“Mom, what boyfriend?” Braitman replies. “We broke up six months ago.”
Braitman patiently retells the story of their split: He wasn’t the right guy, it just didn’t work out.
Her mom reacts with disappointment. Then a moment later, she looks up and says, “So, how’s your boyfriend?”
Dumbfounded, Braitman repeats the explanation. After another beat, her mom asks the question again. And then again. And again.
“We went around and around in this circle of hell,” Braitman recalls from her condo at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. “In the little capacity she had left of her brain, all she wanted to know was: Who am I with?”
Braitman’s mom died six weeks later. She had always loved her daughter fiercely and supported her fully, except in this one aspect, her singleness.
Q&A transcript: What Ellen McCarthy and Wendy Braitman had to say
Even today, Braitman sometimes mentally revises past conversations to find the right words to make her mom understand: She didn’t stay single on purpose.
Braitman is 58 now, though she has the carriage of a much younger woman. Her body is taut and pliable from rigorous daily ballet classes. She wears boyfriend jeans, rolled to the ankle, and chunky sweaters layered over tight cotton shirts. It’s the look of someone with great style, opting for comfort. Her brown, curly hair tapers to the neck, highlighted with flashes of caramel. And her conversations, like her movements, are imbued with the elegance and self-awareness of a woman who has looked deeply inward and come up feeling more or less okay.
But she wanted a partner. She still does.
Braitman grew up in Queens, watching her father dote on her mother. She saw her brother become a wonderful husband. She does not think marriage is broken and does not think life — at least her life — is better lived alone. It just worked out that way.
She went to college, moved across country, built a career in media. She dated, took up hobbies and developed a loving circle of friends. For most of her life, she assumed the right one would eventually show up. Now, she thinks there has been a detour.
After Thanksgiving last year, Braitman read a review of Diane Keaton’s new autobiography, “Then Again.” It contained this quote: “I never found a home in the arms of a man.”
The sentence laid Braitman flat. That’s her truth, too. Of all the men she has known romantically — and there have been plenty — none ever felt like home. It’s that plain. Whatever point-counterpoint, yin-yang recognition of a kindred other happens to people, it has not happened to her. At least, not yet.
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We talk a lot about singles, but we don’t talk about this: what it’s like to live without a partner while longing for one, over years, then decades.