No one sets out to be the poster girl for middle-aged singlehood.
A succession of life's lemons dropped in my lap led me on the path to that dubious distinction, with nary a clue in advance of where I was headed. But then, I can be pretty oblivious.
The great recession of 2008 claimed me as one of its countless victims when I was laid off as a webcast producer in December that year. Disappointing, but I'd already learned the life lesson that jobs come and go.
While I was wading through the miasma of applying for unemployment and scouring the Web for job listings seeking my limited skill set, I came down with pneumonia. And not the garden variety, but the "so severe we're going to put you in intensive care for five days" kind. For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I might die.
With so much negative juju swirling around me, you'd think I wouldn't have been surprised when my boyfriend of six years ended our run, but I was. The fact that we were living together in his house only added another layer to the quagmire that had become my new reality.
Endless Internet searching revealed that in just over two months, I'd faced four of the five major life stressors: job loss, moving, illness and break-up. The only one missing was death and that would come a year later when my beloved 15-year old beagle died. It's a good dog who hangs on until you have the wherewithal to deal with losing him.
I wish I could say that with a winning smile and a good attitude I soon restored my life to its pre-cataclysmic state, but that's not what happened. So many days, all I could think about was how much I hadn't wanted to end up here at this late point in my life. Upheaval was for the young.
Learning to knit together the fabric of a new life happened incrementally, somewhere between uncertainty and loneliness. What I thought I knew for sure was that I didn't want to forge a different path. Or did I?
Months of applying for jobs I really didn't want taught me that job seekers of a certain age are less desirable, no matter how impressive the resume. But those same months of not having to be at an office from 9 to 5 opened up entirely new doors formerly invisible to this morning person.
All of a sudden, it didn't matter how late I stayed up or how late I slept in. Family and friends soon learned not to call me before 10, preferably 11. Better yet, e-mail me and I'll get back to you whenever.
One of my responsibilities as a producer had been blogging and it didn't take long for me to miss that outlet, that audience. I started a blog because I wanted to share what I was doing, going through and feeling, but I had no idea if anyone would read it besides a few close friends.
Delighted when they did, I was downright thrilled when I heard from local editors who wanted me to write for them. I like to think that I willed it to be. When I'd applied for my little apartment, I'd written "freelance writer" as my occupation despite the fact that I was doing nothing more than collecting unemployment and sending out resumes daily.
Perhaps I had been the change I wanted to see.
As a died-in-the-wool extrovert, though, in the early days, the most challenging part of being jobless and living alone was the lack of social interaction. I craved company like I do Milk Duds with buttered popcorn. True, I didn't have much money, but part of the beauty of a town like Richmond is the wealth of free culture.
I set out to own it. Every evening, I went out. Not every night except when I was tired or every night when the weather was good, but every single night of the year. I would find something, anything, occasionally spending a few dollars, but always seeking out something to do and by default, people to talk to.
In doing so, I found myself welcomed into practically every scene in which I participated. I went to play readings and met people in the theater. I went to music shows two and three nights a week and soon had musicians coming up to me and asking, "Who are you? You're at every show." I was devoted to poetry readings and met people capable of shaping words into beauty. At history lectures, I met other history nerds, at art openings, gallerists and artists. And I did it alone.
Why? Most middle-aged people are already in relationships and that's how they socialize, as couples. Since I had no intention of dating (it took four years for me to dip my foot in that pond), that was out.
The infrequent availability of friends meant that I could sit at home waiting for them to be free or head out alone and take my chances with strangers. You might be surprised at what people will say to a woman out by herself. I know that writing about these solo adventures in my blog made for some pretty colorful posts. Some of the stuff I left out was even better.
I've also made new friends along the way who occasionally provide company so I'm only alone 90% of the time these days. But it's also a rare place I can go now that I don't run into people I know or at least recognize from past happenings, meaning conversational opportunities arise even when flying solo.
Posting a picture of my legs on my blog didn't hurt, either. More than a few people have come up to me guessing who I was solely because of the tights I was wearing.
One of the editors who contacted me to write mentioned specifically that my pluck in doing so much alone was impressive, role model-like, even. One of the first pieces she contracted me to write was about dining out alone, a subject I knew well but also one I wouldn't have expected anyone to need instructions for.
In the years since, I've heard from countless women, both in online comments and in person, that I'm an inspiration to them. How is that possible, I wonder? Some make it sound like I'm doing something extraordinary in venturing out by myself night after night. Not true.
All I'm doing is putting myself out there in the hopes of having an interesting experience and somehow I manage to do that every single night. Still.
Would I wish the triple whammy of job loss/illness/break-up on my worst enemy? Absolutely not. Do I feel grateful that it happened to me?
With every fiber of my wildly happy middle-aged being.