The first thing I did before my husband left for California was go down to the basement and bring up the white wine from the downstairs fridge.
“Why are you doing that?” he asked when I returned.
Sheepishly, I stuck the bottles in the fridge upstairs. “It’s for when you’re away, so I don’t fall down the basement stairs getting wine and hit my head when nobody’s here.”
“Jesus,” he said. “That’s not going to happen!”
Probably not. Still, better to be prepared.
My husband took a job on the opposite coast right after Thanksgiving. I supported his decision—it’s exciting work, and I’ve never seen him this happy—and we agreed that we’d keep our house in Massachusetts and I’d mostly live here, since it’s unclear how long he’ll have to be on site.
For the first couple of months, things felt normal-ish. I went out to help Dan find a place to live, and he came home for the holidays a week later, along with our five children and their spouses.
Then the children left. Dan and I spent a day taking down the tree and decorations before he departed, too. Now, for the first time in nearly 30 years of marriage, I’m living alone.
For the first time, nobody needs me. Our children are busy adults. Most are happily partnered. My mother, who lived with us, died last January, so I have no caretaking duties.
Who am I, if nobody needs me? I’m not sure yet.
Right now, I’m busy conquering my fears. I’m not fond of the dark or noises that go bump in the night. I don’t like to set mousetraps, and I like to empty them of tiny corpses even less. It’s winter, so I worry about the snow being too heavy for me to shovel. And what if my husband and I spend two years apart and one of us dies before we get to live together again?
“Promise to call me every night,” I told Dan at the airport. “We have to check in with each other and make sure we’re still breathing.”
He laughed. “Maybe I should get you one of those buttons to press so you can say, ‘Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.’”
“Not funny,” I said.
When I asked various friends for advice about going solo, some of their answers surprised me. One friend chastised me for “letting” my husband live alone. “What if he likes it too much?” she said. “What if he meets someone else?”
I pictured a woman in a bikini. On a surfboard. Yeah, that didn’t help my adjustment any.
“The main thing,” said a divorced friend, “is to avoid eating dinner in front of the TV. There’s something really sad about that.”
Another warned me against the “sweatpants-are-actual-clothing” trap. “I know you have Vuoris in every color,” she said, “but you honestly shouldn’t go outside in them.”
“Not even to the post office?” I asked in shock.
“Not even,” she said. “You have to get dressed every day in actual clothes. Otherwise it’ll seem like you’ve stopped caring.” She tipped her head at me. “A little makeup wouldn’t hurt, either.”
Despite the weirdness of my new singledom, there is liberation, too. The kitchen counters are always clear of clutter. I own the TV! My friends all want to come and have slumber parties, and if I want crackers and cheese for dinner, there’s nobody to disagree. Dan and I have long phone conversations, just as we did when we were dating.
Best of all, the mornings are silent, except for the dogs snuffling around my feet and the birdcalls outside. With no voices to interrupt my thoughts, I was able to go back to a novel I struggled to write for three years and put in a drawer out of frustration. There is creative space in my head again.
Marriage is wonderful. Family life is complex and fascinating. I’m blessed to have so many people to love in my life. But, slowly, I am remembering the rewards of solitude.