Standing Up Before Settling Down

a year ago

I was a female Woody Allen -- self-deprecating, with mismatched features and glasses. So I couldn’t believe it when Andy, the 6’2", aqua-eyed comic in my stand-up class, flirted with me at a party. I’d only dreamed of him folding his large body over mine, like origami.

“Want a smoke?” A dazzling smile lit his face.

“Sure.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Me neither.”

We laughed and he kissed me, tenderly, as if the jokes we’d shared in class mingled in our mouths. We slept together on our first conversation.

At 27, I chased my comedy dreams in the safety of weekend workshops. Andy, 23, was a determined artist. Fiercely witty and unrattled by failure, he performed every night, schmoozed his way backstage, and quickly progressed to top clubs. I was envious.


Image: TEDxBeirut via Flickr

Andy offered me a way of looking at the world in which I was in charge. He pushed me to my first talent competition. I won. Afterwards on the bus, his enormous hand holding my clammy one, he cheered, his booming voice proud.

Together, we brainstormed and postmortemed, our clothes smelling like the alcohol-soaked floorboards of the bars where we performed. I wanted his opinion on every punchline. He became a fixture in my tiny apartment. I stocked food and towels. He wooed producers for me; I hovered in his charismatic halo.

On weekends, instead of joining me at parties, he spread his notes across my living room, sprawling himself along my futon, his brown socks confidently poking out beyond the metal frame. He was more comfortable in my apartment than I was. “Have fun,” he urged. This is what it’s like to date ambition, I thought, leaving him to hone his craft on my appliances.

When I landed a major audition Andy wouldn’t come in case he secured a last-minute gig. I panicked, but emulating his careerist bravado, faced a room of strangers. I bombed and waited for Andy’s text. Three drinks later, I called. “I’ve ruined everything.”

“You screwed up. Be better next time.”

He was right. But I’d needed him to say I’d been great, the audience was stupid.

Weeks later, I saw him slip two of my comedy books into his manbag. “What are you doing?”

“Just borrowing these.” He grinned as always.

I stared at the gaping hole in my bookshelf. The remaining volumes fell awkwardly into the space that suddenly seemed vast.

“Have you borrowed others?”

 “Just a few.” He slung on his pack. “I’ll return them, don’t worry.”

It was one thing to offer, but another to find out he’d taken. I scanned my unmade bed, his dishes on the table... “Did you use my gift certificate?”

“It was going to expire.”

My tongue unfurled. “That was mine!”

“Whoa.” Andy backed up. “Anger issues.”  

I looked up at his self-assured poise. He was eternally magnetic, driven. 

It hit me: I didn’t want to date Andy. I wanted to be him.

I’d been confusing what I needed in a partner with what I needed for myself. I’d connected his love with my talent. I was such a good joker, I’d been kidding myself. “This isn’t working.”   

As my tears dried, I felt invigorated. Andy’s persistence, assurance and mojo – I could give myself.

Single, I worked harder. When I bombed, I imagined Andy coaching me: “Next time.” Finally, I performed a one-woman show and did everything solo – acting, music, lighting. During the run, I was set up with Jon. His corporate button-down barely concealed his unmanscaped chest hair. At the ukulele concert (his choice) he said I didn’t look a day over 32. (I was 30.) Six years older, a short, bald ‘suit,’ he was the opposite of my artsy type. I was certain he’d never understand me. He treated for dinner but refused to take a cab, and I chided him for being cheap. He laughed and ran for the train.

But when he texted to say he’d had fun, I realized, so had I. I’d never been so frank, comfortable with a man. Suddenly, self-sufficiency seemed more alluring than blue eyes. “I like your librarian-chic look,” he added.

Eventually, Jon asked me to spend the night – a week in advance. The morning after, he brewed espresso before driving me home. “When can I see you perform?” he nudged, reminding me that with him, I didn’t need to.

I was wooed by Jon’s thoughtfulness and eagerness to provide. Reliable and happy, he made me feel secure and attractive. What I needed from a partner was not a career, but care. With Jon’s support, I pursued my goals. He came to all my shows.

Soon after our wedding, Andy emailed, asking if I wanted to perform. Next time, I replied, grateful that his confidence-coaching had led me to love.

Judy Batalion is the author of the memoir White Walls.

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