In an episode of Sex and the City, Carrie and her friends ponder urban relationship myths: the one-night stand that turns into love, the commitment-phobe who suddenly proposes, and other such tales that supposedly keep single women believing that someday their prince will come. Ironically, Cindy Chupack, who's best known for being a writer and producer on the show, lived out her own piece of single-woman folklore when she married Ian Wallach: the "bad boy" who unexpectedly became her husband.
"It's not really a lesson for anyone," she says, laughing. "I certainly wouldn't advocate going out with the person you think is the least good for you."
But at age 40 the Emmy winner, who's most recently worked on Modern Family, married the serial bachelor, and the two have lived in the L.A. beach house she once called her own (more on that later) for the better part of a decade. The ups and downs of this unlikely union are detailed in her latest book, The Longest Date: Life as a Wife - a collection of deeply revealing, witty, sometimes dark and often self-deprecating essays. In its pages, Chupack says the things about marriage you're not supposed to say: that sometimes your husband can feel like a permanent houseguest, that sex becomes rote when you're trying to have a baby, that there are things married people should not say to each other, like "I've been thinking maybe you might like to get a breast reduction."
She also delves into the couple's all-consuming quest to have a baby - a journey laden with misfortune and disappointment, but ultimately great happiness, and the unexpected ways adversity can strengthen the very essence of commitment.
In some of her tales, Chupack is the good guy. In others, she's not. But in most, she reveals an intangible joy that exists between two people who are truly bonded.
We sat down with Chupack - who's doing a reading at Book Soup tomorrow at 4 p.m. - to discuss why she got married in the first place, how her career changed, the double standard men endure, and more. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
On her career before marriage:
I had the luxury of working on Sex and the City where having a bad relationship or date was probably better than having a good one. During that time when I maybe should have been, or could have been, looking more seriously, I was probably looking less seriously, and more just for stories.
But despite all that, I was a romantic. I was still wanting to fall in love and find somebody.
Sex and the City was great for me, and for women in general I think, because it made the idea of dating during that period not just like a layover on the way to getting your husband, but instead a really important time in your life. You're figuring out what you want, and who you are. I embraced that.
On how getting married changed her work:
I had a fear that it would be the end of my writing career because I'd written about being single for so long, and that was such a noble quest to me - this quest for love - and it seemed like once you got married, that was the end of the story.
There was a closing of the ranks, I was feeling, once you were married. You made the bed, now lie in it. But there should be the same sort of levity and sense of humor and commiseration and discovery in the things that happen when you're married, so that you can survive it. That's how I coped with all the hard things about dating and that's how I think you cope with the hard things about marriage.
What felt like the end of my career actually was nice to realize was just a part of my writing career. And in addition, it was nice to realize it's the same sorts of stories and the same sorts of adventures. They don't just end when you get married, for better or worse. It's not happily ever after but it's also not the end of the fun.
On revealing herself in her writing:
I love essay writing. Just in general I love reading essays. I love humorous first-person pieces because I like hearing the story from the source. There's something very different about a story that actually happened to someone, and figuring out how to tell it truthfully without embellishing - just telling the story and seeing what's funny and human about it.
For me, the best TV episodes I think I've written are something where there's a kernel of truth, or some kind of personal attachment to it, so even if the story is pretty far-fetched, you usually have some way in that is your experience. So it's a way of fictionalizing your real life, and sometimes that can be really gratifying because in some ways, you become more honest with yourself about what happened, because you can hide behind these other characters. In some ways they can do it better than you did.
On literary voice:
It took me a while to understand exactly what my voice was, which is really just learning what your speaking voice is, and how to put that on paper. Or what your perspective is, what your sense of humor is. I know from writing television that if you can understand the character - like Samantha on Sex and the City, or Carrie or Miranda - you can imagine what she'd say. People have that same way about them sometimes, and it's just learning what your character is.
On why she got married:
We both dated so much that it seemed like there needed to be something more official. [Laughs]
I don't feel like everyone has to be married, certainly. I think you can be very committed without it. But I guess in my case and Ian's case, I was happy that he was wanting to commit to that with me.
Part of what I learned dating was the empowering ability to get out of a relationship I didn't want to be in, almost to the point where I was maybe quick to pull the trigger. I guess is it kind of good to make it slightly more complicated.
On getting married later in life:
Unless you get lucky, I think you do get better at figuring out who you are and what you want when you get older, and so even though it makes having a child harder, biologically, I think I was at the point where I could figure out who I wanted instead of who I needed. It was more what do I want to add to my life, and who's actually going to make my life bigger and more fun, and be a good partner,' as opposed to 'I have to find someone to take care of me.'
On why Ian married her:
I think he loved me, but also I think he was really ready to have a kid, and that's why as it took longer and longer to have a kid I started having doubts about "would I be enough?" He seemed very committed to his bachelorhood except for that. But I think he's surprised himself, and me, with how great of a husband and dad he is. Being a woman who used to project a lot onto people who didn't deserve it, [laughs] it was nice to be surprised by someone who seemed less responsible.
It was like he had to draw these lines in the sand, and then I had to respect them, and then they went away.
On how marriage has changed for men:
I think it must be very confusing for men because we ask a lot of things from them. Sometimes you do still want to feel taken care of, but you don't want to be told what to do, and you certainly don't want any sort of allowance or be told how to spend, especially if it's your money.
If you bought the house you're living in, [which she did] I think it's a very different feeling than when a man buys a house you're living in, which he can brag about to his friends - it feels very traditional, he's provided a home for you and it's all great. I mean, I love having Ian live there and I love the house I have, and I don't feel resentful, but it feels different every once in a while, to me. I still remember when it was my house.
On gender roles:
I'm not sure women have the provider instinct. I think we're still very proud that we're doing it for ourselves. That feels great - to buy your own house, to buy your own clothes, to buy your own car - but are we really excited to buy a man's car? Men have been doing that for a long time so it's sort of unfair, but it's something we just haven't worked out yet.
On the struggles of marriage:
The only time I've been nervous about our marriage is when I've felt like we're at an impasse where we just can't hear each other. Because we can disagree, and that doesn't bother me, and I think that's a given, but I think you have to not be afraid to talk about anything.
But at the same time, I don't feel like you have to be honest about everything. There might be things you don't want to know, or you don't want each other to know. And that's ok.
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On finding the love of her life:
The big shift was not wondering who I was going to marry. There's a lot of energy wrapped up in that! It felt like there was a calm, that I found him...and then there was a panic. [Laughs] This is who I found? But I fell in love with him, thus, the book.
Cindy Chupack will do a reading and signing of Life as a Wife at Book Soup on Sat., Jan. 11 at 4 p.m.