I always thought I'd get married. ¶ But it just never happened. I couldn't find the right guy, or if I did he already had a wife. Several right guys already had boyfriends. ¶ So other than a couple of unfortunate experiments in cohabitation — and even more disastrous attempts to share space with roommates — I have lived alone since 1987. For the first 12 years, I put off buying a house because they like it if you have a down payment and I knew that with a dual income I'd be able to afford a nicer neighborhood.
I love to cook and have always thrown dinner parties, but even now it's daunting to preside at the head of the table unsure whom to put at the other end; travel remains problematic because I resent having to cough up for the singles' supplement fees.
I used to wake in the middle of the night, clenched, wondering how long I'd be on my own. My worst nightmare? Forever.
Then one day I realized that's not the most traumatic thing that could happen to a woman. In fact, more awful stuff than that happens all the time: to peers whose husbands drop dead or ditch them for younger women. Male friends, too, have begun to experience surprise, unwanted divorces. These friends usually end up in my living room, trembling with abandonment issues or spitting mad or both. They seem to think I have a secret, that I know something special because I make it seem so effortless, so natural. "How do you do it?" they wail. "Aren't you afraid?"
Well, yeah, I'm afraid all the time. But I've learned to make the best of it; I give myself little treats, even though I have very little money — I'll scrimp on supper in order to buy flowers. I have arranged my life to please myself alone, figuring I might as well be comfortable and enjoy a few sensual pleasures, massages and facials and such, since God knows I don't get any sex.
When they ask for advice, I remind the suddenly single that we're part of a growing demographic: these days, more than half of American adults, roughly one in seven of us, live alone. When that doesn't help, I give each of my friends a 10- or 12-point plan, and with every sobbing advisee, I realize that maybe I have something here; maybe I do know a few tricks. They're pretty simple, really — adopt a pet, reach out to other singles, worship at a welcoming church or temple — none of this is rocket science, but it can seem incredibly daunting when you're just starting out.
Believe me, I know how terrifying it is to be alone, and arriving finally at this place of peace has taken me many years and many tears. Even now, when something goes wrong with the furnace or my car breaks down or I'm driving alone at night, hopelessly lost because the people giving directions assumed somebody would be along to navigate from the passenger seat, I can experience a meltdown. I get lonesome, too. Like Bridget Jones, I worry that I'll die here alone and they won't find me for days.
But I had a real epiphany one morning, standing at the kitchen sink. I realized I was annoyed that I hadn't got around to having the dripping faucet fixed, and calculated that I feel irritated once or twice a month about being alone. Then I had to laugh, because each of the men I nearly married used to irritate me several times a day.
"You were such a pretty girl," well-meaning friends have said over the years, as if that had anything to do with my forlorn attempts at love, "Why didn't you find a nice husband?" I used to cringe at these questions, grasping for some reasonable, non-pathetic explanation about how the ones I could catch I didn't want and the ones I wanted I couldn't catch, or I'd shrug and say, "I'm still looking, sugar; you available?"
But now, when people ask me how it is that I never married, I reply simply that I've had several lucky escapes.
Kit Naylor is a Minneapolis freelance writer, working on a book about how to love living alone.