Friends Without Benefits — Married Men
I know, it sounds juicy or scandalous. I assure you, it’s neither.
I spend time with married men from time to time.
These men are happily married. And it is not one of those situations when the men are unavailable for or forsake their wives and family to hang out with me. No, these guys are good to their families, first. And these are not “emotional affairs” either. Nobody’s saying, “Oh, if I wasn’t married . . . (wink wink)” or “My wife doesn’t understand me.” No, nothing like that. These are men I’ve met professionally or from my old neighborhood. It’s lunch, every once in a while during the work day, it’s dropping by to say “Hi,” while out on a run. It’s helping with a household project, or moving or carrying something which requires man strength and then staying for a cold drink. It’s random phone calls to chat. Although my girlfriends and I check in from time to time, I would say my face and phone time has been with married men more frequently than girlfriends or family recently.
I confess also that there are benefits, plenty of them — just nothing sexual. In addition to having someone to move the refrigerator — which, I’m convinced is a man’s true purpose on this earth — but I digress . . . The emotional benefits are that they make me feel like more than — a mother. One even asks if I’m seeing anybody and thinks that I should. I rarely get that question from family or girlfriends, a fact that may be the topic of another post . . . but I digress again. When my married male friends tell me I look nice or that it was good to see me, etc. . . . it makes me feel good. Occasionally, I can even go a semi-professional event with one of these married guys, to avoid the dreaded and frequent “The New Walk of Shame for the Single Woman: Going Out Alone.” So, it’s nice. These married guys genuinely like me as a friend, still acknowledge that I’m a woman, and offer statements of admiration for me and what I’ve accomplished in a difficult situation. It’s nice to see that in a man’s eyes.
Yes, benefits abound, with pants on.
Perhaps, however, there is something sinister going on here. Not with them, but with me. And no, I would never be the “other woman.” Never. I was “the wife” I know what that’s like, I wouldn’t do that to another woman. And these guys wouldn’t do that to their wives anyway. No, what is sinister is that I’m getting my “man fix” without any chance of getting involved. It’s safe. Too safe. How will I find the courage or interest to have dinner with an available man, and all that implies, if instead I can hang with a man who I know I will never have a romantic relationship with, but who will, most likely, share a meal with me, tell me I look nice, and pick up the tab. I don’t have to worry about a kiss goodnight — or more, or when he should meet my kids, etc. Hell, these men either already know my kids or it is completely appropriate to introduce them to the guy because he is just another adult. Bonus — I don’t have to shave my legs or stock my goodie drawer since nothing will ever happen. I get to hang out with guys, but I don’t have to deal with any of that pesky dating stuff. Great, right? Wrong.
At a time when I have to literally force myself to be more social with adults, when I do socialize it is often with unavailable men. Sounds like a bit of escapism, don’t you think? No need for a degree in psychology to figure this one out. What about hanging with some women? Well, my female friends are a force to be reckoned with. They are smart, successful and together. They do not judge me — but I wish I was more like them and sometimes that makes me uncomfortable. Escapism and avoidance. I see it.
The solution is obvious. I need to spend time with men who are potentially available to me in all ways. I know this. And, frankly, it’s probably a good sign, a healthy sign, that the married, platonic friend thing is starting to bother me a bit. It’s not good for me to be so safe. I’m single. I need to spend time with single people. The married guys are all cool, and I want to keep our friendships, but I need to add an available man to the mix. While I’m making that happen, I need to reconnect with my female friends, and make new ones. For me it’s easier said than done, but at least I see it. I own it.
Still, I’d like to give a shout out for the proper married men who do the right thing at home but still take time out here and there to check in on, hang out with, or just help out a single woman going through some tough times. There are true gentlemen in the world. I just need to find one who doesn’t already have a wife.
Just Me With . . . a bit of armchair analysis.
I Went To A Wedding Alone
Between an earthquake and a hurricane, I went to a wedding. I think all three could be seen as surprising and unfortunate acts of nature.
I haven’t been to a wedding in years. Well, except taking my kids to see their teacher get married. Actually even before my marriage ended, I swore off most weddings. I married young, my parents didn’t really approve and didn’t rejoice in it. His family was, well, not traditional. And although it was okay, I started to envy the grown-up, joyous, better funded and better planned weddings I witnessed later. I usually went alone to my friends’ weddings anyway, my Ex hated weddings more than I did. After a while, I just stopped going to the very few invitations I got, unless it was a command performance family thing.
