Passing Over

Passing Over

Oh, doctor please, oh, doctor please
I think you’ve made a mistake
I’m fine and I don’t need people
You don’t understand all my choices – Marianne Faithfull, “Vagabond Ways

After two months of constant nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, vivid dreams, and almost every other gastrointestinal and neurological side-effect there is, my doctor has taken me off Cabergoline. I took my last dose on April 1st. I am no longer dizzy nor am I having vivid dreams involving my ex-husband. I’m no longer continually nauseous, but I am still nauseous after eating certain foods: yeast breads, fruits that are high in sugar, red meat, most desserts, Chime’s Ginger Chews. Through it all, I still managed to drag my sorry ass to work every day, pay my bills, go to the gym, help a dear friend begin the decluttering process, and prepare the Passover meal for 13 people. My friend’s husband, also a dear friend, told me I was a gem and that my ex doesn’t know what he’s lost. I told him that what he may or may not have lost hasn’t occurred to him. He has what he wants now, or will soon enough.

My ex emailed me a little over a week ago asking what I wanted to do with my safe deposit box.  We haven’t spoken to each other in nearly a year. The email exchange was short, almost terse. I had forgotten about it as, while I still had the key, I had long ago removed the contents. I told him it was fine to close it and I would be more than happy to get the key to him in whatever way he liked. He asked me to mail the key to an address in Holland, PA. I did so, along with a stamp he bought that I found in my jewelry box, certified mail with a return receipt. I thought about including a note wishing them well but realised that I had nothing to say. Nothing. I thought about burning the return receipt but decided I will hold on to it for a little bit, in case he tries to say it never arrived. And with that, we no longer have anything to discuss. The last dandelion seed has been carried aloft. At some point, maybe my next free weekend day, I will take the divorce decree from the refrigerator and put it in my safe deposit box. Maybe I’ll replace those blinds with the balloon shades I have. Maybe I’ll finish painting the bathroom.

In the meantime, another Pesach has come and gone. This is the first one without my ex. While we have been apart for nearly two years, he attended my friends’ first-night Seder last year. Last year, as a single man on the prowl, he took it upon himself to spank me as he skunked around me to get to the garbage can, like I was a girlfriend. This year, I dished out the Fesenjan unmolested. Not that this Pesach was uneventful. While setting up, my friend told me about how his cousin’s widow had looked up an old college friend. It turns out he had never forgotten her and they were seeing each other. How nice for her, I said. Then he asked if I had any old college flames. No, I told him, I had no college flames, no high school sweethearts, no childhood loves. He’s asked me variants on this question before and the answer is always the same, no. I think he genuinely forgets this, but sometimes I wonder if he asks because he thinks the answer will be different. Then his spouse came down the stairs and told me the same story and asked the same questions. He was more persistent and finally I went down into the kitchen and cried.

I pulled myself together just in time for my sister to arrive. Who proceeded to tell me that, once again, I was fixating on the one thing I didn’t have and to stop.  She cradled my face in her hands and told me I was a pretty girl and I would be so much prettier if I grew out my hair, even a little bit. With my sister, I am the one who needs to change. I am the one who needs to make the sacrifice. It was my mother all over again, only younger and more stable mentally. Then she made the mistake of saying that she had “been there and done that.” Yes, I said, that is true. But you were also 30. It’s very different when you’re over 45.

She assumes that because she is older, she is automatically wiser. She married at 20 and divorced at 30, yes, but being young and single (regardless of circumstances) and without children makes you a hot commodity. Add to the mix that she is Mormon, She put herself on an LDS dating site and she had to fight them off with a stick; she fought off a lot of patriarchal cretins and philistines, it’s true, but she went to visit one in Utah. She also met the man who is now her husband. Married men fell for my sister. She told me how one such man was “besotted with her”. What’s that like, I asked. No man has ever been besotted with me and I doubt any man ever will. That’s just how it is for some of us and no matter how many times we have to explain (which we do as we live in a world where coupled is the goal and the norm), typical people just don’t understand. It’s not that we’re oblivious to the attentions of other people, we are acutely aware. What bothers me more is the puritanical attitude she has towards love and sex and affection. That I am supposed to deny the flesh and move on with life. That the needs of the body are nothing to the needs of the soul. These are primal needs to be overcome. A friend of mine put it into perspective when he said, No, these are basic human needs not things to be conquered or overcome.

