him without reservation. There are no unanswered questions, no stone unturned (or block of New York City untraveled). And once I was through mourning my single life, I could release into the present moment and fully receive my new role as a partner. I confessed to my therapist, “I can’t believe this is love…because it doesn’t hurt. It’s all really easy—he’s easy to be with, he’s easy to love, it’s so natural….” She laughed and said, “This is what adult love is!”
When he hears stories about my single-girl lifestyle, Gordon is wont to say, “There’s a new sheriff in town now.” And then, “Are you cool with that?”
And I always say, “Yes. Oh yes. I am most definitely cool with that.”
Visit Brooke at www.brookeberman.net
Brooke Berman’s humorous and honest memoir in 39 apartments is about her realization that home is much more than an address. What makes a home a home? Post a comment below to enter for the chance to win a copy of No Place Like Home. Limited quantities, while supplies last. Winners chosen at random. No purchase necessary.