But this wedding was of the daughter of a woman who is a good, special person. The mother of the bride, Liz, her husband and daughters are former neighbors. Liz selflessly helped me — and my family — for a prolonged period in my prolonged time of need. She’ll be a topic of another post at a later time. Suffice it to say, as much I am usually disgusted by the mere thought of going to a wedding and reception, the fact that I haven’t been to one since my separation and divorce (even blew off my bridesmaid’s destination wedding — and she understood, see Remote Attendance at Weddings — Royal or Otherwise), I had to go to this one. I wanted to go to this one. Kind of. I wanted to see, but I didn’t want to go. In my fantasy world, I’d be the proverbial fly on the wall, I would materialize just long enough to congratulate the family, and then — Poof! Gone! But as I’ve discovered over the years, I am not magic.
First, let me say that the bridal shower was the day after my ex-husband got married.
(Insert knife, turn) See, I Was “The Nanny” When My Ex-Husband Got Married.
Next, I was invited, but the invitation did not allow me to bring a guest. Liz had given me a heads up earlier that they just couldn’t invite all of my kids to the reception, though they could come to the ceremony. I completely understood that, no problem. Five plates for kids, totally not worth it. And I also understand that it is appropriate to invite a single guest without including an invitation for him or her to bring a nameless date — some stranger to share in the bride and groom’s a special day. I get that.
It’s just that I’m a bit sensitive and unused to being single — truly legally single, at a wedding. But that was what was going to happen. As I said, I’ve gone stag before to weddings, my Ex skipped the receptions for both my best friend and my sister’s weddings, he didn’t want to go with me to my college friends’ weddings, which was fine, I had more fun without him with that crowd. So I’m used to doing things alone, before, during and now after my marriage. See, The New Walk of Shame for the Single Woman: Going Out Alone. But this was different. These people, to varying degrees, witnessed my nervous breakdown.
My kids love the mother of the bride, Liz, know her well, and the Bride and her sister used to babysit them from time to time and were my mother’s helpers when I had infant and toddler twins — so that I could, you know, wash myself or something. So I thought the kids would want to see the ceremony at a local church. Wrong. Only one managed to get off of the couch to go to the wedding. One daughter.
We walked in together. Me and my girl.
The church was full of familiar faces, familiar friendly faces. This wedding was a neighborhood affair, the neighborhood where the “marital” home was, the neighborhood to which I had brought all of my kids home from the hospital and neighbors showered us with gifts, the neighborhood where we were living when my family fell apart, the neighborhood from which the kids and I moved when I had to downsize. Most of these people knew my story. Many had seen me cry. So it was at once a very comfortable and a little awkward reunion.
A very sweet woman and her husband sat in the pew in front of us. Sally, I’ll call her. She used to live across the street from me. Correction, I used to live across the street from her. This woman has always been very supportive. She has suffered horrible tragedy in her life. After surviving breast cancer, including all of the necessary multiple surgeries and treatments, her oldest son died in a senseless accident at college. Unspeakable. Still, Sally is very outspoken, says whatever the hell is on her mind and adores her family. She has no love lost for my Ex and is one of the few people who has refused to exchange pleasantries with him. If looks could kill I would have been a widow long before I became a divorcee. She’d heard of his wedding.
Before the ceremony began, she turned to my daughter and asked, with a hint of a sneer,
“How was your Dad’s wedding?“
Me, in my head:
“Uh,What the hell? Oh no, make it stop, don’t show emotion, ahhhhh”
Me, in my head:
“Ahhh. No, please don’t talk about that. Not now. Not with my daughter. Not in front of me. Not at a wedding. NOOOO No No No NO NO NO. Please don’t say anything more, please.”
Sally pursed her lips; I held my breath. I could tell she was holding something back. I didn’t want her to say anything else. Thankfully, she turned around without saying more. I could tell she couldn’t figure out what to say that would express her opinion but wouldn’t be inappropriate to say in front of my daughter. So she self-censored, thank goodness. But it was a bit too late — for me. Oh my daughter was fine, but it made me feel like crap. I’m at a wedding and have to listen to my kid being questioned about my Ex’s wedding? Ouch.
(Insert knife, turn, twice.)
