The Power of One
Alone at Last!
Today for the first time, I had to remove the propane tank from my barbecue. For the 13 years I've had a barbecue in my Los Angeles backyard, I've always managed to get a man to take care of it. Hired handymen, my girlfriends' husbands, even the occasional beau, were all too happy to do the manly deed. But I was waiting for friends to come over and grill steaks when I'd realized the tank was empty, triggering one of those rare moments when I wonder if it might not be better to be married, or to at least have some sort of husband substitute at my disposal.
I am living my worst old nightmare: alone, childless, 50-something, a little overweight, losing my looks. If at 19, I could have seen myself as I am now, I would have been suicidal at the thought of such a terrible fate. After an uninterrupted string of boyfriends that lasted for three decades, here I am, alone at last -- middle-aged and single. But aside from the propane tank crisis, I'm almost perfectly happy. When I told my long-divorced friend, Susan, that I was writing an essay about what it's like to be single and middle-aged, she said, "It's heaven. Just say that it's heaven." But do I dare? If this secret information got out, it could strike a blow to the very heart of family values. It wouldn't be good news for men, either, especially in the unlikely event that there are actually some single 50-something men out there looking for women of a similar age.
Yet the advantages of unmarried life seem perfectly obvious to me: I never have to do anything to accommodate the "other." I cook dinner if and when I feel like eating it, and only if I'm in the mood to cook. I stretch out all over my queen-sized bed. If I wake up in a good mood, I don't have to contend with someone who wakes up in a bad one -- and vice versa. It's nobody's business but mine if I spend too much money on clothes or makeup. I don't have to put up with anybody's boring friends or annoying relatives, or listen to the football game blaring from the den. If I decide I'd like to vacation in Mexico, I just do it. I could go on for pages without exhausting the list of petty annoyances inherent in a good marriage, without even beginning to address the miseries of a bad one.
As for that thing one imagines a single woman might really, really miss when there's no man around -- well, like cigarettes and chocolate, the longer you go without it the less you miss it. I may have a moment of longing when a beautifully muscled 20-something passes me on the jogging trail. I may even imagine my lips tracing a line from his powerful pecs to his washboard abs. But I have no illusions that anything like that might still be available to me, and I've learned to simply enjoy the view.