A Soft Place To Land -
Can ‘The Second Time Around’ bring a renewed degree of emotional honesty and intimacy?
When all is said and done, when you evaluate the true state of your relationship, more than anything I think you rely on those all too rare moments of true connectedness.
My wife Leslie and I have been together for more than a decade, and on a recent and all-too-rare family summer vacation I felt closer to her, more purely coupled with her, than I have in years.
Waterparks made the news this summer generally in unexpected and unpleasant ways. Wildly dramatic plume rides produced injuries and worse. But the ever reliable “lazy river experience,” the completely man-made current that can push an inner tube around a prescribed path, provided for me at least, a prescription for martial rejuvenation.
I am a fifty-six year old man, who lives in Brentwood and works however tangentially in “show business.” So surely you have already surmised that Leslie is my second wife. My original marriage, which I refer to as “the first administration,” lasted for 18, mostly very happy years. Leslie and I are headed into our 11th year together. The first administration produced two delightful daughters who are 21 and 15. The current crop also now includes a 10-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. Before I dwell too deeply into the wonders and woes of marital life it is worth saying here; because it is the single most important item to me, all four children get along with each other very well. There have been some burdens imposed on all; but the blessing of close and friendly sibling relations means absolutely everything to me.
Back to the waterpark. A “right-sized” decidedly non-colossal facility in Sunriver, Oregon. As our younger children were enjoying the two slides and a particularly challenging obstacle course; Leslie and I did something we almost never get a chance to do. We held hands, putting our inner tubes close together as the lazy river gently but swiftly swirled us on its meandering path. For the first time in a very, very long time, I felt fully connected, deeply relaxed and possessed of that overwhelming feeling of romantic love; which so often can be diminished by busy schedules and other distractions. Holding her hand, and talking to one another without distraction, truly without a care in the world; took me back, way back, to what made me fall in love with her in the first place.
The road to my lazy-river romance was not an easy one.
The first administration began on a blind date. At that time in the late 1980’s, there were no apps or sites, and only the very daring used those personal ads in the back of some printed newspapers. My soon to be wife and I were introduced by a mutual friend, who had confidence in his cupid abilities and like many in Hollywood, enjoyed a meal he didn’t have to pay for. Our first date had three entrees; one for me, one for her, and one for the guy who brought us together and stayed for the entire first meal.
That ideal of love at first sight seems cliché until you have experienced it. I had no intention of getting married in my 20’s. But this was absolutely the woman for me and about 18 months after we met, we married.
The marriage brought us both happiness, professional fulfillment, one small house, then one medium sized housed; and then a dream house. We moved into our destination house when our first daughter was 1. Six years later, her sister was born.
We liked each other, we loved each other, and we really got along. More than anything, we loved being parents to our girls. But maybe happiness can also build complacency. We never fought, but we also became less engaged and less attuned to one another. That mutual neglect opened some unwelcome doors. Often I would travel just with my daughters. The three of us and some other relatives went on a week-long Disney cruise. When I came home from this vacation, after the children were tucked into their beds. I found that my marriage was over.
We had one unique “only-in-Hollywood” experience during our period of separation. We both went to very, very high end show-business divorce lawyers. The lawyer who I saw, she is busy representing Johnny Depp at the moment, simply told me, “you are not angry enough, and you don’t have enough money” to engage her services. My estranged spouses initial lawyer visit was to the Century City offices of the man who had represented at least one of Johnny Carson’s former wives. He also said, we simply didn’t have the resources to interest him or his firm.
Luckily we ended up with a kindly, older lawyer from Glendale. His only piece of office equipment was a dial-phone. The financial aspects of our divorce were completely fair, reasonable and uncontested.
But, I didn’t want to get divorced. So I embarked on a counseling strategy; first with a Rabbi, and then my estranged spouse had the phone number of a respected therapist she had seen on occasion. As bad luck would have it, that therapist was on vacation. So I fell into the clutches of a man I called “Dr. Chin.” I gave him that name for no other reason except he spent every sessions; (three sessions a week at $225 a pop) stroking his chin. He never really spoke, he never really offered any suggestions, and he was of no help at all. Shortly after I concluded nearly 6 unproductive months with Dr. Chin, I saw him driving around my neighborhood in a brand new Jaguar; which, basically, I had purchased for him.
