For 25 years, Ellen Burstyn did not go out on a date.
“Nobody asked me,” she says.
I find that hard to believe, I say. “In 25 years, weren’t you attracted to a man, or pursued by one?”
“I was busy living my life,” she says. She worked constantly around the world, won an Oscar® for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and was nominated for five other films. She enjoyed being with her son, Jefferson, her friends, and her animals. Every so often, she would look around and think, "Where are all the men?" “I thought it would be great to go home and curl up in someone’s lap after a job, but I didn’t sit around crying about it. I made a friend of solitude,” Ellen says.
But this ease took her decades to attain. In her 20s, she’d been “promiscuous,” she says. “I’d gone from man to man since puberty and had three marriages that were all painful and ended in divorce.” She knew she had to heal the wounds that kept her repeating the same pattern with men, “so that aspect of myself closed up shop. I think I built an invisible shield that no one could penetrate.”
She worked with a therapist, studied Sufism, and reconnected with her Christian roots, which she describes in her book, Lessons in Becoming Myself. When she finally believed she knew how to “do it right—attract a man who would treat me well and whom I could love”—she feared it was too late. On a whim, she asked a woman friend if she knew a man who might be suitable.
“I’ll have to think about that,” the woman said.
Shortly afterward, this same woman was approached by a Greek actor who had auditioned for Ellen at the Actors Studio when he was 25 and she was 48. He confessed to Ellen’s friend that he’d been in love with her for the 23 years since they’d met.
“What?!” Ellen said, when the message was relayed. The Greek kid? But he was 48 now, attractive and a successful acting teacher. (She won’t disclose his name.) He sent her an e-mail, which she answered, guardedly. He wrote back, “I don’t see the word 'no' in this.”
They’ve been together for three years, living in her house on the Hudson River in New York. She says it’s been an easy fit, “which is startling because he’s from a different culture and a different generation.” One reason for that may be her new approach. “Most of my life, if a man did something totally other than the way I thought it should be done, I would try to correct him. Now I say, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting? You do that differently than I do.’ It’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. It allows for a stress-free relationship.”
Ellen’s greatest challenge has been working with her fear of abandonment. “I had so much anxiety in my former relationships—I was scared of losing men, all of them.” She believes there are patterns we can work on only in a relationship, and this is one of them. “Right now, he’s in Greece, teaching, and that brings up anxiety. 'He’s away—what will happen? Somebody else will grab him!' I have to see that and keep releasing those thoughts.”