"Are you going to the Schoenbaum's?" I asked my old friend Marcy. For a moment the question hung in the air, finally she answered, "I won't be there, but my husband will." Since when did Michael become the "husband?" Since I became the not-so-gay divorcée, and in married America, there's something very wrong with that.
During my twenty-year marriage, whether àu deux or flying solo, as one half of a couple, socializing was pretty much a sexless affair. I was just as likely to be invited to join the boys at the poker table as I was to do lunch with the girls. Dads called to arrange play dates, emailed silly jokes, and wrote snarky comments on my Facebook wall.
In the midst of singing the "did they really split up" "Bye Bye Birdie" telephone song, my world shifted on a dime. To my not only married, but partnered girlfriends, I became a potential enemy, to be watched. Very carefully. I was still "me," but this me was untethered, and as a result, perhaps I'd develop an interest in the men they could barely stand themselves (Too soon?). I'd never do that. We have a code. They know that. But, when fear leads the way, rational thinking begone.
What precipitates the fear? That they'll end up (gulp) like me -- the now pathetic, fifth wheel? It's not that I can't get a date. It's just that I can't... get a date. Not with someone I'd want to go out with anyway. If a guy is middle-aged and single, well, there's usually a really good (bad) reason why. (It's not them, it's me.) My women friends try like hell to rectify that with a plethora of variations on the old, "Have I got a guy for you!" game. Are they trying to match me up to ease my loneliness and bring me back into the "couple fold," or to keep me busy and away from their man? Perhaps both.
It's my... second divorce, I'm a two-time loser. To some of my girlfriends that makes me a winner. The mixed perception and reality that now I'm in the enviable position of starting over, from scratch, like a new cookie recipe. I think it scares and thrills them at the same time. (Kind of as it does me.) Perhaps I'm a painful reminder of what they don't want to face in their own lives. I left and appear to be thriving. They don't see the sleepless nights, the legal bills, and the freezer full of lean cuisines. Maybe they worry that this new life makes me more stimulating to their mate. The reality is that I'm worrying about income, health insurance, and menopause. Not so sexy.
Granted, as a provocateur of words by trade, I can be pretty dirty. When I was married, my balls-to-the-walls straight-talk was considered good clean fun. Coupled people of both sexes would hop on one of my saucy Facebook threads or Twitter feeds without thought. I guess it could be considered brainflirting, with the funnybone the desired target, rather than the gonads. Shake up the domestic equation, however, and all bets are off. Profile pictures shift to "couple shots," and funny status responses from the hubbies come via direct message rather than joining the public conversation. Worse still, the regular banter goes silent with both sexes and friendships falls away. Damn it! My comment numbers are plummeting!
Off-screen, it plays out pretty much the same. Intimate dinner parties and nights out happen only with my single friends. There are some social invitations, but I'm hereby relegated to open house parties with mixed crowds where I'm encouraged to "bring a friend." When I have a conversation with a coupled man, I can be sure to find his woman close enough at hand to listen in and watch the body language. If there's seating of any kind, the wife will almost always take the chair next to me, the old dear, now single girlfriend, keeping a safe distance from her hubby, who in the past rarely exchanged more than kid poop and vomit stories with me.
But, I get it. All of it. Long relationships rarely, if ever, maintain their sexual edge. Who doesn't have a somewhat lazy eye after a decade or two of marriage? It's just a shame. These friendships were, not long ago, trusted and easy. Now, there's a level of guilt and question added in the mix, almost without exception. I don't want your guy. Really. Hell, I've listened to you complain about him for ages. Don't invite me to your couple parties, or sit me next to your man at dinner. Just please, please, hop my Facebook threads and follow me on Twitter.