Acting was always a part of my life, no it was more than that, it was the one true thing in my life. I can think back on my school play in 4th grade where I dressed up like a giant, tropical Toucan, or the Food Groups play in 6th grade where I played the mom to a boy that was literally 2ft taller than me, and my first junior high play where I played a blond bimbo…I loved that wig, right up to high school when I saw my name next to Ophelia‘s for the first time. Yes those could just be a random selection of memories grouped together by a common theme, but these memories are my essence. They are my happiness. They are moments in my youth where time stood still and I felt a deep peace and knew that everything was as it should be. A faithful sweetheart love.
At the end of high school I was convinced into auditioning at the Thespian Conference. I stood in the hall waiting to audition surrounded by dozens of others anxiously reciting their monologues – some strikingly stoic, some nearly in tears, other shaking with nerves and anticipation. I felt this calm come over me and I just said to myself “Screw it. I’m just going to go in their and talk. I’ll be as honest as I can be and I’m going to talk to them. That’s all I can do.” Mind you this was before I had clue what Meisner was, but it worked. I got the most responses at the conference which led to scholarships being offered to theater programs and one film school all across the country. I didn’t take any of them.
I know some of you are probably mentally screaming at me right now and are preparing a lecture on missed opportunities, trust me I already know. I have no legitimate reason other than that I’m human and I was young and afraid and engaged at the tender age of 19. I broke off that engagement the evening before my parents were supposed to book the church, started focusing on school and working and making money and it wasn’t but a few years later that I was engaged once more. This time I made it to the altar.
My husband was a good man. He loved me as I was and he was honest. When I mentioned during our dating period that I used to act, he said that he could never be with an actor and he meant it. In our third year of marriage I was in my final semester of college and required to take an elective course. I took “Acting for the Camera” The instructor of that class became a mentor to me and encouraged me to move forward with pursuing a career in film. He helped me get my first headshots, get my first agent, attend my first audition and introduced me to Chris Labadie and several other up-and-coming filmmakers that not only gave my first shot at being on screen but became life-long friends. There was always this caution, this hesitance that I sensed in my mentor though, something I couldn’t quite place, but I still remember exactly the way he looked. I didn’t fully understand it at the time. He would tell me stories about missing his grandmother’s funeral because he was committed to a shoot, or not being present to fully see and appreciate his children growing up because of his career and every time I took on another project or spent more time away from home or had to work alongside an attractive, eager male I sensed the sadness that would well up in his eyes. At one point he straight up told me to value those in my life that I loved and to remember the value they held, I being obstinate and stubborn almost took it as a challenge. I did not welcome his guidance in that area of my life.
After almost a year of not seeing his wife for weekends at a time, me coming home at mysterious hours of the night, getting phone calls and texts and message from men and taking on more and more roles that required me to do things that made him increasingly uncomfortable, I made the choice to move on and pursue my dream. Something he once told me was that when I get bored, I set the world on fire. I’ll never forget that and I never want to get bored again.
There were nights that I would crumple up into a corner of my room and cry and sob, tormenting myself if I had done the right thing. I lost a man who loved me, a home, my dogs, my life, my family and for what? A dream? After countless hidden evenings of this and acting like Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give” randomly bursting into tears at the grocery store or when driving, I decided that I had to accept the fact that I had indeed made that choice and because I made that choice, I needed to honor it and work my ass off to be the best actress I can be. To leave him and break both of our lives apart for anything less would be unacceptable.
When I did date again I dated an actor. I thought this would solve all of my problems that I faced previously in my marriage. Like so often in life, I was wrong. Some things were enormously better, but this time around instead of just one of us having a hellish, crazy-insane schedule, we both did. Instead of one of us talking, flirting “networking” with the opposite sex, we both did. Instead of one of us taking on sex scenes or intimacy with highly attractive counterparts, we both were. Instead of one of us being fully committed and focused on making the relationship our top priority, neither of us did. It was doubly challenging because as an actor we were supposed to be understanding of those things with one another. If I didn’t allow him to do something or take a role, that meant that I would be obligated to do the same if presented with a similar opportunity and we couldn’t have that now could we. It truly exposed my deepest, ugliest parts including but not limited to hypocrisy, insecurity and competitiveness. Somehow we became oddly at war with each other. We both wanted to be the first and the best so when one would book a role or get offered an opportunity, instead of expressing support and joy and pride, the other would feel disadvantaged and this silly fear would creep in that they would blow up, get famous, move on and forget all about little old me, either that or I’d be eternally riding the coat-tails of his fame.
It was vicious. As an actor I didn’t want to be stopped by any force or held back in any way regarding my craft. I need to be given the freedom to fully commit. I would look at him and see how strikingly talented he was and beautiful and capable and there was this split in my heart that wanted to let him go fulfill his full potential and then there was this other part that never wanted to let him go. I tried so hard to keep a sense of regularity intact, but would fail every time because I refused to fail when it came to anything in the industry.
