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‘Modern Love Podcast’: The Second Best Way to Get Divorced, According to Maya Hawke

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email transcripts@nytimes.com with any questions. From “The New York Times,” I’m Anna Martin. This is “Modern Love.” And our guest today is Maya Hawke. You might know her as Robin Buckley, a wisecracking but open hearted teen on the paranormal TV series “Stranger Things.” I should stop talking. I have said everything I need to say. But then I guess I get nervous, and the words, they just, they keep spilling out. And it’s like my — Or as a fearless Jo March from the BBC’s “Little Women.” I need to not live out my entire life in the tiny town where I was born. You might also think of Maya as the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. But Maya isn’t a kid anymore. She’s in her mid-20s now. I just saw her in Wes Anderson’s latest movie “Asteroid City,” where she plays a kind of buttoned-up schoolteacher. As you know, boys and girls, your parents arrived late last night by military helicopter. They’ve been sequestered in that metal hut over there for the past several hours. And in a new biopic called “Wildcat,” Maya portrays a tortured Flannery O’Connor. Dear God, please. I can never seem to escape myself unless I’m writing. She’s also a singer songwriter. In May, she’ll put out her third album “Chaos Angel.” Here’s a single from it called “Missing Out.” (SINGING) Missin’ out, missin’ out, missin’ out Now I know it’s me who’s missin’ out Maya hopped on a call with me in her downtime from shooting “Stranger Things.” When we asked her to pick an essay for this special “Modern Love” anniversary series we’re doing, she chose one called “Our Kinder, Gentler, Nobody-Moves-Out Divorce,” by Jordana Jacobs. It’s a story about a couple that keeps living together after they break up for the sake of their kid. When Maya was little, her own famous parents went through a very public, very tumultuous divorce. It made headlines. But outside the spotlight, Maya had to do something so many kids of divorce have to, navigate a life split between two different homes. Today, she opens up about that time and how it affected her work, her relationships, and the way she thinks about love now. [LIGHT GUITAR STRUMS] Maya Hawke, welcome to “Modern Love.” Oh, thank you so much, Anna. I couldn’t be happier to be here. So you have said in some interviews that you have a kind of nervous habit. You’ve said that when you’re anxious, you talk a lot, and you talk very fast. Does that still happen for you? Totally. I mean, you’ll probably see it today even. But it does. Honestly, it happens more than ever doing press. I want to make sure that they understand my exact point of view. And I think if I was smarter, I would just get quiet and try to zero in on what I thought. And then say one perfect, concise sentence. But how hard is that? Yeah, it’s very difficult. So instead, I just kind of talk until I get to the thing that I mean. And eventually, you do get there. And eventually, I do get there. You’ve also said in interviews that this kind of chatter that you do has followed you into your work. And the writers of “Stranger Things” noticed it. So they gave your character on the show, Robin, a bunch of monologues. Do you find that a lot of yourself ends up in your on screen roles, or are you stepping into a totally new personality when you’re performing? I think it really depends. An interesting thing about television is that because you play the character for so long, it’s actually more important, I think, that they take on some qualities of you, and also more inevitable that they will because the writers are actively writing while you are shooting. So they are getting to know the actor and the performer as they are creating their story. Yeah. And so there’s a blurring of the lines that both inspires the writers as they get to know you better. And you kind of don’t want to be in a situation where — I’ll eat my words on this someday — but where you’re working for a year on a character that requires you to not be yourself to play because then you kind of lose a year of your life a little bit. I did a movie last year called “Wildcat,” where I was playing Flannery O’Connor who’s very depressed, and lonely, and dark. And I’m in no way a method actor. But even when you’re not, the shadow of the person that you’re playing starts to overtake you. When I was shooting that, I felt like the loneliest person in the world. Wow. And if you’re shooting for a month, that’s fine. But if you’re working for a year, I don’t really want to feel like the loneliest person in the world for a year. And I would much rather feel like a babbling, intelligent, funny, sarcastic, buffoon. You are joking, obviously. But feeling like the loneliest person in the world sounds really hard. How did you kind of claw yourself back from that? Well, one great way is to come up with a new thing to do right away. And so the day after we wrapped, I went back to New York City, and I started touring my last record. And so I went right into rehearsals and right into a new feedback loop, which is my band who are some of my oldest friends. And so a big part of how I think we remember who we are as people is our community reminding us who we were and who we want to be. I went directly from feeling like the loneliest person in the world to being