At the Seder I was on the end so I could get up and check on food as needed and serve when ready. My friend was to my left and his first cousin once removed was on my right. First cousin and I sat quietly for minute or two when I said, you may not remember but we’ve met before. He looked up from his plate.

-We have. When?
-Their 30th anniversary party.
-That’s right, he said. I remember.

I also told him that I was sorry to hear about his father, who had passed away unexpectedly. He said he had been trying to process it rationally but was finding it hard. I said, my marriage feel apart two years ago. Some things cannot be processed rationally. Sometimes there is no why. Much like the anniversary party, we talked the rest of the evening. Occasionally during the Seder he would say things that were just loud enough for me to hear. His nervousness at reading Hebrew. Things like when my sister jumped up to help me serve he said very softly, you are on the other side of the table. Sit down. Everything is under control. I told her to sit down. That she was a guest. Then I told him she tends to need to be the big sister. At one point I while everyone was eating he said, Eat. You’ve done enough. It’s time for you to eat. During the Seder he ran his fingers along the embossed edge of his plate. When presented with a bowl of leeks he ran his fingers over my hands before taking the bowl. It felt like comfort but it was probably nothing.

-Do you want to exchange contact information, he asked?
-Are you averse?
-No.

And with that he is in my phone and I am in his. As he left with his friend he turned to me and said, I really enjoyed talking to you. And I you, I said. And off into the wee hours of the morning they went. I do not expect to hear from him. I just don’t. I will not get my hopes up. It’s best if I don’t. You see, in three years he’s gone from being cute, geeky, and prone to occasional outbursts along the lines of, why do people say where you at? What’s wrong with where are you? to handsome, thoughtful, and intelligent. After the initial meeting he told my friends how much he enjoyed talking to me, how he liked mature women. Of course, there are mature women and there’s getting involved with a 47 year old woman. But there isn’t going to be any involvement because I don’t expect to hear from him. All this raises some interesting questions. If I have your contact information because you asked me for mine, can I contact you first? Why ask for my contact information, if you’re not going to contact me? Why am I bothering, since I’m not going to hear from him? Not getting my hopes up.

And so another year goes by. A year ago I started writing. Two years ago I filed for divorce.

The Saddest Music in the World is in Your Head

The Saddest Music in the World is in Your Head

My divorce became final a year ago yesterday. On December 3rd of 2015 the divorce decree arrived in the mail. Sometime in early November of last year my ex-husband phoned me and he sounded pissed. They lost our filing, he said, that’s why it’s taken so long. They have to reconstruct our July filing from the April initial filing. You mean to tell me, I asked, that we have been married for the past three months due to a clerical error? Tell me you can’t see that humour in this? The Clerk of the Court was most apologetic and a week later she phoned my ex to tell him that our filing had been reconstructed and the papers were on the judge’s desk. The week after that she phoned to say the judge was taking time off before the Thanksgiving holiday and that our filing would be signed before the month was out. It’s still on my refrigerator a year later.

My therapist asked me, since I had been thinking so much about my part in my divorce, what WAS my part in the breakup of my marriage. (In no particular order)

  • I did not love being married. I’m not sure I even liked being married.

    All of a sudden I went from making my own arrangements and looking after myself to making all of the arrangements and looking after two people and I hated it. I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden it was my job to do, well, everything. I thought we were going to be a team, and we were at first, but then I became part of a unit.

  • I mourned the loss of my independence and freedom.

    I really liked being single. It’s like Tom Waits said, “Goin’ out when I want to, comin’ home when I please./ I don’t have to ask permission/If I want to go out fishin’./And I never have to ask for the keys.” Granted, I was in one of the greatest places in the US to be single-New York. Don’t get me wrong, New York can be tough. Most of my fellow grad school recruits left after the first  year. I loved it. I became a New Yorker. I found my neighbourhood. I found my family. I went to the opera and the theatre and sat in the cheap seats (Family Circle). I stood outside of Irving Plaza and listened to Sleater-Kinney. I went to the Fringe Festival and Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric theatre. I volunteered at a film festival just so I could hear Andre Gregory. I went to baseball games with my fellow librarians. I had a great life and I gave it up when I got married.

    Being a virgin, I didn’t crave sex like I do now; I didn’t know what I was missing. Even mediocre is better than none.

  • I stopped talking to him.