I started looking for a way to balance these two loves in my life. Can you even both? In an emotional frenzy I wrote something in my journal that may be considered slightly offensive, but it is what I felt and still pretty much feel “You can’t be with anyone when you’re an actor did you know that? Because you have to be in love with yourself. You have to be a slave unto yourself. You have to indulge in every pleasure, in every sacrifice and work yourself like a whore every day and every night. YOU are the business. YOU are the art. YOU are the passion. YOU are the product. You can’t possibly give yourself away when there’s a product to be sold to the highest bidder for fame and fortune and legend.”
It’s a little bit of a dirtier, grittier version of what Michael Caine used to say about how you have to be married to the craft. You have to be willing to go anywhere, say anything, do anything and be anyone. He goes more in-depth on this topic as well as gives some incredible technical advice to actors in his “Acting in Film” series.
I included links to the videos below because they are all worth the watch – try to get over how out-dated they feel. There is also a book available:
I immediately equated this to mean that if I’m married to my craft then clearly I can’t be married to someone else, or even dating someone else. It wouldn’t be fair to that person. I was always raised that when you are in a serious relationship you put that person above yourself and consider their needs and wants before making any decision no matter how big or small. If I did that, I wouldn’t have accomplished half of the things I’ve done thus far, especially if I did that in my marriage, I wouldn’t be here at all. Sooooo don’t have a someone – maybe just a little something, something on the side? So not my style.
Later in life I stumbled on this quote from Michael Caine “My wife comes with me on all the movies, but she is not an appendage to a film star or anything like that. She is a completely intertwined partner. She is the other half of me. Also, we’re still very much in love with each other. We always have been, we always will be.”
It gave me hope that there is a possibility for true love to exist in the realms of working in the world of make-believe. Hope can be a deadly thing, but hope is also what keeps us going.
Everyone I know who is an actor in a relationship has this cavalier attitude about it. I consistently hear comments like “As long as he stays faithful to me then we’re fine. The minute he says he wants to go sleep with someone else, fine, tell me, be honest with me, be straight up with me, don’t make a fool out of me, and we are done.” Wow, really? Or I hear people so casually say “Just move to LA, make a solid income to support him and then he can come out” when the couple is newly married and one of the parties doesn’t want to relocate. I don’t know that I could do that. Isn’t the point of being married to work as unit and make decisions together? That seems to sort of defeat the entire purpose. I know one married couple where one is an actor and the other is not, but I swear to God this husband is one in a million. Every other time I’ve observed what I thought to be a healthy relationship, the dirt eventually rises to the surface.
One of things I truly struggled in understanding is how to keep a relationship sacred within this industry. When as an actor you can pretty much go as far with another person sexually except for actual intercourse (unless you do those kind of films) and you spend so much time building bonds and relationships and feelings with other people; what is it that you can share with one other person that you don’t share with anyone else? The obvious answer there is your heart, but that requires a great deal of trust and the promise and committment from your end that your heart won’t ever change or be compromised. In an industry so filled with excess and options, where it is so easy to find something or someone different at the turn of your head, that simple promise can be more difficult to keep than originally anticipated.
Even so, let’s say that I do fully give someone my heart. Is it enough? Will that be enough when I’m off shooting for 3 weeks with little communication and surrounded by temptation. Will it be enough when I miss anniversary dates or family reunions? Will it be enough when you see me intertwined with someone else in bed on-screen? Will it be enough that we may never have a regular life where you come home from work and I greet you at the door with a kiss and serve you a hot dinner and ask you how your day was? Will it be enough if I tell you I don’t think I want to have kids because I need to focus on my career?
When I’ve expressed these fears and questions some have said that it is merely a matter of finding that right person that you’re not only compatible with but who you have a firm foundation of trust (there’s that word again) and who appreciates you, ALL of you.
Does such a person exist? If I listen to my mother, then no he does not. There is not a man in the world that could put up with my ambition, my vagabond lifestyle, my constant attention to social media, gadgets, devices, emails and other men (platonic or not) or the idea that my life is very much consumed by acting and it always will be. Unless of course he is another actor, but then in return, I’m not okay with all of that ish. Rather a conundrum them ain’t it?
This seed of doubt got planted in my head. Maybe I’m not meant to be an actor. Maybe I don’t have what it takes because I’m not willing to comprise normalcy and having a loving, nurturing relationship. Doubt is a cruel thing to do to yourself. Flip open a tabloid and you can observe that probably 98% of all entertainers must suffer with this same exact predicament. With an outlandish divorce rate, countless accounts of unfaithfulness and affairs and various addictions plaguing folks in relationships you can see just how common this pattern is and yet…. they still try; they still look for love, for the one that will stick.
Ok so what does this all mean? It’s ok to want a relationship while being an actor. It’s ok to be an actor while being in a relationship. How can do you make it work? Is there formula, a template I should be following or certain attributes I should be looking for in a partner or in myself to ensure success?
