As a single woman who lives by myself, for the most part I'm able to enjoy my solo life without being plagued by loneliness, longing, or even the sense that I'm missing out on some essential part of existence by being uncoupled. I can go to yoga and write and pursue my career goals and hang out in coffee shops and feel OK.
But every so often situations arise that highlight my husbandlessness. I'm usually pretty self-sufficient, but I have my limitations -- I'm not handy, I have a chronic injury that prevents me from lifting heavy objects, and the only tool I own is a miniature pink hammer with a floral handle. When I'm face-to-face with these limitations and need assistance, I have to, uncomfortably, ask for it.
Last month, I was shivering under my covers in my Brooklyn studio apartment as Hurricane Joaquin wended its way up the East Coast. Cold dreary weather had descended upon the tri-state area, the heat in my building hadn't kicked in for the season yet, and my AC was still in my window, allowing blasts of cold air into the room as wind whipped against its flimsy accordion panels.
It's that time again! I thought, pulling my comforter up to my chin as rain pelted down on my air conditioner in metallic pings and my shade banged back and forth against my window in the breeze. Time to text Jeff to take out my AC.
Twice a year, the task of putting in and taking out my AC fills me with dread. Several neighbors have aided me in this feat, and for the past few years I've primarily relied on Jeff, who lives on the floor below me. But come June and October, I get anxious about contacting him for my bi-annual favor, worrying that I'll annoy him or he's sick of doing it.
Even though this chore only requires that I send a brief text, and Jeff always agrees to help, I put it off until the last possible moment every time. This leaves me, in the summer, dripping with sweat and tossing and turning, unable to sleep in the unbearable heat, and in the fall, diving for refuge under my covers as soon as I get home, and then shivering in bed, for as long as I can stand it.
My stomach in knots, I texted Jeff my request, and he responded right away, saying he'd be right up. He didn't write, "F*ck off" or "I'm sick of you and your neediness" or "Take out your own goddamn AC!" as part of me secretly feared.
Minutes later, Jeff appeared at my door holding a toolbox. He lifted the AC out of my window, placed it on the floor to drain out, and unbolted the bracket that had been holding it up so I'd be able to close my window. As he was leaving, he promised to come back at a later date, once my air conditioner had finished draining, to transport it to its final winter resting place in my closet. I was relieved to have the dreaded task behind me, but couldn't help thinking that this whole process would have been a lot easier if I just had a husband.
Another thing that prompts me to wish I was partnered up is any home improvement project that entails more than a miniature pink floral hammer. Like last summer, when my shade broke.
When I'd first moved into my apartment nine years earlier, I'd bought two Roman shades at Home Depot for $50 total and my architect friend came over with her power drill and installed them. She'd since gotten married and moved out west, so I wasn't sure how I was going to replace my snapped shade. After some procrastination, I finally ventured back to Home Depot, hoping that I could buy the exact same kind and have someone from the store install it.
Arriving at Home Depot, I discovered that the $50 two-pack I'd purchased in 2005 was long gone. They no longer sold any prepackaged Roman shades, and only had much more expensive custom-fit ones.
"Do you do installation for these?" I asked the salesperson, gesturing at the rows of other types of ready-made shades.
"No," he said.
"OK," I nodded, turning to leave.
But standing in the middle of the window treatment aisle, a pang of loneliness surged up and overtook me. How am I going to replace the shades by myself? I thought, my little pink hammer popping into my mind. Who can I ask for help now? Sniffling, I fought back tears -- and the rising panic that I really was all alone. Making a beeline for the front of the store, I burst out onto the busy New York City street and started to cry.
Luckily I was on my way to therapy, and through sobs, I explained to my therapist that I couldn't look out my window because my shade wouldn't open and I didn't own any tools and Home Depot didn't sell cheap Roman shades anymore and I WAS GOING TO BE ALONE FOREVER!!!
"I don't usually give this kind of advice," she said, "but I actually had shades installed in my apartment today. I ordered them through Lowe's, and they do home installation."
A few days later I trekked out to Lowe's and ordered Roman shades, splurging on custom-made ones so I could qualify for their home installation service. They sent a man to take my window measurements beforehand, and then he came back to hang the shades once they were ready. My existential crisis was averted by blackout shades that, while pricey, were much better than my previous Home Depot bargain ones.
However, there's still another type of situation that's impossible to anticipate, difficult to outsource to kind neighbors or trained professionals, and reminds me that I'm alone -- killing bugs.
One night a couple of weeks ago, I glanced up and saw a water bug on the ceiling over my kitchen. It then took off in flight, circling through the air to my ongoing screams. Grabbing an issue of Psychology Today, I raced to where it had landed just in time to see it slither into the cabinet under the sink. Hearing it riffling through plastic bags, I shuddered. Quaking in my kitchen, I wished that I had a significant other, and that we could take on this antennaed, sandwich-baggie-rustling intruder together.
The water bug finally emerged, darting across the floor. I steeled myself, chased it, and smashed it with my magazine. As I was cleaning up its remains, I remembered a time many years ago when a guy I was dating was over at my place and we saw a bug crawling up the wall. He went to kill it and missed, and it scurried off, disturbingly, behind my bed.
I'm perfectly capable of killing insects, and when confronted with one, a fierce determination comes over me and I almost never miss. But at close to midnight in the wake of the water bug incident, I thought about how this moment could have been eased by companionship. Even if my hypothetical husband hadn't been the one to kill the bug and I'd still done the deed, at least I'd have had someone standing at my side, and not have had to face the multi-legged visitor on my own.
Of course I'm aware that a husband isn't just there for help with the heavy lifting, the wielding of a power drill, and squashing bugs. And these aren't actually the reasons I want to be in a relationship. What these times of air conditioner removal, shade replacement, and water bug killing do is upset my day-to-day life. By staying busy, going to yoga, writing, pursuing my career goals, and hanging out in coffee shops, I can convince myself that I'm completely content and fulfilled, and don't need anyone else -- a boyfriend, or a husband -- to be happy. And in doing so I can almost entirely blot out my need for love, mostly because deep down I fear I'll never find it.
But these moments when I need help around my apartment create a crack in my resolve. Through that tiny opening, the loneliness, longing, and thought that just maybe, I am missing out on some important part of life by being uncoupled, can sneak in uninvited. And it takes a lot more than an issue of Psychology Today to fend off those feelings.