“How long have you been divorced?” I asked Barbara, who stood next to me at the mixer. “I’ve never been married,” the attractive, elegant woman whispered, and at my surprised expression, continued. “Whenever I tell people this, I feel like I’m admitting to being an ex-con.”
Well, I was married for 26 years and have been divorced for almost three, and I can relate. Being thrust into the world of middle-aged singlehood is like trying to get into a pair of thong panties. It feels awkward, looks even worse, and hits you right where you’re most vulnerable.
My first foray was a religious singles group. Although many people there were close to my age, they acted much older and seemed resigned to fading gently into the world of gray hair, bad knees, and visits to the MCL cafeteria. They were exuberantly friendly, but it was the kind of attention you get when you walk into a nursing home to visit an elderly relative.
Recently they sent me an e-mail inviting me to a program on “Changing Living Arrangements.” What was next? I wondered. A field trip to the Cleveland Casket company?
Other well-meaning friends have suggested that I try online dating services, something called “It’s Just Lunch!” and speed dating, which basically involves sitting down and talking to a member of the opposite sex for two to five minutes, stopping in midconversation at the ring of the bell and then moving on to the next potential soul mate. All of which had about as much appeal to me as cleaning the cat box. In fact, I’d rather do the latter because at least I don’t feel akin to a single-family dwelling that’s back on the market.
Finally, I found the Columbus Ski Club. This organization, which consists of both married people and singles, sponsors all kinds of sports activities, ski, and other trips, parties, and Friday happy hours at bars and restaurants. Since I love to play tennis and enjoy socializing, it seemed like a good match.
And it was. The people in my tennis league arranged to sit together at a Halloween party, which is where I finally met a single man I found interesting. Although the world is full of nice men, a good portion of them are married, and even if it’s unhappily so, that’s not a place I care to visit. This man was friendly and mentioned that he’d see me at the mixer the following week. We even knew some people in common.
The next few days were like high school all over again. Should I buy a dress or shoes? Would I recognize him? (Everyone had worn costumes.) Finally, I settled on a new blouse, which seemed like a good compromise.
The fateful night arrived and the mystery man entered the room. I walked up to him with a big smile and started talking, drawing on my somewhat rusty flirting skills. When he excused himself from the conversation and said he would see me later, I remained unfazed, returning to my tennis friends and dancing. When it happened the second time with another promise about later, and he walked over to another table and asked a trim thirtysomething with streaked hair to dance, I got the hint. I was devastated.
I wanted to go back to my apartment and cry. I felt as though I’d acted like a fool, although I knew on a rational level that I probably hadn’t. Perhaps this was punishment because I’d been so picky about men and critical when my divorced friends ended up with guys who weren’t interested in sex or had been married four times before. How I’d disparaged the well-to-do widow who looked the other way as her new spouse eagerly mingled his limited finances with her healthy bank account and investments.
Then I got mad. Who was this guy to reject me? I was hardly the desperate and dateless type, grasping at every chance to go out with anyone, wondering when I was going to meet a guy who would “take care” of me. No, thank you. I spent 26 years thinking that someone already was. I fully intend to take care of myself, spending every extra penny on getting certification as a medical writer and finishing two books.
Then I realized the situation was like seeing a great-looking leather skirt. Although it held promise on the hanger, once tried on, it was an unmitigated disaster. It wasn’t the clothing’s fault, or the guy’s—although he could have used a little more finesse. At this point in our lives, most of us have an interior buzzer that goes off when we sense someone likes us. And there are messages—”I’m just getting over a relationship,” “Gotta go, it was nice meeting you”—that you can send to save both parties’ feelings. It seemed like he was stringing me along to stroke his own ego.
As my daughter-in-law pointed out, it was a good thing I discovered what he was like before things went any further. My son, always alert to the possibility of a quick buck, threatened to tell my ex and his new spouse about the debacle unless I gave him $20.
Hey, there are worse things than being alone-like finding a prince, only to discover that he’s really a frog.