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Single Woman of a Certain Age: Romantic Escapades, Shifting Shapes, and Serene Independence

Single Woman of a Certain Age: Romantic Escapades, Shifting Shapes, and Serene Independence

by Jane Ganahl (Editor)

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This timely book assembles a chorus of sophisticated, edgy, and humorous voices on the topic of being unmarried in one’s prime. Far from being out to pasture, these writers zestily take on the challenges and enjoy the rewards of growing older as a single woman: sex (or not), occasional loneliness, single motherhood, second careers, menopause, critter


This timely book assembles a chorus of sophisticated, edgy, and humorous voices on the topic of being unmarried in one’s prime. Far from being out to pasture, these writers zestily take on the challenges and enjoy the rewards of growing older as a single woman: sex (or not), occasional loneliness, single motherhood, second careers, menopause, critter comforts, and more. Joyce Maynard (“fifteen years divorced and pushing fifty with a short stick”) tries online dating, Kathi Kamen Goldmark embraces her newly empty nest, Susan Griffin savors the joys of solo travel, Wendy Merrill dumps a younger lover to save her self-esteem, Diane Mapes prefers the joys of aunthood over motherhood, Ms. Gonick dates a sexy (if uneducated) cowboy, and Rachel Toor finally finds the perfect companion—and he has four legs.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This collection of essays shows that writers know plenty about love—how it works, when it works, when it doesn’t, and why it’s not always the be-all and end-all of a woman’s emotional life. Growing older solo is fraught with challenges but also with opportunities.”
Hartford Courant

Product Details

New World Library
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.70(d)

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Single Woman of a Certain Age

29 Women Writers on the Unmarried Midlifeâ"Romantic Escapades, Heavy Petting, Empty Nests, Shifting Shapes, and Serene Independence

By Jane Ganahl

Inner Ocean Publishing

Copyright © 2005 Jane Ganahl
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-007-8


The Dating Game Has New Rules

And What about Getting Naked?

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.


The absolute yearning of one human body for another particular body and its indifference to substitutes is one of life's major mysteries.

—Iris Murdoch

SInGLes Dance

Irene Sherlock

Lately, I've been dogged by a chronic nauseated feeling. Not unlike morning sickness, it hits hardest at certain times. I step into the shower and see myself slamming against the tile, felled by a bar of soap on the floor. It doesn't actually happen — I just get an image, and my stomach lurches.

Or like tonight. I'm getting ready to go to my first "over thirty-five" singles dance, and I'm sure the elastic will break on my skirt when I'm standing in the middle of the dance floor.

I don't have anything against dances per se. I just never thought I'd be at one ever again. But I've been mulling over the whole idea of men these last few weeks, and as a potential interest in my life they do appeal. Before this, I never truly considered how I would find one once I was ready. My friends, I thought, would have an adequate supply of single men they would rustle up, or there would be someone at work or ... somewhere. Just about half the population is male. How hard can it be to get a date?

Hard. My stomach is rumbling now in a sick, nonhungry way. Most of my friends are married and so are their friends. They shrug and remind me that single men my age can and do date much younger women. Up till now, I have relied on the pool of men who might actually want to date women their own age. I believed it would be a fairly deep pool, considering my minimum requirements — some education, a sense of humor. This brings me to the requirements that men have, which in turn brings me over to the mirror, which in turn reminds me of the frail elastic in my skirt that is planning to break.

And to this churning in the pit of my stomach. The fact is, I am not ready for this dating thing. Not ready for the singles life. Malcolm was right, telling me I was more in love with the safety of marriage than I was with him. If I head into that man-woman bingo game out there, won't that be acknowledging to the world I don't have that safety net anymore? I snap the elastic on the skirt as a test and then go into the kitchen for some steadying chardonnay.

"I'm sorry, so sorry," Patsy Cline is singing behind Rebekah's closed door. My daughter has eclectic taste in music. She likes Hendrix or Madonna, depending on her mood; on really iffy days she likes Patsy Cline. Last night, she argued with her boyfriend, so today, Patsy sings the country blues. This evening I can relate to her, a woman who knew how to ache about life.