    This is what I do when I do not see a point. There was no point in telling my parents I was sexually assaulted because, what were they going to do? There was no point in telling them about the daily humiliations and indignities I suffered in school because there was no point. We argued about the same things time and time again. Finally I gave up, which brings me to my next point.

  • I gave up.

    Winston Churchill is credited as saying, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Well, you know what? I did.  I gave up. I pulled up stakes and followed him around the country. I let his quest for a career overshadow my established career because I thought I could get a job anywhere. For the most part, I was right. But I was tired of the uphill battles. I was tired of asking him for a more equitable distribution of household labour only to be met with I know we fight about this a lot. I was tired of telling him he hurt my feelings only to be met with it wasn’t what I said it was how you took it. I was tired of the incessant negativity. I was tired of being told that what I felt was wrong.

  • I turned him down for sex a lot.

    I am not the type of woman who punishes a man by withholding sex, unless that is part of the consensual dynamic of your BDSM relationship-then oh! Otherwise, it’s mean and childish. Besides, why deprive myself of the pleasure. That being said, foreplay was fast and sloppy and the sex got boring. It also hurt like hell. It is hard to get excited about something that causes tearing, burning pain every time you’re engage. He knew it hurt and he tried to accommodate me, but it didn’t work. Oral sex felt great but I couldn’t move the way I needed; he’d pin down my legs. The more I fought the more he resisted. And he was always in a hurry.

    Sex became another source of mutual frustration. He wanted sex all the time. I found the sex to be wanting and I’m sure he did too. While he had no trouble initiating, it was very difficult to get him to respond. He wasn’t very vocal and he wasn’t verbal. He never told me something felt good unless I asked. If he didn’t like something he didn’t tell me what would make it better even when I asked. If I was having fun that was fine with him, except I would have had more fun if he enjoyed it too. Consequently, after 10 years of this I think I am lousy in bed and why would any man get involved with a woman who’s a lousy lover? I wanted to enjoy sex. I still want to enjoy sex, but it’s been two years and two months. It feels like I am watching a ship sail away.

  • There were times during my marriage where I was frustrated and resentful.

    One fine Saturday afternoon I found myself standing in the kitchen. Laundry was going in the washing machine. I had just finished putting groceries away. I had emptied and filled the dishwasher and set the timer to go off in four hours when the laundry would be done in the washer. The house was a mess, particularly the kitchen. My ex was nowhere insight. I am living the feminist dream, I thought. I’m doing it all. This was a typical late Saturday morning for me.

    Fed up with being in the car with him and him asking me, do you know what your problem is, I decided to minimise my alone time with him by grocery shopping alone. I would get up at 6:30, take a quick shower, and leave by 7:00 grocery list in hand. I was usually home by 9:30 or 10. Sometimes he was just getting up, at the very least he was still in his bathrobe getting himself a cup of coffee. This was typical for us. I would have been up for hours when he was just starting his day. Then he would ask why I was so tired all the time. One day he asked me to write down my schedule for the week. He was floored when he learned that between work, other commitments, and housework I was booked solid from 7am-10pm Monday-Friday, 7am-9pm on Saturdays, and from 8am-7pm on Sundays. Seeing it on paper in front of him he saw what I had been trying to tell him for years-that I never catch a break. He helped around the house for a week. Then it was back to the same routine; me doing the work alone and him asking why I was so tired all the time.

  • While we did discuss many things before we were married, we didn’t discuss everything.

    I didn’t realise that before one gets married one needs to discuss absolutely everything with one’s future life partner. We discussed children, my career, his career, my keeping my name, the things I thought were important. He wanted two children. I didn’t want children until I met him. I thought he was someone with whom I could have a child, one child. We compromised on a child and a cat. At first I proposed that I keep my job and he travel wherever his postdocs took him. I made more money and thought I would act as the anchor. His disagreed and said he thought it would be bad for us to be apart so early in our marriage. His mother followed his father around Europe with his studies and I think my ex felt I should do, or want to do, the same. I didn’t but I acquiesced. My logic was simple; with my degree and skill set I should be able to get a job anywhere and for the most part I was right. I hated it and was miserable. We both were. All in all my career didn’t take much of a hit and I have yet to encounter an interviewer who didn’t understand that I picked up stakes for my husband’s fledgling career. They don’t call it the two-body problem for nothing. We didn’t discuss housework because I didn’t think it needed to be discussed. I assumed he would help. After all, my father packed his lunches and did his own laundry. When my mother worked afternoons, he tried to make dinner. I remember one night he even tried to make cookies for us. My father is not a feminist. He was just a normal guy looking after his two little girls as best he could, afraid he would lose us like he did his son.

