After my boyfriend accepted his Oscar for Best Documentary, my dad called to tell me to "get rid of that loser." Ross and I had only known each other for six weeks by the time Leonardo DiCaprio presented him with that golden statue, but things were serious.
We'd met in L.A., where, as an entertainment journalist, I'd been assigned to catch up with him at an event and interview him about his film. And, despite the presence of his ex-girlfriend/codirector, we managed to exchange flirtatious glances. Later that night, when I saw him at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards, we snuck off together to get a drink.
"So, your codirector is your ex?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said. "We dated for six years and broke up halfway through shooting, but we're friends now."
Two hours and four glasses of wine later, he confessed that although they had broken up a year before, things remained tense. A warning flare, but as a naive, determined 25-year-old who, in a year-and-a-half in L.A., hadn't met a handsome, talented, modest man who made me laugh the way he did, I thought, I might as well have fun.
And we did. He lived in New York City, but he was in town regularly during awards season. He'd pluck me out of my cave-like Hollywood apartment and into the nicest hotels in L.A., where we'd order room service and go for late-night swims. When he was in New York, we spoke at least twice a day and texted at night. We made plans: I would come east in March, post-Oscars, and in April we would travel to Lisbon.
Still, I thought about his ex constantly. She not only codirected the film but was also the protagonist. I considered her a younger, more attractive Mother Teresa: While I was chasing a career, she was working with deprived children in a developing country. Their documentary was like a child that they had created and raised together. Now their baby was nominated for an Oscar, and I felt like an unworthy stepparent.
When I finally did run into The Ex, outside a pre-Oscar event, a smile too big for my face appeared as nervous chatter spilled out of my mouth. Her response was a scowling silence. Where was Mother Teresa?
When Oscar night finally arrived, I was leaning over my laptop in the pressroom, wearing the same black halter dress I wore to prom, when Ross texted that The Ex asked that I leave the press area if they win. Before I could digest this, I saw him on the monitor, on stage with her, and I was jumping out of my seat. There he was, the guy I woke up with hours earlier, accepting an Oscar. The only problem was, he was holding her hand.
No big deal. He's just nervous.
Then, after his thank-you's, he turned to her and, in front of a hundred million viewers, give or take, said, "I would like to thank this amazing woman right next to me," and leaned over and kissed her on the lips. After my father's expletive-filled call, four male friends called and echoed his sentiment. Then my female sounding boards rallied in his defense. "Remember, he's working," my mom offered.
Ross and The Ex arrived backstage. I avoided eye contact and pretended to focus on my work, and when they finally left the room, I felt my heart rate slowly decrease. Later, as I walked the lifeless red carpet outside of the Kodak Theatre, I passed Hilary Swank and Samuel L. Jackson, who were headed to the Vanity Fair party. Ross, I figured, was already there with The Ex. Back at my apartment, I turned off my phone, popped a Xanax, and called it a night.
The next morning I woke up under a blanket of depression, until I flipped on my phone: 14 missed calls from Ross! His voice sounded sweet and slightly tipsy as he invited me to after-parties around L.A. Unable to get my dad's words out of my head, I didn't call him back that morning. Then, on my way to work, I received a text: "Where r u????? Can u come out tonight? My parents and friends from NY are in town." That night after I met his family, I decided not to say anything about his speech. (I wouldn't until months later, when he'd explain that he was overcome by the culmination of five years working together.) Ross and I went through with our planned trips. And three years later, to my father's shock and eventual delight, we got married.
But even now, two years into our marriage, I catch myself getting anxious during awards season. Despite having found the guy who bikes with me through the park on Sundays, brings me flowers for no reason, and encourages me in pursuing my dreams, I can't help but think of his proudest career moment with another "amazing" woman. But what really gets me through Oscar night is sitting on the couch with him, eating popcorn, and clobbering him in the Oscar poll. Because I enjoy a gamble, especially when I win.