I’ll Settle for Love: Finding A Nice Meal and Learning Not to Need a Big Fish!

Once while I was “schmoozing” at a theatre fund raiser in Atlanta, (’s what they make the actors do to help raise $) … a very nice Jewish gentleman ( I say this, because this is how he introduced himself..”Hi I am a very nice Jewish Gentleman”)

This lovely man who adored my cooking told me:

“In love; you do not need to look for a big fish… just a nice meal.”

I always thought the man was suggesting “settling”…ya know, for less or somehow discounting my desires in order to be safe and protected. That would mean, letting go of my girlish hope for a champion. And despite my feminist exterior, my interior is like the center of a warm and gooey- éclair. I am soft and squishy. I am silly and shamelessly and forever- a romantic. I watch old movies over and over. Looking and longing for a life I will never have. Why? Because it does not exist…and perhaps because I am not Bette Davis! So all of this. All of these ideas of compromise seemed ludicrous. And then about 7 years ago the “nice meal vs. big fish” idea suddenly made sense. Passionate and lovely – sense.

So this is how it goes…

I come from a family where women stay with their men. I am a domestic goddess. If you are my guy, you are: well fed and well tended to…in every way. (uh huh uh huh) Your needs are above mine, in fact I would often evaporate into my partner.

Like A LOT of women, my man does not always notice or care about my needs on a day-to-day basis…hey..he’s a guy! That can frustrate me. Those moments when I wonder, “Is this the life and love I deserve?” In those moments I become a “gazer.” I look out windows, at the fire in the fireplace or into the screen of a TV and my heart fills with longing. Film is often my transport to a better life...or different anyhow. It is my “well of hope.” Why? Because I see that in at least just one other person’s imagination, my ideal exists…at least my idea du jour. Because I am a woman and women do like to dream.

Perhaps my life long love of film and especially classic film is about looking for a life where I actually “feel” I belong. Am I Betty Davis in “ A Stolen Life”, a twin who longs to be loved and whose true love is stolen by her greedy sister? Or am just Scarlet at the barbeque, taking every heart in my path in an attempt show my man how desired I am. How about Lottie in “The Phantom of The Opera”- because hey…aren’t we all misunderstood and was not the phantom the sexiest misfit—EVER?

But, truth be told, these “life” characters in movies, these notions are not based on reality and they become exhausting. The task of keeping up a story that is not my own- creating and maintaining a lie…. takes up a lot of energy!

When I was still in high school I used to go to bars with my best friend Susan. I had a game. Before Susan and I would go into a club or bar we would create our “stories”. We would become other people. A little like Leo De Cap did in “Catch Me If You Can.” I would make up a name like Channing or Grace. I would describe myself as older (cause at 18 we all wanted to be older) I often made myself a sophomore in college at somewhere prestigious like Georgetown, NYU, UCLA, Yale or Columbia. I had rich parents, often European and very cultured. I told lies about having secrets or invented powerful and famous relatives. Even spiced it up with nasty family scandel. Like Will Smiths character in the film “Six Degrees of Separation” I made myself more. A few times I had a terminal disease and was dieing. Talk about a mercy game. That one was good for a few free drinks.

My friend Susan played along and I would build her a character equally as amazing as my own. Often she couldn’t talk much at the risk of exposure and a severe case of the giggles. We would pass for these women of substance for a night…like Cinderella.

Santa Monica to Atlanta always proved to be a hard jump for my soul. I am not sure what the masquerade was about. Perhaps my Brother’s suicide was just too hard for me to cope with. Perhaps not having affectionate parents or maybe having sisters who were raised by those same parents and victims themselves, left us all ill equipped. Let me note that I don’t follow a path of the victim. Things have happened that have left me altered- I think this is true for most people. The loss of my brother Steve, left a dent. I don’t know the exact perimeter of the damage. I just know, some days, I still wake up longing to see him. People give me crap for holding on to the notion and what they never seem to understand is that I have no choice. I wake up with it. It is deep within my subconscious. Trust me if I had a choice I would rather not wake up with this dead ache. I simply accept it and exist with it. I have learned not to share it if I can help it. I just say I had a brother and leave it at that. The next question always stings…always. “Had?” And then the ultimate soul-sinker, “how did he die?” To which I respond to differently because my heart cannot bare to say, “suicide…a gun…he shot himself.” No one ever quite recovers from that statement. People find reasons to walk away or change the subject…it is not an easy or comfortable subject and I find I try to protect people from the pain. It is an awful co-dependent thing. It takes away from my power. It seems to cost me something-every time I say it. So sometimes I just say, “he died.”

So these little masquerades were just a form of protection. Self-protection. We all do what we do and it has to be forgiven-because we all do it to some degree. It is simply humanity. Not always brave and solid. Not always good and hopeful…just human.

