Monthly Archives: October 2018

My scarlet letter is a consonant

I find most single people my age have great disdain for the “single” label. It’s much like being a modern age Hester Prynne but wearing a consonant instead of a vowel.

The “S” word for some is a choice, but for most it’s a consequence of being too divorced, too busy, too preoccupied or some other convenient public excuse that stills all the inquiries and helps make socializing in a coupled world a little more bearable.

We go to “singles” groups and functions because that’s where we “belong,” only to find them uncomfortable venues with solo men and women in search of partners, willing to drop their standards to pair up or more often, hook up.

Perhaps that was an unfair generalization, but if you’re single you know what I mean.

I used to be the life of the party. My natural gravitational pull was always to groups over individuals. Socially savvy and interpersonally comfortable, I could easily engage an entire room with my wit and personality all night long. At some point, however, I either lost or abandoned those skills. Among other things, recovery from drugs enlightened me to the shallowness of being the center of attention and as a reaction formation, I probably swung the pendulum a little too far in the opposite direction instead of settling on a happy medium. Mental note: change that.

It started when I was divorced. When you’ve lived a coupled life, you develop coupled friendships and activities with other couples and often have more potential for social life than time on your hands. Suddenly single, the quake of divorce creates a giant, impassable crevasse between you and your former social life. Stranded on that cold, detached sheet of ice is an outflow consequence and the growing distance over time can become pretty lonely.

For instance, I went to a Halloween party last night. Though the place was fabulously decorated, the costumes incredibly ornate, the food, drink and music–perfect, I never felt more alone. Well, maybe not “never” if I were honest and a bit less dramatic (enhanced self-pity is another consequence of being alone most of the time with nobody around to keep it in check.)

It didn’t help the party was populated by high school friends I hadn’t seen in decades. People look a lot different now, even moreso in costume. For these two reasons alone, they might as well been complete strangers. I recognized very few except for those whose years or wealth had been particularly kind. My antisocial trifecta was completed by the fact I was quite obviously very single. Being single at a party like that, at least to the single mind, feels much like that scarlet letter. “He’s single? Must have been a bad divorce or else he’s gay or something else unpleasant about him.” In my case, you could make a case for all three, I suppose. But that’s how the single mind works, imagining thought bubbles over everyone’s heads to the point at which their popping sounds become deafening up until that moment you bolt because the last couple episodes of The Walking Dead and your dog have been patiently waiting for you to come home for at least 40 minutes now. Any remotely believable excuse for the host and hostess if you stay long enough to say good bye. I didn’t.

Single adults now make up more than half the American population. That’s a large, looming, lonely statistic. Us singles, however, still conceive of ourselves as the minority.

So I departed home to be socially extroverted on Facebook and other online locations where it’s safe to be single and the loneliness is controllable, fishing for likes as life partners over love in real relationships. I make lame attempts to belong by describing in detail and pictures the deep, meaningful relationship I have developed with my dog who would have loved to join me last night if I’d had a costume for him.

Sometimes I wish I was stupid and ignorant. But once a therapist, always a therapist. My training doesn’t allow escape from these moments of self-evaluation very easily. Don’t get me wrong, though. I write stories like this as a means of self-therapy and to educate, inform and inspire others who might have similarly single experiences.

I don’t walk around all day forlorn, feeling sorry for myself, or prowling for a partner. Like most who wear the “S,” there are aspects of singleness I greatly enjoy. I don’t feel entirely incomplete or unfulfilled, just a bit lonely at times observing happy couples who have grown together for many years with someone to hold at night and talk about nothings as if they were somethings.

Though I should know the answers to these musings, admittedly, I do not. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to make more convenient, spontaneous friends to join me on outings like these as I don’t often fare well in these social misadventures alone, however the invitations to them alone are a balm I enjoy perhaps more than attending the event itself. For the uncoupled, it feels good and “normal” to occasionally be wanted, desired and invited.

I don’t drink. Or better said, I don’t drink very well. My effort to stave off the growing desire to bolt from the party earlier than I did, meant quickly downing two vodka tonics in an attempt to loosen me up for an engaging conversation with nobody at my table. All I got was sleepy and a pounding headache at 4am the morning after. As a recovering drug addict, I’ve no business drinking but it’s never been my drug of choice and they weren’t serving bowls of meth at the bar. Neither alcohol nor drugs are ever a solution to this internal problem. I’m intimately aware of this. But the desire to stay just a little bit longer hoping I could make these feelings pass was so strong, I was prepared to do anything just to last another half hour.

I dressed as Santa Claus first because I had the costume on hand and second, because my extra weight could be masked as part of the costume. There, I admitted it. For the most part, I genuinely like myself and who I’ve become as an uncoupled man. I recognize I probably would have never created such a mess of my life nor enjoyed the fruits of life changing recovery had I remained coupled. So in that regard, singleness has been a blessing.

Well, I’m pleased to report that my splitting headache from that pair of vodkas has mostly subsided and I’m feeling pretty good about today, being a single man on a Sunday morning. Sundays are always a reminder that while I may be lonely, I’m never really alone and that Hester Prynne never deserved to wear a scarlet vowel nor I a scarlet consonant.

there was a time

There was a time when peoples’ politics defined much of who they were—morals, character, virtues, fund of knowledge, their understanding of complicated world events and their personal empathies. Their beliefs weren’t always agreeable but were at least well-defended by deep roots and educated convictions.
Disagreements were conversation points revealing sharp differences, but respect for the other person and a craving for depth and understanding of their opposing view.
Discussions were exited without driving wedges or assaults on character. They were deliberate, genuine attempts at bridge building though neither one might admit it in the moment.
To understand another’s fundamental politics was a desire to understand the entirety of the person. Conversations weren’t punctuated by sound bytes, innuendo or irrelevant periphery. They weren’t permitted to end on vague or shallow arguments and were always less about the party and more about the mind and heart of the person.
The end game was to evolve new ideas and solutions for all rather than digression into single issues of personal preference with feet dug in.
They embraced ‘what-ifs’ not as threats but as the creative bridges they were and ‘why-nots’ as opportunities to lay new stones for a unifying path, not for casting at one another across their divide.

Indeed, they were dialogues of dream-builders engaged in the pursuit of a better life, a better world and prosperous opportunity for the all versus the one.

It was a hot day in August fifty years ago when a man spoke “I have a dream” and unified a sharply divided nation that still had yet to learn. That dream can still come true in this polarized world if people want it bad enough.
Meaningful change waits for those who firmly grasp the fact that under the veneer, what we all want has more in common than not, and in many ways, is much the same thing.


my fifty cents

The young man was seated in the sun on the curb outside when he asked “Could I wash your windows for 50 cents?” In a hurry to get my iced tea I said “No, thanks” and walked in the store. The length of the line was consuming my valuable lunch hour until I noticed the disabled woman at the front of the line was 35 cents short. The cashier asked “Well, do you have the 35 cents lady?” Six handfuls of coins reached out to her in sync—everyone in line wanted to help, not to move the line along faster, but to genuinely help. Humbled but embarrassed by our corporate act of kindness she declined our offers, took the loss and he closed the register, allowing the woman in the scooter to get along. “Next.” We each waited for our turn at transacting and eventually, my four iced teas came to precisely $4. Change from my $5 bill, I kept the dollar in hand as I exited the store thinking how just minutes before, I’d turned down a 50 cent window wash from a man who wanted to work for it, but gladly forked over four dimes for someone who couldn’t. It was one of those serendipity moments of humanity that cost me nothing but cold iced tea and a buck to a guy who needed it a lot more than me.

We all learned a lesson at lunchtime today.