Omelettes and bad breath: The Lisa Ray guide to falling — and staying — in love
What’s more romantic than a trip to the Maldives?
Lisa Ray is part cat. Not just because of those jaguar eyes, but because she’s already lived through nine lives. The half-Polish, half-Bengali school girl growing up in Canada, as exotic as turmeric almond latte. The teenage model in Mumbai rebelling against her middle-class family who would never do anything “as disreputable as posing nanga in front of a camera in a towel.” The actor playing a young widow forced into prostitution in the Oscar-nominated Water. The nomad unceremoniously rooted by a cancer diagnosis. The health blogger who hates the word ‘blog’. The harrowed mom trying to get her twin toddlers across the Indian Ocean without pissing off an airplane full of people. The writer. The activist. And judging by our conversation full of quotable quotes worthy of a pre-Ma Sheela Osho, philosopher.
When Close To The Bone released a few months ago, Ray’s unfiltered memoir was an attempt “to challenge society’s assumptions about what lies behind the make-up and face of a so-called ‘celebrity’.” Like battling an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. “I was living in Paris at the time and my Italian boyfriend recognised the signs as he was a fashion photographer,” she recalls. Where the world lauded her good looks, Ray only saw flaws. “And at its core, unworthiness. Mental health was far from discussion then and was shrouded in shame and silence. Even after a few interventions, it took me years of contemplation, meditation and self-love to recognise my innate worth and power.”
If personal hurdles build emotional strength, then Lisa Ray is basically The Hulk. A multiple myeloma diagnosis in her 30s was, in many ways, her rebirth; changing not just the way the world viewed her but also the way she looked at herself. “I believe I am healthier, more vibrant, prettier and more powerful today at 47—and living with an incurable disease- than when I was at the height of my so-called sensual appeal and beauty in the 20s,” she says.
Lisa Ray, the realistic romantic
It helps to have a partner to hold your hand — or your hair, if you’re throwing up after trying psychedelics. Ray’s husband Jason Dehni is her Betty Banner, walking into her life after her first round of cancer.“I studied Ayurveda, met shamans, pranic healers, sought out acupuncturists and took part in a sacred plant medicine ceremony where I ingested DMT. And Jason was with me every step of the way, though this was a world unfamiliar and somewhat weird for him,” she says. “He’s been my rock. Even as I believed in my healing, it was his support that paved the way.”
Marriage is hard enough without throwing a cancer-shaped wrench into the works. I ask Ray about the things, big and small, that she and Dehni consciously do to keep the romance alive.
“You know, Jason is a classic romantic—the flowers, the intimate dinners and spontaneous beachside getaways—and yet when we met, I told him that I was done with the sugar rush, the adrenalised roller coaster of rose-tinted interactions that marks the beginning of a romance,” Ray explains. “I wanted to cut directly to real life. I wanted to bypass this and go straight to mornings of omelettes and bad breath and understanding what the everyday would be like together.”
Much like in bed, you have to take turns being the one on top. Dehni dutifully accompanies her on annual spiritual retreats, she reciprocates by engaging with the Savile Row suits and CEOs which she used to “loathe and run from.” Grand gestures of affection are pulled from the practical handbook on love only working moms will understand. “The most romantic thing Jason does for me is protect me from interruptions when I’m trying to write or to create. It’s not easy with kids, but my husband lobbies for my creative spaces and it means so much more than a surprise trip to the Maldives.”
Couple communication 101
In a life partnership where cancer is an unshakeable third wheel, Ray’s optimism is hard-earned. “We almost divorced at one point—until we realised we have to change the way we communicate. Words matter. They can cut and sting and soothe. So we said to each other: it’s not whether this can work or not, it’s how can we make it work?”
Take time to enjoy your individual pursuits but also nurture your coupledom—it’s the happy marriage mantra Ray swears by. And for stormy days, that working mom practicality keeps her sane. “Here’s the thing: only dead people never get stressed. Never get broken hearts. Never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Learning to live with and even to become friendly with tough emotions are part of the recipe to contentment,” Ray insists. “That and chocolate.”