Allow me to introduce myself. I am a gainfully employed, God-fearing, law-abiding citizen, and I come in peace. I don't bet on baseball, I take excellent care of my gums, I keep my tray table locked and upright from takeoff to landing. Oh, and there's one more thing: I am what is commonly referred to in polite society as "an unmarried woman." Truth be told, I now have a boyfriend and a baby girl -- it's all very modern -- but much of my 30s involved ostensibly concerned bystanders averting their eyes, asking how many cats I own, and sharing their private theories on where it all went so hideously wrong for me. Ah, yes, I remember it well. And when I start to forget, I still have plenty of single girlfriends in various states of angst to remind me of the grotesque fix-ups, the ham-handed remarks, and the brutal Thanksgiving dinners. For those valiant, traumatized souls, I present my list of the ten things one must never say, think, or do when dealing with a single woman over the age of 35.
1. Hey, cousin Christy, how 'bout we break with tradition and dispense with that bridal bouquet toss? Believe it or not, it's actually a touch degrading to be shoved front and center next to your spinster aunt Mitzi from Winnipeg as a roomful of revelers hopped up on Champagne and jumbo shrimp chant, "You're next, you're next."
2. The word "picky" -- as in, "The reason you refuse to meet my podiatrist's brother-in-law for a night of miniature golf is that you're too picky" -- is not only offensive, it's inaccurate. Hell, I'd have dated Ted Bundy if he were willing to meet in a well-lit public place. No, I suspect it was your description of his "slight comb-over" and "profound desire to one day shake Dick Cheney's hand" that made me release that "catch" back into the wilds of New Jersey.
3. Don't confuse being unmarried with being 11. My love of SpongeBob-shaped macaroni and cheese notwithstanding, I never wanted to sit at the children's table. Nor did I want to ride in the backseat with your darling toddler, his pet tarantula, his Spider-Man glitter glue, and his melting Fudgsicle.
4. Kindly stop filling every conversational lull by announcing how much you love "Will & Grace." Being single is not the same thing as being gay, just as being married is not proof of being straight... but I'll cover that concept more fully in my upcoming "Uncle Barry's Very Special Surprise" article.
5. Has anybody out there noticed that the institution of matrimony is falling apart faster than Courtney Love on a can of Red Bull? Now, I honestly don't care if your marriage is so gothic in its dysfunction that it makes the couple from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" look like Will and Jada -- I'm not here to judge. All I ask is that you quit judging me. Perhaps we're not suffering a fear of intimacy as much as a fear of being trapped in a crummy marriage.
6. Remember that little factoid you used to bandy about -- you know, the one where 40-year-old women have a greater chance of being shot by terrorists than of making it to the altar? Then you may also recall that Susan Faludi refuted that myth 14 years ago. So, okay, Ms. Faludi is probably rethinking that (thanks a lot, Osama!), but you don't have to rub it in.
7. Enough with the "constructive" criticism already. We live in a world of stunning technological advancement, but it remains physically impossible to wear your heart on your sleeve and be emotionally distant, dress like a slut and a librarian, try much too hard and not make any real effort.
8. New rule: You may discuss everything from the fall of the Roman Empire to the rise of Rem Koolhaas with your single friend. But her uterus, ovaries, entire reproductive system are off-limits. Sending clippings about a 74-year-old Ukrainian woman who just gave birth to triplets along with a peppy little "Keep hope alive!" Post-it note will do irreparable damage to your relationship and -- if the woman is particularly resourceful -- may even get your tires slashed.
9. Here's a phrase that must never, ever cross your lips: "Let me tell you why a terrific gal like you is still single...." Because that terrific gal is then likely to explain in dark and visceral detail what happened to the last gentleman who uttered those very words -- and, trust me, you really don't want to know.
10. I've looked at single life from both sides now, and here's what I think: Single women are not Sarah Jessica Parker in "Sex and the City" any more than they're Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." For one thing, very few have Manolo Blahniks in their closets. For another, very few have sex with Michael Douglas in their kitchens. They sometimes get lonely, frustrated, they sometimes get flat-out goofy. They are human beings -- tickle them and they laugh, prick them and they bleed, offer them chocolate and they eat.... In other words, they're pretty much like all the married women I know.