Once when I asked my cousin why she got married, she said, “So the cat doesn’t eat your face.” There was a time in my life when the mere suggestion of that fate was enough to make me run to the nearest bar looking for a man to keep me warm. My friend, sister and I called this type of man, “a sweater.” A sweater is a man who is good for dating in the winter when the weather turns cold. I lived in New York City for many years and though New Yorkers are intrepid, socializing definitely decreases when the temperature drops. And God forbid it should snow because then you’re really not going out. And why leave your home for fun when you can have fun delivered to your door by your new cozy sweater, ahem, man?
Sweaters come in varying quality and depending on your needs a lesser quality sweater will do. The goal always started out to find a fine cashmere sweater – a tall, smart gentleman with a great job, interesting personality, fantastic sense of humor who was also movie-star fine. But as October slipped into November and November melted into December, my search for the perfect cashmere sweater often came up empty and my expectation of quality dropped. Maybe a cute Poly blend sweater would do the trick for this winter?
However, a Poly blend sweater man is not an heirloom piece, he’s not built to last. A Poly blend man is cute, fun, uncomplicated and satisfies certain needs. You know what I’m saying. It’s fast fashion meant only for a season. Guess who is not coming to dinner? But this type of man served my purpose of keeping me warm, of keeping away my loneliness.
Though the temperature changes in Northern California, where I live now, aren’t as severe as they are in New York City there is still something about dating in winter that makes me want to hibernate. However, as I’ve aged the drive to get a man for the winter isn’t as strong, honestly, sometimes it’s barely there at all.
In some ways, I think this is a good thing I remember feeling almost consumed with desperation for some male company as the holidays approached and of course, right after you ring in the New Year, Valentine’s Day is at your doorstep. I also think I’ve just outgrown needing a man “just to keep me warm.” Men as sweaters? This is a concept only a twenty-something woman would come up with.
But on the other hand, the far other hand is George Bell. A few years ago, there was an article in The New York Times chronicling the lonely death (and thereby the life) of a man named George Bell. Every year people die alone and their deaths go unnoticed … for a while at least.
George was single, never married in fact, and childless. His parents died years before him and he didn’t have siblings or close relatives. He’d been on disability for many years and he’d lost touch with several of the friends he’d once had. When the author of the article interviewed the few people he did maintain relationships with they said that they felt like they never really got to know George. When he died, there wasn’t much of a ripple.
The article detailed the process that the city goes through when a person dies and there isn’t someone to look after his or her affairs. As I read about George’s life and looked at the photographs of his family and friends, I wondered, “Will this be me?”
I’m single, never married, childless, and I live alone. Though I have siblings, many friends and both of my parents are still alive, there is a persistent singleness I’ve settled into as I’ve gotten older.
Although George’s tolerance for being alone must have been high, at one point in his life he wanted companionship. He had been very much in love when he was 25 with a woman named Eleanore. They were going to get married but Eleanore’s mother, fearing that the marriage would end in divorce, wanted George to sign a prenuptial agreement. He broke off the engagement and never married. After he died, investigators went through his things to help them identify the body and they found a card sent by Eleanore. She closed the note with “Love always, Eleanore (Puffy).” Years of unrequited love.
I used to jokingly say to my sister, “I know why you’re single, but why am I?” I acted as if I had been unfairly cursed with a plague called singleness. But I realize I can’t honestly ask that question anymore. The question I have to ask myself is, “Why don’t I care enough NOT to be single?” There are many things that I care about becoming, about doing … becoming a practicing artist, traveling the world, creating a thriving business and I’m doing those things.
And yet here I sit wanting to be married and not doing anything about it. I’m not the only one; the majority of my girlfriends aren’t dating. And even casual conversations with single women reveal that we aren’t alone. Wonderful, beautiful, and brilliant women, all single, and yet very few are dating on a regular basis. Is it just fatigue, tiring of countless dates with another Mr. Wrong? Or is it the fear that like a game of musical chairs you realize the music has stopped and there’s not a chair for you?
There’s a quote by Aristotle that goes, “We are what we repeatedly do.” At what point do seemingly small choices become one big life decision? Did George Bell decide one day to be alone for the rest of his life or did he, each day, choose not to see that friend, reach out to another person, or go after Eleanore?
Though I don’t know the full extent of George’s life and I hope that his fate would never be mine, I do see in him a tragic kindred spirit – he closed himself off from intimacy in big and small ways. By not dating, I’m closing myself off from one avenue of intimacy, an opportunity to be known and to be a mirror for someone else. Though I no longer feel the desperation to keep the loneliness and cold at bay with a man, a sweater, I hope that the desire for intimacy, for connection, will be enough to make me curious to ask myself, “What if today I made a different choice?” and see what comes.