We need a “bah humbug!” exhortation for Valentine’s Day. The minute New Year’s Eve celebrations have ended — yes, another mental toe-stub for the singles among us — retailers churn out Valentine’s ads for diamonds, chocolates, and sickeningly cute gifts, all to be given and received by a partner. And not just any partner. No, a swooning-with-love partner.
Well, heck, we’ve all had those. We’ve been those. But for those of us who find ourselves shy a plus-one on Valentine’s Day, there’s a silver lining:
It can be sublime to be alone.
Some of us may use this special day of romance to uncork a bottle of bubbly (or ginger ale) to celebrate solitude.
Growing up, I thought marriage was gross. This was back in the ’50s, when actual Mad Men in flannel suits abounded, and most women, at least in my suburban milieu, were housewives who vacuumed much of the day, and served meatballs and spaghetti to sulky children at night. I vowed never to marry. So what did I do? I tied the knot at the ridiculously young age of 22.
That was a practice marriage, lasting a mere 2½ years. Down the line, I met comedy writer Marty Nadler, who introduced me to Martha’s Vineyard in 1976, and who cut so wide a social swath on-Island that people still ask me when I’m introduced to them, “Are you Marty’s wife?”
We had our baby Charlie here in ’84, moved year-round to our house in East Chop in ’91, and finally split the blanket — and everything else — after Charlie went off to B.U. in 2002. Yes, it was sad. So let’s not dwell on it. I had a bookstore in Oak Bluffs, then closed it after six years when the Great Recession squatted on me like a fat, unseemly toad. Somewhere along the line — was it 2009 or 2010? — I took part in a marriage that lasted for all of 13 months. This breakup was less sad, across the long saga of my lifetime. The whole experience rattled by so fast, it was like one of those movies where you ask yourself, “Did I watch the whole thing or just the trailer?”
Bottom line, I love to be alone. So did Thoreau. So did Emily Dickinson. Problem is, our culture makes no space for anything other than the attainment of couplehood. Each seeker of solitude has to find peace in his or her monastery of one.
I’ve often wondered what modern life would look like if girls and boys were told, “Some of you might find you’re attracted to being alone more often than not. Along the way, figure it out. It might save you a failed marriage. Or three.”
Not that I’m against romance per se. My idea of the perfect marriage would be for two people to own a lot with two houses set a hundred yards apart, encircled by a fenced-in area through which the couple’s pack of dogs could freely come and go. An invitation to coffee would be made by phone.
But most single people on Valentine’s Day feel bereft without a sweetheart with whom to celebrate. I’ve tried telling my anxious female friends, “You don’t need a boyfriend if you have a dog.” A dog’s median body temp burns at a hot-water-bottle warmth of 102°. Dogs make really good snugglers on a cold winter’s night. It’s not as good as spooning with your sweetie, but on the plus side, you’re not obliged to make conversation when all you want is a cup of coffee and a long perusal of the newspaper.
So here’s the bull I grabbed by the horn this past snowy Feb. 14th: I celebrated life itself, with me in it. And all the rest of you.
Even the most staunch of hermits require people time. You can get that here in spades, where everyplace you go is like the Cheers bar, where everybody knows your name.
First, I trudged up School Street in the aching cold to the Oak Bluffs library, which had a heated pot of hot chocolate on offer, along with candies and the kind of literary chitchat all readers enjoy; in fact, Jonathan at the desk sent me home with a biography of Catherine the Great by Peter K. Massie.
Drop-ins were invited to write Valentines to favorite fictional characters. I picked Bernie Rhodenbarr of Lawrence Block’s mystery series. Bernie is a bookseller by day and a burglar by night, so once again I found a perfect, unconventional partnership as I proposed, “Bernie, while you’re sleeping until noon after burglarizing posh houses, I’m up at the crack of dawn, which in turn puts me back into bed just at the time you’re planning a new raid. Do you see the beauty in this? We could have fabulous lunch dates!”
I went home and grabbed my Boston terrier, Huxley, bundled him into both his sweaters, and we popped in on friends Frank and Rita Imbimbo, who own the inspirational gift store Sanctuary on Circuit Avenue. After a bunch of laughs — Frank’s specialty — and treats for Huxley, Rita’s forte, I bought a scented pale turquoise candle and a Valentine’s card to myself, which read, “Just knowing you’re there keeps a smile in my heart.” Well, duh, if I weren’t there, there’d be no heart to smile in.
Back at home, I called two out of three ex-husbands (the first is lost to the mists of time). Number Three asked, “Have you phoned Number Two?” I told him I had, which pleased him; these guys really like each other. Both men make me laugh, which is one of the reasons I keep in close touch with them.
I’d invited my friend, native New Yorker Timi Brown, who lives a few blocks over on Samoset, to join me for homemade soup and salad and the best bread in stock at Reliable, but a new blizzard front was coming in, so we postponed.
I lit some candles and spent the rest of Valentine’s Day alone; well, alone save for my boon companion, Hux, who bundled beside me on the sofa as I picked up the heavy tome about Catherine the Great to see how the great Russian empress dealt with her own love life.
There was something about a horse, as I recall.