Elizabeth Leonard
February 02, 2015 12:00 PM

EXCLUSIVE People EXCLUSIVE

Jennifer Lopez is in her bedroom, nestled under a cozy blanket by the fireplace, when two excited voices call from the downstairs hall of her sprawling hillside home in L.A. “Mommmaaa!” shouts her 6-year-old son Max as he and his twin sister, Emme, bound into the front hall from after-school piano lessons. “I’m up here, baby!” Lopez yells back. The children pad up the curving grand staircase and make a beeline for their mother to talk about their day: the music lesson, what’s for dinner (Chinese chicken and vegetables), the name of Emme’s new stuffed pig (Christmas Carol).

It’s all refreshingly wholesome, right down to the limited “screen time” the kids are allowed (only on weekends and regular FaceTime chats with their father, Marc Anthony, from whom Lopez separated in 2011). “In two months it’s my birthday, and I’ll be 7,” says Emme. “Then I’ll be 8 and then 9, then 10, then 11—and when I’m 12, I get to play with my electronics more!”

Any kid will tell you waiting for what you really, really want can be hard. Turns out it’s not so easy for adults either—even if they are world-famous, rich and so stunning at 45 that it must be sorcery. Lopez, who stars in the thriller The Boy Next Door, out Jan. 23, admits that when it comes to love, patience hasn’t been her strength. “I always found my comfort in another person,” says the star. But three marriages and a breakup with dancer Beau “Casper” Smart last spring have taught her, the hard way, to be all right with being alone. “Instead of giving myself time to heal and be on my own, I was so afraid to be alone that I was always like, ‘Okay, somebody else just come in here and help me forget I’m in so much pain.’ ”

Meet Jennifer Lopez: a surprisingly down-to-earth superstar and hands-on mother who, for the first time in her life, is quite content being single. After splitting with Smart, Lopez took a break from romance and hasn’t looked back. She is as disciplined as always about her career—her packed schedule includes American Idol judging, producing the ABC Family sitcom The Fosters, writing a bestselling memoir, singing, dancing and acting. But Max and Emme come first, and for all her success, she is raising two polite, unspoiled 6-year-olds. And men? Well, she’s not giving up on them. “I’m open to possibilities,” a laid-back Lopez says during a visit to her rambling mansion with panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley. But it turns out life is great as it is. “Listen, at the end of the day, love is the best thing,” she says. “But what I’ve discovered is that I can’t get that from somebody else. It’s the love inside me, for myself, that will help me through.”

After her marriage to Anthony fell apart (their divorce was finalized in June 2014) and her relationship with Smart ended, Lopez was alone for the first time in her life.

It was awful. But I had to make a commitment to myself to be alone: no flirting. No possibility of anything. No boys in any way, shape or form. I said, “I’m shutting it down.” I’d never been alone. I grew up sleeping in a bed with my two sisters. When I became famous, I was surrounded by people and always had a boyfriend or a husband or some relationship, one after the other. At night I said to myself, “You’re not working, the kids are asleep, what do you like to do, Jen?” I didn’t know. It was always, “What does he want to do? What do the kids want to do?” It was very eye- opening to me to spend time completely by myself. I was terrified of being alone: The idea that we are alone in this world, we were born alone, we die alone—it sent panic through my body. I said, “I have to face this fear,” and I did.

She also faced her past mistakes.

It’s hard to change our patterns, but when things are not working, you have to look at yourself and ask why. I wanted my relationships to go well, but they were not. There were times when I was just crying to myself: “I hate this, I hate being alone.” But the goal was not to be alone forever. The goal was to be okay on my own so I can make good choices. When I’m afraid, I just make a silly choice. My [relationship pattern] was, “Come on in. It doesn’t matter how you treat me or what you do. I’m going to accept it because I am so afraid that there will be nobody here.”

But I think in our 20s and 30s we’re meant to explore and make a ton of mistakes. And then by our 40s we come more full circle and figure things out. I would have loved for my marriage in my 20s [to chef Ojani Noa in 1997] to last till I died, but I see that maybe that was too early. I had more things to learn, and he had more things to learn. And [same with] the next person I married [actor-choreographer Cris Judd in 2001]. And that’s okay. I think we get to a point in our lives where we figure out who we are and then we’re great for somebody else. Until then it’s going to be a struggle.

Heartbreak hasn’t made her cynical.

I still believe in the fairy tale. The more I work on myself, the more I give myself the opportunity to share a really deep and meaningful relationship that can give me my fairy tale and last forever. I believe in marriage; I believe that two people can commit to each other and share a life together. But my main relationship is with myself, and when I’m happy on my own, it will allow for something great to happen.

I have to remind myself not to settle. I know what I have to offer and what I have to give in a relationship. And if I’m going to share my amazing kids and my amazing life and my amazing love, then it has to be amazing in return…. I’m single. I was definitely on lockdown for a while, and now I’m open. But I’m not rushing into anything in any way, shape or form, and I’m not looking.

But she’s keeping her standards high.

Honesty is really important. I’m looking for someone who is like-minded and respectful, conscious of someone else’s feelings and loves themselves enough to have a healthy relationship; someone who will allow me to be myself 100 percent completely and will love me for that person. I don’t care [if they’re famous]. I think they should have their own life, because the world I have around me can be overwhelming. Bringing someone into the kids’ lives is going to be a huge deal. I think, “Are you good enough for my kids? Are you loving enough? Are you kind enough?”

Nothing is more important than being a mom.

I know everybody feels this way about their kids, but I just feel like they’re superspecial. I can’t wait to see what they do, and I feel like my job is to not mess them up too much. It’s unconditional love. I’m trying to stay close to Emme so she feels like she can say anything to me. I remember having that separation from my mom, becoming a teenager and feeling like she didn’t understand me. It happens to everybody, but I don’t want to think about it! With Emme I feel like learning to take care of her and her emotions teaches me how to take care of myself. Having kids made me understand men better too. Having twins and seeing how Max handles things differently than Emme even though they’re at the same level of development, same age and have the same family. Guys just think different! I kept thinking they think like me! But they don’t. All those crazy insights are like lightbulbs going off in your head with them.

On Friday nights we’ll do a sleepover, and we’ll watch a movie together in my bed and they’ll stay up until around 9:30. They get in sleeping bags on the floor. They are doing really great. Marc and I have a good rapport. We know the kids are the most important thing, and we fill in for each other where the other needs. Yesterday they were in their rooms, and they were playing with the nanny and the manny—Max has a manny now because I felt like he was surrounded by women all the time and missing that male energy—and they were hanging out and they were just happy. I was like, “I have two happy, healthy kids, so okay, good, then we’re doing all right!” That felt really, really good…. I don’t know that it’s in the cards for me because of my age, but I would love to have another baby, to be blessed one more time. I’d love to have twins again. I was thinking about that last night when I was lying in bed with Emme. I was just loving the moment. I don’t know that it’s in the cards, but you never know!

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