Life Isn’t Like the Movies (Even if You Write the Movies)

Life Isn’t Like the Movies (Even if You Write the Movies)

Once I turned 69, if anyone asked me my age — not that anyone ever did, but if I offered it up in conversation — I always said, “I’m almost 70.” I went straight from 68 to “almost 70,” as if 69 didn’t amount to anything other than the year before being a decade away from 80 (as I’ve since come to see it).

It was in this year of being “almost 70” that I emailed my ex-husband, Charles, and asked him if he could give me a ride to our younger daughter’s best friend’s wedding in Solvang, just north of Santa Barbara. He and I live in Los Angeles, and I didn’t want to drive to the wedding alone. It was maybe the first time in the 20 years since we broke up that I said out loud that I didn’t want to do something alone.

I have spent the last two decades not only being single but writing a couple of movies about divorced women my age — purposely defying the clichés that being older and single meant you were destined to be undesirable, lonely and isolated. I wrote about women in my films who blossomed post-divorce, much as I had done in some ways.

I was driven by a desire not to be put in a box by my age or divorce, and I wanted to project a positive spin for women like me. And in my movies, I wanted to try to be funny about it all. Why not laugh at some of what life throws at us?

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So it was a big thing for me, at almost 70, to ask my ex-husband, of all people, to give me a ride to an out-of-town wedding.

Not only had I not been in a car with him in over 20 years, I hadn’t been alone with him in all that time. But something about being almost 70 made me not care as much about the past or what led to our breakup.

After our divorce, he remarried, had twins and got divorced again. I was his third wife. She was his fourth. Our relationship lasted the longest of his four marriages — something I’ve always been weirdly proud of. We spent almost all of our 22 years together making movies. People combined my last name, Meyers, with his, Shyer, and called us “The Shmeyers.”

We worked together, had two children together and were inseparable. My psychiatrist at the time we were having difficulties ended every session by telling me, “Too much togetherness.”

I sensed my ex wouldn’t mind driving me to the wedding, so I emailed him and asked. His response was quick and friendly: “Sure.”

We have lived three miles away from each other for more than 20 years, yet I’ve almost never bumped into him. I did once bump into his ex-wife after they broke up. When she was married to him, I couldn’t really relate to her, but when I saw her right after their breakup, I felt empathetic and found a connection I never saw before.

I see Charles at Thanksgiving and at our children’s birthday parties and now at our grandchildren’s birthday parties. Depending on our mood, we sometimes sit at opposite ends of the birthday table or next to one another, and when we do the latter, we often get along almost like old times.

The shorthand comes right back, but then, always, something inside me will cut that connection off. It’s like I don’t want him to have that much access to me. Is it punishment for things in the past? I don’t know. I just know I will only let him get so close. That’s been my go-to for a very long time.

I’ve made some movies with characters somewhat based on Charles. In one, “It’s Complicated,” Meryl Streep has an affair with her ex-husband, Alec Baldwin. The affair never happened in real life but the repartee between Meryl and Alec, that familiar, fun, sarcastic, “I get you buddy” vibe — the easy laughter that quickly turns distant — that’s kind of us.

I don’t think Charles liked that I wrote something kind of like us. He told me at the time the movie came out that he wasn’t going to see it. Ten years later, he has still never mentioned that one to me. And then there’s the ex-husband in “Something’s Gotta Give.” I really do enjoy writing the ex-husband character, a relationship rich with humor and filled with pain.

For our Solvang trip, Charles asked me to drive to his house because he was closer to the freeway and we would drive to the wedding from there. When I arrived, he invited me in.

I hadn’t been in his home in more than a decade. It was now cluttered with things from the past 20 years, a stretch of his life I knew little about. And mixed in with those unfamiliar things were some of our old things: paintings I remember us buying together, a Mexican pitcher we bought at an antique fair. I loved that pitcher and had forgotten all about it.

I saw leather-bound screenplays we had written together sitting on a bookshelf, looking just like the ones sitting on a bookshelf in my house. I walked past his daughter’s room and saw a lot of our daughter’s old furniture. I turned away, heading for the door and asked, “Should we get going?”

As we pulled out of his driveway, it felt weirdly like a first date. Here we were, sitting next to each other in this confined space, and it was awkward. I needed to say something just to get my bearings, so I started talking about our children and what they were up to. But soon the conversation became easier, more relaxed, and he laughed at things I said, as he always had, and I was feeling more comfortable and didn’t put the wall up between us. I just let us be.

Time flew. The three-hour drive felt like 20 minutes. We checked into our hotel, very rom-com style, the two of us standing side-by-side, announcing our names. I was almost expecting the desk clerk to say unfortunately there was a mistake in the bookings and Charles and I would have to share a room. But no — I was booked in one wing of the hotel and he was in the other.

We took a stroll through town, visited a local museum and chatted nonstop. We had a 20-year backlog of things to talk about. Our walk around charming Solvang was like a movie montage where you don’t hear the dialogue but know those two people are getting along.

Then we went back to our rooms to get ready for the wedding. We met in the lobby and headed out. At the wedding, we sat at the table with all of the bride’s friends’ parents, couples we have known forever, all of whom have miraculously stayed together.

Later that night, Charles walked me back to my room and we said good night. I awkwardly waved and made some goofball expression that stated the obvious: that this moment, at least in a movie, would be ridiculously fraught. We both laughed and said we would meet for breakfast.

After we were back home, a friend of ours who had been at the wedding told me he was driving next to us on the freeway heading back to Los Angeles and he kept honking and waving at us but said we were so deep in conversation we never noticed him.

Months passed. We saw each other at our grandson’s 6th birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. He brought his twins, we smiled and waved across the room. And then another wedding invitation arrived, this time for a local ceremony.

I emailed him: “Should we go together?”

The day after that wedding, he emailed: “It’s amazing how easy it is for us to be together one on one — no effort. You looked smashing in that dress. Who made it?”

I laughed. “Yeah,” I wrote. “It’s almost like I’ve known you forever.” I added the quizzical emoji face with her finger on her chin. I told him my dress was by Erdem.

Two months later Charles asked if I’d like to be his “plus 1” at a 105th birthday party for a friend of his.

My response was quick and friendly: “Sure.”

Recently one of my daughters told me Charles had a new girlfriend. He likes being in a couple. My daughters said they met her and she seemed nice and had given them each a book.

Having written my share of romantic comedies, I do enjoy a happy ending, and I think Charles and I have finally found ours. I am no longer almost 70; I am 70, and it turns out my 69th year came to a close with a surprise ending: It brought me a new relationship with Charles that can best be described as “old friends.”

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