Sadly I don’t think such a thing exists. If it does, I beg of thee, please send me the link! I do think that I’m at a place in my life where I probably need to redefine what love is and means to me as well as what a “good” relationship is within the terms of the reality that I am, forevermore an actor. If I can break the cycle of societal and familial expectations placed on me of what relationships should be and remove those mental boundaries, I can open up a whole new world and way of experiencing love.
There are some truths that I know to be unshakable:
1.) You gotta take the full enchilada – It doesn’t pay to hide any part of yourself. The man who I am with has to love the hard-hitting, power-player, social-media slut, networking nut of a promoter, , overachiever, over-worked actor and personality just as much as he’s got to love the Melissa behind closed doors in over-sized pajama pants, with Minnie Mouse slippers, eating ramen noodles, watching The Munsters, while laughing at myself trying to learn how to play poker for the first time and failing miserably. I in turn must love all of him. I have had men be drawn to the image projected out into the world but then they expect me to “perform” all the time and be that perfect representation you see in modeling pictures or at film events. On the flip side of that I’ve had those that love the me that no one else sees, but despises the Melissa that steps out the door, calling her a fake. It is all me, one does not exist without the other. I love all of me and rightly so.
2.) Honesty & Transparency – Don’t lie. Just don’t do it. Don’t try to cover up your past or be selective about the information you share regarding where you stand on acting, the roles you take and what’s required of you. It always comes out eventually and when a lie is applied to mask the truth, I have to not only cope with what happened but the fact that you lied. No bueno and totally unnecessary. Trust can quickly erode and become more difficult to earn once a series of lies is discovered. A lot of people handle it similarly to children. They know mom will get mad if she finds out that the cherry popsicle fell on the white rug and they don’t want mommy to be mad so it is better to just not say anything. WRONG. Yes mom is going to be mad, but mom should also commend you for being direct and taking the initiative to handle the situation with prompt attention and truthfulness out of respect for her.
3.) Communication – Just talk to me. I am an Aries and I am only child aka I am a control freak. I’m working on that….The point is that I don’t have the intention of ever holding anyone back from something they love or that will be good for them as long as I feel included or at least informed. When you feel that the ship is sailing away without you it is a very sad experience and can cause feelings of abandonment and resentment. All of which could be totally avoided with a few minutes of convo. I am shocked at the power that kind words can accomplish. When you are able to offer someone words of assurance and love, you can gain a whole army of support, but when you leave them feeling threatened and left-behind, you’ll find that when you look to you right or look to your left, no one will stand by your side.
4.) Be secure in who you are – This is the little dagger in my side. If I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that no matter what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, you love me and will only desire me when you step off that set, it won’t matter what you do or say to try to assure me of that. The issue is internal. This is why it is important to have a strong sense of self before you choose to be in a committed relationship whether in the industry or not. It’s not fair to repeatedly punish or crucify your significant other for your own insecurities. There is no faster way to kill a relationship, trust me, I know.
5.) Compromise – This is a vital part of every relationship. You are taking two lives and trying to mesh them into one partnership, clearly some level of compromise will be needed. But when does compromise turn into sacrificing who you are to make the other person happy and in turn relinquishing your own happiness? The answer that I have found that makes the most sense to me is again from Neal Donal Walsh. He talks about how most people mistake the feeling or desire to be needed for love. When somebody needs you that means they are dependent upon you for their happiness. This is not a good thing. True love, however, is open and giving not constricting. True love is freedom. True love is allowing the person to honor themselves and through honoring themselves, in return they honor you with love. I feel like this should be easy, but it hasn’t been for me. I’m like that little girl who loves her little dolly so much and so hard that she squeezes it so tight to her bosom until the head pops off. I have to stop decapitating and debilitating those that I love out of fear that I’ll lose them.
6.) Don’t accept the unacceptable – There are times when feelings of jealousy or anger are unfounded and bred from selfish or shallow intentions at our core. It is those times we must be honest with ourselves, acknowledge our own faults and work through them to grow and become better lovers. There are also things that you should never accept or try to talk yourself into accepting. We all have our own boundaries, but anytime a person does anything to make you feel you have no value, self-worth or is damaging to your spirit man, LOVE YOURSELF MORE and walk away. A broken heart is the cause of more deaths, diseases, failures, situations of abuse and depression than anything else in the world. Protect it.
7.) Don’t throw in the towel – If you love someone or something, as long as you honor yourself, don’t be afraid to put on the gloves, put in a mouthguard and step into the ring. Anything worth having, is worth fighting for and the better it is, the more you have to fight for it! Again this could be a whole other blog post but I believe a huge part so many young people are divorced today is because as soon as something gets hard they walk away. Love is not perfect, it is just love. You have to work at it every single day and make the choice to be all in. Love is not a feeling, it is a choice and a commitment.
My goal, as cheesy and Disney-Princessy as it sounds is to be so filled with abundant love and light that I don’t have to limit myself to choosing one or the other, but that my heart will be home to both one special man and another little man named Oscar one day.