Jane Fonda's Aha! Moment

Photo: Getty ImagesPhoto: Getty ImagesI always had a penchant for falling in love. Every time I found myself without a mate, I fell into a state of low-sizzling panic. I was so devastated by my second divorce that I had a nervous breakdown. That was when Ted [Turner, Fonda's third husband] first asked me out. But in January 2000, when Ted and I separated, something felt different.

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Right after we decided to part ways, Ted flew me to Atlanta to stay at my daughter Vanessa's house. She was in Paris, so I spent my first two weeks at her house alone. In the past, I'd always tried to stay busy to avoid hurting, but this time I knew I needed to be still for a while. So I raked leaves in her yard, read, and went for long walks. On my third day there, I was in a tiny bedroom with my golden retriever, Roxy, when suddenly it hit me: "I don't need a man to feel whole." In my marriages, I'd lost parts of who I was because I was trying to mold myself into what I thought a man wanted me to be. But in that moment, I felt all those pieces flying back together.

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After that, nine busy years passed without a relationship. I wasn't even looking. Instead, I worked on myself. I thought about what I wanted to continue with, and what I wanted to change. I discovered a new métier in writing, and published my memoirs. When I was finished, I was a lot clearer about who I was. I knew with more certainty that there was a "there" there. That bolstered me.

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In 2009 I heard that Richard Perry, a music producer I'd met years ago, wanted to reconnect with me. I was excited. I thought, "I'm not looking to get married, but this could be fun." And it is.

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At 73 I'm essentially shacking up-and I wouldn't have it any other way. I recently made two movies; I'm writing; I go away by myself. I have my own life, and Richard doesn't care that I don't share every single aspect of it with him. I'm not losing myself in this relationship. I'm bringing myself-the real Jane-and he's giving me his real self, too. Richard and I have an emotional intimacy I've never experienced before, because we're both coming into this relationship whole. We don't censor ourselves, or leave what we think may not be good enough outside, on the porch.

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I don't know what will happen this year or next-where I'll be living or where our relationship will be. But that doesn't terrify me the way it would have years ago. I have a confidence about my life that comes from standing tall on my own two feet.

As told to Crystal G. Martin

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