on a tour bus with my four favorite dudes. And so that was a pretty easy transition to get out of the blues, I will say. I hear you. So Maya, the “Modern Love” essay you chose to read today is called “Our Kinder, Gentler Nobody-Moves-Out Divorce.” And it’s by Jordana Jacobs. Without any spoilers, the title kind of indicates it’s about an unconventionally close living situation between two divorcing people. Can you tell me before you read why you chose this essay? Yeah, I chose it because it’s a subject of extreme interest to me. My parents got divorced when I was a kid. And I am under no illusions, or I’m under slightly fewer illusions. I still have some illusions of like the enduring, eternal Cinderella love story. Sure. And so it seemed to me that maybe one of the better ways to go into a long term relationship is not just thinking about how you’re going to fall in love, but if you did break up, how would you handle that. And are you with someone who you think you could have a good breakup with? So I’ve just been really interested in how all the different ways to get divorced. And is there a good way, or are they all bad? I love this framing that it’s sort of a falling out of love story or figuring out how to live after falling out of love story. I would say, I want to hear you read this thing. So whenever you’re ready. Great. “Our Kinder, Gentler, Nobody-Moves-Out Divorce.” by Jordana Jacobs [SOFT MUSICAL TONES] “When my ex-husband’s girlfriend stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, beads of water dripping from her brown hair, she ran into me — the ex-wife. Dashing from the bedroom they often share with my ex husband’s dirty clothes in my arms, Hi, I was just getting his — I said, before scurrying back down the stairs where I was doing our laundry. I can think of few moments that better capture that time in our lives, me with my ex’s pungent laundry in my arms, trying to disappear as if I were the maid to a volatile celebrity. For two people who need a prefix of negation to refer to each other, my ex and I have had a rather porous boundary between my place and his. He and I live on separate floors of a two family house in Brooklyn. Our eight-year-old son can run upstairs to beg his father to let him play Minecraft and run downstairs to have the Cheerios he likes with me. I dip into my ex’s apartment when a recipe calls for chia seeds, and he knocks on my door when I need help resetting the clock that’s too high for me to reach. We have been like this for more than two years. Technically, we’re still married, although we’ve filed for divorce. Some of the neighbors still seem to think we’re together. The kindly pharmacist always asks for updates and sends his regards. But we aren’t a couple. We no longer share a bed, no longer smooch, no longer take turns making the salad, no longer give each other heartfelt back rubs, no longer dream of trips to Italy, no longer put our arms around each other in public, no longer fight about the shades being crooked, no longer outsource our intimacy to Netflix, no longer write checks to a couple’s counselor, no longer hope to fix it. But for a while, we were still enmeshed in each other’s lives, which is why I was caught in the act of doing a wifely chore by the woman with whom he is building intimacy and trust. After that, we decided the division between our places needed some clearer boundaries. Some things had to change, including laundry duty. It can be difficult to imagine feelings or arrangements that you don’t have language for. For example, learning the word schadenfreude, to name that dark feeling within yourself felt to me like the pleasure of tasting an entirely new cuisine. When I learned that word, I was not only relieved of the shame of that feeling, I could also laugh at myself for it. We don’t have the right vocabulary for our relationships with our former spouses. The term ex is loaded. The symbol X itself is a crossing out. As if by getting married and then divorced, you made a mistake that needs scratching out with a big red pen. Or maybe the X is a coming together, the meeting point of two diagonal lines and then splitting apart. But like many exes, we share a child. We never fully split. [LIGHT MUSIC] Unlike many exes, we share a checking account and a household. My ex is the source of the Y chromosome that made our son. He makes music videos with our child — him on the piano, the boy on the drums — and takes him camping for days at a time. My ex lives upstairs from me, encourages me to date, texts me CDC updates, discusses the boundaries between our apartments so he has a chance at building a loving relationship with his girlfriend, whom I like. And he texts me from the grocery store to see if I need anything. [LIGHT MUSIC] Our marriage didn’t work, but we made the most of our separation. When I was a child in the 80s, divorce meant war. If children weren’t the weapons, they were the casualties, custody battles, friends choosing sides, lawyers as strategies, generals, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” waking up in a Holiday Inn to your mother’s declaration that she was divorcing your no good father, a father denied visitation rights after the mother convinced the judge he was unfit. Children of my generation — Generation X, coincidentally — were raised on tales about the exes morning stench, their ineptitude in the kitchen, their refusal to cough up alimony