So you know I’m not a big fan of Valentines Day. It’s a long-running thing. I even have a top flight Valentines Hater origin story that involves high school, embarrassing unrequited love and a traumatic head injury that maybe you’ve heard ( though honestly I pretty much hated Valentine’s Day well before that). I don’t like red roses or filled chocolates. I don’t think it’s an accident that most of the best songs are the ones about how people tend to disappoint you (I may have made a mixtape for you at some point to that effect). I don’t like flirting, first dates and all the traditional expectations of at least nominally heterosexual relationships. But I’m not an unromantic person, and have an ego, bruised as it may be, so think it’s absolute bullshit that people don’t try harder to sweep me off my feet. Like, WTF, Cupid? Stop messing around with Psyche and get with the program already.
People used to call and check in with me on February 14 to get a blistering earful of my best ornery Miss Lonelyhearts. It was a reliable schtick that often ended with me sitting at a bar with other single people talking shit about the newly encoupled. That sounds like sour grapes and I can’t wholly deny the accusation. After all, new love is a world-class high and if it holds, a dual income is a real game changer when it comes to housing options. But like most drugs, love feels great when it’s happening to you and pretty tedious when you’re friend is telling you for the fifth or seventy-fourth time that with Steve it’s really different, like, really, for really real, not at all like it was with Sean and Scott and whatshisface from the gym . Besides, we were all still young enough in those days to worry the people our friends were before they fell in love, got married, had children were never coming back (some of them didn’t, most did eventually).
These days I’m not so hung up on Love or Lack Thereof. After years of worrying about becoming a sad old Spinster, it would seem that I have settled into Weird Cat Life with considerable ease. It is not such a bad thing to be alone in the world. Sure, it’s possible I’ll end up forgotten and impoverished in old age, dying of something stupid because no one is around to check in on me, but that could just as easily happen the tomorrow if I climb up on the bathroom vanity to change a can light over the sink and slip or whatever. And in the meantime, I have a lot of space to decorate, minimal conflict, and absolutely no one to call a sexist if they assume I’ll make dinner, wash their socks, or learn to appreciate their views on Prog Rock. I have not spent any of quarantine weighing divorce and/or contemplating trading my kids in on the black market. For that, I am truly grateful. And while it is true I hunger for physical affection, I’m not sure that, nearly a year into stay-at-home with all its undeniable, attendant unsexiness , anyone’s actual love life is the stuff of fantasy right now ( I don’t want to know).
But while whatever sting I felt at romantic deprivation on Valentines has mercifully diminished, the day’s proximity—a mere fortnight—from my birthday has brought it’s own Bonus-Size quiver of slings and arrows. Because feeling Overly Single is, on every imaginable level, a more manageable and less existential dilemma than feeling Unrelievably Old. Among other things, you can (at least theoretically) fix for the former. Old is not a thing that improves. It just deepens, and it’s so inevitable and unrelenting, that I can sit here right now, knowing that some portion of you are thinking, “Alison is not that old,” while others are thinking “Thank God, I’m not where she is yet,” and even knowing that I myself will look back on this chapter of my misbegotten career and think, “How much time did I waste in my early middle age worrying about being in my early middle age? Oh to be forty five again!”
But I’m gonna level with you: this age that I am now? It’s terrible. It sucks. It’s the worst. I hate it. And I really hate the idea that, in a few years, I will look back on this age as some comparatively healthful and halcyon youth. That is truly the most depressing thing I can imagine. Because what that tells me is that from here on out, things only get so much worse and harder. I just become more irrelevant and useless. The aches become more unrelenting. The illnesses less beatable. The people I love disappear. The opportunities for a better or more meaningful life, continue to blinker out like the burnt out letters of shabby roadside neon. And I am left with, at best, bittersweet nostalgia for a past that is, at best, a kinda funny anecdote.
That’s without the impending doom of climate change (that will probably be the death of me if I don’t go out first via illness or bathroom can light-related trauma) and the overlay of Covid, which has stolen a year—a year I might have wasted, but a year nonetheless. At least, Covid has an end date, maybe. If I can make to vaccination, if the variants don’t get catastrophically worse before they can figure out a booster, I can maybe travel again and be out in the world and pretend a nice vacation is an actual achievement and not just an expensive, temporary mute button.
45, guys. Seriously.
We all have one life, so we take the good with the bad. This is mine. It is insignificant. It is fine, though, seriously, fine. It is mostly missing the wild, sexy, adventurous bits in the first half that would make the stretch pants, “have you tried a gratitude journal?” and hangovers of this new section feel earned. It is not what I thought it would be, though honestly I don’t remember what I imagined. It was never a plan so much as a mood and a silhouette. On some level, I think I was always a little too superstitious to want anything bad enough to envision a future with actual shade and dimension.
Before Covid. I had some notion of how I would mark the year. I thought I might go sit in mud baths and contemplate the universe in the alien landscape of the desert Southwest with my best friends. I thought my best friend and I might go back to Europe or somewhere tropical. I thought I might plan a party themed around dancing to old 45s (and perhaps he occasional 12” Extended Disco Mix), because I’m a girl with zero meaningful accomplishments but a whole room full of cool records. I
nstead, I guess I’ll quietly meditate on the rest of my life. I suppose I could make some changes. I could do more yoga or stop eating dairy. I could take a page out of the Midlife Crisis Journal favored by the hometown crowd and trade in irony, and glittered, maximalist blasphemy for oatmeal knits, socks with sandals, and woo-tinged self-help. My mother would /will probably tell me to do more volunteering. “And you know it’s never too late for grad school.”
But, like, why? Will that make a difference? Does older adulthood, like life after high school, get better? (Be honest. It’s not like I haven’t already imagined the worst)
Somebody called and asked a couple of days ago what I wanted for my birthday. I’ll tell you: I want a Bloody Mary brunch and a massage, then a new dress and an Edie Sedgwick-inspired makeover, then I want to go out with my friends, and sometime, too late to be reasonable, I’d like to find myself on a dance floor, dancing to “Fame” ( both the Bowie version and the Irene Cara version) with a bunch of drag queens in a cloud of sparkly confetti. Then I’d like to fly to the Italian coast for a week . You know, normal middle aged lady stuff.
But it’s 2021 and I do not have that life, so I have to readjust. I want cheap dresses and cheaper tulle skirts and novels. I want fancy cheese and gin. I want my front door repaired and a new humidifier. I want a sunny day. I want to see a friend in person. I want consider the future without being sidelined by regret and dread. I want to look forward to something, not shuffle onward with a resigned sigh and sensible shoes, hoping that a multivitamin, magical thinking, and a chirpy inspirational quote will somehow keep the whole ship afloat. Honestly? I really just want a b-side that goddamn slaps.
Thirteen days ‘til 45. Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, my second favorite holiday. So laissez les bon temps rouler, weirdos. Please be gloriously hedonistic (but also Covid-safe) out there.
Picture today is of yours truly at her first birthday, when I was probably also, already having an existential crisis.
As of this writing 81,877,363 people have recovered from Covid-19. 173 million vaccine doses have been administered globally.