Love In the Time of Covid-19
Cindy Chupack on new love — during this new normal.
Today, our Wake-Up Call newsletter (subscribe here!) is featuring an essay about loving during this strange time, from acclaimed multi-hyphenate (writer, producer, director, is there anything she can’t do?!) Cindy Chupack. You might know her best from hit TV shows like Sex and the City and Modern Family, and the recent film OTHERHOOD. Read on…
The timing’s not great, what with this pandemic and all, but I think I might be in love.
I mean really in love. The kind of love I’ve written about but have never been truly sure existed. Love-at-first-sight kind of love. Love that feels “so right” “you just know.”
Blech. Do you hate me? I hate me.
I can’t even take myself seriously because I am going through my second divorce as I type this. Clearly, I don’t have a great track record for identifying a love that lasts. In fact, I haven’t had a good relationship since Ancient Greece.
At least that’s what a past lives reader told me when a friend gifted me a phone session during the long stretch between my first and second marriage. I remember thinking, “How will this lady be able to read my past lives over the phone?” — As if an in-person past lives reading would be totally accurate and authentic. Still, what did I have to lose (other than what’s left of my credibility as a logical person)? The voice on the other end of the line told me that I have been a woman in almost every lifetime, which she said was unusual. Then she told me I hadn’t had a good relationship since Ancient Greece. To which I replied, “I knew I was in a slump, but… wow.” She said I could have kids if I wanted — apparently I’ve raised a lot of children over the centuries. I even had some relatively happy years in Ireland. (You know you’ve had it rough when the potato famine was a highlight.) But my job this time around, she said, was to learn how to love and be loved.
My first marriage was to a man who, two years in, realized he was gay.
My second, which lasted 14 years, was to a man who didn’t have the good manners to realize he was gay or to have an affair. He just fell out of love with me, I think. I’m still not sure what happened, but it happened. Mediators and lawyers were involved. A chocolate Labrador was involved. A child was involved. The premiere of a movie I directed was involved. I had hopes that he was the culmination of my 3,000-year search for happiness. But now I realize, as we finalize our divorce agreement, he was not The One.
But I think maybe this guy I met just over two months ago on a plane is.
I want to say that in the smallest font possible. Of course there is no reason to believe this will work out any better. Of course I should feel a tad pessimistic standing here in the aftermath of what I thought was my happily ever after. But it feels different this time. It feels effortless. It just feels… so right.
I, like most fully grown humans, have always bristled at those words — even when uttered by a good friend (and I am a girls’ girl, I pride myself on being supportive). Even when I couldn’t get pregnant (which shouldn’t have been a surprise, I was 40 by the time I finally started trying), I never felt less happy for friends who did get pregnant. I’ve never believed there is just one pie of happiness and if you get a slice, that’s one less slice for me. I believe there is enough for all of us, and any proof that love exists is proof that more of us can and will find it. But those words — “You just know… it just feels so right” — always made me worry that other people were having a better, more sure-footed love experience than me. Or, less generously, I saw them as deluded and annoying… holier than thou, happier than thou. Talk to me in a few years, I would think.
But now… with this new relationship… it does feel right. And worse than knowing that those words are potentially triggering, I am aware they are potentially uninteresting.
Who wants to hear about happy people?
No film ever started with happy people unless it was a tragedy. The happier people are in the beginning, the worse it’s going to be for them. Just watch any based-on-a-true story adventure movie (Into Thin Air, etc.) and you will see that the first act is everyone’s idyllic home life. Everyone’s having sex, laughing, playing with kids, patting the dog. And it plays out like: “Wish I didn’t have to go, but it’s one last mission/rescue/climb, one last goodbye, then it’s just you and me and the retirement I can finally enjoy/dream house we just finished building/baby we’re about to have.” And all of this is seen through a gauzy, sun-flared lens because in ninety minutes half of these people will freeze or be shot dead or drown.
So I guess it’s fitting, and maybe not even surprising, that I finally found happiness on the eve of this horror movie we’re all watching and can’t turn off.
When I met this guy on a plane from New York to L.A. — yes on a plane, he was sitting next to me, we were in coach (I’m not sure what this says about my friends, but several have found the most unbelievable part of this story to be that I met a guy in coach). Anyhow, when we met, Covid-19 still seemed to be something mostly happening in China. There were maybe nine cases in the U.S. I do remember I had a slight cough on that flight and I was getting the evil eye from a few people, so there was a feeling it might be coming our way. But as I write this, barely two months later, there are over a million cases in the United States. When I finish writing this sentence there will be dozens more. This piece might be published posthumously.
This is par for the course for me, by the way.