I did what I did and maybe… it saved me in a way. Because the woman that was emerging from within my soul and under my skin- was not enough. My brother died when I was thirteen. Puberty sux under the best circumstances. Being moved from Santa Monica to Atlanta was a huge blow for my sister and me and then my brother’s death less than eighteen months later was just too much. I think I was protecting who I really was by creating these shadows. Practice models. These women who could not be hurt..could not be touched.

Damaged people do this. We take cover. We hold up and push down. We eat, drink, smoke, shop and have sex…anything to distract our hearts and our minds. My brain can be a pretty dangerous little village. Like the island of misfit toys…inside a twenty-two in inch radius. And glory knows I am the Queen. (although I think Charlize Theron’s character in “Young Adult” had me beat by a mile!)

I went to High School in Doraville Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The legal drinking age was 18 then and so, like everyone else I had a fake ID from the time I was 16. Susan and I would intentionally go to clubs on the other side of town or downtown. Our neighborhood was actually a good one, though there was no real bar-- nothing really swank nearby. Jocko’s pizza was around the corner from our house and while the owner was cool about serving beer to his under age clients, it did NOT boast a “dress code.” Susan and I looked for places that called for a “dress code”. In those days I was able to get through any “velvet rope.” I mean why not? I was Ginger- a stylish stewardess for Delta airlines and I lived in New York. And Susan was Heather from a rich family in Dallas. Yep!

These yarns fell trippingly off my tongue as if they were truths. I mean, I am an actor after all. I do a cracking good job at improv. No one I knew could spin a yarn like me. Usually we’d try to pick up men who were from out of town and that made it easier. At the end of the night we sealed the deal with fake phone numbers and addresses. We never fell in love. Never. I was “love ‘em and leave em Lizzy”. I was called the “ice queen” in High School. Guys would sing Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young” to me as an anthem. I don’t know, maybe it was because it was all fake - so what did we have to attach to? And in the end I think we knew no one would want the “real” us.

Susan grew up across the street from me. She was from Mussel Shoals Alabama. A great place to be “from.” She always thought is was really “red” to be from Alabama. It doesn’t get much “redder” truth be told. And some how, she fancied that because our family came from Santa Monica and the “Mecca” of the entertainment business that we were like…I don’t know… permanent cast members of the 70’s TV show, “Dynasty”.

When our family moved into the house across from hers, I was a snobby girl from “Cali” who drew too much attention for being just plain weird. Cute, but weird. I was not acquainted with “True” Southern coloqualisms; their meaning, escaped me. When someone would say to me, “ Are y’all going of today?” I would scrunch my face and say, “Off what?” And the proverbial “what?...what?....what?” would ensue. “Off what? “ I would parrot. Then frustration would set in on both parts…ending in…”You are weird…you eat pine cones and like black people…you are too weird!”

Did we eat pinecones? Really? Or maybe just artichokes. Did I like black people? Okay so my Mom would do this thing at our church, Holy Cross Catholic Church. Anytime a person of color showed up…any shade…any ethnicity. Anyone that was not “white”. She would go up and hug ‘em and say “Thank God!”. Yep! Right in front of the “League Of Southern Bigots” my Mom would hug some poor unsuspecting person and then the room would erupt. I was called an “N---- Lover” in school. Man I was called everything and just to add insult to injury these insults were delivered in a honey thick Southern accent. There really is nothing like being called “dumb” by someone with a Southern “drawl”. Oh yeah…

So despite our many differences, we became best friends and then the ultimate female relationship that does not involve marriage or “Tipping The Velvet”…Bar Buddies. Being bar buddies in the late 70’s really meant something. We plotted our weekend antics from Wednesday on. We spent hours dressing up and trying to look skinny. Being skinny was the absolute obsession of every teenage girl of our era. Having a “J-Lo” ass had not quite made it into the culture. We were still stuck with the iconic “Twiggy” obsession. And Susan and I were far from skinny. So getting dressed often involved control panty hose under tight polyester pants. Can I tell you how many “vagi” infections could be blamed on the fabric and fashion of 1977? Lying on the floor to pour yourself into to two-sizes-too-small Jordache jeans. Oh yeah. Or the absolute number one culprit of constant female issues…spandex!

So in a world of disco wear, big hair and bad makeup we descended. Playing our parts. Masquerading as “women about town” when we were actually “girls on the lamb.” And after an evening of clever disguises, Tequila sunrises served four at a time at “Four for one” Happy Hours; we usually ended up in uncomfortable make-out session in cramped spaces. We ended these nights at a diner..” or the “Awful Waffle” (Waffle House…scattered smothered and covered baby! Hash browns the way God intended them to be!) or (one of my faves) The Hunan Palace…Chinese food is awesome at 3a.m.

So all that said…the legal drinking age was 18 and bars stayed open until 4 a.m. with the added bonus of “after hours” bars that stayed open until 6 a.m. You could pretty much get your groove on, get a little loaded, make out with a stranger, run from the scene and end up at a cool dive and be home by sunrise. Why our parents did not skewer us for our inability to read time or commit to a curfew- I will never know. Maybe because they knew we were not being bad…just kids.