payments. These days, we have our mediators. We get to keep our friends. We don’t abuse our children with hate. It’s a kinder and gentler time. My ex’s girlfriend has moved in upstairs. Hence, I have stopped doing my ex’s laundry. And I no longer find fine strands of his silver hair coiled around my leggings, nor do I run upstairs to pick up my work from the household printer, which lives upstairs, or grab almond butter from my ex’s pantry when I’ve run low, or check that our son has enough socks up there. Now that my ex has a partner, a person who must reconcile herself to this new fangled form of co-parenting, I no longer cross the threshold of their apartment uninvited. There’s much more texting. Yes, I was talked to, with a lot of wincing and unnecessary apologies. My ex explained that I can’t just run into their apartment willy-nilly anymore. I can be a little dense, but I’m not so far gone that I don’t understand that protecting the couple’s privacy is essential to the cultivation of their relationship. I know and regret that having the ex-wife live downstairs costs them. Of course, there are romantic costs on both sides. This is dating when your ex-husband shares a two-family home with you. [LOW MUSICAL NOTES] A man comes over, leans in for a first kiss, and hears your son pitt-patting in the apartment above. He tries to ignore it, but he can’t help but think the father of her child is directly upstairs from us. You’re looking good tonight. And though you have little control over it, your charm has made an appearance. Still, nothing kills the moment like the footfalls of an ex on the floor above. Can they hear us, your date asks, panting. Not at all, your answer, kissing his neck. But I can hear them, he whispers. Yes, but not the words, right, just sounds? OK, he says. OK. The next time you meet, he says, let’s just be friends. The costs also include, at times, a magnification of your loneliness. It’s evening. You’re cooking and listening to podcasts as much for company as for stimulation. Otherwise, it’s unusually quiet in your apartment. Your ex has taken your son upstate for a few days. And there’s no one to beg you to play Minecraft. His girlfriend stayed behind. And you can hear her voice upstairs but not her words. Chances are good that she and your ex are talking. Intimacy, you are reminded, continues without you. So does love. You’re the odd one out. But you also get what you pay for because you love your child, because being the primary parent makes sense for your family, because your ex is still as hilarious as ever, because his girlfriend is kind, and fun, and playful with your child, because you choose love over hate and what works over needless suffering. You stretch your imagination, deviate from the script, resolve to better prepare future dates for the unusual situation. Accept that you would have to contend with loneliness either way. Honor new boundaries. And make up the guidelines as you go, even if you don’t have the words or the script. My son asks, am I sleeping here tonight. Yes. He’s sleeping downstairs with me, but he forgot his book. The child is the only one of us who has free run of the building. He runs to your ex’s apartment where the couple is at the kitchen table having dinner. You can hear his little voice and their mature voices respond. The camera pulls back. The building is like the set of a play where you can see through the fourth wall. Two people are having dinner at the kitchen table on the top floor. One is below, stage left, washing the dishes. You see a child running down the stairs, a book in hand.” [LIGHT MUSIC] Maya, what did that feel like to read? You did such a beautiful job. Well, to me, it’s pretty heartbreaking. But it also reminds me of the truth that in any situation, you choose your suffering. I can’t remember whose quote it is. I’m embarrassed. But loneliness is hard. Relationships are hard. You pick what kind of hard you prefer. And she clearly has chosen the kind of hard that actually welcomes a lot of love, and a little bit less loneliness, and less isolation, and paranoia, and demonization than the version that she describes from her parents’ generation. It’s actually lonelier to hate someone than it is to miss them. So choosing the pain of missing over the pain of hatred seems like a much better choice to me. But it’s still very moving. And it, I think, does a great job of not idealizing the conscious uncoupling or idealizing the relationship, but really showing the way that it is her best option. More from Maya Hawke after the break. Stay with us. [MUSICAL TONES] [THEME MUSIC] Maya, you just read a “Modern Love” essay by Jordana Jacobs, where she and her ex stay living in the same house even after they split up. As someone who experienced your own parents getting divorced, very publicly at that, when you were young, would this have been the dream situation for you, having your parents split up but not move apart? I think the dream situation is captured by the film “Parent Trap.” Secret twin. Yeah, secret twin, get your parents back together. But I think this would have been a pretty good secondary dream. I mean, I remember so many hard days and fights about packing your bag, and you forgot this medicine, and you have to go back and get it, and Sunday goodbyes. And then the whole day is gone because it’s all a transition day, where everyone is in strife. And I remember this funny conversation