Last year I wrote about jazz singer Arie Thompson’s show celebrating the release of her CD “Passionate Solitude.” (Unpartnered--A Life of Passionate Solitude or Eventual Regret?) The album grew out of her realization that she was the only one of her friends who was and always had been “un-partnered” whether she was with a man or not. Between songs, she talked the talk of the bravely romantic:
“When you are not with one man, you get to be with many.
“You can appreciate intimacy on so many levels.”
She told a poignant story of a hook-up that was a “soul connection”. He didn’t call. She called him.
“I’m in a relationship,” he said, “but you’re right—we really connected.”
Plaintively, she asked the audience, “Do we lack such imagination that longevity is the only measure of success in a relationship?”
I’ve come back to that question, and others she asked, from time to time; and I’ve certainly thought more about the meaning of “partnered” at this juncture of my life than I did when I had “options.”
On a bad day—
I imagine that a partner would stand between me and all manner of annoyances—like the simple logistics of schlepping and getting a cab in the rain at rush hour. Yes, there should be a tall, big-shouldered man to help me off trains and carry packages and say things like, 'Don't talk to my woman like that', but...
…there isn’t. Like Blanche du Bois, I depend on the kindness of strangers, at least in public places; and I have found them most kind in hoisting bags, opening doors.
On a good day—
I look at how many people are unhappily partnered and think, Oh, no, I would hate to be trapped there.
I look at those few people who are happily partnered and share the warmth of their love with us and think, I am lucky to have this in my life without having done the work on The Relationship.
And I am glad that I was married, that I had good lovers, that I knew good men.
Following a youthful marriage, the decade of my twenties, I have been un-partnered, though not without men, as lovers and in relationships—and perhaps in the psychological sense, I was un-partnered even while married. Connecting intimately (outside of the sexual) has always been my issue. When I’ve loved a man, I’ve pushed him away and instantly regretted doing so. I’ve been in and out of therapy for years, especially the last eight years—therapy as depicted in old Woody Allen movies, where you talk and talk, go away to ruminate, perhaps for months, on what you think you learned, discover that you did not get it right and go talk and talk again. (Lorraine and Mel and I joke that any book we write should have a Therapy chapter between each regular chapter.)
To say I’ve had lifelong boundary issues doesn’t begin to say it. I was conscious of putting on masks as a child, hiding behind them to protect what little I had of myself that was mine. My mother lived through me, reading my diaries, listening in on my phone conversations, hiding in the bushes to catch a date kissing me good-night. I was genius at outwitting her. How I wish I’d been that smart at understanding her—and not reacted like an adolescent to her into my forties.
A funny vignette about my mother—and maybe the Crain sisters had/have a warped sense of humor, but we laughed rather than sobbed histrionically about our family stories--
When I was 17 (and Jenny had taken me to her doctor to get the pill), Mama suspected I wasn’t a virgin but she couldn’t catch me in any acts. One night I came home from a date with the lover in question who chastely walked me to the door, holding my hand, no kiss.
Are you pregnant? She demanded. (Many years later when I learned she’d had an out- of-wedlock baby before marrying Daddy, that question made more sense.) I was on my period. She followed me into the bathroom, demanding proof. I pulled out the bloody tampon and slapped it into her outstretched hand.
I still giggle remembering how she backed into that one.
Sylvia, my therapist before the last one, says that both therapists and their clients do not fail when treatment goals are not met—as long as they’ve taken the client’s self-realization further than it went before. Unfortunately, the overriding mandate in American mental health care is: Few therapy sessions, copious amounts of prescription drugs. Under that pressure, there is hardly time for self-realization to evolve. Figuring out who you are and why you behave the way you do is an almost leisurely intellectual pursuit. It might take a long time to get to the bloody tampon, longer still to understand why your mother did what she did. If you bring no critical reasoning, no empathy, no understanding to your own story of the tampon, you remain a grown child listing grievances, perpetuating the family behavior patterns.
Have you ever noticed that the people who hate their mommies are just like them?
Along the way in therapy, the slow version, we learn the difference between understanding/explaining and excusing/blaming. We learn to avoid the scary people who believe in rigid Right/Wrong, Good/Bad, the people who love you too much before flipping around to hate you excessively, like the possessed in a horror movie, spewing foul-mouthed rage that was buried beneath the surface even as they proclaimed their admiration for you.
Coming to the end of my life, I had just reached the place in therapy where I thought, OK, I do get this now; and I felt the weight of other people’s expectations, validation needs and disappointments lifted off my shoulders and blown to the wind like piles of bubble bath. Why did I ever think they had weight at all?
Of course, I figured all this out too late to becoming an Aging Boomer Finding Last Love, a new lifestyle headline. I will definitely be the one left without a chair when the music stops. But if I could have become a fifty-plus bride, escorted down the aisle by her little grands—would I have?
I don’t know if I could have been the woman needed by the man I needed.
No regrets. I value what I’ve had. Why do women tell themselves that the right man never came along or that men are all bums or that intense stranger sex is a soul connection? In the end, one-night stands or hook-ups were sexual connections. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Are you partnered?
Are you happy?
Whether partnered or not, you are responsible for your own happiness.
The health update: More tired, more aches and pains. Most annoying at the moment: the numb chin and lower lip. Occasionally I feel as if little spikes were coming out of the chin as if I were growing chin whispers like the three little pigs.
Finally, I know what you can do if you want to do something. Many readers ask. Please make a donation, big or small, to St. Jude's Research Childrens Hospital. They treat children with cancer--and no child is turned away because their family can't pay.
IF YOU'VE MISSED THE PREVIOUS POSTS--
Dying, The End Game, Part Six: A Quickie on Questions People Ask
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