The music was Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz, the bride was beautiful and spoke intelligently as they read their own vows, the groom looked thankful and promised to walk beside her — but also behind her as she achieved her success, and in front of her to shield her from danger. There were meaningful readings, and a very short sermon. (Actually, the minister was the one who referenced that this was a moment in time between an earthquake and a hurricane, I don’t want to use the words of a man of the cloth without giving him proper credit — lightning strike averted.) Anyway, the wedding was elegant without being stuffy, comfortable without being tacky. I would expect no less from and want no less for this family. They are good, good people. (And I barely had any of my normal internal negative running monologue about how everybody says the right things in the church, and may even mean it at the time, but . . . ) Perhaps I still believe in love after all. Huh. I just wish I could forget my regrets . . . but I digress . . .
During the ceremony I saw Sally grab her husband’s hand and squeeze it. He squeezed back. She laid her head on his shoulder. It was a sweet moment for the long-married couple. They have been through hell. This man eulogized his own son, for God’s sake. Through it all, though, they love each other, deeply. I was happy for them, too.
But as I was sitting there, it occurred to me: I had not felt this alone in a long while.
After the ceremony while still at the church Sally apologized to me for her comment about my Ex’s wedding. She explained what I already knew, that in her mind she was thinking it was nice for my daughter to see a young (but old enough) couple get married, both for the first time, with no baggage or no kids, from nice families, etc., kind of “the way it should be” — in contrast to what she imagined my Ex’s wedding was like with his five kids in tow, after a really cruel breakup and nasty divorce. I get it. And I know she meant well, but the apology made me feel worse. I just wanted to forget about it.
I had to drop my daughter back home before going to the reception. While there I had to mediate arguments over dinner and television. It was bad enough that I was going somewhere, a wedding reception no less, alone, but I also had to fight with my kids first.
Walking into the reception alone, I panicked for a second until I found my old friends, couples from the old neighborhood. Some of these folks have been beyond good to me, from sending me dinners, lending me money, to appearing as witnesses at court, one I’ve written about already, When I Needed a Helping Hand, and I may write about others. It’s important to share stories about goodness in the world. I’d seen some of these people recently so the greetings were more casual. From others, however, I got that “So how are you doing?” head tilt. Does anyone remember the Friends episode where Richard (Tom Selleck) tells Monica about how people greet him after his divorce? Yeah, that.
On a positive note, though, I also got the “You look great!” comment. That was nice, because these people had seen me when I didn’t look so great (huge understatement).
It was a sit down dinner, and we (meaning me and the couple I was talking to) made our way to our table where I discovered that —
I was seated at a table with four couples.
(Insert knife, turn three times.)
I felt so, so SINGLE — but not in a good way. Plus, I was also the only person of color at my table, which isn’t a big deal nor unexpected but it just fed into my feeling of being so obviously, visually ALONE. (Singing the Sesame Street song, “One of these things just doesn’t belong here . . .”)
Plus, these long-time married couples reminisced about their own weddings and remarked about how the bride and her friends probably just think “we’re the old guys” now.
(Insert knife, turn four times.)
So, now, not only was I without an escort and a third wheel — or more accurately a ninth wheel, I was one of the old guys, hanging out with happily middle-aged, comfortable, prosperous, tipsy, married people. After all, they had each other, good jobs, good times — past, present and future. And, they were having a good time at the wedding. It was all good. Except for me, I felt like I was watching everyone else have a good time, hell, a good life. I know things are not always what they seem, I know that couples are not always happy and certainly not all the time. Oh yeah, I know that. I mean, I was married once, you know. But I didn’t really want to talk to couples as couples and the truth is, as couples, as a group, I have less in common with them than I did before. If I had I been feeling better or had been drinking, I might have gone out to dance with the young singles, but I know that would have been — weird. My time for that is gone (and I’d never really experienced it, having married so young, and not been a drinker).
Eventually, we got up to mingle and dance.
I danced with other couples.
(Insert knife, turn five times.)
One married woman commented on a cute younger single guy, but added “not that he’d want a broken down broad like me.” This woman is not broken down, and is attractive (as is her husband). Suddenly I felt old by association. She was cool with it, because she does not need new male companionship. Well, I do. And what if I’m a broken down broad, or at least categorized that way? Remember that early Sex and the City episode when Samantha dates a younger man who actually refers to her as an older woman? She was shocked, like “Is that how he sees me?” It’s one thing to be alone, it’s another to feel like you’ve been put out to pasture. Especially when you’ve never even been to the Rodeo (enough bad analogies, I know). See Undateable, Part II.
