Everything in life has a season, but if you are a single woman ‘of a certain age’ it’s best not to sit around waiting for the solo season to end. Like a comet on a vast elliptical orbit, this cycle can be so protracted that you may not live long enough to see it through.
I mean to be pragmatic, not depressing. In the absence of suitable (or even unsuitable) partners, a girl has to make a plan if she wants company, and I know quite a few who have. I know sisters who have set up house together; women who rent rooms to foreign students, and others who have pooled financial and creative resources to live in and manage a guest house. At the deluxe end of sharing space there is a group of exceptional women who have realised their dream to own a chunk of rolling farmland – with a sea view and fresh water – that can support agriculture, their individual homes, communal facilities and a top-notch conference centre that will provide a venue for their talents and an income into their dotage.
Communal living used to be considered unorthodox, risqué. In adult conversation the word ‘commune’ was always preceded by ‘some weird’, and even as a child with limited understanding of such things, I grasped that it had grubby sexual overtones.
Not so today. With the picket fences rotting in Pleasantville and many people opting out of marriage or opting never to get into it in the first place, the definition of ‘family’ has shifted to incorporate new configurations of like-minded people who give each other support and companionship.
I grew up in the era when girls were groomed to have a nice home in a leafy suburb, a dependable husband, 2.3 gifted children and an education to fall back on. I had all that but times have changed, and the way to cope with change is to embrace the new experiences that it offers. Although it’s just me and Eva now (I exchanged the .3 for a gifted cat) in a Victorian semi near the railway line, I’m seldom lonely. That’s because I have the ‘hood: neighbours on either side with whom I share walls, a set of green glass bowls that go back and forth for parties, hot gossip and dinner every Wednesday. We take it in turns to make a stick-to-the-ribs meal, with the other two households providing a killer cocktail and dessert.
This arrangement began about four years ago when the members of the ‘hood decided to join me for yoga practice. I rolled back the carpets and rolled out the mats, and for some weeks they stretched and breathed enthusiastically. They were coming on quite nicely when someone said, ‘why don’t we have supper together afterwards?’ That was the end of our yoga class and the beginning of our supper club, our picnics, our communal attempt to grow tomatoes in the lane behind our cottages, and convivial times on my front porch when the electricity went off and there was nothing to do but crack open the champagne while it was still good and cold.
We are an unlikely bunch, but what binds us, aside from the fact that we all work from home and can’t survive without coffee shops, is that each of us, in our own way, has stepped out of the conventional relationship paradigm. We enjoy each other’s quirks and respect each other’s sensitivities. We have our privacy but we also have keys to each other’s houses, just in case. If my shutters don’t open at the usual time, I may get a phone call; if I banged on the wall, someone would respond. On days that I don’t venture out, my neighbours’ text messages keep me connected: Got any baking powder? What was that crash? You okay? Kettle is on.
Changes in society mean that these kinds of relationships are becoming more common. Single women are everywhere, by choice or by circumstance. For those new to the state there are the obvious adjustments, but there are also some unexpected ones. For example, the ‘marrieds’ tend not to invite you to dinner any more. You upset the seating plan and have suddenly become an unknown quantity. Perhaps the wife fears you may lunge over the table and grab her man, or perhaps the husband fears that you might put revolutionary ideas in his little homemaker’s head. And he could be right.
Independence, once acquired, is attractive and precious; so precious that even if Prince Charming came knocking at my door, I’m not sure I’d let him in. He has laundry and he needs meals, and he’d probably want to watch sport on television when I want to watch Desperate Housewives and celebrate that I’m not one.
I’m not a desperate single either. It’s true that this season shows no signs of ending, but that doesn’t scare me. The ‘hood gives me many of the advantages of relationship, without any of the irritations. Prince or not, I plan to live happily ever after.
Published in Femina Magazine