Friday, November 27, 2009

Paired for Life? Part 1


I have recently dipped the very tip of a toe into the world of internet dating. You know what it's like - you begin to fill in one of these questionnaires for a bit of fun and, before you know it, you're on the front page of Guardian Soulmates with a glass in your hand and a party grin on your blotchy face.

Thus I found myself listed on two dating websites (not on the front page though - I had the sense to untick that particular permission box) and within the day I was getting smiley faces and thumbs up and even a message or two. And that's when the cold feet began to throb.

They try to tell you there's a world of men out there waiting for you in the internet pond but really, when it comes down to it, by the time you've whittled down the age and the location to the right parameters, you find there are only a dozen guys to sort through. And I'm afraid to say I wasn't the slightest bit intrigued by any of them. It didn't look as though I was going to find my next soulmate here.

And if I wasn't going to do that, then why bother? What was it I was looking for? Someone to go to the theatre with? Sex with more than one person involved? A bloke handy with a screwdriver and a spirit level? That last one is not related to the previous one, though it could be I suppose...

The point is, faced with the reality of an actual man on the other end of the internet connection, I wasn't sure that I wanted to get involved again. I thought at first that this was just nervousness but I think there's more to it than that. I was with the Golfer for thirty years. I felt as if I was joined to him for life. Even though our marriage was not happy in later years, he was still the person who knew me best in the world. We had grown up as adults together - through university, becoming parents, getting the first grey hairs, and beginning our midlife crises. We'd been through redundancy, the death of our parents, the care of relatives. My whole adult life was entwined with this man and I'm not sure I can start again with someone else. I'm not sure I want to.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not clinging to the past and, as an atheist, I don't believe that the Golfer is still somehow here with me, nor that I will meet him again in the hereafter. I know that he is gone and that I am alone. And there is nothing I would like better than to find another soulmate, someone to love and to be cherished by. But I feel as if I have had my go at marriage. We were happy for a while and then he died. If it doesn't sound too obvious a thing to say, if he was still alive we would still be married. The fact that he is dead doesn't change my side of the equation, so to speak. It's just that it's an unbalanced equation. On the one side there is Puddock - wife, mother, dog-carer and aspiring writer; on the other side there is a photograph of a man who used to exist. I still look after a dog and have a son; I still try to write; I still hate washing dishes and resent cooking; it's just that he isn't there. I feel as if I have had my go at the bran-tub of marriage; it's just that my prize didn't last its lifetime guarantee. I'm not sure I get a second go. No refunds, no replacements.

I know there are many people out there who have happily remarried after death or divorce. I know it can be wonderful. I think maybe the life stage you are at makes a difference. I had had my family. I had, almost literally, just waved my only child off to University when my husband died. We were beginning to think about early retirement to the country - him to grow apples and play golf, me to write and sell books. We had known each other since we were twelve and been together since we were eighteen. A thirty year relationship is a very different thing from a five or a ten or even a fifteen year relationship. There's so much damn history, apart from anything else.

When he died, I was on the cusp of middle age, and now feel resolutely so. If I had been younger, there might still have been a drive to have another child, and that might have made a difference. In fact, when he was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, that was one of my first thoughts - that we could make a baby - some biological imperative kicking in, no doubt. But he was too ill and the fantasy melted away. Now I am too old, biologically. If he'd died at 40, I'd have still had a family to care for, and that would have made a difference. If he'd died at 30, I think my need for sex would have had me looking for a man PDQ. But he died at 47, just too late for either of those to be relevant.

So, though it makes me very sad to think it, and feel as if I might as well be 81, instead of 51, I don't think I am going to go looking for love. If it happens by chance, unexpectedly and out of the blue, then wonderful. But in the meantime, and not expecting it to happen, I have to adapt to a life alone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The (Non) Joys of Dining Alone


My fellow Prunes,

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman dining alone will always be given the worst table in the restaurant. I've had plenty of experience of eating out alone since I came here - partly the novelty of simply being able to walk out for food, after being a 20 minute drive from the nearest takeaway before, partly because I've been so busy sorting the house out that I couldn't lift a saucepan.

It's my own fault for choosing a holiday town. Everywhere there are noisy family groups or hand-holding couples. I can just about cope with it when I walk my mad old dog along the prom. We make an interesting little group of our own and people talk to us. I don't think I'll walk along the seashore on my own very often, though. You get fed up looking either brave or enigmatic. Sometimes you just want to look normal.

Dinner last night though was the first time I was offered the classic worst table in the room. I was proud of myself for saying "hey, what about something a bit more in the body of the kirk?" but it didn't make any difference. "I can't put a single diner at a table for four", he said, and I could sort of see his point. But I had been looking forward all day to going out and being amongst people and instead I found myself perched at a little table next to the proverbial kitchen door, with an unsmiling couple on the other side. Luckily I had brought plenty to read with me and I set about looking interesting and enigmatic. J.K. Rowling has done a great service to lone diners. Get out a notebook and begin writing and you can be sure people will notice. And suddenly you turn from a figure of pity to, at least, a figure of curiosity. You look, suddenly, more interesting than they do. I've even had people ask me if I'm writing a novel.

But still, I am fed up being the odd one out. I WANT TO BE NORMAL! I had a friend staying with me for a few nights last week and it was great to gossip over a coffee and a cake in places where I had days before been the sad lone woman. Of course, I'm back to that now. The question I want to ask is "where are all the single people?" I know there are millions of us out there. I can only assume that they are sitting at home alone in the dark. Come on, guys and girls, get out there. If I see you sitting in a restaurant I'll give you a sisterly smile of encouragement.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Progress Report


I thought I'd better update you, my fellow Prunes, on progress in the new house. The dizziness has abated considerably and I only feel it now if I am feeling stressed or unhappy. I had a friend staying last week, and that was great because I could be relatively normal for a while - eating out with a person instead of a book, getting a reply from another human being when I spoke, instead of having to fill in the gaps myself and, best of all, someone to help with the washing-up. One of the most wearing things I have found since my husband had the bad taste to die on me has been the grinding, never-ending list of jobs to be tackled alone. I can put them off but I know that I will need, at some point, to decorate, cut the grass, fix the washing machine, get the window leak fixed, decorate, do the ironing, buy, and worst of all construct, Ikea storage units, decorate, did I say decorate... Every time something has to be done I know I'm the one that has to do it. For those of us spoiled by long marriages to DIY-competent men, this is one of the hardest things to accept as a side-effect of widowhood.

Of course, I feel a sense of achievement when I tackle a new job successfully, and I have awarded myself many invisible gold stars. Maybe we middle-aged and alone women should set up a network of gold star awards - where, if any one of us feels she (or he!) has done a particularly brave thing, we are automatically granted a gold star by our fellows. But I still resent having to do it all, and it doesn't half wear me down. I recognise the same feeling in the eyes of widowed friends that I meet - that weariness.

Anyway, I am continuing to settle in. Feeling a bit better physically but just as lonely as ever, so far. I think I thought that I'd be inundated with company somehow, simply by moving back to town - I was wrong. But I am getting there and, girls, for any of you out there thinking about moving house - it can be done - if I did it, you can do it!