Adena Halpern On Taking The "Wrong" Path

Adena Halpern shares how a doomed relationship, the movie Sliding Doors and underwear from Target all contributed to her new mainstream novel, 29.  And don't miss the author's list of "The Top Ten Mistakes Every Woman Should Make Once" at the end of the post!

When I was 21 years old, I moved to Los Angeles from New York City, 3,000 miles away from my family for a guy I was madly in love with. My parents tried to change my mind. “Are you sure you want to leave your life where everyone knows and loves you for him? Wasn’t it your dream to live in New York City and become a famous novelist?” I told them they didn’t understand true love. 

Four years later there was no one I detested more in this world than my boyfriend. I couldn’t stand a single thing about him. His capacity for bragging astounded me. The way he made his dead end job sound like he was the head of a Fortune 500 company. His expensive clothes, all paid for by credit cards until they maxed out only added to this frustration. But there was one thing I knew for sure: This man was going to marry me. I had left everything I knew for this person and I didn’t forgo my own dreams if there wasn’t going to be a positive outcome. Most of all, I wasn’t going to prove my parents right. I didn’t care if I spent the rest of my days in a sheer state of anger, aggravation, and depression -- this man was going to walk down an aisle with me whether he liked it or not. 

And then one day he told me he just wasn’t ready for marriage, “maybe in a few years,” he said. That was all I needed to self-destruct. I couldn’t live another day with this man if he wasn’t going to put a ring on it. So we ended things amicably… (that is, if you believe me throwing the gear shift into neutral while we were going 55 mph on the freeway is amicably.) 

I couldn’t go home defeated so I stayed here in Los Angeles. I rented a hole-in-the-wall apartment because it was month to month, thinking I’d only stay a short time until I got my bearings straight. As it turned out, I stayed there for ten years going from one crap job to another and barely had enough money to support myself. I wrote a book about the experience. It was turned down everywhere. 

I don’t think there was a day in those ten years that I didn’t spend a sleepless night filled with regret. I regretted that I couldn’t make that relationship work. I regretted that I couldn’t admit to my parents that I couldn’t hack life on my own. Most of all, I regretted that I had started any of it in the first place. I envisioned my life in New York City, that “Sliding Doors” moment where everything could have been different. “I’m sorry, Boyfriend,” I would have told him, “I have dreams too and I have to follow them.” I didn’t move to LA. I didn’t make that one wrong move that altered my life. I was a famous novelist, living in SoHo married to the perfect guy with the perfect kids living the perfect life. If only I did what I really wanted to do instead of reacting with spite. If only…

For the next ten years, I went on what seems now like a string of bad dates that never ended. Think of your drippiest male friend, or the husband of a friend you can’t stand. I’m sure I went out with him at some point in my late 20s/early 30s. When I was 35, a friend tried to set me up on a date and the guy told her, “If she’s 35 and she’s still not married, there must be something wrong with her.” Truthfully, some of the guys were okay. Some of them wanted to give me the world. They told me I was beautiful and smart and they took me to wonderful restaurants and introduced me to their parents. But I couldn’t commit to any of them. Love, to me was like a vat of hot wax: don’t fall in it. And yet, that quest for the holy husband stayed with me like a mosquito bite no amount of calamine lotion could relieve.

And then my luck started to change. I got my own column in Marie Claire Magazine, a series of short essays told through what I wore. Six months after the column debuted, Penguin purchased the rights and after 15 years, I had finally sold my first manuscript, which became the book “Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown.” 

Six months later, I was still unable to sleep, this time though because I was a basket-case of happiness. I had done what I set out to do. Me, on my own, with no help.

It was during this time that I attended a friend’s birthday party. I struck up a conversation with a woman seated next to me. “Are you single?” She asked, to which I replied yes, I was. “I know someone,” she told me confidently. A week later, I found myself knocking at the door of a man’s home I’d never met. We had arranged to meet at his place for drinks and then go to dinner. He was funny, handsome and smart. One date turned into two, two into three and so on. A year and a half later, he asked me to marry him.

This summer, I will be celebrating a blissful third year of marriage as well as the publication of my third book, 29: A Novel published by Touchstone Books a division of Simon & Schuster. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I don’t think that the stars aligned for me at one time. What I do believe, looking back on all of it now was that because of what I’d gone through with a man early in my adult life, I didn’t want to make that same mistake twice. I needed to prove, not to my parents, but to myself that I could make it on my own. It didn’t matter how long it was going to take. I needed to achieve for myself, even if it meant being lonely and miserable and unsure of the future. When I sold that first book, it not only opened a door to the publishing world that had been impossible to open, it also opened my heart. Had I met my husband five years earlier, I can guarantee, as amazing as he might have been, I would not have considered a relationship.

If there is one thing this experience taught me, it’s that taking what seems like the wrong path, can turn out to be the best thing that could ever happen to you. It might take years, but in the end, at least for me: I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. 

- Adena Halpern

Adena Halpern’s Top 10 List of Mistakes Every Women Should Make At Least Once In Their Lives

1. Date the wrong guy. Date lots of the wrong guy, but don’t date them for long, just enough time to make a mental note of what you don’t want in a man.

2. Overdress or wear something completely inappropriate for an occasion. 

3. Go on an expensive vacation you can’t afford. It might take you years to pay it off, but it will get paid. The memories of that trip will never go away.

4. Eat an Italian dinner dripping in marinara sauce while wearing white pants.

5. Dye your hair Rita Hayworth red or Marilyn blond.

6. Date someone younger and go to a party with his friends.

7. Have a one-night stand (wearing protection of course).

8. Meet someone famous and gush all over them.

9. Wear fur out in public, a bikini in front of relatives or spiky heels on a wet lawn.

10. Get way too drunk while celebrating a wonderful achievement in your life. It will be fun at the time, but in the morning it will be the only thing you remember.