Animals in zoos need keepers. I don’t. But after hearing about my online dating fiascos a friend said, “Don’t give up. I hope you’ll find a keeper.” The dictionary defines “keeper” as “an attendant, or guard. One that has the charge or care of something.” Why would I want that?
Consider the term “kept woman,” generally reserved for the Other Woman–you know, the one without stretch marks who presumably enjoyed a long-term salacious relationship with a married man who paid the rent and fringe benefits. Was that so different from traditional marriages like mine in which the man “brought home the bacon” and the woman was lover, companion and live-in help?
During my 17-year child-raising hiatus we lived on my husband’s salary. He’d earned it, so he felt free to spend it. “Look,” my daughter shouted, “Daddy’s driving a new red convertible!” He’d splurged on a set of wheels unfit for carpooling; then another time on a fishing boat. But if I had my eye on a pricey pendant, I wouldn’t buy it for myself. I’d hint and hope. Would he buy it for me? Had I been a good little wife?
I’m not the only woman of my vintage who doesn’t want to hear wedding bells again. Would I welcome a close relationship with a man? Yes! Do I want him to invade my space 24/7? No! An old song says, “Love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage.” Well Tra La La, who do you think rides in the carriage, and who pulls it? The lyrics maintain: “You can’t have one without the other.” (I told you it was an old song.)
My mother was “the perfect woman” for two lucky men. Their needs always came before hers, because they worked hard all day (like she didn’t!). Widowed twice, after 50 years of married life when she tried on her new single status, it felt good: not binding, plenty of room to grow. No more, “The girls are going to a movie. Oh? You said we’d play bridge? I’ll say I’m busy.” Or, “Sure, we can skip the party. I’ll make dinner.” She luxuriated in her late-life freedom. She took up oil painting and sang in a choir. She and her also-single friends bought season tickets for the symphony and ballet. Before, when our family visited she’d spend every possible moment with us. Not anymore. “We’re going to the beach, want to come?” “You go ahead, dear. I’m going to take a bath.”
Now I’m on my own after a 40-year marriage. I miss my husband but understand how mom felt. Sure, I’d like a man in my life for fun, companionship and affection. But share my space on a full-time basis? When the clock strikes bedtime, I want to be home. Alone.
I eat what I want to when I feel like it. Meals are like Saturday Night Live skits: I use whatever’s available and have it fork ready in 5 minutes. The clock starts when I scope out the fridge, freezer and pantry and ends when I sit down to eat. Do I want to confer with my male buddy about what to have or where to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner? In the time that would take I could fix and scarf down whatever meal we were discussing.
I hated having a roommate in college but happily traded privacy and my own space for the loving comfort of marriage. That was fine until the kids left home. After that, our lives were on different tracks. He was retired, happy to be at home; I held a demanding, exhilarating job that included lots of travel. I could relate to comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s comment, “We sleep in separate rooms, have dinner apart, take separate vacations – we’re doing everything we can to keep our marriage together.”
On a real estate blog, “Living Apart Together: Separate Spaces Keep Couples Close,” one happy couple posted: “Our living arrangement gives us the best of both worlds: togetherness when we want it, alone time when we don’t.” The author predicts that a growing sense of independence within relationships could lead more modern couples to “live apart together.” In fact, solo oldies lucky enough to find a loving partner are inventing new variations on the togetherness theme. Rather than merging households, some couples maintain their own homes; others take separate apartments in the same building. Builders are offering condos with two master suites.
In online dating profiles, for “relationship preferences” I check, “Friend, activity partner, companion.” I do not check “marriage,” because chances are, men who miss their traditional marriages are looking for a keeper.