She wrote your favourite rom coms. Now, in a hilarious and touching account, NANCY MEYERS reveals: How my ex and I found our very own happy ending
- Nancy Meyers spent most of her 22 years with Charles Shyer working on movies
- American film director reveals their relationship inspired some of her characters
- She shared the rom com style outing that helped them to form a new relationship
Once I’d turned 69, if anyone asked my age 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, northwest of Santa Barbara. He and I live in Los Angeles, and I didn’t want to drive the three hours 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 past 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.
American film director Nancy Meyers (pictured), revealed how she and her ex-husband Charles Shyer, have been able to form a new relationship
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?
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 more than 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.
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 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 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 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 get along almost like old times.
Nancy admits throughout her career she has made some films with characters based on Charles, such as It’s Complicated. Pictured: Alec Baldwin and Meryl streep in Nancy Meyers’s it’s Complicated
The shorthand comes right back but then, always, something inside me will cut off that connection. 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 vibe — the easy laughter that quickly turns distant — that’s kind of us.
I don’t think Charles liked that I wrote something based on us. Ten years later, he has still never mentioned that one to me. Then there’s the ex-husband in Something’s Gotta Give. I do enjoy writing the ex-husband character, a relationship rich with humour and pain.
For our trip, Charles asked me to drive to his house because he was closer 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.
Nancy (pictured) said a three-hour drive with Charles to their younger daughter’s best friend’s wedding in Solvang, felt like just 20 minutes
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, 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. Sitting next to each other in this confined space, 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 felt 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 that 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 and he was in the other.
Nancy emailed Charles suggesting that they attend another wedding together, in the months that passed. Pictured: Charles and Nancy at the Alfie film premiere in 2004
We took a stroll through town and chatted non-stop. We had a 20-year backlog of things to talk about. Our walk 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 and headed out. At the wedding, we sat at the table with all 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 expression that stated the obvious: that this moment, at least in a movie, would be ridiculously fraught. We both laughed and said we’d 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, heading back to Los Angeles, and kept honking and waving at us but we were so deep in conversation we never noticed him.
Months passed. We saw each other at our grandson’s sixth birthday party. Charles brought his twins, we smiled and waved across the room. And then another wedding invitation arrived. I emailed him: ‘Should we go together?’
Nancy (pictured) believes she and Charles have finally found their happy ending, describing their new relationship as ‘old friends’
The day after that wedding, he emailed: ‘It’s amazing how easy it is for us to be together.’
I laughed. ‘Yeah,’ I wrote. ‘It’s almost like I’ve known you forever.’ Two months later, Charles asked if I’d like to be his ‘plus 1’ at a 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 she seemed nice and had given them each a book.
Having written my share of romantic comedies, I 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: it brought me a new relationship with Charles that can best be described as ‘old friends’.
By Nancy Meyers © 2020 The New York Times Company
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