Asked to draw her life in crayon, the woman first scrawled a jagged green mountain range . . . then a solitary blue hiker near the crest. She finished with a golden sun shining through puffy clouds.
"Being single can be exhilarating," announced the 30-ish blonde as she held up her symbolic art work to a group of eight other singles. "There's a lot of freedom and beauty in doing just what you want to do.
"But it's a lonely and scary time, too. There's no one to share things with, or help you -- and be helped -- to the top."
These mixed emotions about "Living Single" were the subject of a recent "day of exploration" for separated, divorced, widowed or never-married adult. Reston's Northwest Center for Community Mental Health sponsored the recent conference at the Christian Fellowship Church.
The art expression group was one of 18 workshops on topics as varied as "sexual myths," "taking risks," "traveling single" and "leaving and being left." Most of the 150 participants were in their 30s -- although ages ranged from the 20s to 60s -- and roughly 70 percent were female.
As an opening "ice breaker," each person randomly picked four slips of paper on which were typed personality traits and opinions. The idea was to exchange with others those they didn't believe applied to them personally.
Within 15 minutes the room buzzed with chatter and laughter as singles mixed and matched such slogans as "I like to vegetate," "I enjoy foreign travel," "I find loose morals disgusting."
Among the travels judged as "klunkers" by those who got stuck with them -- and couldn't convince anyone else to swap -- were: "I am dependent," "I am easily rejected," and "I want things to change very little around me."
The game proved to be an effective single mingler. Admitted one 40-ish participant: "I'm amazed at how easy it was to walk up and talk to people. It was fun."
A session on "Where to Go to Meet People" attracted one of the largest turnouts. "Naturally," said a 35-year-old teacher. "We're all here because we want alternatives to the meat-market bar scene."
"How many evenings," psychiatric nurse Joanne Lussier asked the group, "have you wanted to go someplace, but had no one to go with? How often have you gone somewhere and, within an hour, asked yourself, 'Why am I here?'
"One of the major difficulties for singles is the stress of silence, the loneliness and lack of companionship. But when you're looking to meet people, you don't want to go someplace where you're uncomfortable, or you'll wind up meeting no one, coming home and wondering, 'What's wrong with me?'"
Instead, she suggested special-interest groups as prime meeting spots."You'll be engaged in an activity you enjoy," she said, "and have a common interest to talk about. And most groups welcome singles, so you don't need someone to go with." She listed several groups and invited each of the nearly 50 participants to mention their favorite.
In a session on "Games Singles Play," psychologist Kathy Bragg described eight common "self-defeating behaviors" used to manipulate others (as defined by Everett Shostrom in "Man, the Maipulator") and asked each person to pick the game they often play.
Nearly half the group confessed to being "nice guys" who exaggerate their love ad "kill with kindness." Next came "judges" who "distrust everyone, are hyper-critical, resentful and slow to forgive."
Other much-used "game-playing styles:"
"Protectors" who coddle people to a fault;
"Dictators" who strive to dominate in a relationship;
"Clinging vines" who want others to care for them.
In a lighter "game-playing" workshop, nearly 20 grown-ups played "kids" games -- British Bulldog, Hug Tag, Washie-Wisher, Vampires and Mortals, and Zoom. "They're cooperative games," said co-leader Chris Peeke, "that eliminate competition.
"Hopefully, you'll reach a flow point where you stop worrying about where you are and who you are and just play the game. There are no scores, so just have fun!"
Which the group did -- boisterously -- to the wide-eyed delight of a small child who peeked in to find out "What those crazy grown-ups are doing in there."
"Once you're an adult you rarely get the chance to just play and have fun," noted activities thereapist and co-leader Sarah Kerney. "It's a great way to build a cohesive group without getting into 'What's your job?' And it lets people touch others in a non-threatening way."
"It was a great day," summed up Brad Frix, 30, of Reston. "I almost didn't come because I've never done anything identified as a 'singles' activity before because I thought they were phony. But I learned a lot today, and had fun, too."
The only disappointment -- for the women, seemed to be the less-than-equal number of males. Why don't more men show up?
"I wish I knew," sighed a 40-year-old Alexandria speech therapist. "I've been to jillions of singles' things and there are always more women than men."
"I think there are more unattached women than men," said William Gadol, 37, a Reston-based salesman. "Most men who split up have someone to split to. Also, it's a rare guy wh can drop his britches, be honest, and talk about what's wrong with his life."