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Single in the Suburbs


Illustration by Nick Mott

Traditionally, people come to the suburbs to raise a family. With the proliferation of divorce and rise of young professionals heading to the outer limits, more and more people are finding themselves searching for available men and women in neighborhoods where everyone is supposed to be spoken for. Sometimes they find each other. More often, they don’t.

Finding What You’re Looking for May Mean Not Looking at All

Being a single guy in the suburbs is a test of ingenuity, patience and character. The few in that milieu who have never been in a committed relationship—gay, straight, married or living together—need read no further; this isn’t about you. This is about being freshly divorced, surveying the singles landscape and not just feeling lost, but being completely unable to recognize any emotional landmarks whatsoever. And worse, not having any clue where or how to proceed.

Getting in a hurry to date and find a female replacement for those things that didn’t suck about your ex—the sense of humor, a sympathetic ear, the handful of stellar meals in her seldom-used kitchen repertoire, someone who dusted—is dumb and dangerous. Go slow. Take small bites from the singles buffet before you and fight the urge to be a sexual glutton.

Being a single guy in your 40s is not unlike a prolonged emotional fast. The early days sure suck; pangs of longing and hunger for emotional sustenance cause the weak of heart to take a header off the wagon and assuage their pain with a return trip through the fast food relationship drive-thru. Standards and dignity are tossed for some instant gratification.

For those who successfully forge through the difficult early days comes the calm of certainty that, yes, you do possess the emotional stores that will get you through this period of deprivation. Namely, you learn that being your own best friend is good, grounding and emotionally fortifying. You’re not a loser for taking off BY YOURSELF to go skiing/fishing/out to eat/to a movie. No, it’s not a long-term solution, but it is a healthy way to scrub out bad habits and start anew sans a couple pounds of emotional baggage.

But just as with a dietary fast, a relationship fast requires a thoughtful and careful reintroduction of small, healthy bits of emotional food or the consequences can be dire.

And while I could try to wring more out of that metaphor, you get my point. It’s not such a bad thing to go it alone for a while after becoming single, just don’t dive back into the pool without taking stock of where you’ve been and taking the lessons you should have learned to heart.

With that said, stalking the old hunting grounds isn’t what it used to be; and neither is the quarry. The young, single women still look fine, but pudgy, gray-haired me in yesterday’s threads, not so much. And if you’re wondering where the single women are hanging out who come close to your age, ask yourself where your ex-wife is on a given Saturday night and you’ll likely have your answer (if you’ve got the kids).

But who wants more of the same; why go back to what wasn’t working? There must be a woman out there who doesn’t just say that the half-dozen projects in progress are not a problem and that the kicked-off shoes at the foot of the stairs don’t annoy. I know there is a woman out there who is sincere about enjoying a weekend night at home playing Scrabble and cribbage. And I’m pretty sure she’s not hanging out in a bar on Saturday night.

So that leaves the Internet; the matchmaker of last resort when friends and family fail. And in the singles corner of the Web—as is the case with the Web in general—the usual rules apply in spades: quality varies widely, you get what you pay for and consider the source; don’t believe more than half of anything you read or see.

Choosing instead to stay busy and fill my “dating time” hanging out with friends, skiing and generally doing stuff that I like to do, I figure that I’ll eventually run into a like-minded special someone. And to be honest, I’m not in much of a hurry. It’s not that I’m licking the wounds from a terrible past relationship; my ex and I are actually still friends and friendly towards one another (to the great relief of our many mutual friends).

I actually enjoy the absence of the expectation that I should call every day from work to “check in,” or that “we” are expected to be at some social event full of other couples. I like spending my weekends working on the unfinished projects and teaching myself how to cook some yummy-looking piece of art out of the French Laundry cookbook. And who knows, maybe the fact that the kicked-off shoes at the foot of the stairs are now in a row in my closet means things on the outside of my life will change too. We’ll see…

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