Dealbreaker: He Can't Stop Performing
He yelled. He cried. He beat his steering wheel. He shouted that he loved me. He swore loudly and with feeling that he was trying.
In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
Joshua and I hit it off at a bar after one of his plays. I didn’t see the show, but I definitely appreciated his performance for the remainder of the night. We were both geeks in high school—and college, and life—so we giggled about Shakespeare and marching band. We had both lived in the Pacific Northwest and traded stories about how lovely gray skies were even when they didn’t clear for months at a time. We closed the bar down, and at the end of the night, he pulled me close and whispered: “Can I walk you to your car?”
He could. The next morning, my cat Marilyn shot me a familiar look of disapproval: Boy smell. Soon, our easy bar banter evolved into deep conversations that stretched well into the night. Joshua and I talked about theater, feminism, sex, and later, us. He expressed respect for our differences and asked for my opinion on important things. Marilyn even curled up on him the first time he stayed at my place. If our relationship was a production, he auditioned very well.
And at first, dating Joshua felt like a movie. In public, he’d kiss me dramatically. At parties, he’d stare at me wistfully from across the room. In front of his friends, he was charming and self-deprecating. As long as we had an audience, I was a star, too. Joshua took my hand and pulled me into late night theater hangouts after his rehearsals and performances. And after his friends’ performances. And at cast parties. And at theater company events.
After a few months, I was wiped out by Joshua’s three-party-a-weekend schedule. I started wondering why we had very little time to ourselves, and why our only solo “dates” consisted of me driving to his house to drink and watch TV. So I asked Joshua if he would, you know, make some time for me. He looked me in the eyes and promised that he would.
Months later, I was still begging him to visit my apartment for dinner, but he always had something going on—rehearsal, or else a great parking space at his apartment he just couldn’t give up. When I protested again, he yelled. He cried. He beat his steering wheel. He shouted that he loved me. He swore loudly and with feeling that he was trying. I found myself getting jealous of the big black box that seemed to make him happy in a way that I couldn’t.
I couldn’t blame him. On set, handlers offered him water, food, coffee, donuts, the good spot in the shade. After every take, the crew apologized for having to do it again. He was called a “trooper” for standing around patiently while dozens of crew members hustled to make him look good. When he made a mistake, everyone told him it was okay—in fact, they hadn’t even notice he had messed up. Whenever we would walk into the doors of his theater company, Joshua was greeted with hugs, kisses, and butt grabs. After one Pasadena performance, a group of teary-eyed strangers gushed over his brilliance and offered to buy him dinner. He declined their invitation with an effusive apology, then turned to apologize to me, too. He wouldn’t be able to make my post-performance event. He had another party to attend.
Just in case I hadn’t noticed, Joshua was always ready to articulate just how awesome everyone thought he was. As we chatted online during the day, I was treated to a stream of secondhand Joshua love. At the beginning, it was almost cute. I loved that he was doing what he loved. He was talented, and I was glad that people recognized it. I even enjoyed those early theater tag-alongs: It’s great to see your partner doing his thing, especially when he looks so lovely under the lights. Even when the charm wore off, I tried to be empathetic. Being an actor is hard. When employed, they’re princes, heroes, and stars, no matter how small the production. When they’re not working, the rejection is soul-crushing. And there’s a lot more rejection than work.
What I hadn’t realized was how that anxiety would creep into other aspects of his life. In his efforts to convince me that he was worthy of my attention, Joshua started losing the things that drew him to me in the first place. Our sweet banter was displaced by reports of glowing notes received from directors. His easy sense of humor got shelved for retellings of jokes told during the theater’s annual fundraiser. It wasn’t enough for me to be his girlfriend anymore; I was expected to be his fan, too. I began to notice that even when he complimented me, he was complimenting himself. He always made sure to tell me how impressed everyone was with him for bringing me to the next big party.
For a while, I sucked it up. I wasn’t an actor. I didn’t need to be in the limelight. I could settle for the supporting role. Then, my cat ran away.
By the time he called me that Saturday morning, I had been crying for hours. When I woke up, Marilyn’s dedicated spot on the bed was occupied by only trace levels of fur. I wasn’t sure how my indoor kitty got out, but she was definitely gone. I searched the house, the yard, asked the neighbors, called the animal shelter, shook bags of food, opened a dozen cans of tuna. I found a litter’s worth of neighborhood strays, but not Marilyn.
“She’s just gone,” I sobbed into the phone.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re welcome to come watch me pack if that’ll help take your mind off of it.”
I went to his apartment. “I just can’t believe she’s gone,” I said, over and over again. That was his cue. For once, Joshua couldn’t even be bothered to pretend.
“Yeah,” he said. “I hate packing!”
So we talked about packing. Joshua had so much laundry to do before he left. He was worried he was going to forget his iPhone charger. Brokenhearted on the couch, I finally asked him if he could come help me look for Marilyn. He couldn’t. He was meeting some friends before their show, then heading to a cast party for his friends before jetting off to New York the next day.
Over the next week, I circulated photos of Marilyn to my networks. He texted vacation shots from the East Coast and wrote me involved e-mails about all the great scene work he was doing. He didn’t ask after Marilyn.
Eventually, Marilyn came crawling back. So did he. Marilyn regained her spot on the bed. Joshua didn’t get a callback.