Friday 26 December 2014

Travelling solo to get together

Brat-Pack movie star turned author Andrew McCarthy has just written about his extraordinary solitary odyssey before his wedding to Dublin girl Dolores Rice. They both tell Barry Egan how the separation helped to draw them closer

YOU can tell a lot about Andrew McCarthy by the title he gives his latest book, The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. In it, he tells his Irish fiancee Dolores Rice -- who is referred to as 'D' throughout -- not long after they'd become engaged that he plans to spend the next six months travelling on his own around the globe (Patagonia, Tanzania, the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica, Kilimanjaro, etc).

"I guess I'll see you at the altar," D replies, possibly realising that her future husband's journey was as much an inner one as a physical one.

As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, pointed out about McCarthy, and perhaps in general about emotional closeness: "How does a loner connect? How does a traveller settle down? How do we merge into families without losing ourselves?"

McCarthy, who has been a famous actor and heartthrob-- with starring roles in St Elmo's Fire, Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero, among others -- as well as an acclaimed author and travel writer (he is an editor-at-large at National Geographic magazine) is a quiet, almost Zen-like presence when I meet him in the bar of Brooks Hotel in Dublin.

Was there any doubt for him that he might not make it to the altar? (He and Dolores were married on August 28 last year in Ireland.) Andrew shakes his head emphatically. "In a sense, that is the whole crux of the book," he says. "It is not in any way, 'Will he or won't he make it to the altar?' It is more of a 'How will he make it to the altar?'"

He adds that Dolores knows perfectly well why he goes away. It wasn't, bye honey, and he was jetting off to find himself months before their wedding.

"That's the crux of the book, again. I was going to do the right thing. Someone said, 'So it's a midlife crisis book?' Hopefully, actually, it's the opposite of that. I'm not looking to go get a red convertible and a 22-year-old girl. I'm looking to find a way that I can be more intimate with you," he says, meaning Dolores, "and not run away from you.

"Dolores knows me. She is a traveller herself and has her own vital life. So she is not waiting for me. This idea that we should be together all the time to have a successful relationship is a bit odd and arcane to me."

The central paradox of The Longest Way Home is that he had to go away from Dolores to find intimacy.

"Yes," he says with a smile, "to come closer. And my life is full of those kinds of paradoxes of 'go toward, go against'. That, to me, is a very natural rhythm of going that direction to come this direction. That makes complete sense to me. It doesn't to a lot of people."

"To me," he continues, "the challenge and the paradox is that I am a person who tends to pull back from people and yet I am very, very interested in the moment right here. That's what I'm really after. So it was about coming to terms with that dynamic inside of me. It is about reconciling the push-pull."

McCarthy has lived in New York for 32 years, but would never call himself a New Yorker. He grew up in New Jersey -- he was born there on November 29, 1962 -- but he has never been back since he left for New York in 1980, nor has it ever occurred to him to go back. "I don't feel any roots anywhere, but I certainly feel attached to certain places because of people I have met in them all over the world. That's my roots. That's what I am interested in."

Some people go to therapy, I say to Andrew; he seems to pack his bags and travel the world and write.

"No. But the counter to that would be, 'Oh, to be fat, dumb and happy'. I don't think people really have a choice in those matters. Sitting at home is not where the action's at for me. For some people, it is.

"I have been married," he continues, referring to his marriage to Carol Schneider in 1999; they divorced in 2005 and have a son, Sam. "I think that's the biggest education. I also found that there was a certain withholding that I didn't even know I had in that first marriage."

I ask if the journey was a test for him to see whether he could resist physical temptation before he committed to a life of sex with the same woman.

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