Back in my room, I apply Trésor perfume to parts of my body that for a long time haven't been touched in the way I would like them to be. It seems absurd to be applying perfume to a body that is about to go to a Unitarian Fellowship dance. I do it anyway, ignoring my anxious stomach.

The one small catch is that I don't dance. Can't dance. I used to dance a million years ago at the Good Shepherd Friday-night dances, where Mary Pat and I would do the hully gully, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but you lose something when you graduate from high school, and for me it was the confidence to dance. Since then, I have felt foolish and naked whenever I try to move my body to music. Unlike other people bumping and grinding up on the dance floor, I am painfully aware that I have no rhythm. I have little coordination and an obstinately inhibited part of my personality that I haven't dealt with, therapy notwithstanding. Twice I've sprained my ankle in aerobics class simply trying to follow the instructor. It's hard for me to watch and do at the same time. I would make a terrible voyeur. Then again, it's hard not to watch other people while you're dancing. They're so much better than you are. Or they care so much less. So, because of this dancing thing, singles dances have not been an option.

Until now.

I move into the bathroom and carry my chardonnay along. Rebekah has set my hair in hot rollers and is standing ready to activate her army of brushes and combs to give me what she calls a "calculated messy look." I wonder what kind of man this will attract.

"Sit," she orders, and then turns my chair away from the mirror. "I don't want you looking at yourself."

I steal a glance anyway. I look like one of those saleswomen in the perfume section of Lord & Taylor. "You need eyeliner," she says, going through my makeup bag. I stand and down the last of my wine. Enough, I tell her. That is not me in the mirror. If I meet a guy tonight, and if I ever see him again, he'll never recognize me.

My daughter eyes my long black skirt. Her own skirt must be all of six inches long, showing her fleshy thighs. "How can you dance in that thing?" she asks. I do not have the heart to tell her that I don't plan on dancing, that my fondest hope for the evening is to meet someone with whom I might have a civil conversation. We'll move off to a room where you can talk and have some coffee, me and this nondancing, hunky Unitarian who will get my juices flowing.

Rebekah is part of the reason I am going out. She has watched me stay home most weekends while my soon-to-be ex-husband has been out wining and dining a series of women (this is on Rebekah's authority). She is worried that she will move out, get married, and visit, years later, to find me still sitting in my living room with only Meals on Wheels as company.

She launches into an earnest speech about how she thinks — no, she knows — I am going to meet someone tonight, someone who likes dogs and who is there not because he's a Unitarian — whatever that is — but because he knows I am going to be there. Me.

How sweet. I smile at her. Her arms wave an arc of hair spray over my "do." She is right, I tell myself. I look great, if not like myself. I certainly smell great. "You may be right," I tell her. "I may get lucky tonight."

"You go, girl." She snaps the cap back on the hair spray.

In the car, my confidence founders, and I have to give myself another talking to. I'm beautiful, and I'm available. Also, I remind myself that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. So what if he seems shy and dweeby; I'm not exactly the picture of confidence. And I need the practice. The last man I had an in-depth conversation with was that car mechanic, and it was about carburetors. Be sociable. Ask questions. Be available.

Mount Kisco is a half-hour drive, and that gives me time to play my favorite tapes and drink Pepto-Bismol. The rain has let up. My stomach is starting to feel better. I might actually have a good time. There's a beautiful full moon tonight, and Sheryl Crow is plaintively singing, "Are you strong enough to be my man?" Sing it, Sheryl.

Ten minutes into the ride, I have to pee, so I pull over on a dirt road and turn off the lights. I find a discreet spot in the bushes. Suddenly, there are headlights in the distance. I crouch down and pee faster. The car turns down another road. When I stand, I realize I have peed the entire length of my skirt. The two napkins I find in the glove compartment do not help. So much for my lavishly perfumed body. I wonder what kind of man this will attract?

