After her marriage ended, a group of gal pals taught her to embrace the single life.
Posted in , Jan 27, 2022
February 14 dawned cold and wet and gray. It seemed fitting. My husband, George, and I had separated after 35 years of marriage and were headed for divorce. For the first time in decades, I wasn’t part of a couple. For the first time in my life, I was living alone. My new house didn’t feel like home. How could it after only three weeks?
Why, oh why, had I said I’d go to my friend Pat’s Valentine’s party? “Celebrate with other singles at a girls’ night in,” the invitation read. “Food! Music! Games! Fun!”
When I’d called to beg off, Pat wouldn’t hear of it. “I know you’re going through a tough time,” she said. “That’s why you need to come.”
“Nah, I should stay home. I’ll just be a party pooper.”
Pat’s voice grew softer. “Let me tell you why I host this party every year.” She told me her dad had died on February 14 many years ago. “And then on top of that, my husband delivered divorce papers to me one horrible Valentine’s Day.” I’d known Pat for a long time, but I hadn’t known that.
“Some of the women who’ll be at the party have stories sadder than mine,” Pat said. “But instead of moping around because we’re not coupled up, we get together and have a good time.” She wouldn’t take no for an answer. “And one more thing, Jennie—you have to wear pink or red. It’s a Valentine’s party rule!”
So at 6 P.M., I dragged myself upstairs to change out of my pajamas. (Yep, I’d been wearing pajamas all day.) Most of my clothes were still in boxes. I opened the one labeled “Sweaters” and pawed through it until I found the only red sweater I owned. It had a gaudy Christmas tree on the front, but it would have to do.
I couldn’t help thinking about Valentine’s Days past. George was a surgeon. He hadn’t been what you’d call the romantic type, but he did okay on that one day of the year. A bouquet from the floral counter at the grocery store. Chocolates in a heart-shaped box. Steaks on the grill. In my mind, Valentine’s Day was a holiday for couples, not girlfriends.
Before I left for Pat’s, I said a quick prayer. I hadn’t done a whole lot of praying since the breakup of my marriage. Sometimes I felt mad at God. Furious even. Did he care that I was suddenly single at 60, an age when most couples were looking forward to retirement and spending time with their kids and grandkids together? My prayer that evening was short and to the point: God, please show me how to be single.
Pat opened her door and welcomed me inside. The house was already filled with women, all dressed in red or pink. Some were friends from church I’d known for years; others I’d never met.
Katy came over to give me a hug. Her husband, Will, had died of colon cancer not long before. George had been his surgeon. “I’m sorry to hear you two have split up,” Katy said. “I’m so grateful for the way George took care of Will.” It had always made me proud that George was beloved by his patients and their families, but the long, hard hours he’d worked had been a constant strain on our marriage.
Pat’s living room was festooned with twinkling lights, crepe paper streamers and hearts. The dining table groaned with food—almost all of it red or pink. Ham. Meatballs in tomato sauce. Strawberries. Cranberry salad. And the desserts! Red velvet cake. Cherry pie. Sugar cookies with pink sprinkles.
We ate and chatted. I heard other stories. Suzanne’s children had grown up with mine. I’d been incredibly busy in those days. Maybe too busy. Between taking care of the kids and the house and being involved in the community, I was worn out.
Even on the nights when George was home, we were often too exhausted to talk. Too exhausted to kiss goodnight. Too exhausted to make any real effort to connect as husband and wife. But we put on our game faces in public, doing our best to look like a happily married couple that had it all together.
Suzanne and I had lost touch after the kids were grown. It turned out she was long divorced.
I met Jeannette, whom I’d known only by name until that night. Like me, she was 60. Unlike me, she’d never married. “I used to think it would be nice to have someone to cook for,” she told me, “and to snuggle with in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night.”
It sounded nice to me too, though it had seldom been my reality. After George and I became empty nesters, we usually ended up at opposite ends of the house in the evening, him in front of the computer, me reading or watching TV. Could it be that our breakup was just the final straw in what had been a deeper, decades-long problem of loneliness in our marriage? In a way, nothing was lonelier than being married but lonely.
After dinner came the games. I looked around at the women in Pat’s living room. Every one of them seemed to be having fun. It was partly the games we played, the songs we sang, the jokes we told. Mostly, though, it was that we were simply enjoying being together. Maybe I’d expected marriage to fulfill too many of my emotional needs and hadn’t appreciated my relationships with my friends enough.
At the end of the party, I stayed to help Pat with the dishes. “This was wonderful,” I told her. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“We do lots of other fun stuff,” Pat said with a smile. “You are always welcome to join us.”
I had no doubt that God had pushed me out my lonely door to this party filled with single women. Women who laughed instead of feeling sorry for themselves. Who propped each other up. Who embraced the joys that life had to offer. Women I wanted to be like.
And so I became part of a group that goes to brunch together after church most Sundays. We rent a big cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the fall when the leaves begin to turn. And we have other kinds of parties. Puzzle-working parties. Campfire-cooking parties. Ugly Christmas sweater parties—I already have the outfit for that one!
I won’t say that Valentine’s Day party suddenly made everything in my life okay. I still have a ways to go to being happily and confidently single. But I’m on the right road.
And with the help of God and my girlfriends, I know I’ll get there.
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