    Before the wedding, we had three counseling session with the Rabbi who married us. In these sessions we discussed the usual things: our attitudes about children, money, the future, building a life together. The most glaring difference was in our attitudes about money, which came as no surprise. he came from it and I did not; it was that simple. He could, and often did, go to his parents for financial assistance, especially when we were trying to have a child. His parents were willing, even though his father was reluctant. I couldn’t ask my parents as they simply didn’t have it. I look back at the cost of our wedding with guilt. Our wedding wasn’t extravagant, but now that the marriage is over that money could have gone to better things. Like many things.

    As time passed it was as though those conversations we’d had about marriage, family, the advice we received from the Rabbi about money and working together, and career never happened. He couldn’t understand why working was so important to me. In his mind, I seemed suddenly indifferent to children with each failed injection or implantation. Instead of the seven-year itch it was like seven-year amnesia, except it happened around year five. The man I met and fell in love with became the man with a boot on my neck. I don’t know how it happened but I know I let it happen.

     

Plain Jane. Plain Jane. Sitting Alone, It’s Plain Jane.

Plain Jane. Plain Jane. Sitting Alone, It’s Plain Jane.

“I was never hit on or sexually harassed by my professors in college, or later, by my co-workers or superiors. I have not felt as if my male teachers, friends or colleagues thought less of me because of my gender. I’ve never been aggressively “hit on” in a bar, despite the fact that I have frequented them alone throughout the years. In fact, I’ve rarely been approached in a bar at all.” – Jennifer Bartlett “Longing for the Male Gaze

We tend to see the world in black and white. If this woman is being harassed in the street then ALL women are being harassed in the street. Men are continually invading our personal space demanding our time, our attention, except when you are deemed unworthy of such attention. Unlike Ms. Bartlett, I do not have CP. Like Ms. Bartlett I have been sexually dismissed by men for most of my life, moreso now that I am single and middle aged. When I was young I was never the pretty one, never the beauty, never hot. Newly divorced, I have stepped out into a literal and figurative no-man’s land. This is life when you are plain. Trust me, I am not one of those women who has collected enough social capital where I can proclaim my plainness from the rooftops and be greeted with a rousing chorus of “no you’re not!” The best I get is not conventionally attractive or lovely. I’ve read countless flippant articles, usually written by people with sufficient social capital, telling us invisible unfortunates how not to be invisible. Advice includes:

  1. Get male friends. Done.They’re all married with families or gay. That counts.
  2. Get older, younger, different than you friends. Done my friends range in age from 24-80.
  3. Wear dresses more often. Done, including a Marc Jacobs minidress.
  4. Stop waiting to be invited. If I waited to be invited I’d never leave my house.
  5. Take boxing, karate, or some other self-defense class. I’m going to yoga, pilates, and core training classes and training for a marathon. That counts
  6. Spend 30 seconds on your make-up before you go out the door. Since I actually work for a living, I put on makeup before I walk out the door, except when I go to the gym because wearing makeup to the gym is stupid.
  7. Stop dressing solely for comfort. Like I said, I work. I don’t run out of the house in yoga pants unless I have my mat slung over my shoulder and I’m going to yoga class. I don’t own a single pair of sweatpants.
  8. Speak up. This is a strange one because when I do speak up I get the dreaded you have three heads look. I have also had to wave my arms to get the attention of the male server who has just finished flirting with my much younger friends. Like I said, social capital.
  9. Embrace your grownup-ness. Let me see, I survived sexual assault, emotional and verbal abuse, divorce, death. I make my own living and own my own home. I rebuilt my life quickly and successfully. I still have baggage, but I’m working through it. I think that’s pretty grown up.
  10. Always carry cash in several denominations and tip generously. Apparently older women think men are supposed to pay for everything. I developed a system when I was in college. I pay for the first date and I pay for myself unless the other person insists. The logic being that I don’t expect anyone to feel that they have to pay for me and if something goes wrong I don’t what the other person to think I owe him anything. As for tipping, my paternal grandmother raised five children on tips. I tip generously whenever I can.
  11. Lift weights. Done. See also #5.
  12. “In research, you see time and again you are the company you keep. For me, I may not technically be the smartest or most beautiful person, but I run with those who are.” This is advice given by a self-help specialist named Leigh Peele. As she has fame, she was recently published in The Guardian, she has social capital. She may think she is unattractive, but she is tall and blonde and a celebrity. Having social capital makes a difference.

