Single Women Are the World’s True Romantics

One Saturday night, after I had criticized him for some failure of sensibility, he brought the affair to a precipitous end by demanding that I get out of his car as we were barreling down Second Avenue on our way to dinner. I can recall, with the sort of pained immediacy that I associate with only the most traumatic events, phoning him for several nights in a row and, without saying a word, proceeding to play Linda Ronstadt singing “Heart Like a Wheel” into the earphone. I eventually even inveigled one of my brothers into calling him up to explain that I was a great girl and that my acid tongue had always gotten the better of me but didn’t mean anything. Needless to say, he listened politely to my brother’s spiel but remained unpersuaded.

When I finally got hitched at the age of 34, I did so under some duress. I had been dating the man who became my husband on and off for six years, and although we were more intimately involved than I had ever been with anyone else, I had never reached that point of visceral instinct that he was the one for me. Instead I found myself foundering in doubts, beset by anxiety about his various shortcomings and wondering whether he didn’t “translate” outside of the private realm. This matter of a romantic partner’s suitability or presentability as a consort in the outside world—as opposed to his fitting in with my idiosyncratic relational needs—was an obstacle I had confronted in almost every relationship I’d been in. I could never seem to find the man who could cross over from the bedroom to the boardroom, so to speak—who cut a compelling figure on both the private and public front.

On top of this, I had learned through hard experience not to trust my own taste, to proceed with caution when it came to choosing a partner. I was naturally drawn to what one shrink of mine described as “wounded pigeons”—men who were lost or sad or angry, men who hadn’t quite blossomed—and my husband-to-be was true to type. The long and the short of it was that I got engaged, then broke our engagement and took a break, then finally hurtled myself into marriage on radically short notice after a joint session with my then shrink and my mother—not, you may note, with the man I was about to wed—and arbitrarily set a wedding date in three weeks’ time. The 70 people who congregated in my parents’ living room on a late November evening to watch me walk numbly down the staircase in an off-white gown that I had chosen at Kleinfeld, one that added pounds to my figure and had an unbecoming bunnytail pom-pom in the back, must have assumed that my hastily convened wedding was a shotgun affair.

These days, I have taken to hovering on the periphery of the couples I know, trying to ascertain whether the flaw lies with me or with the configuration itself. There are one or two among them who exist primarily as cautionary tales, presenting something akin to a low-grade, festering Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? scenario-in-the-making: couples who bicker so avidly over everything from the way one of them holds the remote control to a perceived failure to wrap a piece of cheese properly that their acrimony gives off fumes. I assume that money, children, or inertia keeps this type of couple intact—chained together for the duration, eliciting equal parts pity and disdain from those around them. Then there are the couples who seem quietly tired of each other, ground down in what the English writer Stella Gibbons called the “long monotony of marriage,” but content with their plight all the same. Finally, there are those rare couples who seem enraptured or close to it, friends but more than friends, giving one a scintilla of hope.

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Single Women Are the World’s True Romantics

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