I stared at her.
She was my college advisor and first acting professor, and I had just mustered up the guts to tell her I was transferring to a larger school. And I needed her recommendation for the transfer.
Are you kidding? My mind exploded. I'm transferring schools because I'm devoted to my craft! But I didn't say that. Instead, I gritted my teeth and thanked her for her time—and moved on.
What struck me at the time was that it sounded like I was breaking up with her. Which, in a way, I suppose I was. It's risky to burn bridges and play politics, even when you know it's necessary. But as soon as she uttered those words I knew I had to follow my instincts. It was never that school I had chosen to commit to—it was acting.
I was much happier for having taken that leap of faith. But sometimes when I least expect it, her words float back to me out of the past, boring holes of doubt in my generally steady outlook. What if on some level she was right? A voice inside me will ask. What if in your haste to be an actress, you're missing the bigger picture?
After college, acting and I moved to New York City. Who also moved with me? My boyfriend. (We'll call him Tim.)
At that point Tim and I had been together for almost six years—we were high school sweethearts—and I was thrilled that we were both going to be able to start our professional lives in the same place.
And it was great... until Tim saw what it actually took to be an actor. (He was not one.) The long hours, the crazy lines for auditions, and the constant scrounging for cash disgusted him. Even more baffling to Tim was when he realized that this was the life I wanted, what I had been waiting my whole life to do.
It became clear that after seeing me go through acting lessons, dance lessons, voice lessons, living for the school shows, and majoring in theater, Tim had never picked up any real idea who I was.
And so I left, and never looked back.
Then acting and I began an era of what I like to call "living on the three-month plan," or "life in episodes." In town for a little while, out of town for a little while. Book a show, you leave. The show ends, you come back. And so forth.
It's fun, but disruptive. And it certainly hasn't helped my "commitment" record to anything (or anyone) else—be it an apartment, a man, my god-daughter—except acting. Sure, I've had a few noteworthy and meaningful relationships since then, certainly no regrets. But each of them ended with the same two factors playing at least part of the culprit: distance and time.
If you are an actor—or if you love an actor—you know that you spend a good deal of time agonizing over those two little demons.
Some actors prefer to remain single; others grin and bear the exhaustion of long distance; and still others dive into the immediate sense of security and belonging that manifests in the phenomenon of a "showmance." I've been guilty of all three, and they each can be wonderful in their own way (although the word "showmance" makes me cringe).
Recently, an actress friend of mine posted a query on Facebook wondering about other actors and their take on whole "long-distance romance" thing.
And it made me realize that I wasn't alone. For a group of people who make a living exploring and celebrating passionate relationships on stage or screen, we sure can be a lonely bunch! Those of you who have ever suffered through a broken heart in your bedroom by night—while reveling in l'amour complet by day—know what I'm talking about. The pay wherever you are is probably crappy, and it doesn't seem fair not to be able to have the love of your life and the job that you love in one place. You know what? It's not. But we didn't get into entertainment for things to be fair, right?
It's a strange dichotomy we actors live in; sometimes feeling as though we stand on the sidelines to our own story.
But I don't think that's how it has to be. At its core, every relationship is about compromise, learning, and... learning to compromise. But I've come to the realization that if it's worth it, it will be worth it. And that belief goes both ways: as much as we may hate to admit it, acting involves compromise as well—with fellow actors, with friends and family, and with the lifestyle.
If you, as an actor, are worth it to that other person, they will put up with your hellish schedule, creative budgeting, and disappearances from town. And maybe, who knows—there's nothing wrong with it—maybe someday you will meet that person for whom it's worth it to you to stay. Maybe you've already met that person; maybe you haven't.
I think actors are kind of like soldiers, who sometimes have to leave behind the people they care about and miss out on milestones in their lives. (Fortunately for us, our line of work is usually much less lethal… although our spouses don't get nearly the benefits.) But soldiers do what they do because they believe in something. Hopefully, so do we.
And I have to say, while acting will always be with me, having come and gone from town a few times on jobs has really changed my perception of how I value the people in my life. Now that I know what it is not to have my family and friends near me, I don't want to waste my time. I want to spend it with them whenever I can.
In a way, the distance has been freeing for me; it has helped me see my priorities and made me less afraid to be direct with how I feel. When you might be gone in a week, there's just no time to play games with one another. I'm still going to work hard, but also celebrate my life and take it for what it is: the present.
There's a difference between taking a leap of faith and having "commitment issues". I've realized that holds true in love and in career. Although my environment might change from time to time, I'm still committed to both. And I plan on being faithful.
Heather Gault is an actress and writer based out of New York City. Most recently, she spent her summer on-location in Cologne, Germany, playing a lead role in the movie "Nightshift." Next up she will be appearing in the staged reading of the play "The Daughters of Lot" at the New York WorkShop Theater. To contact Heather, email firstname.lastname@example.org.