Nothing screams "pathetic loser" more than being a middle-aged divorcee alone at a festive party where beautiful couples are trading sloppy kisses and giggling like demented clowns. There's not enough spiked punch in the world to soften the pain of pretending it doesn't matter. Many of us graze along the buffet table hoping the crunch of nachos will be louder than the boisterous laughter of young lovers and then we migrate to the bar because all we get to take home is a headache.
We never intended to be divorced at midlife, but it happened.
According to a recent study by Bowling Green State University in Ohio, the divorce rate among people age 46 to 64 has grown more than 50 percent. Almost one-third of baby boomers are single either by divorce, separation or they have never been married. Some are attracted to the single lifestyle while others would trade their original Beatles record collection for some hot passion.
I faced a Christmas alone while in my fifties.
My children were grown with families of their own, and I cheerfully participated in their activities. But I came home every night to an empty house. I unpacked the decorations and forced myself to set up a tree, but the ornaments reminded me of a past life, one that was broken beyond repair. So I turned to retail therapy and bought new ornaments, but it wasn't the same. Deck the halls with strange boughs of holly was a different song, I didn't know the verses and my piano was out of tune.
I survived until the wonderful day of December 26 when the world returned to normal. Hairdressers, mailmen and waiters didn't need to perk up for an extra tip, deranged drivers went back to cutting in line and children didn't care if the silly elf on the shelf was watching because they had 11 free months to misbehave. And, divorced people could return to work and focus on important things, such as how to lose the extra ten pounds gained while gobbling an entire pecan pie alone on Christmas Eve.
Soon after my winter of discontent, some friends invited me to dinner.
They just happened to have a recently divorced guest who was visiting from another state. I never turn down a free meal, so I agreed to join them. I met him, also in his fifties and ruggedly handsome, and instantly felt a connection. At dinner, our knees touched under the table during the salad course. We laughed at silly jokes during the entrée, and by dessert, he was feeding me bites of cheesecake. I felt like a goofy teenager.
We spent four days together, often to the chagrin of his abandoned hosts, and then I took him to the airport. It was a scene out of Casablanca, complete with winter fog and drama. He held me close and whispered, "We'll always have Boise." Then he tipped his hat, sauntered through security and hollered, "Here's looking at you, Kid."
I drove home, wondering if he remembered my real name wasn't Kid. But, it didn't matter. I was smitten and it felt good. Of all the towns, in all the world, he walked into mine. He called when he landed at the next airport and was about to change planes. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship," he said. "Say it again," I said, "For old times' sake." And, yes, at that moment we were Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman but without the messy Nazi and farewell forever scenes.
We enjoyed a long-distance relationship over the next few months. Actually, it's better to talk on the telephone because that's when you really get to know someone without the physical distractions. After two months of fabulous phone fantasy, he made plans to return to Idaho. We embraced in the airport like long-lost lovers. I expected a crew from central casting to yell "Action" as we clung together in frantic passion. I think I heard music from a mysterious gospel choir but I never saw them again.
At midlife, adults know what they want and don't want.
There is no time for games because we never know when we'll get struck by a bus or wander onto a bus and never return. We accept our partner's wrinkles and well-earned laugh lines, and we're positively giddy that we can enjoy romance again. My more-than-significant-other got a job in Idaho, moved in with me and we never looked back. He loved my children and I loved his. One benefit of middle-aged marriage is that there aren't any in-law issues to handle. Our surviving parents just want us to be happy. If only they could remember our names!
We married on an island in Greece with a bevy of Greeks who couldn't speak English. We sang, ate and danced beside the sea. The following Christmas we hung mistletoe over the doorway and in front of children and grandchildren we kissed, much longer than necessary. We celebrated our current love and future journey, ever mindful that we could have missed this splendid opportunity for happiness. Occasionally I'll bring home a cheesecake to refresh the memories of our first dinner together. We share a few bites, floss and take our vitamins and then turn down the lights.