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Her Midlife Miracle

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The middle of three sisters, Cross grew up in Marlborough, MA, about 40 miles from Boston: "All my friends were, like, ‘When I get married, I'm going to have my bridesmaids wear mint-green dresses.' But all I wanted was to be an actress and go to New York."

And so she did, after graduating half a year ahead of her high school class. She got into Juilliard and stayed at a YMCA until she found an apartment with a classmate. "I saw my first cockroaches and hookers," Cross says. "I was in heaven!" Regional theater, roles on soap operas ( The Edge of Night , One Life to Live ), and guest appearances on TV series led her to Hollywood, where she landed her breakout role on Melrose Place in 1992.

A few years before, she had started a relationship with Richard Jordan, a Harvard-educated actor 24 years her senior. Asked about the age difference, Cross says now, "You can always go to the father-daughter thing, and I'm sure that was part of it. But it was a wonderful teaching thing where he got the awe of a young girl and I got the benefit of everything he knew in his life." Five years after they met, Jordan died of a brain tumor, having been nursed by his daughter and Cross. "He died in my bed," Cross says quietly, "and I learned a lot about the kind of person I was. And as young as I was, taking care of him the way I did, giving him a good death, gave me some pride that I'd done something good, which I still feel."

Understandably, Jordan's death derailed her. After she left Melrose Place, Cross took a break from acting and went back to school in Los Angeles. In 2002, about the time she received her M.A., she had a relationship with a musician whom she declines to name, "a wonderful artist but not a family man." The interlude led her to do some soul-searching. "Why was I choosing these men who were not interested in commitment?" she asks. "What was I afraid of?"

Over the next year, she dated widely. Without using her own photo or name, she even went on a match.com date—but no luck. Eventually, despairing thoughts began to creep into her head: "For women of a certain age, how do you meet a guy, fall in love, and decide he's the right man to have children with? Your clock's ticking, you're looking at him, and it's a crazy, pressure-filled experience."

No crazier than the way she eventually did meet Mr. Right. It was December 2004, in Los Angeles, and, Cross says, "there I was again, all alone for the holidays." As she was crossing a street near her home, she found herself taken with the stride and demeanor of the man walking in front of her, even though she could barely see his face. "I thought maybe there was some reason why I found him so magnetic, like maybe he was an actor and I'd recognize him as soon as he turned around," Cross recalls. She followed him into a flower shop, but didn't get up the nerve to approach him or even get a good look at him before he left with his purchase. Curious, Cross asked the woman behind the counter if the man was anyone famous. No, the woman said, he wasn't, but did Cross want to leave her number in case he came in again? Yes, she did.

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