There I was: newly single, living the life in the heart of Los Angeles. A regular at all the best bars and clubs, I felt I had made my presence known in a city of millions. Every bartender knew my name, every night was a new debaucherous adventure around the city.
I was dating models, playing in a rising rock band, swimming in infinity pools that overlooked the LA Skyline. I was, for all intents and purposes, living the dream. What could go wrong?
Sometimes, without asking first, life gives you what you never knew you needed. So if I was having so much fun, what could have caused me to leave my electric life and a city I loved?
What else? A woman. Not just any woman — the woman. The person who would show me how very fragile the house of cards I had built really was. This person, my person, would knock down my paper tower and open my eyes to the kind of life I was really living.
For her, I would leave it all behind, but what I’d lose, I’d gain back ten-fold.
For as long as I can remember, I knew I’d be a rockstar. While others flip-flop between career choices, I never wavered. I set my sights on fame and fortune and learned to push away fear and self-doubt that could have so easily steered me away from my goals.
I earned my musical stripes playing bars in the Northeast. I gorilla-warfared my way into opportunity after opportunity, including an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition, where I played one of my songs live for over a million people. I used that momentum to start a band (named after myself, of course) and when that didn’t reach the level I wanted, I ditched them, packed up my car, and drove to LA to get what I deserved.
Starting to see a theme here? I was willing to do whatever it took to get what I wanted. I was a selfish prick.
Don’t get me wrong: through most of my twenties, I had a great group of friends, was in a long-term committed relationship, and held down full-time employment. I felt I was always doing my best but in the end, I knew if something would further me toward success in the music industry, I would do it, no matter the cost.
It was almost like I was hiding a demon behind my nice-guy exterior. At the time, I didn’t realize the dark side was so much a part of me.
After the move to LA, I found myself feeling like I had found home! I fit in better there than anywhere I had ever lived. LA has a culture where looking out for yourself and stepping on people to get what you want is just a part of life.
What I’m saying is that my self-serving inner demon wasn’t looked badly upon in LA. It was, in fact, accepted. So, with nothing and no one to hold back the free-flowing river of self-indulgence, I dove full force into the culture of ME, ME, ME!
Meanwhile, she — her, my future person — was fighting her way through a failing marriage in Tennessee. Her then-husband was offered a job in LA, and despite her better judgment (and most likely because she had two small children to consider) they all moved to sunny California to try and make it work.
One morning, I saw her working on her laptop in the corner window of my favorite coffee shop. I remember only one thing entering my mind: “This is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” There was just something about her. Something that felt like magic.
Of course, I couldn’t resist introducing myself. We kept our interactions surface level. After all, she was a mom and had a husband. I had no idea they were on the fritz. Eventually, she would realize her marriage was a lost cause and move back to Tennessee with kids in tow. We never said goodbye. A year-and-a-half would pass before we’d re-enter each other’s lives.
During that year-and-a-half, my relationship would fall apart as well. Subsequently, I began a full-blown self-serving lifestyle with a no-holds-barred kind of attitude.
I did what I wanted, when I wanted and didn’t realize how unfulfilled I was until my future life partner, the married girl in the coffee shop, would turn my world upside-down.
On a warm LA night like so many nights, I stumbled into my poorly lit apartment after an evening of alcohol-infused debauchery. Flopping down on the couch, I picked up my phone and began scrolling through my Instagram feed.
I paused on a picture, her picture, and just stared at it. She wasn’t scantily clad or doing anything provocative, she was just beautiful. After a night out with women who made me laugh, tended my affections, and bolstered my ego, my heart was as empty as the beer bottle I was still holding onto.
I began thinking of the conversations she and I used to have — this woman now just a picture on my Instagram feed used to be real. I wanted to make her real again. But why? I closed my eyes, let out a sigh, and let the memory of her incredible presence fill my thoughts.
Before I knew what I was doing I wrote her a message. Short and sweet. “Those lips.” Those lips? What the heck did I just write? I drunkenly tried to figure out a way to un-send the ridiculous words I had just left in a married mother’s IG direct inbox. It was no use; the damage had been done, and I … cared? Yes, I cared! I didn’t want to hurt this woman who by this point was basically a stranger.
A few moments passed and my phone lit up. “Those lips miss you.”
My eyes focused on the notification that had just flashed across my screen. I smiled from ear to ear. Sat back on the couch and thought in a way only a mind free from words can.
From that night on we didn’t go a day without speaking. Turned out she had separated from her husband the day she left LA. She had wanted to reach out to me but thought I was in a relationship. In the blink of an eye, we went from strangers respecting each other’s boundaries to lovers and best friends within a month.
I knew I had to be with this woman no matter what the cost. I hadn’t felt that way about anything but rock stardom for a very long time. Why? Because she made me feel something. She made me not want to think only about myself.
Within two months of that drunken text, I was on the road to Tennessee carrying only what would fit in my car. My life went from the glitz and glam of Hollywood to good ol’ southern values and fatherhood.
I gave it all up. I changed my entire life.
But what was I really giving up? When I look back, I was on a treadmill that hadn’t changed speed since the moment I got on. What I was really losing was the hard crash my 40s would have brought me when I realized I had been living like a rockstar without ever actually being one.
Living wild in your 20s is understandable, but doing it past your mid-30s starts to just look sad. Again, don’t get me wrong, I played six songs on television shows, did a TedTalk, played the biggest clubs in LA with my band, but a famous rock star I was not. At 32, if this woman hadn’t snapped me out of it, I feared the next 10-plus years would have been just more of the same.
What I’ve gained is what’s important: I have the incredible honor of being a father figure to children I never knew I’d have. I’ve been awakened to aspects of my humanity that I never knew existed. Teaching our kids how to do little things like scramble an egg or tie a fishing line has reminded me how much we need each other.
I’m talking about human beings in general. We really do need each other’s help. I’ve been reminded what it feels like to be loved by someone — and I mean truly loved. Not the kind of love where you get what you want and get your ego stroked. Rather, the kind of love where your partner isn’t afraid to show you your faults, hold a mirror to your face when you’re being ridiculous, and change your paradigm, not just change your mind.
I’ve reconnected with my family in ways I’d forgotten possible. I don’t go weeks or months at a time without calling my parents or sisters anymore. What once seemed like such a chore is now a moment I look forward to.
My girlfriend is no angel; it’s not like she grabbed me from LA and somehow magically made me settle down to country life. We live in Nashville. Like LA, it’s an exciting city with lots to do. And she’s no barefoot housewife. She’s more like me than anyone I’ve ever met. Fiery to the core and gets what she wants.
We fight, we laugh, we fight again, and we love each other hard. My girlfriend has the ability to push me beyond what I used to be. That’s how I know my leap of faith has paid off. I changed everything for this woman but what I lost, I gained back tenfold.
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