My friend Sally had had a few drinks, or not, she didn’t really need it. She doesn’t need alcohol to express herself. It was so good to see she and her husband out and enjoying themselves. After the death of their son — well, I didn’t know if Sally would be able to go on. I can’t blame her. But here she was, loud and sassy, dancing with her husband. At one point she said to me, “It’s so nice to be at a wedding instead of a funeral.” Then she flitted off.
Later, out of nowhere she pulled me, actually grabbed and pulled me from my conversation with another ex-neighbor, and dragged me to the dance floor. I thought she just wanted to get me to dance.
Wrong! To my horror, she was dragging me out there to catch the bridal bouquet. There I was with the 28-year old, child-free, professional, drunk friends of the bride and groom. Awkward.
(Insert knife with serrated edge, turn six times.)
“You didn’t even try!” She scolded me when I failed to catch the bouquet.
She was right. I didn’t even try.
“You deserve a good man,” She said.
See, you gotta love her. Her heart is in the right place. She wants me to believe in love. She still does. And apparently she believes that the bouquet thing actually works.
Sally does love, deeply, even though she has suffered so. She calls her husband her soul-mate, yet outwardly they seem to be opposites. Anyone remember the show Dharma and Greg? The flower child woman who marries the blue blood attorney? Yeah Sally and Rob are like that, but older — she’s an artist, a former dancer, a wild child, dog-lover, mouthy and loud — he’s a straight-laced corporate type. But their love has survived cancer and the death of their first-born, along with the debilitating depression that followed. That’s some serious love. So I can’t be mad at her. I was happy to see her smile. And I’m glad people care about my happiness and wish me the best.
But being dragged out onto the dance floor to catch the wedding bouquet? Awkward. I’m not going to fight bridesmaids who used to babysit my kids to catch a freakin’ wedding bouquet. No.
When I returned the self-described “broken down broad” whispered to me when I got back, “I tried to warn you.” I hadn’t heard her. Damn.
Well, I made it until it was an acceptable time to leave. I walked out with another couple. Liz gave me a centerpiece to take home. Beautiful flowers, but hard to carry home — ALONE. Damn thing fell over as I drove, I had no one to hold it for me or drive while I held it. Another pang of loneliness hit me. It was pretty. I like flowers, but I didn’t need a souvenir from a wedding. You might recall that my kids brought me back leftover flowers from my ex-husband’s wedding. See I Was The Nanny When My Ex-Husband Got Married.
Bottom line is: I love this family. That’s why I went. But in going I had taken a trip back to a prior life and felt that I didn’t belong there. It reminded me of how much my world has changed, and moreover, it reminded me that no matter how single — free — I am now, there is no complete “do-over” for me. It was appropriate for me to be seated with those couples. They are my friends. But it did cause me to be fearful that it was a snapshot of what I can expect from now on . . . feeling like a kid at the grown-up table . . . but too old to be at the kids’ table. The night was also a painful reminder of how bad the bad times had been for me and of how many people at this affair had witnessed them. I look forward to seeing these people individually, but the whole wedding thing was just too much for me. I’m a sensitive sort.
I left feeling happy for the bride, groom and the families. But I came home feeling pretty down. I had tried, but I could not have fun. Just couldn’t do it. Still, I’m glad I went to this particular wedding, the bride being the daughter of an angel and all, even though it took an emotional toll.
I know I have much to be thankful for; but I’ve been known to suffer from the melancholy anyway (another understatement).
Let me be clear, though. I do not miss being married to my Ex, or being married at all. I did not wish he was there and did not wish I’d had a date or boyfriend. In fact, I can’t imagine ever getting married again, let alone being someone’s girlfriend. My sadness stems from all the crap I’ve gone through (and the fact that so many of the people at that wedding knew about my crap, and have seen me at my worst), and it all leaves me wondering,
“Where do I fit in? ”
You see, I didn’t envy the couples I was seated with. Well, maybe I envy their prior youthful shenanigans that I missed out on, but I feared their present state of being settled and okay with being “the old guys” or a “broken down broad.” That’s not me. Yet I didn’t belong out there catching the bouquet either. Truth is, I didn’t belong at any table. I should have been a fly on the wall.
I haven’t felt right since, to tell the truth. It was a hard, beautiful night. And the next night, well . . . there was a hurricane.
Just Me With . . . some leftover wedding flowers . . . again — But NOT the bouquet!