We had big fat ideas of marrying rich men who would take care of us. We never talked about college. We made men of substance and “stuff “ our goal, our aim. I never thought of building my own character really. Just being good at other characters. An accomplished chameleon that could attract and trap the right guy that would give me my happy ending. Susan and I had different ideas of a happy ending. I was going to be a movie star and live the lush life and Susan wanted a strong man, like a Fireman or Cop that she could love, honor and obey.

I knew I had value but I had odd notions of that value. I placed my worth in my sex and my looks. I had a smart mouth for all the wrong reasons. I had been brain washed by an older sister to believe I was nothing and I had no intelligence. I believed her-that was my folly. I was so lost…so why not--I believed her story for me over my own.

Now days, I think back on that time as sort of brilliantly sad. I mean WOW! We had so much promise and absolutely no courage to just BE …the lovely and amazing women we ACTUALLY were. In the end…Susan and I were smart and pretty and very VERY funny. We were fun. So why could we not, as Shakespeare said, “let be?” By the time I was twenty I had no idea of who I was and so of course, how could I possibly know the kind of man that would suit me. I dated everybody..seriously…for years.. I married one and lived with a couple. Needless to say I did not spend a lot of time alone.

But when I got sober, though I tried hard to maintain my libidinous winning streak, a funny thing happened… not overnight. I began to get OLD. I could see my age. And I was no longer the woman that turned heads when she entered the room. In fact there are SO many “No Longers” I am embarrassed to list them…or even that I cared. But I did and I do. I was a single-turning-forty-solo-parent who was 40 lbs. overweight and my looks were headin’ for the exit. So I did what a lot of women do at this stage I became “dowdy”. I accepted my dimming features and decided to just let go.

This lasted for a few years. My diminished self-worth was a part of my wardrobe. I still dated (for lack of a better word). I basically sought comfort and relief…and we all know what that means. Then I tried the greatest invention for women over forty and still in heat “Internet Dating”—oh yeah. And I have to say it was not ALL bad. Just tricky. I met and actually maintained a couple of longer-than- a month relationships. was not my best work. I was settling for something less….something not me. And that never works. It may work for a while but eventually our veneers always crack.

After the last thundering crack, I quite frankly—gave up. And a funny thing happened literally within minutes…my “nice meal—and not a big fish”…landed right smack dab onto my plate. And that nice meal still satisfies low these man moons later. Seven years and counting in fact. And it is settling in the way...ya know.. that way that makes you NOT feel like less. It is settling in that way that a house settles into it’s groove. It warms and nourishes--it is a haven of love and hope...and who needs more than that. So settling was not for less it was actually for more. The way a great cheese ages and brings on complex flavors and character or a great tree grows strong but may have distinquishing features. It is settling into ones own. Ones own path and place. Finding comfort and contentment in things simple and fine.

You know one of my sisters used to “remind” me of how I did not “deserve”…things. Why? Because I was “guilty”…and the list of crimes was long and I cannot recall all of my sins. Now I have realized there is only ONE SIN, the sin of judgment. We as humans have no need to judge one another on a personal level. I ain’t talking about actual law-breaking-crimes. I am talking about those insane prejudices we use to keep each other down. To keep a person or a people “less than” so we feel…what…better? Yeah…NO!

I am living a life. My life. I have a good man, a home that works well enough (hey I could use my own bathroom and a kitchen that I can turn around in) who are healthy and working on being good humans. My “nice meal” is right in front of me…every day. Sure there is frustration and dissatisfaction. There is always something to complain about. Hell my Dad has cancer and is struggling to survive radiation treatments. We have been dealing with poo and vomit for weeks. OK. So it ain’t perfect…only…ONLY it is perfect. It is exactly as it should be. There are margins for error and improvement. It is life.

That mask that used to sit right next to me on the nightstand is now …under the bed…in a box called fear. Sometimes the box gets real dusty—that is good. Sometimes the box sits on the bed—when I am having an insecure day or week or month. The difference now is I know when I am hiding---cloaking—in fear. I know when I need to take a break and re-group and find my “self”. Sometimes quickly, sometime slowly—more and more “I get it”.

Settling for love for me means…settling into love. Love being this real energy that may not always make you feel wonderful but it does make you feel. Sometimes joy and ecstasy and sometimes agony and sadness. It is all there like life’s own cocktail of feeling. In the end we may learn to settle and accept and they may be the greatest thing we will ever do.

It does not hurt that my own “Cullen Frizzle” is exceptional. I feel loved…”and he’s got a big knob” (a line from Love Actually we yell a LOT around our house!) Hey! I gotta brag a little. We have a fine life: A nice meal on our plate of life…everyday.

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