I don’t spend much time, if any, reflecting on my life and how I wish it were different—partly, because I find it fairly satisfying — mainly, because I just don’t have the time. But a friend of mine, whom I’ll call Jane, seems to be obsessed with hers.
“I think I’m becoming one of those weird people who have been single too long,” Jane recently confessed to me.
“Yeah, probably,” I responded, way too quickly, far too honestly. But I’ve known this gal for almost 40 years and I can be pretty darn open with her, which is maybe why we’re still friends. Or not. More likely, it’s because our childhood backgrounds are so strikingly similar that we each know exactly where the other is coming from, literally.
I met her in first or second grade. We became great pals or, more aptly, partners in mischief, during the eight years we spent together at our local Catholic grade school, furtively passing notes back and forth in the dusty classrooms and competing to dominate the fifth grade social strata on the parking lot adjacent to the convent that passed as a playground.
She used her smarts and savvy to become a successful professional in the pharmaceutical industry, remaining a go-to employee in the face of several rounds of layoffs in the cruelest economy. I have remained, ever so marginally, in the workforce while attempting to keep up with the constantly changing demands and idiosyncrasies of my two children. And, I’ve been married for as long as I can remember. She is, and has been as long as I’ve known her, single.
The personal challenges each of us confront on a daily basis are dramatically different. Mine are of the suburban middle-aged mother variety, which are pretty mundane and not worth spending a lot of time ruminating on. Her lifestyle problems are foreign to me. And, at the risk of sounding insensitive, some of them seem to me more like pros than cons.
Take eating alone, for instance, something I occasionally long to do. No Betty Crocker, I nonetheless soldier on, night after night, stirring this and warming up that, ultimately throwing a miscellaneous mess on the dining room table and looking forward far more to the glass of wine I pour myself than whatever I put on the plates. It—the glass of wine, that is—makes the scrunched-up faces and less-than-favorable comments I face from my family that much easier to swallow. Needless to say, if I could get away with kicking up my feet and pulling out of a bag some prepared food for myself a few nights a week, I’d think I’d gladly indulge.
My friend also complains about having too much time on her hands. I wish I could relate. When I do have somewhere to go where I want to look respectable, I’m usually flying out the door last-minute, makeup in hand, hoping to hit some red lights so I can smear it on. I frequently dash into the gym breathless and spend about half the time sweating as other members, then run out un-showered or with wet hair, still managing to get to carpool line late. I often find myself accepting work assignments with competing deadlines and assuring multiple clients that I can meet them, all the while cursing myself under my breath.
My friend, on the other hand, acknowledges that her house is routinely clean and neat. She always looks perfectly coifed and put together. She also admits that she works way too many hours—to the point where her boss has told her to back off on her schedule. I can’t begin to imagine the general orderliness that appears to envelop my friend’s world.
Without fully considering my friend’s uber-orderly nature, I recommended that she get a dog. It could keep her company and help her find some (human) male companionship. If you’ve ever taken a dog for a walk in a public park, you know what I mean. Have a panting four-legged animal at your side makes it incredibly easy to strike up conversations with total strangers. One of those conversations just might lead to a meaningful relationship, I pointed out.
As eager as she says she is to meet a man, Jane quickly rejected the dog idea. The smell, the hair, the poop—there’s just no way, she said, literally shivering at the thought.
Yes, I thought, dogs are a bit messy. But having a boyfriend can be messy too. And having a family? Way more messy still. I, perhaps naively, have embraced relationships in my adult life—with a man, children, animals. Messiness, an unavoidable byproduct of these relationships, doesn’t necessarily detract from the satisfaction they deliver.
I’m not suggesting that my single gal pal needs to be willing to bend down and pick up dog poop in order to land a boyfriend. But it might not be a bad place to start.
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