TRUE ROMANCE

After five years off-and-on, a bicoastal promise led to lasting love

After three months hanging out with a cute, broke, commitment-phobic comedy writer, we shared the torn mattress on the cluttered floor of his tiny New York hovel. Waking up in his arms, he promised a special dinner that night. Finally, we were happening. I was falling for this schleppy hoarder—when he phoned that afternoon—to cancel. “I was offered a job on a big L.A. TV show, I’m moving today. Though I told my agent I don’t really want to go, because of you.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” I snapped.

“That’s what my agent said.”

I had low expectations for “Batman,” nicknamed for his favorite superhero. (“Because he’s the only one who gave himself powers,” he explained.) At 35, I was a struggling, cynical freelancer whose heart had been slaughtered more than once. So I wasn’t surprised he left. I was more shocked—a week later—when he offered me his frequent flier miles to visit. A Manhattan neurotic, I feared a disastrous trip. He didn’t even hug me at the airport, pecking my cheek like his old aunt.

But his huge, two bedroom, two bath, Westwood pad awed me. Turned out the other Coast’s rents were lower and his paycheck was higher. He had space for me here. In his rooftop pool, he seduced me in the hot tub. An earthquake interrupted us—

“You okay?” asked the apartment manager, rushing to check on us. I quickly covered up. “It was a 5.6.”

“The earth really did move,” Batman laughed, kissing me.

Thankfully, there was no damage in his apartment downstairs, just tilted paintings. In the East, he’d seemed disorganized, tentative. The West’s slower pace sped up our romance.

Yet the next day I was the only pale beach-goer with black hair, black one-piece, black towel, black swim cap, black goggles. He drove his too-small silver Honda Civic to work. Seeking diet soda at the deli, I walked down Wilshire Boulevard. A policeman stopped me. “Everything okay? Need a ride?”

“I prefer walking.”

He shrugged, bewildered.

Luckily I found The New York Post on the Third Street Promenade and Chin Chin’s delivered. Instead of fighting off pervs on overcrowded subway, my gorgeous cheerful model/actress friend Lori from the Valley chauffeured me in her red Audi convertible. Just being around her made me thinner and bouncier, the sunshine a free organic anti-depressant. I’d traded bus noise and street madness for surfers, cars, and mountains. Rather than two days, I wound up staying a month.

“Lori said I can crash at her place,” I told him.

“Play with your girlfriend while I work. You’re sleeping here every night with me.”

I melted. I’d been monogamous with Manhattan. Could I be bicoastal?

Alas his TV contract wasn’t renewed. Apparently, I wasn’t either. Back in Gotham, I was destroyed when he didn’t call or return my messages. For three weeks.

Suddenly he phoned. A new producer was putting him up at a 5-star resort called Shutters on the Beach. Batman invited me. I wasn’t biting. He’d felt depressed by his unemployment, he admitted, apologizing for his hiatus. I’d been wrecked myself from editors’ rejections, as if achievement were redemption. I forgave him. Stalled in the Empire State, we revived at Shutters. Its soft woods and pastel hues could soothe the psyches of mental patients.

I almost joined their ranks when his new show didn’t fly. He faded from the picture. Again! After five years off and on, I freaked. My (married male) shrink diagnosed the “money-honey syndrome”: With bank account growing, he’d get lusty. But for my beau, jobless equaled loveless.

Then he landed a movie deal. Finished with his pathetic ping ponging, I said no. I was gone, girl.

Until he proposed by confessing, “I’m afraid you’ll only consider marrying me because you think I’ll always get put up at Shutters.”

“I jumped you on your torn mattress when we were both poor,” I reminded him.

I was relieved we were already wed when his next script was lost in turnaround.

To cover our bills, I took a job teaching college classes. Frustrated freelancing, he too became an East Coast professor. So we both wrote by day, taught by night, which came with a miraculous equation: we showed up, they paid us. Helping young students brought good karma. His staff job on a Chelsea-filmed TV show for four years helped us afford to buy a Greenwich Village two bedroom two bath, with roof-top pool (though open only 3 months annually.) I finally sold my debut book at 43, documenting our affair—which caused a fight since my husband hated being my character.

“But you’re the hero. And a writer. You should understand.”

“My scripts are fiction,” he argued.

We made a deal: I’d never mention his name, age, or steal his best lines—if he’d take me to Shutters for our fifth anniversary, on our dime, to rekindle our early magic.

Brunching at the outside cafe there, a former colleague of his caught us, asking, “What are you working on? Who’s putting you up here?”

“Nobody,” my mate answered, honestly.

As my other half paid the bill, the guy whispered, “Come on, which producer’s paying?”

“Sworn to secrecy.” I winked, realizing the industry was insaner than we were.

While we were out West, a meeting led to his new animation gig and a producer optioned my memoir for a movie. So what if the film didn’t get green-lit? Our love did.

Susan Shapiro’s new novel “What’s Never Said” is about a psychotic breakup but in real life she’ll be married 19 years next week. Follow Susan on Twitter. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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