I stood in the lobby during intermission, stretching my legs and untwisting my spine. A well-dressed man in his seventies approached me and asked what I thought of the play thus far. I had no particular interest in discussing the play or talking to a stranger, but I was polite. He excused himself at some point (men’s room?) and I scurried back to my seat. Moments before the house lights dimmed, he appeared at my seat and fortunately was ushered back to his seat by…an usher. I enjoyed the second act (Jerry Springer – The Opera isn’t for everyone, but what can I say, I liked it) and actually plotted my escape from my admirer(?) during the curtain call.
It’s a large theatre with a grand staircase towards which I dashed. I’ll say this for the old guy, he’s spry. He followed me down the stairs and said…wait for it…”So the next show we see together we should see together.” “Excuse me?”, I sputtered. Some incredulous (mine) and persistent (his) banter ensued. I got to the bottom of the stairs and continued to order my ride-share on my phone. He was still by my side and on his phone and said; “Okay, I need your phone number.” I wish I’d been drinking so I could’ve done an old fashioned spit-take. Like the good middle-aged western civilization trained woman I am, I was unflaggingly polite as I explained that I don’t give my number to strangers.
I told my 31-year old friend Matt this story and he asked; “Did these kinds of things happen to you when you were married?” After I explained the difference between flirting and creepy aggressive not okay behavior I admitted that no, these things never happened to me when I was married. One of the more unexpected experiences of marriage was the feeling of safety. I became safe, to others and to myself. I was no longer made to feel suspect by married women. Nobody looked at me askance when I spoke with their husbands. And I too was safe. I was safe to be any and all versions of myself, to express myself any which way at any time. My husband was my champion.
Being faithful never occurred to me as I never knew any other man existed while I was married. Periodically my husband would point out an admiring man or observed admiring glances. I never noticed or cared. He was my entire world. I don’t judge the way others behave in their marriages, but for me flirting (let alone smooching or more) just wasn’t anything I could even imagine.
I became single at the very age at which they say women become invisible. Yet, I’ve never felt so obvious, so exposed. When Matt asked me that question I found myself wondering if that man would’ve pursued me so aggressively had I still been married? Did he spot something in me; some sort of loneliness or vulnerability? Am I, after 4+ years, perpetually giving off some sort of availability vibe? Or…are there some men who are very aggressive and entitled and it had nothing to do with me?
I can take care of myself. I no longer feel perpetually fragile. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the experience shook me. During the earliest days of single-hood what I would long for is to run home and tell my husband about the weird event. Now what I long for is to feel that invisible shield of safety that came with marriage. I don’t want strangers making me feel unsafe. I don’t want dates criticizing me and/or taking liberties they haven’t earned. How could I be this age and feel as vulnerable as I did at 17?