Steven Axelrod thought that dating after he divorced would be the easy part. After all, woman had been flirting with him for years. It wasn’t until he was single again that he figured out why.
Yes, the real problem with the post divorce life was women. I had thought for years that it would be the easy part—all those unattached beautiful girls flooding the island every summer, looking for fun. I watched them with a bittersweet longing, knowing I was unavailable in a particularly frustrating way. I actually coined a much-needed new word for it back then,: nonogomy.
Every married man knows what nonogomy means: being sexually faithful to a women who’s not having sex with you.
But now I was free. There were women I’d been flirting with literally for years, I had a list. What I didn’t realize was that they only flirted because I was safe, because I was married. It was the wedding ring that protected them, but I’d already gotten rid of mine. Once divorced, I stopped being the charming and unattainable family guy (what adorable kids!) and became something else—the creepy, desperate middle aged stalker guy. Well—they were assuming the worst. I was mostly just shy and lonely, but let’s face it, those qualities do about as much for you as a lip sore or a death’s head tattoo. Mostly they just wanted to be “Platonic” friends. After hearing that line once too often, I finally lost it.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” I shouted. “What makes you think that Plato was such a good friend, anyway? Socrates didn’t think so. Beware of guys whose ‘friends’ wind up drinking hemlock in prison! Besides—Plato was a horny little bastard who’d screw anything with a pulse. You think just because his books are boring he never got laid! Wrong again! The guy made out like a bandit.”
She just gaped at me. Women did that a lot lately. Got to hone those social skills. Still, I have to say, I picked up the code pretty quickly. When women weren’t interested, they managed to work their boyfriend into every sentence. Seriously: every sentence, just to be sure you knew the score.
Me: It’s a great year for scalloping.
Her: I know! My boyfriend? Tad? He loves scalloping. He lets me go out on the boat sometimes. It’s so incredibly fun!
Me: Wow, the rain is blowing horizontal out there. Must be a fifty-knot wind.
Her: It’s horrible! My boyfriend says the wind brings out the worst in the other elements. You know—it makes snow into blizzards and stuff. He’s so funny.
Or, finally…as a perverse, fatalistic experiment –
Me: I just inherited ten million dollars.
Her: Really? My boyfriend says money is the root of all evil.
I learned one truth quickly. If you think a woman may be interested in you—she isn’t. If there’s any question, the answer is no. When they really are interested, there’s no room for doubt. They come after you. They pounce.
That’s what Ned’s wife did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It had been a lonely time but a comfortable one. The days were simple and orderly. The ugliness and strife had been removed. Only the framework of my old life remained. It lacked intimacy but that was no change. My nasty little joke—that I was as horny as a fourteen year old boy, and about as likely to get laid—still applied, but with less rancor. I had lost an angry female roommate, not a wife. Before the divorce I fully believed that I would never have sex again.
Now at least there was hope.
I had the kids four nights a week. I worked seven days a week, as I had since before they were born. I helped them with their homework, read them to sleep, tidied the squalor they created, made their breakfasts packed their lunches, arbitrated their bickering as best I could. Then I went to work, reading blue-prints, estimating jobs, writing up bids, cajoling customers, humoring decorators, negotiating with territorial carpenters. And occasionally, on good days, doing something fun like cutting sash or hanging wallpaper.
I had given up paying for cable television, so at night I read or rented a film, or played games with the kids. They were becoming frighteningly adept at Scrabble (Caroline had shocked me recently by putting ‘quartz’ on a triple word score); they loved Monopoly and had grasped instantly the joys of predatory capitalism.
“You’re bankrupt!,” one or the other of them would shout as the game finally ground to a close, while the other one sobbed. The hysteria always dispersed and they were eager to start all over again.
When I was alone I worked on my book and listened to music. I could play whatever I liked now—Brazilian sambas and Jackson Browne, Ellington and Carl Orff—all the music my ex-wife hated. That was one of the many small privileges of my new life. I could do other forbidden things as well—write early in the morning, whistle while I cleaned my house, talk to my friends on the telephone.
But I knew my life was working so well because I didn’t have one. Once I began a full existence the machinery would start to break down. Gossip would fly. The kids would resent any change, anyone new in my life. Lisa might be jealous—that was often the last, irrational residue of love. Until the divorce was final involvements with other women were actually illegal in the state of Massachusetts and could compromise my claim to shared custody.
I had never been a subject for gossip, even in this small town panopticon. The kids were the real scandal-mongers: who had said mean things in gym class, who had fallen from first best friend to third best friend, who was ‘dating’ whom, though how eleven-year-olds managed to date, or what they even thought a date was, eluded me. As far as I could tell, it was just something you talked about. It meant sitting together at lunch or walking home from school slightly apart from the rest of the crowd. I wished it could stay that way. But they were drifting toward the dreaded adolescence, I could feel it. Things got more serious then. They were floating downstream dangling their fingers in the slow moving water; but I could hear the faint rumble in the distance, and it was getting louder all the time.
They were heading for the whitewater section of the trip.
These rapids didn’t picturesque names like Dead Man’s Chute or The Howler. More like, Tommy Buys Drugs From the Sleazy Narc and Caroline’s Pregnant.
For the moment, though, my son Tommy and Ned’s daughter Ingrid were just pals—not even ‘dating’. The cataract was still a few years away. I was grateful for that.
But dealing with Ingrid’s parents was a different story. Ned was sleeping with my ex-wife. His ex-wife Sasha was chasing me. And when she finally snagged me? It turned into a classic small town nightmare.
But I’ll save that for next time.
Photo: Amy Jeffries / flickr
Originally published on Open Salon