Meg Ryan is an American actress and producer who made her name in the 80s and 90s for starring in romantic comedy films. She began her acting career in 1981, appearing in minor roles, before joining the cast of the CBS soap opera As the World Turns in 1982. She appeared in the box office hit Top Gun in the 1980s before garnering widespread attention and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.

A slate of romantic comedy appearances followed in the 1990s, and early 2000s. She made appearances in other film genres, but she is mostly remembered for her rom-com prowess. Meg made her directorial debut in 2015’s Ithaca.

Meg’s dissociation with the limelight started following the biased coverage of her affair with Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan
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Meg and Russell Crowe met on the set of the 2000 thriller Proof of Life. The pair had a romantic arc in the film, and as it later turned out, their romance spilled into real life. Crowe and Meg made their relationship public in July 2000, following months of speculation. The relationship faced intense tabloid coverage as Meg was married to Dennis Quaid. 

The news came out just as Quaid filed for divorce. In tabloid articles, Meg was villainized for her alleged infidelity. Meg had built her image on a squeaky clean persona; she was the type of Hollywood star that didn’t attract negative press. Her dalliance with Russell Crowe, however, changed everything. 

Meg earned the label of the ‘Scarlet Woman’, in reference to the 1850 book The Scarlet Letter, which featured a woman shunned and shamed by society for committing adultery. The coverage altered the public’s perception of her. She told The Guardian:

“It was in the One Aldwych Hotel. This thing happened [her affair] and I was all over the tabloids and I walked through the lobby and the place stopped. People stopped talking and stared at me.”

Ryan reacted by getting in the elevator and laughing the episode off. The media painted Meg as an adulterer, but she explained that Quaid was the unfaithful one. “Dennis was not faithful to me for a long time,” she told InStyle. Quaid, on the other hand, said that he felt neglected and ignored by Meg. “I have to admit it, I actually feel like I disappeared,” Dennis told ET Canada.

In an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Meg described her marriage as ‘very unhealthy.’ “I probably should have left earlier,” she added. Ryan eventually learned to ignore the fabricated stories about her. Meg told The New York Times:

“It’s a real gift when you know you can’t ever really manage an image or a story and you stop caring. I felt the effect, like I was the bad guy or whatever the story was. But I remember letting go of needing to correct anybody. Divorce is hard. Love is hard. The complexity of a life or a marriage is never going to exist in a headline or a tabloid.”

Meg’s maligned performance in In the Cut further ruined her association with fame

As Meg grew older, she found that the offers coming to her differed from the offers she’d gotten in her 20s and 30s. “I’m sure the same opportunities did not present themselves in my 40s that did in my 30s and 20s,” she said. Meg had been a full-time actor since the early 80s, and by the time the early 2000s rolled in, she’d started craving for something different. 

She started to see fame as a hindrance to living a full life. “It was never about people being mean; it’s that I couldn’t move,” she explained. “I would sort of duck and cover, and that wasn’t what I wanted.” Meg’s career also prevented her from spending time with her son, Jack. The straw that probably broke the camel’s back was her maligned performance in In the Cut. 

People couldn’t wrap their heads around ‘America’s sweetheart’s’ nude appearance in the film. Meg faced vicious attacks from critics who felt that she wasn’t meant for that type of role. “I’d never presented myself like that before; it was so different from my assigned archetype,” Meg explained. “Yeah, ‘In the Cut’ felt like a real turning point.”

The reaction forced Meg to rethink her role in Hollywood. “I felt like that might’ve been the last movie I did,” she explained. ‘I was surprised by the negative reaction.” Her 2004 appearance in Against the Ropes also faced criticism. Hollywood was done with her, and so was she with its glitz and glam. “I felt done when they felt done.”

Meg took a step back from acting to raise her son and adopted daughter Daisy True. It also gave her time to travel, attend TED conferences, and write. Ryan still has Hollywood ties, but her work mostly involves production and writing. “I think at heart I’m a writer,” she said. 

“When you are an actor, you’re a cog,” she said in an interview. “When you produce, you understand the gears. I’m in first gear now.”

Ryan feels that she wouldn’t make it as an actor if she launched her career in the social media era

Meg will perhaps always feel that the world maltreated her at the time of her affair with Russell Crowe. She told The New York Times that she’d never cared for people’s opinions until they told her and Crowe’s story wrong:

“That was another big turning point in my evolution. I’d never felt like I was all that concerned with what people thought of me, but then that story [of the affair] never got told right.”

Ryan felt sympathy for Crowe as she ended things with him prematurely: she wasn’t ready for a long-term relationship so soon after a divorce. 

“I think he took a big hit,” Meg told InStyle. “But Russell didn’t break up the marriage. He was definitely there at the end, but it wasn’t his fault. I hurt him, too, at the end. I couldn’t be in another long relationship, it wasn’t the time for that. So I got out.”

Meg felt like everyone’s eyes were upon her at a time when people didn’t have as much access to information as they do now. All the stories and misinformation about the affair exhausted Meg. “I didn’t feel like I knew enough anymore about myself or the world to reflect it as an actor,” she said. 

Ryan had it rough, and she feels that it would have been worse in the social media age. She told Vanity Fair that she couldn’t handle the constant scrutiny from the internet:

“If I started my career today, I wouldn’t have a chance. Social media has changed things. It’s so vast and big. I couldn’t handle the constant attention and judging.”

Meg ended her engagement to John Mellencamp in October 2019

John Mellencamp and Meg Ryan
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Meg’s time off from acting allowed her to find love in singer John Mellencamp. John and Ryan were first linked in 2011. They broke up in 2014, before reconciling later that year, and breaking up again in 2015. They reunited in 2017 and got engaged in November 2018.

“ENGAGED!” Meg captioned an Instagram drawing of the pair. Nearly a year after getting engaged, the couple called it off. Rumors of a breakup sparked after Meg was spotted without her engagement ring. “She’d had enough and ended [their engagement],” a source told Us Weekly. “She has no regrets.”

In her interview with The New York Times, Meg questioned whether anyone ever gets relationships right. She described it as something built for aliens:

“What’s great about now is that John and I are so free to have fun. Maybe that freedom is about being a million years old. But I sometimes think relationships are for aliens. Who does it? Who can do it? I don’t know how any of us ever do.”