Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, February 7, 2016
It’s the early 80s and it’s New York City, still a gritty place with large pockets of swank. I’m a single girl, a young woman who doesn’t hang out in bars much. I have very little money because I work in publishing, an industry notorious, especially back then, for a small modicum of glory and a large amount of low pay. I have tried on yet another brand new oxymoronic look – thrift-store preppy –and I’m still not sure about the Fair Isle sweater and penny loafers. Not that it’s any more of a stretch than the baggy, bleached Mexi-ponchos I’ve renounced, from my So-Cal college years.
According to my Social Security profile, I make about $9500 per annum during the Bantam Books era and spend roughly $500 on my monthly rent, in an apartment I snag only because I have bribed (unsure how) the newspaper stand guy to give me the real estate section on a Saturday night before the front section of the Sunday paper comes in.
God, I love having an apartment of my own on the Upper East Side, though, even if the bathtub is in the kitchen and the toilet is down the hall. It’s perfection, being in, watching black and white movies on my little TV, hearing sirens, staring through the bars on the windows at the lights of the big city at night. Even getting rejections from the New Yorker…. It’s all so — New York. Anyway. The downside? I’m lonely. I have to force myself to go out and meet people: and how is that going to work?
How will it work when virtually everyone in New York is taken? Not only that, the couples, that are everywhere as far as the eye can see, are perfect couples. Look at them, walking arm in arm in Central Park as the maple leaves swirl and crunch underfoot. And sharing popcorn and Junior Mints at some foreign matinee. Look at them huddled under a single umbrella as they brave the wind to get to the Guggenheim where they will appreciate works of art and then duck out to have a late night snack. Look at them on ferries staring into the distance at the Statue of Liberty, and marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, and window shopping at Bergdorf’s at Christmastime.
What a delicious, dangerous, and easy seduction it is to romanticize everything, from the togetherness of couples to the loneliness of a single person: and I do! Around Valentine’s Day, when the romanticizing comes to a head, I hole myself up and watch whatever the old movie channel feeds me, falling in, head first, stuffing the gullet of the monster of fantasy. How it should be. How it isn’t. That addictive combination of storyline and brainwashing and vulnerability and hope and constant comparison.
Years later, I give my disease a name, Sign of the Dove Syndrome, after the a restaurant in New York (closed in the late 90s, replaced by a high rise) that I pass and stare at longingly as I walk the 45 blocks home from work, a restaurant filled with elegant people all presumably behaving in better than average ways. In the spring, the gauzy curtains billow and blow out into the street at East 60th, affording glimpses of the enviable world inside. Men in yellow paisley ties. Women in belted dresses and pencil skirts.
What I don’t realize at the time… is a lot! For instance, I don’t realize that for every single man or woman desperately seeking companionship is a companion desperately seeking something more or seeking freedom. That virtually 100 percent of the time, I know nothing about the people I have imposed life stories on, that it has no bearing on any kind of truth except this truth: that I am fantasizing and making stuff up. Something I am quite good at.
Years and miles removed from New York and still in recovery from a life fueled to some degree by fairytales, and fantasies, rom-coms, and popular songs, I am finally beginning to really believe that the romance of life is for the taking – for anyone at all to take — whether we are happily or unhappily attached or happily or unhappily single or somewhere in between. That romance at its best is simply enjoying the great unfolding drama of life – with less longing for what we don’t have and more relishing of what we do.
(And sometimes we have chocolates to relish, it’s true. Whether you buy them yourselves or they’re bought for you.)