On Saturday, Dan and I went to see “La La Land,” an original musical staring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. (I promise –– no spoilers!) But I will say the film is about a jazz pianist (Gosling) who falls for an aspiring actress (Stone), and the ups and downs that come with following their individual dreams, while also chasing love.
It. Was. Fantastic.
When the movie ended, I leaned over and kissed Dan. “I’m so glad I get to be in love with you while we follow our dreams.”
“Me too,” he said, squeezing my hand.
I knew I had more to say, but I needed a moment to wipe the tears in my eyes and swallow the lump in my throat. We left the theater and hopped in the car to run a few errands before picking up Claire at my parents’ house.
As we drove, we talked about the music and the dancing, and Dan expressed his wishes about one particular thing he wished the characters had been able to achieve. (Like I said, no spoilers!) We talked about how the couple had each been a cheerleader for the other person’s respective dream. I knew we were both thinking the same thing: They are us. I mean, dramatized and cooler, but –– us.
“The truth is, if each of us hadn’t said, ‘you go do the thing you love,’ then we wouldn’t be together,” I said.
Dan agreed: “You’re right.”
When I met Dan, we were both about to graduate college. Him, with a degree in dance performance and, me, with a degree in journalism and an already-secured job as a beat reporter for a local newspaper. We had crossed paths about a year earlier in an English class, but we were both dating other people and our noticing of each other hadn't extended beyond, “Hmmm … he’s pretty cute” and vice versa. So, when I began covering performing arts for the school paper and needed to interview a male ballet dancer for the piece, we both played off the fact that we had each been a bit interested in the other person.
“Caroline, right? We had English class together …?”
“Ooooh, yeah, we did …”
I always say it was the worst interview I ever conducted and I mean it. We spent the next four hours talking and the results were one terrible profile of a male dancer and two people seriously crushing on each other.
So romantic, right?
And it was. We were both 21 years old and actively pursuing our dreams of becoming a writer and a professional dancer, and we were in love! While conquering the world! Together! How much better can it get?!
Of course, I am teasing. In fact, there were so many moments –– and there still are –– where the task of taking on our individual dreams was so much easier when done as a unit. Dan would pack me a dinner to take with me when I worked the overnight shift at the paper. I encouraged him to go to every audition and sat in silence with him when the rejections came, allowing time for quiet before offering words of inspiration.
When he took a break from auditions to do the “right” thing and make money at a 9-5, I made him meals with a fervor that suggested stuffed chicken could help him further stifle feelings of regret. I continued to urge him to do the thing he loved. Then, one night we were standing in our bathroom and brushing our teeth before bed, when he looked at me in the mirror and said, “I’m going to resent our life together if I don’t do this.” To which I said: “Then you must do it. We will figure out the rest.”
And that scene has replayed time and time (and time and time) again throughout our eleven years together. Us, standing in a room, counseling our individual dreams toward reconciliation as a unit. There was the time we moved to Ohio to fulfill his first contract as a professional dancer. I beamed as I watched him strap on his backpack and head out the door for his first day. I also spent the next year fending off a terrible depression. Dan was doing the thing he loved and that made me so happy –– for him. But my feelings of personal achievement had dwindled.
There was the time we were on vacation with my family and I looked at him and said, “I need to work in New York City.” I had always wanted to live in the city and, even more so, work at a major magazine. At the time, we were 25 years old. Dan was still in Ohio and we were planning our wedding for the following summer. I was worried about what would happen to all of that if I were to make this move.
But I snagged a job –– well, two jobs because I would also be working as a weekend nanny to cover my expenses –– and Dan said, “You should go. We will figure it out.”
And we have. I am ferociously proud of the way in which have continuously showed up for one another, the way in which we have built a truly beautiful life based in love, art and creativity. It was the reason for the tears in my eyes and lump in my throat as Emma Stone sang “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” with the line: “Here's to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.” I am thrilled to be foolish. But figuring out the fantastic has also meant this: It is all fantastically fucking hard.
Figuring it out has meant forgoing time together to sit at a computer and pitch editor after editor to read my work. Figuring it out has meant endless counseling on the couch, one of us telling the other that, yes, this is the path he or she is supposed to be walking. Figuring it out has meant humbling myself to ask my parents for help at a time when receiving money wasn't quickly becoming a factor in the “follow your dreams” lifestyle. Figuring it out has meant long hours at the theater and feelings of utter defeat and arguments about how we will balance parenthood with our goals and hours of discussions about story ideas and days where we both have had to admit that things might be a lot easier had we just done this without the other person.
Because the truth is, there is nothing selfish about love. When you fall in love, you make a deal that the two of you will learn how to marry your individual hopes and dreams. By no means do you have to forgo your singular self, but you do have to come to terms with the fact that commitment means you now act with another person in mind. When you are two people actively pursuing work that requires flexibility and a willingness to tirelessly seek the next opportunity, this truth can sometimes feel like a burden.
“Let’s be honest: We get to be in love in spite of our dreams,” I said to Dan as we drove and talked after the movie. “I wouldn’t be in love with you if you stopped me from doing what I want to do and the same goes for you.”
He nodded and said, “Oh, for sure. It would never work.“
Then, he was quiet for a moment before saying, “And what if one of us does find great success while the other person still struggles?”
“Oh, I would be fine!” I quickly said. “I would be so happy for you.”
“Well, of course you would,” he said. “But what if you did resent me? I mean, I don’t know how I would feel if I still hadn't accomplished what I want and you were living your dream. A few years, sure, I would be fine. But what about ten years? That would wear on anyone. What then?”
“Yeah, I guess you're right,” I said. “That would be hard.” And then: “But we are both going to accomplish our dreams. I know that for sure.”
It was a “we’ll figure it out” of sorts. And truly the only answer there is for now.