"Do you mind getting the door?" he says to my coffee date. My coffee date rushes to the door, gallant. "And the next door?" I hear the wheelchair pusher say. They disappear into the foyer. They're gone a long, long time. I sip my water. I finish my salad. I enjoy the time alone. I am thinking: "I can't keep doing this. I want to slip out. I do not want to be rude."
"People are strange," he says when he comes back. The man with the wheelchair kept asking him to open doors. It was very strange, he said. "He didn't really seem to be going anywhere."
One coffee lasted all winter, and how happy I was on the weekends, playing all that backgammon and keeping score and naming things funny names that meant something to us, skiing, then hunting morels and reading The Reivers aloud to each other every night.
It's very distracting, a loved person, and it makes the planet manageable. The planet, which is so large and lonely and blue, and also hurtling through dark empty space. All of which you can feel when you are alone.
I'm not un-whole. I'm not half a person. But being with someone is energizing and relaxing, the opposite of coffee. It organizes me. The doubleness amplifies things, but in a way called softening.
I love having a boyfriend. Men are not like cars or pets—the opposite. But having a man in one's life is like having a car in America—easier. A home without a man in it? It gets a little museum-ish. Not bad. Beautiful, and very very very still. Stewarded only by a woman, objects, life, can get weird to the touch, overly pristine.
Like most plans, the plan is pretend. I do not want a hundred cups of coffee, a hundred men. I do not want coffee. I do not want the wrong man. I do not want to be alone. I do not want to do this at all. Yesterday, I doubled down, one at lunch, one at 4 in the afternoon. Today I am sick in my bed, a summer cold, hell.
Especially good to do with someone one is sleeping with at night: the grocery store, swimming in open water (inside water better alone), dog-walking, talking about the friends, practicing foreign languages, thinking about houses, riding bikes, breakfast. Coffee in bed.
Sometimes I feel like a priest, hearing these men confess their lives and wives. Sometimes I feel like an officer of something, like the town of single people. Sometimes I feel like an ambulance chaser, gaping at their stories.
One day I get a trifecta of bad news—my family, my regular life, so many things can go horribly wrong. I call my ex-husband. My dear good friend. Dave and I are divorced, but we are terrible divorced people; we are friendly and helpful to each other and un-mad. We meet at the neighborhood bar, a place I can cry in if need be. Eight, nine years ago, I met this man, my ex-husband now, on Match. He wrote, "I do not know if I could keep up with you, but I know I would enjoy trying." He was the only person I went out with. He was the only person I married.