We sat around the dining room table, chewing on the remains of scones and a fruit platter. The Zoom version of our writers group ended and a discussion of its topic lingered a short while after. But of course, as conversations goes, it turned to the inevitable, at least in this group.
Husbands. Isn’t it nice to get away from them for a weekend?
This casual remark, made by a friend of mine I’ll call Demeter, was meant as a lighthearted comment. The usual knowing nods and laughs came from the others around the table.
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t have one,” I said, without the slightest bit of rancor.
Eyes on me. Awkward silence.
Demeter continues, “I just meant it’s nice to get away.”
“Sure, sure,” I said, stuffing the remains of a blueberry scone in my mouth.
I’m hosting a few writers over my house this holiday weekend. My house needs guests on occasion, if nothing else to remind me I am quite sociable when necessary. And who doesn’t relish the company of those who share your craft?
Except I’m the only one who happens to be single.
This small gathering of women consists of very long marriages. Two women were together with their husbands since they were teens, and the other wed in her early twenties. We’re all on either side of sixty. For the vast majority of their lives, they’ve been legally connected to a man. Two have children, three, if you count me. Their lives all revolve around their families, their husbands. To be fair, all have careers and two are multipublished. But it seemed to me none of them understood what it meant to be single.
I was the foreigner.
We took a drive to a nearby town to visit a makers market. All sorts of artisans set up tents in the town park. It’s a good chance to purchase some early holiday presents and say hello to friends. The woman who runs it is my friend, so I’m supporting her as well. I came across another one of my very dear friends, whose fiancé died tragically a short time ago. Considering this, she managed to look glamorous as she wandered past the vendors. Yet this is a woman who is also a foreigner, because she’s been single more years than memory almost serves. And now, fate made her single once more.
We get each other. We’ve figured out how to navigate this landscape of mid-life singledom. Our lives continue whether or not we’re connected to another’s, because it has to. Having a significant someone is a bonus, not a necessity. When pipes burst or sickness strikes, there’s no one else to help us shoulder the burden. It’s all on us.
But with my friends? They’re resourceful, intelligent women. Each of their others have faced challenges I haven’t. Yet they’ve not lived on their own for the length of their lengthy marriages. I’ve wondered what they’d do if suddenly they found that their “we” became an “I.” A couple of them don’t even know how to pump gas. That they can’t do that simple thing completely mystifies me.
They also don’t quite understand how I manage my life, alone. I’ve been told as much. Not in a vindictive way, but in truth. Their identities are comingled with marriage, with being a Mrs., with changing their last names and sharing a bed. Sympathy for my current situation is real, yet empathy is elusive.
What ultimately saved me is I didn’t marry until forty, and, suddenly single in my fifties, I pulled out the old independent hibernating self. Never easy to use skills that went slack over time. Kind of frightening, to be truthful.
Yet the vindication came this weekend, at that vendor fair, when my dear friend who ran the event jumped from behind her table, ran over and gave me a bear hug. She, too, had just weathered a tragedy. “You’re so strong, after what you’ve been through, I need you right now to help me get back into my writing. I need to do that soooo much!” this friend said, her eyes glossy with tears.
“Of course I’m here for you,” I say to my friend. “And your manuscript too.”
She laughs and we make plans. More visitors come to her booth and I give her a parting smile. Sometimes all it takes is a few sincere words to sooth the pain.
Gathering strength to get oneself through that loaded shitstorm of divorce, death and job loss sure does have benefits. It’s not that you’ve managed to find another man to marry, or revenge date.
It’s that you built another you, one that grew and thrived in spite of life’s unexpected maelstroms.