Connie is waiting at the door when I arrive. She's wearing red lipstick and a shortish black skirt. Connie is a veteran of the singles scene but has been lying low for a while. It gets depressing, she says, seeing the same faces, week after week, at different places along the circuit. If singles dances are such a great way to meet people, why aren't these people meeting someone and staying home? I reasoned that some of them must have met someone. Though not fully convinced of this, Connie has agreed to be my tour guide for the evening.

At one time, Connie knew every singles dance spot within a fifty-mile radius: where the country music crowd hung out, which places were upscale or divey, where you might find a slightly older, professorial type or a hard-dancing, truck-driving kind of man. She had her own radar, she said; she could spot a married man fifty yards away. Connie knew about cover fees, drink prices, where the best buffets were, and how much they cost. She also knew where the quiet jazz clubs were, where you could just sit and have a drink and maybe get looked at, if that's all you wanted.

But Connie wants more than that when she goes out. She loves to dance — and to loud rock and roll. This Unitarian dance is a departure for her. She heard about it from someone at work, and since she had recently quit smoking, and since most singles places were a smoker's paradise, she said we could check out this non-smoking, wine-and-cheese thing, although she couldn't really vouch for anything that was sponsored by a church. Sounded kind of tame, she said. Fine with me, I said. I liked tame. Tame was my middle name, and I prayed for a coffee room. Or a comfortable ladies' room I could hole up in till she was done. Oh, why didn't I bring a book?

"I hope they play some decent music," Connie says as we go through the large wooden doors. The building is modern, like a school, not a church. Two women at a card table take our money and write our names on name tags. Loud music blasts from the darkened auditorium. I hear a DJ calling —"Ladies' choice. It's ladies' choice." I look around for anything resembling a coffee room. We pass men and women, all with name tags, milling about. The place is packed and there is no place to hang our coats. We throw them over a pile in the back, then head for the ladies' room. Connie wants to check her lipstick. I need to pee again. Just like high school, I think. Some things never change.

In the restroom, we meet a woman in a floral chiffon dress who looks to be in her sixties. She's a regular at these things. "You're gonna have a ball!" she says, a bit too enthusiastically. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The chardonnay has worn off and my upper lip is sweating. God knows what my underarms are doing. And then there is the issue of my still-damp skirt.

I look at my hair. It has lost its calculation and now just looks messy. Connie asks if I want hair spray. I feel sick again, duck into a stall, and finish the last of my Pepto-Bismol. When I come back out, she is reapplying her lipstick. I watch her and clutch my purse to my chest. OK, I tell myself. I can still make a run for it.

"Ready?" Connie asks brightly. We head out the door.

We make our way to the auditorium, where men and women are crammed onto a packed dance floor. Others are standing around in groups of twos and threes. Everyone seems to know each other, talking and laughing, as we elbow our way through. The dance floor is lined with tables and chairs, all taken. Barry Manilow is singing about the Copacabana — a song I haven't heard in its entirety in twenty years. I think of my brothers playing in their rock band ages ago, making fun of Barry Manilow. How my mother said at least that was music.

Insanely loud music at that — and most of these people are older than we are. Also, two-thirds of them are women. Connie is pissed, I can tell. Pissed because she likes men her own age or younger, pissed because she senses this place is going to be a dud.

I only know I have a headache because I haven't eaten since lunch. We cannot get near the wine-and-cheese table, and when we do, we find picked-over cubes of Swiss cheese and a couple of warm carafes of chablis. We hold our plastic cups in our hands and look around the room, at the others around us who are talking and dancing. A couple who look about eighty glide by. Two women with terrific tans start a line dance in the middle of the floor. Pretty soon there is a whole crowd line dancing to Barry Manilow. Connie is muttering in my ear about killing the person who recommended this dance. We are definitely the youngest people in the room. It is then that I wonder what I am doing here, when I could be home taking a perfectly good bath. Home — where there are food and clean clothes and something to read and no Barry Manilow.