It’s unusual for me to have a high without a low (usually love-related) right on its heels. I won Most Successful at my ten-year high school reunion knowing that my date (my husband at the time) was gay and we would soon be divorcing. I went to the premiere of the movie I directed with my second husband having just let me know that he was very unhappy and probably wanted to move out. (To be fair, I forced the issue. He was planning to tell me after the premiere, partly out of kindness, partly because he still wanted to go. He probably felt he’d earned it, living through the experience of me trying to get the movie made for ten of our 14 years.) I wrote the Sex and the City episode when Carrie is smiling for photos while her heart is breaking because Aidan just broke up with her at Charlotte’s wedding. I know that feeling. Putting on a smile. Dying inside.
So I was right at home, over the last six months following my separation, going through a flurry of OkCupid mishaps: a camera operator who turned out to be a delivery guy for a Lebanese Restaurant and Trump supporter; a man who was separated but apparently his wife didn’t know it; a photographer who shoots hotel interiors and fashion but mostly headshots; one nice guy who had no job, no couch, and no libido; an Irish filmmaker who later called to see if he could borrow $3800; a recently divorced dad who ravaged me by text and then was afraid to get out of his car in person; a university professor whose wife had a stroke during the birth of their third child but when asked how physically limited she was it turned out — not very (she suffered from short-term memory loss, like maybe she couldn’t remember why she married this guy). My best relationship was with a married theater production manager whose wife had a girlfriend. I used to think all the good men were married. Now it seemed the good men were married but ethically non-monogamous, which means the best you can hope for is the Vice Presidency. Everyone I met had a giant asterisk next to their name. I felt like Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo when she said: “He’s fictional, but you can’t have everything.”
And then I met this lovely man IRL (In Real Life, a term I just learned and can’t believe we need) because he had the seat next to me on a plane. And we watched the same movie (Ford v Ferrari), and I rested my arm ever so gently against his during the second movie we both watched (Pain and Glory), and he didn’t move his arm away, and he paused his movie while I went to the bathroom. And then just before landing we finally talked, and he said he was visiting his son for the weekend and he was divorced with two daughters in New York. So I very inelegantly blurted out: “I live in the same house I bought when I was single and then I was married and had a kid and I still live there but now I’m divorced!”
And then emboldened by all the asterisked men I’d dated (OkCupid, you served a purpose after all), I wrote my number on a slip of paper for the next time he was in town since it sounded like he had a very full weekend already. But he texted that night, and the next night he came to pick me up for dinner but we never had dinner or left my house.
I can confidently say it was the best sex I ever had, because… it was the best sex I ever had, the MOST sex I ever had in a night, and the most exciting sex I ever had because I really like this guy. And bonus — he did not, as the restaurant delivery guy who wasn’t really a cameraman did, casually express sympathy for Brett Kavanaugh. He didn’t say anything that took me out of the moment, and there were no asterisks, no other shoes dropping. Everything he said just made me like him more. And our second date was a full weekend of him visiting where we got along as well or better than that first weekend. He’s so surefooted. He’s crazy about me. He’s not afraid to say it.
After that first date I broke up with men who didn’t even know they were dating me. After the second date I got off OkCupid completely.
And now we’re all on lockdown. I somehow committed to being monogamous with the one man I can’t sleep with. We are in two of the cities that are most hard-hit by this virus. We’re “distance learning” (me with my 9-year-old daughter in Los Angeles, him with his 11-year-old daughter in New York). What I wouldn’t give to be only six feet away from him. Getting on a plane feels, to us and our respective exes, like playing Russian Roulette with the lot of us.
And I have to admit, the long and lonely voluntary solitary confinement of Covid-19 has made me face all of the feelings I’ve been trying to outrun regarding this divorce — the disappointment, grief, failure, and loss. I never realized how much I liked coming home to someone. With a child during these uncertain times you have to put on a brave face, but when my daughter leaves to stay at her father’s, I don’t feel brave at all.
Like this global health crisis, I don’t know how or when this story ends.
It’s hard to think about forever when you know love might not last.
And yet, I am thinking about forever again.
We talk about the trips we want to take, the bucket list items we want to check off together. On my list are four things:
Survive the pandemic.
Stay overnight in the Icehotel.
See the Northern Lights.
Learn how to love and be loved.
CINDY CHUPACK is an award-winning writer/producer of shows including Sex and the City, Modern Family, Everybody Loves Raymond, Better Things, Divorce, I’m Dying Up Here, and Love Bites (which she created). She co-wrote and directed the film, OTHERHOOD, which is available for your pandemic viewing on Netflix. She also wrote a comedic memoir, The Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays.
This appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.