On weekends I live in a virtually segregated world. There are no men around, unless you count the men servicing me—my groceries, I mean. It’s odd, but not a bad way to live. It’s as if I’m living on the flip-side of Taliban-enforced segregation but rather than in a remote Afghan village, I’m in a close-to-the-epicenter Northern Virginia neighborhood.
My ex-husband is gone. My boyfriend is gone. Even the man who just wanted to have sex with me is gone. And for some not-difficult-to-discern reason, I’m not seeking a man with whom I can attempt yet another failed relationship.
I know that there are families and couples in my neighborhood, and some barely-viewed single men, but their schedules don’t coincide with mine, so they are not a part of my world. It seems, though, that most of the single women around have dogs or at least keep similar hours as me, so we meet and chat as our dogs sniff each other’s not-so-private parts or as my dog sniffs and pees on one square of grass for ten minutes.
And on the home front, I have two daughters, so whether talking with my daughter at home or my daughter away in college, all our talk is from a woman’s perspective. For phone conversations there’s my mother who is always available for a recap of her day, which mostly involves discussing her women friends and their issues, especially since my father passed away two years ago. The one man still in my life, my brother, I call once every few months after I have despaired of waiting for him to ever call me, but our conversations barely make a flicker in my weekends of women-talk.
So there’s this constant brief interchange of stories and ideas that feeds my need to be heard and to hear. Since most of these conversations are unplanned, they represent the cream of conversations: concern for the other, telling only what is utmost in one’s mind and heart, and expressions of empathy—in short, conversations that recognize the value of the ordinary rhythm of life.
It occurs to me as I think of these open exchanges that there’s a reason why I’m single, and the blame doesn’t fall solely on the men who are no longer in my life—or never made it into my life. Maybe I’m just more myself with women. With men, there always seems to be a limit to my honesty. With my female friends I never try to figure out what to say to please them or to make them like me; there’s never any pressure to impress. It’s me in all my blunt and interrupting glory.
It could be, too, that I do better in small chunks of time rather than unending time together. There’s a big difference in who you are when you have two minutes every couple of days or two hours every few months than when you have dinner together every night, and breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time on the weekends. For goodness’ sake, all the good stories have long since told and retold by the time a relationship’s second anniversary rolls around and by the weekend every day has been thoroughly examined. When you only see a friend once in a while, there’s always something new to recount. For two hours we can each put forward the best aspects of our personalities and our lives. It’s certainly not worth it to be grumpy when it will soon be back to the grind that caused the grumpiness in the first place.
Maybe the best way for relationships to survive is to redefine them. My marriage might have lasted if we only met once a week and sex was upon desire, not convenience.
But maybe not, because I fundamentally act differently with men, so the whole two-hour weekly visit practice might still have backfired on me. After my boyfriend, who had been my friend 28 years ago, became my partner I rose to the occasion by considering his feelings and needs before my own, which turned out not to be good for our relationship. With friends I pride myself on being forthright, so why can’t I do that with men? Sure, the stakes are different: no more coffees together versus no more retirement plans together. But I do I wish that I hadn’t felt the need to protect him from my honesty; I wish, too, that I hadn’t felt so much pressure to make him happy.
With friends there are no expectations beyond the moment, so there is no reason not to be forthright. It should be possible for me to act like that with a man, especially if I want to be in a relationship and, surely, I have learned by now that without honesty, there is no staying power.
Not needing or expecting anything could be the key; although, I’m not sure it’s possible. Isn’t reciprocity the very essence of a relationship? Indeed, I know that I don’t want a relationship that is as casual as a conversation on the corner. The problem might be in the hoping and the wishing that this man, whoever he is, could be my knight, even though I have learned that I am the only knightette I can depend on, and that I don’t want to be anyone else’s knightette.
The added value of these all-women weekends is not for me to safely retreat, but to have realized that my essence contains no subterfuge and that I need to live that truth—in or out of a relationship.