Connie looks over at me. I try to smile, but this is no time for pretense. She mutters something. "What?" I screech over the music. This is a bad dream. I am in one of Dante's circles of hell, and I will wake up any moment in my bed, which means I will not have to drive home or ever think about this place again.

We find two empty chairs and sit, thank God, because by now I feel as if someone were standing on my chest. A silver-haired man passes by and smiles sweetly at us. Two women in short cocktail dresses come over to tell us we are sitting in their seats. We stand. The music begins again. This time, a rumba. We watch the couples on the dance floor. Some of these people can really dance. Some of them are as bad as I would be if I were out there with them.

"They may be old, but some of them can move!" Connie nudges me, swaying her hips. I realize she wants to dance, even here. I also know I will never do this again — try to meet men at a dance. High school was bad enough.

The music shifts to a cha-cha, and my head begins to pound. A serious-looking man with black glasses appears by my side and asks if I want to dance. Actually, I do know how to cha-cha, one of the few dances I can do, however badly. "Go on," Connie says, nudging me toward the dance floor. The man takes my hand. His fingers are clammy.

"So," he says, moving on the dance floor. "Come here often?"

I smile. "First time."

"I'm Peter," he shouts over the music.


Peter looks to be about fifty-five, and he's a pretty good dancer. He snaps his fingers to the music. "So, Irene, where are you from?"

One, two, cha-cha-cha. "Connecticut!" We are literally yelling at one another.

Peter slips his arm around my waist. It's a confident gesture, and my body stiffens automatically.

"You know," I say, pulling away. "I'm sorry. I don't feel well."

"Oh," Peter says. He knows there are plenty more fish in this Unitarian sea. "Be well, Irene." I watch him move through the crowd. Then I go and stand beside Connie, who sighs, first at me, then at the place in general.

"Ten dollars," she says. "What a rip-off." We get our coats and leave.

We find a pizza place that is loud and full of drunks. I don't care. I'm just so glad to finally breathe again. I order a beer and listen while Connie fills me in on the real places to go, places where there are much younger men. She tells me about Teddy's and its Sunday-night singles dance, where for the same ten dollars we just squandered, we could have gotten a fabulous all-you-caneat buffet. I think she wants to head right over there. I eat my pizza in silence. I cannot wait to get home.

In the car, I pull down the rearview mirror and stare at myself. For the first time since Malcolm left, I take a hard look. Here I am — alone at forty-eight, and maybe I'll stay that way. I don't have the character or the skill or the perseverance to find and fall in love with someone. Why didn't I just stay married? So what if we didn't like each other? People don't have to like each other — only to endure.

By the time I pull into the driveway, I've stopped crying. I pray that Rebekah is sleeping; I cannot bear to face her questions tonight.

Instead, I find her in the bathroom, kneeling in front of the toilet, vomiting. I crouch down beside her and take off my coat. She was at the movies when it hit her, she said. Finally, she has caught the flu bug or whatever it was that her boyfriend had the previous week. Her head over the bowl, she gags before heaving. When she looks up at me, her voice is ten again. This is the same young woman who created my wanton-vixen hairdo. "Do something," she implores. "Can't you give me some kind of medicine?"

I walk her to bed, then retrieve a large bowl from the kitchen. I find ginger ale and a cool washcloth for her forehead, but nothing seems to help. For another hour, I watch as she continues to get sick. It is then that I realize we are both stricken with a "bug": hers is viral; mine, more nebulous. Still, they will both reside within us, these foreign bodies, wreaking havoc within our systems for days or weeks or longer. And there is nothing either one of us can do about it except to live through it.


Excerpted from Single Woman of a Certain Age by Jane Ganahl. Copyright © 2005 Jane Ganahl. Excerpted by permission of Inner Ocean Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Editor Jane Ganahl is the author of the novelized memoir Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife. She has written for the Huffington Post, Match.com, Book, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, and other publications. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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