Being single on Valentine’s Day as a middle-aged woman used to make me sad. One year I was checking into a hotel and the twenty-year-old clerk cocked her pretty head and said, “Just one key? It’s Valentine’s Day!” Our eyes locked. “I know,” I said, grabbing the single key and slinking toward the elevator.
This year I’m celebrating the holiday as a day of unexplored possibility: trying on clothes I wouldn’t normally wear, torch singing into my hairbrush, fixing broken things in my apartment, and writing gratitude lists of the life gifts received from past relationships.
But there is one new frontier I won’t be crossing. My son’s childhood friend Corey sent me an “event announcement” on Facebook inviting me to a “Girls Night In. ” The “Passion Party” apparently “presents tasteful and informative presentations, featuring lotions, lingerie, and adult toys that are purchased in a confidential setting.”
I’m usually thrilled to receive any messages or invitations from my son Josh’s friends. They’re especially precious to me because two years ago, at 29, Josh died of an accidental overdose. We held a memorial in New Durham, the small New Hampshire town where he grew up, and I was overwhelmed by how many friends showed up—many of whom he hadn’t seen in a decade. Josh played Peter Pan in fourth grade and Captain Hook, Wendy, and a string of lost boys, now grown up with children of their own, all took me aside to tell me how much they would miss him. Many of them still keep in touch, an enormous source of comfort.
Facebook has facilitated our staying connected, especially since I now live in New York. Girls I didn’t know existed tell me about their enduring secret crushes on him. Friends post new pictures from high school and tell me when they dream of him. Some of these relationships are taking root beyond condolence. I am flooded with Farmville gifts, and photographs of toddlers, new cars, and first houses. I’m delighted to be invited so open-heartedly into their daily lives. It’s as if they are stopping by for the morning coffee check-in.
Corey had written on Facebook recently of money troubles and said she was considering starting a new business. Apparently she was referring to becoming a Passion Consultant, a hostess party franchise “enhancing the sexual relationships of our clients with sensual products designed to promote intimacy and communication between couples.”
Product parties are big in rural areas where jobs are fewer than ever. Several women I’ve known piece together a financial existence from Tupperware and Pampered Chef parties. I’ve driven through snow storms to attend just for that glimmer of human warmth during the long winters when the video store shelves are empty and plumbers are working 12 hours a day to unfreeze pipes. I’m glad I’m not living in New Durham now. I remember fondly Corey’s sunny energy. She’d drive over to invite me personally and I wouldn’t know what to do with my face.
I like to think I was a “sex positive” parent, willing to discuss intimacy and safety comfortably. I am flattered that she feels so at ease with me, but a quick scan of the guest list shows that I am the only 50+ mother invited. Why me? “You still got it!” my college roommate says, but I can hear her stifling a chortle over the phone.
Wanting to help Corey out and encourage her in her endeavors, I perused her online catalog and decided I could safely order some gold dusting powder. Then I noticed it was flavored. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t want Corey to have a visual of me being licked. I’m not a prude – although the one time I went into sex shop I thought I would spontaneously combust when a young man my son’s age asked me if I needed help. I just can’t get my mind around being assisted on “a personal journey of sensual discovery” by somebody whose coat I used to zip up.
As much as I value these renewed connections, I break out in a sweat thinking about games with “dirty dice” with the girls who used to skulk across my living room barely making eye contact, who are now married to the boys who used to take my car for joyrides and return it “secretly” with the grill packed with mud. I think I’ll send regrets and just visit the next time I’m home. Maybe I’ll bring a batch of cookies, just to remind us both of who is who and what is what.