The vast majority of the advice out there is dedicated to improving your personal appearance, sometimes couched in language about pushing yourself physically further than you’re pushed yourself before. The assumption is that you have turned into a middle-aged shlub so no wonder you’re being ignored. You, middle-aged woman, have brought your invisibility upon yourself. I’ve done the vast majority of these these and yet I am still invisible. The other advice is about embracing who you are. The assumption is that my accepting who you are you break the rules and will gain acceptance. It never occurs to them that they are, in a way, telling us to embrace their our invisibility. Perhaps we should embrace it as part of our grownup-ness?

In my case, there is a deeper and sadder aspect to my lack of visibility-that it’s nothing new. It’s not like I expected to step out from my divorce into a new and vibrant world where I would be the belle of the ball. Quite the opposite. I knew this is how it would be, I just hoped and keep hoping that it will be different. I hoped Philadelphia would be like New York and that I would find my place. It’s not. Philadelphia is like Buffalo. The standard of beauty is brutally rigid and the pressure to conform is intense. If you do not fit it’s not like you will find your place. It’s fuck you if you don’t like it. It’s narrow-minded and lazy. If you aren’t hot enough to be on my arm, you are not worth knowing. I’ve explained it to countless people, but unless you’ve experienced it you won’t understand. Men have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. Men are seldom invisible in a world that’s tailored to them. The ones that admit to feeling invisible externalise-it’s not them, it’s the bitches around them who won’t give them the time of day or the idiots who friendzone them and complain about their jerk boyfriends. I internalise-it can’t be all men, so it must be me. This internalisation is reinforced by lists of tips that focus on your appearance. It’s also reinforced by little comments like you don’t smile, you don’t dress sexy, you don’t wear enough eye makeup, it must be something you’re projecting. A straight man alone simply has not found the right woman, unless he shoots a room full of people and even then it’s because he was mentally ill. The straight woman alone is a freak or a defective.

I have wrestled with invisibility for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had issues with my looks. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was five. Not cute little kid glasses or reading glasses, real blind-as-a bat glasses. I tried contacts in late high school and college and found that more often than not people didn’t recognise me. The lack of glasses did not make me more attractive or appealing. They made me more of a stranger. I had baby fine impossibly curly hair which succumbed eventually to chemical straighteners and now silicones. When I straightened my hair for the first time I shook my hair reveling in its manageability. This was the late 70s early 80s. They didn’t have the products to make the curls themselves manageable like they do now. I was told to not even try to be sexy. I was always tall and thin with no breasts to speak of until college. I was the smart one, the problem solver. No one wants a problem solver. My sister was the pretty one. She showed our parents by getting a PhD. I’ve never been able to show our parents that I’m attractive because my lack of attractiveness is borne out almost every day. One day a college friend asked, didn’t your father ever say you were the most beautifil girl in the world?  I watched the colour drain from her face as I had to actually think about that question. No, I said, I don’t think he ever did. My father was never one to say things he didn’t think were true. Unlike most women, I have been called ugly to my face. I’ve had men turn their backs to me when I’ve tried to engage them in conversation. When you are plain, civility goes out the window. Those who are not plain don’t think these things happen, but they do.

 

 

There’s A Light

There’s A Light

At my last session, my therapist sat back in her chair and said Y’know, you remember a few weeks ago when I said you were an attractive woman but you weren’t exactly sexy? You haven’t brought it up since. Why’s that? (I found her question a little strange as she also told me I have to pick a direction for future sessions and I chose the emotional abuse rather than my self-esteem.) I have brought it up, I told her, just not with you. I told her what my friends had told me: it’s being comfortable in your own skin, that she’s wrong, that it’s subtle, that it will emerge as I come out from under the shadow of my ex-husband. I told her I actually got checked out by a young man who, as far as I could tell, wasn’t homeless. It was subtle. I noticed his head turn as I walked by and when I turned my head he was looking over his shoulder at me. I smiled and kept going. Maybe they’re right. Maybe the shadow is lifting just a little. Maybe I’m not as invisible as I thought. Then I had a horrible week.