I was single and sad; and after having been out of the home for several months, I thought of a new plan. I liked being married, I liked being a full-time live in dad. So I had a conversation with the first administration. “Here is what I am going to do. I am going to get married again, and I am going to have another baby; and I am going to resume the life that we had, with someone else.”
Obviously I had hoped that presenting that path would prompt the first administration to do what I had always hoped she would do, reconcile. I knew that divorce wouldn’t be good for her, or for me, or for our daughters.
But my “push it” plan did not have the intended result. I was hoping for “come back.” Instead I heard “go ahead.” Thus I was trust into the dating world. To my shock and surprise I discovered something that I suppose many before me had already discovered. If you are a man in Los Angeles; and you are over 40 and you have a job and a car; you can date absolutely anyone. And I did.
Initially I met one woman, a very successful movie studio lawyer. She had carved her own way and was at the top of her profession. But she was lonely and alone. We paired up quickly and she had marriage on her mind. When I suggested to her that a marriage for two participants both over 40 shouldn’t be too big, she became deeply angry and hurt. She had been planning this massive wedding for 15 years at least. All she needed was the groom, and it wasn’t going to be me.
Next up, I met a divorcee in somewhat similar circumstances to my own. She had two children who she loved very deeply. But unlike my own broken first administration, she had a hugely angry and ugly divorce. She was a woman of great, great beauty; and I became aware of another cliché; when you have a supermodel on your arm, you actually get far better treatment out and about. From the bartender to the baristas , I really liked basking in her glow. But almost every evening would end with a deeply toxic phone call between her and her former husband. I couldn’t ever let my own children near that ugliness, so I could not move forward with her.
In my heart of hearts, I really wanted to revive and fix my own broken marriage. But someone said to me, that men have hearts like light switches. They can turn “on” and “off” and on again. Women are like candles, and once the flame is blown out; it is almost impossible to reignite it.
Enter Leslie. A full year after my first marriage ended. She came into the picture. We had a lot in common. Like me, she was brought up in a mildly observant Jewish home in the Westside of Los Angeles. Also, she had a brief “starter” marriage. So she was familiar with some of the up and down aspects of divorce.
We went out for an initial “coffee date,” that turned into a dinner and then a movie. Leslie had worked for several years as a therapist herself. The highlights of our courtship were several long walks we took on the strand in Manhattan Beach, where she was living.
What I wanted, what I needed I suppose was a sympathetic ear. I had been though a lot; my circumstances had put my own family through a lot.
She shared with me some therapy phrases that she thought had real life applications. “On a daily basis, you want to have conversations with your significant other about these three things. First off an exchange of information. What happened to each of you that day. Next, you want to share wishes, hopes and dreams. And finally, any requests for change.” As we had these lengthy oceanfront strolls; it reminded me in the waning days of the first administration we did not have conversations like these. We got along well, but not deeply. Things that were troubling were more or less swept under the rug.
Finally, Leslie said, “What you are really looking for is a soft place to land.” Ding-ding-ding. That phrase resonated in my head so deeply, and so clearly; that even though I first heard it more than 11 years ago, I can still hear it, and picture it from when she first said it to me.
After so many comforting conversations, my relationship with Leslie accelerated quickly.
Our first daughter came within a year after our meeting, followed by our son 14 months later. It has been a hectic decade with many successes and many mistakes. Unlike the relative calm of my first marriage, here Leslie and I argue; we actually fight on occasion. It is new territory for me. With considerably more emotion extended for good and sometimes for ill. And, like everybody, we are busy. So those three tiered conversations; the exchange of information, the sharing of wishes hopes and dreams, and the requests for change; don’t take place as often as we would both like.
But for all the ups and downs, we find ourselves, along this lazy river. And I am just overwhelmed. A summer sun is setting in the Oregon sky and the water is glistening; and we are talking and laughing, and hand in hand we are boats with the current. The kids are well, the younger two with us splashing about, the “olders” both back at school.
I am so deeply relaxed and so deeply happy and so deeply connected, that I feel something that has been alluding me for so long is providing the buoyancy along that lazy river. We are floating together in a soft place to land.