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Eat, Play, Fall in Love (with Yourself) All Over Again

by Tammi Leader
 ∙ Jul 17 ∙ 8 Min Read

Tammi in Italy

I was bummed to hear that Elizabeth Gilbert is divorcing her second husband — the one she fell head-over-heels in love with after eating, praying and loving her way across the globe a decade ago. Back then, Gilbert’s bestselling book resonated so deeply with me and my posse of stressed-out, working mommies who hung on every word of her happily ever after. Up to our own ears in overwhelm, kids and carpools, none of us really had the cojones (or the funds) to run away from home as she did.  But a few of us would have if we could have.  But we all envied her, big time.

When I was 24, a year out of college, I did get a taste of this “Eat, Pray, Love” thing, but looking back, I was too young to really appreciate it. I had worked hard to break into the uber-competitive TV news biz, but I wasn’t ready to jump into the real world yet, so I fled my life — and abruptly left  the man whom I had no idea I would eventually marry — to live in Martinique at Club Med for a while.  A long while.

It was 1983 and on this magnificently hedonistic island in the Caribbean, I ate and I played and I partied and  (almost) learned another language. My job? Teaching European vacationers this new American thing called “aerobics” on the beach all day.  After the sun went down, I loved pretty hard on a few European Mr. Right-Now’s…which was fun.  The pure decadence of my Club Med experience toppled the entire learning curve as I knew it back then.

I was happier than I’d ever been, energized and confident and loving life with a passion I had never felt before. But you can’t “gallivant around the world forever,” as my dad (who sent me to college) would remind me every few weeks via snail mail.

So after a wild and crazy year, ever the responsible one, I convinced myself it was time to wake up, grow up, and go home to marry and have babies with the sweet and adorable established guy…the American lawyer waiting for me to get this whole travel-the -world thing out of my system. So I did.

Thirty something years later, I was an unfulfilled, divorced TV Producer/workaholic mom who’d poured my life into my two incredible daughters. Yes, I had fallen in love again after my divorce, but after a few years, that fizzled, and dating took a back seat to getting my girls grounded, then off and running. In early 2008, in an attempt to figure out my life, I planned a fabulously indulgent trip to the Amalfi Coast with my mom and my oldest daughter (who’s now my Campowerment sidekick). It was in the Rome airport where I picked up “Eat, Pray, Love” , just cuz I thought it would be a fun, easy read.

Under striped umbrellas in some chichi Italian beach clubs on the Mediterranean coast, I read that book in two days, inhaling every word. Gilbert was speaking to me, firing me up,  tapping my shoulder, trying  to reawaken the passionate, adventurous girl I used to be. But back then, I was not in a good place. My energy was heavy and I spent the whole trip lamenting some bad decisions, and so I went home kind of resigned to the idea that the real fun and exciting part of my life was already behind me. My mojo had gone AWOL but it didn’t much matter, because I was just trying to focus on bringing some joy back to my life.  Like so many of us who feel stuck and alone, I needed a change. I think that’s why Gilbert’s book really spoke to me that summer.

Six months later, on the brink of 50, I was drowning and knew it was time to flee again, and try to create my very own, big-girl version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s story . And so, my very best friend, a hot-shot Hollywood Producer, created a big TV job for me, and I moved to California to create a brand new life for myself. Unfortunately,  my mojo remained on hiatus, and for seven years, my well ran dry.

I didn’t date much, though it probably didn’t help that I lived in West Hollywood, an amazing mecca for gay men but not so much for grown women looking for straight love  (whoops). And though I liked LA and was happier in my life than I had been in a long time, I had just about given up on finding a partner. 

And then something crazy happened: I made a drastic career switch, and left TV to create Campowerment, life changing sleepaway-camp-inspired weekend retreats I designed to help women live life better. I brought in some very wise Experts who had impressed and inspired me over decades as a Producer, and blended this game-changing program with the fun & games of kids’ overnight camp. I spent three years helping thousands of women reboot their lives in Malibu and the mountains of the Northeast, but what I really needed, though I didn’t know it at the time, was to jump-start my own.

I wanted a Chapter 3, to fall in back in love with the old, fun-loving me, and shake things up one more time, in a new and different way. Naturally, I wasn’t sure how to do that, so I took a blind step and moved out of the city and off to the beach, south of LA. Started inhaling the cool ocean breezes, and exercising outside every day, and my flailing batteries slowly began to recharge. I could actually feel the energy of the twenty-something me re-emerging, and I was totally into her.

And then, my BFF came through again, and scored me an invitation to be part of a TV production that would take me back to Italy’s Amalfi Coast this summer. I was over the moon about returning to the place where I fantasized my way through “Eat, Pray, Love.”  Eight years had passed, and I had worked hard to let go of a lot of crap I’d been holding onto. I was trying to stay open to bringing something new into my life, whatever that meant.  By the time we landed last Saturday at this magnificently beautiful hilltop Villa overlooking Sorrento,  between the Gulfs of Naples and Salerno, just by virtue of being in Italy, something inside me started to come alive again. What happened over the next few days really is what books are written about.

Yes, I had a thing with the adorable Italian owner of this indescribable slice of paradise, and yes, it was a blast. Yes, he really was once a race car driver before turning his family’s palatial estate into a very high end, private resort, where guests arrive by helicopter and every fresh, homemade meal is one I would choose as my last. Yes, we fell for each other and yes, it was a lot like Ms. Gilbert’s story, from the dangerously fast, hairpin turns on the scooter where I held on for dear life, to the shared sunsets overlooking Mount Vesuvius and the anchovy fisherman tossing their nets into the Bay of Naples. He taught me how to make pasta and REAL coffee and to drink grappa. From him, I learned how to climb a walnut tree and find the ripest eggplant in the garden.. Yes, this delicious Italian man helped me excavate the fun-loving 24-year-old buried inside me who once savored every minute of a life lived so voraciously., so very long ago.

And (only) because I allowed myself to be vulnerable this time, at age 56, I found a confidence and comfort in my own skin that I didn’t even know was available anymore. I am finally ready to map out a plan for s’more passion-filled tomorrows because I now remember what I’ve been missing.

No, I will not be running away to Italy to be with the hot Italian race car driver turned Innkeeper. (I’ve got a camp and a movement to run!) I’m not even sure I want to stay in touch with him. I’m just going home saying “grazie” for the memories…and the wake up call.

Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I fell back in love (but with ME!),  in one of the most romantic places on Earth. In the manuscript that is my life, I hope the Italian love story that revealed itself last week will help jump-start the beginning of my happily ever after. Chapter 3?  We’re already two pages in.


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