When I have bad weeks, I often chalk it up to external factors: the weather, my messy apartment, my ex found someone new almost immediately, my hyperprolactinemia. Wanting to die was something new and different. I texted one of my oldest friends, who has been through this twice, and I told her I wanted to die. I wanted all of this to end. I feel guilty and ashamed when I do this to her. I text and phone her at other times too, when I am not down, and we have riotous conversations. She is getting a law degree and a masters in pastoral counseling at the same time. She said, Don’t you want to see the woman you’re becoming? Don’t you deserve to meet her? Besides, don’t give him the satisfaction. The first two are why she will be an exceptional counsellor. The third is why she’s an exceptional friend. Every once in a while she will send me a job posting in Seattle and tell me to move out there so she can take care of me, take me dancing and to Korean spas, and introduce me to a community where I will find my house submissive. Every once in a while I think I might accept her offer, but my life and my self-made family are here. Besides, I’ve packed up and started over enough times and while this time it will be for me on my own terms it’s still packing up and starting over someplace else. I have another friend who sends me job posting in the DC area so I can move closer to her and she can take are of me.  In the end, it’s not that I don’t want to be taken care of, it’s that I need be able to take care of myself. I need to find my own strength again. I need to clean my apartment.

This past Saturday I was  heading back into my complex having purchased sumptuous provisions for Shakespeare in Clark Park when I noticed two young men behind me also heading for the door. Being a civilised person, I held the door open for them. One of them made eye contact. I had seen him at the pool and at an owner’s board meeting. He bought his place around the same time I bought mine. He is a powerfully built man with a massive upper body and what can best be described as a Persian beard. What I learned that afternoon was that he has large black eyes that are full of mischief. Maybe he wasn’t used to having a slight woman in an outrageous straw hat hold the door open for him, but I think he liked it.

 

Been Down So Long…

Been Down So Long…

If you don’t believe I’m sinking, look what a hole I’m in
If you don’t believe I love you, look what a fool I been
Baby don’t believe I love you? Just look what a fool I been
Don’t believe I love you, baby, just look what a fool I been

-“I Will Turn Your Money Green” -Alex Chilton (orig. Fuzzy Lewis)

I would greatly appreciate it if the mainstream media would kindly refrain from telling me how everyone from grade schoolers to nonagenarians is having sex. I am not. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. A couple of weeks ago it was The New Yorker. Today it was The New York Times. Apparently at 70 and 80 you are not too old for sex, and that’s great. Apparently, at 46, I am. The expectation is, of course, that I am married and safely ensconced in the suburbs with my children. I am emerging from my divorce into no-man’s land-literally and figuratively.  It’s bad enough that nearly everyone I know is having sex and those who are not are doing so voluntarily; trust me, they would have no trouble finding a partner, if they so chose. So far they have been kind and not made fun of me, but I can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time.

Two weeks ago my therapist advised me to flirt. You work at a research hospital, she said. You’re surrounded by men. Flirt with them. Learn how to flirt again. She doesn’t understand the rigid caste system that has arisen in such communities. I do not have an MD or a PhD. I have a Masters degree. I am also not 25, like most of the nurses. These factors put me, socially, on par with the administrative assistants who are mostly married women around my age or older. In short, I am useful but invisible. Doctors pair up with doctors, lawyers pair up with lawyers, executives with executives, and librarians used to pair up with librarians (if you were lucky enough to find one). If anything, I would get a reputation for being – I think Jane Austen may have said it best – the most determined flirt that ever made her family ridiculous. It’s hard enough to get respect where I work. who needs that. Besides, flirting is pointless. Sure it’s fun but and it’s nice to feel that little spark, but in the end it serves as a reminder that you have no prospects, that you are alone, and that you have been cast aside for someone younger, more traditional, with proven fecundity. Fuck flirting.

