INSTEAD of mourning the loss of my struggling marriage, I was oddly, positively thrilled to be free -- literally prancing from room to room in a sort of spacious glee. I wore baggy pajamas. I watched mindless television. And I slept solo, smack dab in the middle of my ample bed. Mating, let alone dating, was the furthest thing from my mind. My love affair was with flannel.
Friends, cleverly disguised as guardian angels, would invariably orchestrate some sort of "random encounter" with the latest and greatest divorce or bachelor-of-the-day -- some poor man whose bank account and taste in clothing had labeled him "a good catch."
"He's looking for someone to care for his children," they said in a futile appeal to my heightened sense of parenthood. I had raised my own brood; I wasn't going there again.
I went home every evening, poured a glass of Merlot, removed any trace of mascara and donned comfy PJs. A little TV or one more chapter, and off to dreamland I traveled, where I no longer fantasized that the man next to me would take his last breath before dawn's early light.
Soon friends needled me about socializing -- for "girls' night out!"
Girls' night out is a concept I have never embraced, and I certainly wasn't up for masquerading in middle age. What's the point in getting all dolled up to impress some men who want to impress some women, when everyone will go home and grow up to find they aren't who they said they were? That's the problem with dating: Neither party is authentic to their nature.
My friends tried valiantly, until I stopped answering the digital read-out phone that reported that it was one of them. Ah, peace! Lest you deem me emotionally detached, I did, occasionally, shed a teardrop during a romantic movie rental. But, it was never enough to get me off the sofa. I wasn't interested in any close encounter that might progress to the point where I would have to appear naked.
As I continued hibernating, I began to notice that midlife dating was quite the hot topic. Magazine headlines tantalized the ex-wedded-weary as to how to "snag a man," "find love on the Internet" or subscribe to a singles organization guaranteeing perfect compatibility. For women, cosmetic surgery became as commonplace as lipstick. Viagra ads splashed across computer screens, catering to men. Curiouser and curiouser.
"Someday, you'll grow up and have Botox," admonished one of my friends, who dropped to the bottom of my list of answerable phone calls.
Then the only other woman I knew who hadn't nipped and tucked sat next to a complete stranger on an airplane. When she told me that she had met the man I should marry, I cried in frustration, trying to convince her otherwise, then, when all else failed, I hung up.
Two days later, I received a letter from him. Without so much as combing my hair, I responded and politely spelled out all the reasons I did not care to date. Six weeks later, we met for a glass of wine. Within 48 hours, having exchanged hundreds of pages of correspondence -- sans makeup or dress-up -- we were talking marriage. Unsightly unseen, we had come to know each other very well, without the perplexing pretense of the physical.
MY advice to the lovelorn? Put an end to enhancing, dieting, shopping or obsessing. Cancel that dating club; stop surfing the Web. The harder you try, the less they'll fall for you.
One woman I know, "connected" by feigning her love's avid interest in technology, and ended the relationship when "all he wants to do is fool around on the computer." She could have saved herself a lot of time and trouble had she been herself from the get-go.
Prohibit all the pretending and preening. No matter how trimmed and toned, how scalpeled and sculpted, true love is not about body. It's about heart, and everyone knows that the heart finds its own way, without aerobic intervention. Don't build it up, and they will come.
Want to date? Stop dating. I did. And because I didn't Botox or boob bob, diet or designer it -- give even so much as a hoot about it -- I get a sloppy kiss when I wear pajamas.