A woman has two choices when she finds herself single again after twenty-some years (not counting suicide or homicide); she can redouble her efforts at work and with what kids are still around, thereby becoming a social hermit, or she can commit to a vigorous training program to become the most, um, fulfilled gal in town. I know, you're already thinking about sex (who isn't?), but becoming a harlot is not what I'm talking about.
It takes an extraordinary amount of energy and time, with no little courage thrown in, to be single and out in the world. Frankly, I'm stunned by how hard it is, but the alternative of a life of meeting my other divorced girlfriends every weekend over mojitos and guacamole isn't exactly the reward I'm expecting after all this awful divorce business.
I love my girlfriends, as everyone knows, but we single women can be ghetto-ized if we don't live strong. It's a piece of cake to find people to meet up with for lunch, but more like a mile of hot pavement to find playmates after 6pm. Those are the hours when married people turn back into couples and socialize as such. And forget weekends, because couples, especially those with kids, take on the familiar rhythms of errands, sports practices, perhaps a dinner out and resting. I know; I did it for 27 years.
Here's a typical dialog between couples:
"What do you feel like doing tonight?"
"I don't know. I'm kind of hungry, but I don't feel like having to shower and look good to go anywhere."
Hmm...How about picking up sushi and just coming home and watching 'Law and Order: SVU' on TiVo?"
"Yeah, ok. Can we watch from bed?"
All us single-again ladies have to work so much harder than that. If we have that dialog with ourselves, we end up alone with soy sauce on our sheets. While that little scenario may not be particularly scintillating even to couples, it's still a companionable endeavor that no longer exists for people like me. But one thing I know for sure; I've done that enough already and I'm taking on a much bigger life.
It all starts with setting aside a certain amount of time each day to nurture your relationships, according to my Girlfriend Shelli. You have to reach out to friends and acquaintances at least four days a week. That does not include your morning check-in call with your best friends. It means reaching out to the people you like but never seem to have a chance to see. It means being bold and setting up dates with couples you socialized with while you were married. None of that worrying about who gets custody of the friends you shared while married. As far as you should be concerned, you get custody of all of them. Look, that old saw of divorced women being dropped by their married friends because the other women think they'll steal their husbands is clearly some nostalgic notion created by the guys portrayed in Mad Men. It goes without saying that flirting with other women's men is never stylish, but I'm just reiterating.
Part of staying social is accepting invitations and not canceling at the last minute because you feel fat or you've been crying or you're suffering from some endocrinal collapse. People will only reach out to you once or twice before they drop you, unless of course, they are socially impoverished themselves, in which case, it is time to cast your net further. It also means introducing yourself to people you don't know while at their fete and actually finding things to talk about other than your ex and your kids. Some suggested topics can be, "What do you think about Jon and Kate's divorce and who should get custody of their kids?" or "Are Priuses trite by now or should we still buy them?" or "Why do you think bikini waxes are so popular these days?" Never begin with, "So what do you do?" because they'll ask you back and unless you have a professionally scripted answer, you're bound to undersell yourself.
The biggest challenge to staying social after divorce, the Mount Everest for us social climbers (and I mean that in the nicest way, of course) is learning to show up, ALONE. Just stick forks in your eyes now, right? Every fear of inadequacy we have ever known strangles the breath right at of us just considering it, but scaling that peak brings us into a higher realm of evolution. Those of us who enter alone don't look like losers; we look like the guest of honor. My secret is to pretend that I'm actually the hostess of the gathering, not the guest. I smile welcomingly to everyone I pass; even stopping to say such things as, "I'm on my way to get something to drink. Can I get you anything?" Serving is such a natural proclivity for most women that feeling useful at an event rather than standing around waiting for someone to rescue us that a terrific strategy. Besides, people love to feel looked after and will like you already. Just remember never to try this if you're wearing dark pants and a white top, or else you'll find people handing you empty glasses to return to the kitchen or asking for another mini pizza on a napkin.
As a writer living in LA, I have the great fortune to get occasional invitations to book release parties. Now, instead of feeling insanely competitive with or envious of other authors who have actually completed their books and been published, I look forward to two hours of "face time." Just being seen as a functioning person who not only has survived divorce but is blossoming in her single state creates new interest in us. It never hurts to have people whispering behind your back that you've never looked better in your life. Since book parties almost never last more than two hours, I've taken to wearing my highest, sexiest heels to them. Remember, the legs last forever so they deserve to be shown off. Plus, being taller than usual gives me five more inches of confidence. If you really want to knock yourself out, stop by a department store and let someone do your makeup for you first. At least you'll love yourself and that's the best beginning of all.