that I had with my dad where I wanted to go to a party with my friends. And he was like, but this is our weekend. This is our special time. This is our one weekend. And I was like, every weekend can’t be special. They’re all my weekends. And you get every other one, and my mom gets every other one. And I know that that’s hard. But that makes it so that every one of my weekends is special family time, and I need to build my friendships. This seems like a better way of being less possessive over your child and allowing your child to have some more consistency and normalcy in their life. Jordana’s living situation does seem like an unusually stable arrangement for her son. But in your case, you talked about all that stressful shuttling between your mom and your dad. How do you think that affected you as you got older? I think initially in my late teens and very early 20s, up until the pandemic sort of, and then I went through a big mental reset in that time period I think. But I was fixated on building my own family. I was completely obsessed with, I have to find a partner. And I have to get married. And I have to have kids really soon. And then we’ll have Christmas at my house. And everybody can be invited. And they can decide whether or not they want to come. And I’m going to be the home base. I’m going to take control over the concept of family by building my own and letting people meet me on my terms. And then thankfully, I did not get married and have a child. And instead, I was able to recalibrate and being like, I don’t need to build a family immediately. I don’t need to build a revenge family. I need to build a relationship to myself where I can be my own parent and where I don’t need reinforcements outside of myself. I need to reinforce myself. I’m very glad I don’t have a revenge family. I wonder if this shift that you’re talking about in your personal life also followed you into your creative life. Did it impact the roles you were taking or the songs you were writing? Well, I left school early. I dropped out of drama school. And I think that part of that decision had to do with the concept of revenge family. I want to be an adult. I don’t want to take money from anyone. I want a job. I want my own apartment. I’m adulting myself now. And I tried to do it young, and fast, and hard. And I think that I then, through the pandemic, actually allowed myself to be a kid. I moved back home. And I went back and forth from my parents’ homes during the pandemic on my own terms. And something healed, and my relationship to even my art became less like I have to make money. I have to be successful. I have to build this life into whoa, I actually love this. The reason that I wanted to go to drama school in the first place was because I love this work. And I love art. And I want to do it in the pandemic. I want to do it when no one’s watching. I want to read plays with my friends over the phone. And my kind of spark for my why I was doing what I was doing kind of healed in my letting myself be reparented. I’m so happy that you’re on the other side of that. And it sounds like you are really thriving creatively. I want to talk about your music now. You have a new album coming out in May. Yeah, yeah. It’s called “Chaos Angel.” And I know we can’t hear it yet. But because this is “Modern Love,” I have to ask, are there any love songs that we can look forward to on the album? Maybe the love song I’m most proud of writing is the title track, “Chaos Angel,” because there’s this thing that came into my head, which was all my relationships went in this pattern of crushes, romance, commitments, and then apologies. That song is a big love song about wanting to break out of that chaos loop and then kind of feeling like you do. I think I write mostly love songs about all different kinds of love. I mean, I remember when I learned how many of the most famous love songs were actually about people’s children — there’s a long list. Well, the album honestly sounds very “Modern Love.” Well, maybe it should become the official album of “Modern Love.” I think we should change the theme song. I think you’re totally right. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Maya, thank you so much. What a lovely conversation. I’m so glad I had the chance to talk to you today. Me, too. You rock. And your podcast rocks. And that story rocked. Thank you so much. [MUSIC PLAYING] Hey, listeners, be sure to check out Maya’s new album, “Chaos Angel” when it drops on May 31. Next week’s guest doesn’t make movies or write songs, but she’s turned couples therapy into an art form. You won’t want to miss my conversation with Esther Perel. We grow up learning to be silent about sex and never talk about it. And then suddenly, we are expected to talk about it with the person we love. “Modern Love” is produced by Julia Botero, Christina Djossa, Reva Goldberg, Davis Land, and Emily Lang. It’s edited by our executive producer Jen Poyant. The “Modern Love” theme music is by Dan Powell. Original music by Marion Lozano, Pat McCusker, Rowan Niemisto and Dan Powell. This episode was mixed by Daniel Ramirez. Our show was recorded by Maddy Masiello. Digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly. The “Modern Love” column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of “Modern Love” projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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