After the amicable end of a 16-year marriage, I lived alone for the first time at age 39 and loved it. I stretched out like a starfish in bed with my cat each night, ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches for dinner, explored far-flung places alone or with friends. I even hosted an artist who lived in a “transparent polycarbonate enclosure – a bubble, basically” for a week in my living room. I had full control over my budget, and I made plans with minimal consideration for anyone else’s schedule. I declared my intent to live solo for the rest of my days.
Nonetheless, I have missed the benefits of being partnered with someone who “gets” me. I missed the large repertoire of inside jokes my husband and I developed after meeting in college, when our friends would gather every Sunday night to watch the first season of “The Simpsons.” I missed never losing at board games whenever we played as a team. We’d renovated two homes together, survived the rigors of graduate school, learned how to run a small business, bought art, traveled the world and taken lots of long walks.
We spent time apart, as well. When I was in law school, I met my friends Bill and Steve for weekly pints at our neighborhood pub to discuss torts and criminal law. For several seasons, my friend Ken and I dominated doubles sand volleyball in our local adult league. I learned to surf with a girlfriend at a week-long camp in Costa Rica, and then took surfing vacations without my husband every year. I believed we had a cool and enviable marriage that was superior to couples who shopped for groceries together on the weekends and never vacationed independently.
Toward the end of our marriage, I began yearning for even more autonomy. Unsurprisingly, my husband rejected my suggestion that we live in separate condos in the same building. Neither of us wanted to divorce, but that’s what we ended up doing.
In the seven years since, I’ve gotten all the independence I wanted. I’ve thrived personally and professionally. I have a close circle of friends who took care of me when I had cancer. They’ve been my sounding boards when I’ve made big life decisions and have hiked mountains with me. They’ve been the ones I call when I have good news, and who defend me when I’ve been disparaged.
I also love the social independence of being single — I’ll attend three art events in one night, have a late-night drink with a friend or go to a concert on a school night. Few things bore me more than the idea of couples’ dinner parties where we talk about mortgage interest rates and child-care woes, then read in bed until lights out at 10:15 p.m. Nevertheless, I have missed having a steady, romantic partner.
Since my divorce, most of the men I dated either wanted too much commitment or absolutely none. I found myself doubting whether it was possible to have autonomy and be in a committed relationship — to be, essentially, a singleton and a smug married.
Then I met my boyfriend.
We fall asleep with our arms and legs tangled together and wake up drooling and gunky-eyed but still entwined. We laugh frequently and easily and have amassed a growing set of inside jokes. I have been improved by his thoughtful and sensible advice, and friends tell me that I beam when I speak about him. He gets me! But could I continue to live the single life I’d been enjoying?
He has 50 percent custody of his two children. A significant portion of the other half of his time is spent working, hanging out with his friends and training for triathlons. The time he has left over to spend with me has been only slightly less than the amount of time I want to spend with him. I have been able to continue living mostly the same as I have for the past seven years, because we have plenty of time apart.
Living single within this devoted and emotionally intimate relationship has worked for us so far. I wonder what’s next for us after the Google calendar.