The last time I went on a date, Ronald Reagan was president. It’s true. I haven’t been on a date since May 22, 1982. That’s when I married my wife, Lois. And while we frequently go to dinner and the movies and the like, and we love spending time together, we stopped dating right after we started exchanging vows. Some married couples pretend they’re still dating. They even use expressions like “our date night,” but they’re not fooling anyone, least of all the people who really ARE dating.
Let’s face it: a married couple pretending they’re on a date is like an armchair quarterback pretending he’s on the field. It’s just not the same thing. Dating is tough. Not that a good marriage doesn’t require work, it does, but a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done. Once you’re married, you’re pretty sure that you really like each other, and, some personal hygiene and housekeeping habits aside, that you’re reasonably compatible. So when eHarmony, one of the premiere matchmaking destinations, asked me, a happily married guy, to write a guest column, I thought they had me confused with someone else. Tom Berenger, maybe, but I think he’s married too.
At first they suggested a topic: How Ultimatums Can Help Relationships. I didn’t care for that idea; so I told them, “I’ll write a column if I can pick the topic,” which, ironically, is an ultimatum. They said okay.
So, I guess ultimatums CAN help a relationship. eHarmony and I have been getting along swimmingly.
What I wanted to write about, for reasons that will no doubt appear self-serving at first, are the similarities between dating and writing a book. I may not have gone on an actual date for almost twenty-seven years, but I just wrote a book (I’m Hosting as Fast as I Can! Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood available April 7), and, let me tell you, it brought back all the gut-churning sensations of my dating life.
Once a contract was negotiated and I was legally bound to write, the blinking cursor on the otherwise blank computer screen thrust me into an emotional time warp. I didn’t draw the parallels at the time, but, in hindsight, I can see the similarities. This book, which wasn’t even real yet, loomed VERY large in my mind and occasionally sweaty palms. Less the book, really, and more the possibility of the book. By signing the contract, I’d committed to a journey. But I wasn’t really sure how to take the trip, or exactly where I was going. Since I’d never done this before, although I’d often thought about it, all I had was a blurry map.
Relationships, or, more precisely, the possibility of relationships, are like that too. There’s no crystal clear map or GPS coordinates provided. You take that first step, or, in the book’s case, write those first words, and hope for the best. Sometimes, on a first date, by the time the waiter has asked if you’d care for a drink, you’re ready to curl up with a bottle of tequila. Alone.
During my single years, I was usually a pretty good first date: charming, witty, a good listener. And did I mention modest?
By the third date, however, she’d be ordering the tequila. The reason? Me. I wasn’t willing to relax, to can the glib banter and really communicate. There usually wasn’t a fourth date. After all, if everything’s a joke, then nothing is funny. It took meeting (and not wanting to risk losing) Lois to get me to truly let down my guard.
Writing the book returned me to the same emotional crossroads. I didn’t want you, the reader, to just get to know Dates 1 thru 3 Tom. I wanted you to know Dates 4 thru Married for Almost Twenty-Seven Years Tom. To do that, however, I had to not want to risk losing you. I had to write more than just funny stories (although there are plenty of them). I needed to open up a bit. I’ll leave it to you to tell me if I succeeded.
What I found in writing the book, and continue to find in my marriage, is that enjoying the journey is key. And if the map is a little blurry, it’s only because we make it clearer with every honest choice we make.
May all your tequila be consumed together.