Splendid Isolation

Splendid Isolation

Tell me more and then some.
The way that you feel and then
When you told me that old sweet story
And you’re through, start right in again
I’ve made that old mistake
Know the awful ache
Of a heart that’s been double-crossed
The waiting’s been so long
Hard to believe in
If I’ve missed by guess, happiness is lost.
Billie Holiday

When I tell people I am planning for an extended period of involuntary celibacy, they laugh. They think I’m kidding. It sounds like I’m planning an extended holiday from sex. In today’s sexually saturated world surely there isn’t a person alive, much less a woman, who couldn’t get some anytime she wanted if she tried. Anyone, that is, except me. Now this is nothing new to most men, apparently. Over the years, I have had more male friends regale with tales of striking out. Philip Roth has made a career chronicling the sexual exploits and frustrations of men. The same can be said of Miller, Mailer, Updike, Allen, Cheever, Bukowski, and countless others. Recently, The New Yorker reviewed a Web series called Lonely and Horny. The premise is as follows, “each episodes runs between eight and ten minutes, and, within that span, tells the small story about Ruby’s increasingly desperate, and aggressively pathetic attempts to score with women. Ruby is enrolled in a ‘The Game’ style pickup-artist course taught by Josh… who appears to find his own class despicable.” Wow. Sign me up.

Where the Lonely and Horny for women? Trust me, we get lonely and we certainly get horny. Where’s the story of the young woman who’s invited along on dates where the couple insists she’s not a third wheel? Or the one where the older, prettier sister sets a young woman up on blind dates with men who agree solely so they can get closer to her older, prettier sister? Tell me the story of the young woman who set up a profile on Match.com only to get three responses and one date in two years. I got it, how about the one where the guy tells her she’d better change her mind about children, and fast, or “you’re gonna be alone for the rest of your life”. Then  there’s the you should grow out your hair, unless “you want to be alone for the rest of your life.” Or I may have to fuck you from behind because you look like a guy. Then there’s maybe you shouldn’t be such a  bitch or “do you want to be alone for the rest of you life?” Where’s the show where the heroine gets a phone call at 2AM from her codependent friend whose date has just literally run away from her, abandoning her somewhere in Brooklyn. Where’s the one about young woman sitting in the bar watching the men flirt with her friends as they ignore her completely. How about the one where the middle-aged divorcee watches middle-aged men flirt with young women and ignore her completely. That one where guys tell her she’s too good for them, where’s that show? Where the show where the guys tell her she’s the Yankees and guys are bush league?

Our modern, echo-chamber media is full of brash, ballsy women who do what they want, who they want, when they want. Single life is complex and complicated and personally and sexually rich, and sometimes it’s lonely. To that I say, huzzah! It’s about time! Women I know being represented fairly and without judgment on screen in shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Girls, Broad City, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Mindy Project, and others. In these women I see my brilliant feminist friends making our way in the world. But I don’t see feminist me. I couldn’t get laid if I tried. Perhaps now, so soon after the divorce, is not the time to plunge headlong into sex. It’s only been six months, after all, and he still takes up a great deal of space in my brain. But that doesn’t keep me from wanting what I want when I want it. He treated me like shit for nearly a decade and yet he finds someone. She’s nice. He seems happy. He gets what he wants. What goes around does not come around for him.

People tell me it’s too soon. I need time to heal. They tell me stories of how they found someone better the second time around. They tell me of five-year dry spells. Or that someone will come along when I least expect it, when I’m not looking, when I’ve given up. That once he takes leave of my head, those qualities that attract other people will emerge resplendent. I hope that is true. I want that to be true. But if experience has taught me anything it’s that I’m not sure I’ve ever had those qualities straight men find attractive. At best I am an acquired taste. That the best I can hope for is, as Warren Zevon put it, a life of Splendid Isolation, where “I don’t need no one”. That I am going to spend the rest of my life being “awesome” a “rockstar” a virginal object of veneration revered for her wit, wisdom, independence, fearlessness, badassedness and not a deeply sensual, loving, passionate woman. I want a man who thinks I’m intelligent and sexy. I want a man who isn’t put off my my fierce independence. I want a man with some fucking table manners. I want a man who appreciates good hygiene. Think those two are funny? You should meet my ex. I want a man who will do what I say and fuck me into next month. I want a man who will be mine. I want a grown-ass man. There’s more and more and then some, but not here. Not now.

I want more and then some
Oh how you feel
And then you done told me
about a million times
How much you love me
And then you’re through
Start back in again
I’ve made the same mistake
I know the awful ache
Of a little heart that’s been double-crossed.
The waiting’s been so long, so long
It’s hard to be believing
I thought I missed my guess
I thought that happisness for me was lost”
Nina Simone

I’m in for an extended period of involuntary celibacy.

