For a while, what I missed most in changing from a married person into a single person was the act that we were as a couple. I don’t mean an act as in a piece of fakery, although toward the end it was kind of fake. I mean it in the sense of how we were when we went out in the world. We made a good couple. We were entertaining. I had a joke I’d tell about a priest and a speeding ticket—I won’t tell it here, because it won’t sound funny, but it was funny, and I told it well. My husband did a great riff on why Death of a Salesman wasn’t a good play. Even though I think it is a great play, it was a kick to hear him carry on, like listening to someone poke fun at Mother Teresa.
We got sick of each other’s routines, but that came much later. For many years, each of us thought the other was a hoot. And we complemented each other: I’d ask people about their children; he’d talk about the next election.
You spend 25 years going out into the world together, and how you are together becomes part of your identity. You’re half of a matched set, like a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers. It feels safe. You always know who your Plus One is going to be. And then, suddenly, the salt (or pepper) isn’t there, and it just feels weird, as if you forgot to do something important before you left the house—to put on makeup, or your coat.
For the first time, you have tender feelings for Art Garfunkel, when he found himself performing without Paul Simon. Maybe you won’t be enough of an act. Maybe he was the funny one. Maybe someone will ask you about the situation in Chechnya and you will have to say, “I’m sorry, my husband was much better on former Soviet republics.”
Or maybe people will worry that you have some new, awful act—that you’re bitter or furious or a wreck about your newly single circumstances—and will steer clear. Maybe you’ll be subtly shunned, because you make people uncomfortable.
Not since the seventh grade have you had such social anxiety. It feels bad, and humiliating, more humiliating because you can’t believe you’re such a wimp.
And you know what? All the worry is a waste of time. You make yourself see people, and it turns out you’re enough of an act. You crack people up. They crack you up. There’s more than enough for you to talk about and ask them about. You walk into rooms full of strangers, and it’s scary for 10 minutes, that’s it.
Yes, people do feel sorry for you at first, but the way they show it isn’t to avoid you but to ask you to do things. They ask you to the movies, or out for coffee, or over for dinner. They take care of you. Sometimes this makes you feel so grateful that you shed a tear when you think about it. And then, when some time has gone by—less time than you think, I promise—
you invite them back. You have a dinner party, and then another, and the men who come help you do things without being asked: bartending, carving the leg of lamb, moving extra chairs to the table, things they think your husband may have helped you with in the past, gestures that also bring a tear to your eye. And you all have a fine time, and you think, I can do this. That feeling—that you left the house forgetting something important—evaporates.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a boyfriend, but that desire is about companionship and, well, desire. It’s not about needing someone to make me part of a couple in the world. It feels fine being a solo act. I can even tell you a few things about Chechnya now, if you’re interested.
JENNY ALLEN is a writer and performer who lives in New York City. She has a website at jennyallenwrites.com.
Next: Finally, I'm a Mother
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