05/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dumped by Answering Machine During the 1996 Oscars

I cannot watch an Academy Awards ceremony without remembering the crazy way a boyfriend ended our relationship on Oscar night in 1996. It's one thing to end a good relationship, and another to end it the way he did.

This was during my heavy dating period which started in 1995 and ended with my marriage to a wonderful man in 1998. I was in the fast-track NYC dating scene, holding my own after a long marriage and two immediate long relationships.

Let's call him Mark. He was everything I wanted, then. Think Chris Noth. And the beginning, high point and low point of the relationship all fell on memorable days which I remember every time those days come around.

--- Our relationship was consummated on New Year's Eve. Quite a countdown.

--- It climaxed so to speak in the limo from the airport in Lanai to the lodge there on Valentine's Day, with a necklace placed around my neck. Mark was a golfer, and his dream was to play the best Hawaiian courses in the world, adjacent to some of the best resorts in the world. And he took me along for a couple of romantic weeks.

Lucky me. I was smitten. I wrote him a long, mushy Valentine poem. Mistake.

---The relationship ended during Oscar night. We were supposed to have dinner at my place and watch the show together. Instead, that afternoon I got a message on my answering machine (Remember machines. The ones that garbled messages.)

I thought the message said. "Sorry, I won't be able to see you tonight. I do want to be with you. I know you'll understand."

Except I wasn't sure that it was "do" want to be with you, not "don't."

I played this message over and over. There was a pause and a garbled grunt that might have been "don't." But I wasn't sure. I rationalized it was a positive message. Why wouldn't he want to be with me? We got along great in every way.

I brought in my girlfriend Jane, who lived in the cottage I rented out behind my house. She listened carefully to the tape and decided it was "do," not "don't," and that he wanted to be with me but couldn't that night, and he knew I'd be understanding. (She thought we were perfectly matched, so she probably wasn't the best person to ask.)

I was distraught. Was it over or not? I had to call him up an find out. I finally did it during the Oscars, when Frances McDormand had just accepted her best actress award in Fargo.

"I got your voice message. Did you say you don't want to be with me or you do? I couldn't tell."

"I don't. I'm sorry. I just don't want to commit. We were getting too serious. And we're too much alike."

"What's wrong with being alike? We have a great rapport."

That poem I wrote him must have scared him! "But how could you dump me on an answering machine, just like that?

"I was afraid you'd cry, Lea."

My friend was there to comfort me, and I did cry. The Oscar show went on and we watched The English Patient, a tragic love story, win as best picture. I later wrote Mark a (lost) poem about being dumped on voice mail. It wasn't mushy.

The man who ended the relationship with me on Oscar night has been in a long-term relationship with the ex-wife of a famous liberal columnist for many years now. He still lives in his own apartment, last I heard. We have since made up and I have written about my trip to Hawaii with him in my book.

So when the best actress award comes up this Sunday--14 years later-- I will be thinking of the moment I found out I was dumped, as I do every year.

To paraphrase Sally Field winning her best actress award, I guess back then "he didn't like me. He really didn't like me." And he had a gutless way of telling me. But I got over it, and have done much better since thank you very much. In fact, I'll be watching this weekend's Oscar ceremony with a man who really loves me.

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