Bookends

Bookends

When people marry they think it’s forever. Theirs will be the union that defies the odds and stands the test of time. They will weather all storms, take on all comers, and live in marital bliss until they pass away (love never dies) holding hands in adjoining hospital beds. Their bodies will always be beautiful and perfect and never fail them. The sex will always be spiritual and hot. Their children will be model citizens. Best friends to the last.

“Old friends/Sit on a park bench like bookends…
Can you imagine us years from today/Sharing a park bench quietly/
How terribly strange to be seventy…” –Paul Simon.

I didn’t think of forever. I couldn’t picture us years into the future. For me, getting through the day-to-day was enough. The future was for other people. This is not to say I don’t plan at all. The circumstances of my upbringing have made me a compulsive planner. I always have a plan.

My first friend got married at 17, practically a week after she graduated from high school. She was divorced at 18 and had her daughter at 20. The next clutch of friends married at nineteen. Some marriages survived, others didn’t. I remember sitting between two friends who had just returned from college on winter break, each discussing what she would borrow from the other when she got married. Where had my friends gone and who were these changelings? The next group married at 21, then 23, then the last at 25; the last except for me. I was 34, long after my family and friends had given up hope.

My mother was at a loss. She asked when I was going to get a boyfriend like my friends. Why didn’t I have a date to the prom like my sister? (My sister is the only person I know to go to two senior proms without having repeated a grade.) When I was 19 my mother asked if I was a lesbian. I asked her what if I was? Her response was to say she would throw herself off the nearest bridge. When I would come to her for hugs she would say you’re too old to get love from your mother. You need a boyfriend. My relationship with my mother has always been complicated. It’s as though because she’s my mother she thinks she knows me when she knows nothing about me.

When I was 21 I fell very much in love with a friend of a friend of mine. He was tall and solid with long fingers and large brown eyes. He was quiet and shy to the point of endearing. I had friends who claimed to hate him because he didn’t talk. We talked all the time. One afternoon he phoned me as he watched a little boy on his Big Wheel ride up and down the block. He’s so happy, he said, he nearly put his Big Wheel under a car. I wish you could see it. I tend to romanticise him and make more of our situation than it was. I fell in love where I was his rebound relationship. His girlfriend had left him without explanation and just like one of my wiser friends warned at the time, when he needed a shoulder I was there. At the same time he was my first love and my introduction to the adult world of intimacy and pleasure. My sister and I learned about sex fairly young-we were shipped off to a sex education class taught by a nurse practitioner organized by a group of parents-sex was not a topic of conversation. Our mother saw sex as a duty, an obligation, a means to an end. (If she didn’t actually see it that way, she certainly didn’t let on.) Intimacy was never discussed and pleasure was not even on the radar.

He wasn’t my introduction to the adult world of sex. That came much earlier. When I was nine years old I went to school one day and during a private music lesson my teacher told me to sit on his lap, unzipped the fly of my pants, and reached inside. He told me he was making sure I was breathing properly. He was very quiet after that. I felt small and strange and ashamed.  There was a lump in his trousers. We sat in absolute silence. I was never alone with him again. His attention didn’t waver, it changed. He teased me about my clothes and my hair. That I wasn’t a teacher’s pet told me there were others. When he was caught a decade later I learned how countless those others were. I came home that day a different girl-one who stopped talking. The silence of that afternoon infected me and I’ve been silent ever since.

An evening in May started with me sitting on the roof of a red Nissan Sentra in the pouring rain giving the brunette man in the driver’s seat a come-hither glance through the windshield. Charlie Parker played through the open windows as he slipped behind me. As we listened, he softly, almost imperceptibly, kissed a drop off my neck. We’d been friends for long enough that he knew everything and hadn’t run screaming; instead reassuring me with patience, gentleness, and we don’t have to do anything you don’t want. That night holding him in my arms, caressing his neck, his back, his shoulders-feeling that mass, that heat, that gravity-I felt a connection to my own body I had never felt before and have struggled to find since. And then he did something extraordinary. He began asking my permission, barely above a whisper. May I kiss your throat? May I touch your leg? May I touch your thigh? I consented time and again, and then I gave the orders. That night changed the dynamic of all our future encounters. Then one day he said, I care about you very much but I can’t do this anymore.

I hate that a man took my connection to my body from away from me. I’m angry that I have to fight to get that connection back. It saddens me that I stopped feeling that connection to myself in my marriage. My natural state, it seems, is to glide above the surface or disappear beneath the waves.