Last night in my acting class, as I was lamenting the shitty job I did on my scene and wondering whether it's still too late to get that degree in social work, I caught a glimpse of the rock on my fellow thespian's left hand and was blinded by both the light coming off it and by rage -- for my favorite object of loathing and vitriol: myself.
I don't usually notice rings or even care about them. I truly believe the diamond industry is a global hype machine that, like almost all hype machines, feeds off our insecurities and in this case it manages to work both male and female in equal measure. I can only imagine the trips I would take and the small schools in Liberia I would help fund with the money that goes into that idiotic symbol of ownership and romantic bliss in about two carats.
But this princess cut bauble was like an amulet -- I couldn't take my eyes off it. It hypnotized me like a crystal being waved in front of a character in a seventies TV show. And the more I looked at it, the more worked up I became. I considered my life and every relationship. I questioned the fact that after class I was going to a remote club in the San Fernando Valley to perform standup comedy. This woman -- let's call her Lisa -- was most definitely not going to drive her 2004 Corolla to a bar whose bartender sports a mohawk (even if it's an awesome mohawk) at ten p.m. on a Tuesday night to sling a few jokes to a bunch of stoned comics. She was going home to her fiance.
The fiance that gave her a rock the size of a healthy spleen.
It went downhill from there. I had no interest in watching the other students perform their scenes -- all I could do was ruminate on why she had this ring and I didn't. But it wasn't just the physical properties of this combination of carbon compounds: it was that she got there. She met someone and they dated and then the dating turned into a domestic situation where neither became so disgusted with the other's moods or habits that they left in the middle of the night with a Tribe Called Quest LP and a few ceramic pieces they made when they were eight. Then they made that decision, the one that makes me slightly queasy at the Hallmark-ness of it, to "spend the rest of their lives together".
I didn't see a wedding ring to match the engagement bauble on her finger so presumably she hasn't gotten to the final finish, but she's almost there. And let me tell you a little about me: I am over forty and have never gotten close -- not even a visit to Robbins Brothers to "browse rings". I once looked for rings online but then the relationship with the narcissistic writer tanked and there went that obsession. One recent boyfriend tried to tempt me by saying "One of these days, I'll put a ring on your finger", but he was so broke I had to beg him to focus on getting a suspicious mole removed instead. I am attractive, smart, interesting and, according to a few reviews, good in bed. I should be married or at least divorced. How did I miss this global rite of passage?
If I'm being honest with myself, I would say that getting married was never an item I was dead-set on checking off a list. I always figured I would, and in my mind always tried to envision even the poorest choice of mates (and, believe me, I've made some poor choices) as husbands. But I always assumed it would happen in an organic way, and maybe that's where I went wrong.
Let's take dating. I live in Los Angeles which is a battleground where men and women duke it out for power on a minute-by-minute basis. How the hell do they manage to couple? Never mind the particulars: you spend so much time in your car that human interaction of the non-water cooler variety is difficult at best. But where to go? Does a woman looking to "meet someone" take up male-oriented activities like golf and pretend, for a while, that she thoroughly enjoys them? (which, as I write that, might put those acting classes to good use) Or does one throw ones fate to the mercy of Tinder and Bumble and Match-dot-com and hope she (or he) doesn't get trolled by a hacker from Moldova? It's all so grim.
Then, assuming one of those methods for pairing up has worked, there's the relationship phase. Oh, sorry -- the dating phase, that hideous purgatory between meeting for coffee to make sure the other person doesn't have heinous breath and then "making a commitment". This is where my imagination fails me because I am incapable of envisioning holding someone's attention for that long or for them holding mine. Or perhaps it all feels like the steps one takes to get from grade school to ultimately end up a college graduate and that, once immersed in the rigorous process, one forgets both the past and the future and just does the work. I would also venture to guess that my comparing dating and relationships to school is part, if not all, of my problem, but that's how it looks from where I sit.
We know the rest -- well, you do, if you're like most people: the commitment, that feigned surprise when he pops the question "out of the blue" and then the wedding preparations that jettison our love-struck couple into the most extreme state of nuts-and-bolts domesticity two lovers can imagine. From one minute to the next, each half is dealing with family, food and seating arrangements either directly or via discussion, and somehow they manage to still think the other person is "special" enough not to run for the hills.
Here's how it also looks from where I sit: it looks like everyone else on the planet around my age is or has been married. Everyone shares this universal experience but me. Hell, a single woman can no longer even rely on a gay husband for a night of drinking and dancing because he's busy cozying up on the couch with his husband. Short of co-opting a past relationship and tweaking the story a bit to say that I married and divorced the Italian with a temper as opposed to just having lived with him, it's hard not to feel like a person in Stardust Memories watching the train of happy people go by as her compartment is sad and joyless.
But I don't feel sad and joyless.
I just feel different. That's the distinction I force myself to make on a daily basis after the most annoying person I've ever met says these words: "my husband". After I recoil from hearing that, after my mind conjures up the timeline of meeting to dating to marrying to coming home to this person with whom I can't even spend five minutes, I remind myself that, in the end, on some deep, basic level I have chosen this path and it's the right one for me to be on.
Every day, and I mean every day, I thank the heavens above that I broke it off with the narcissistic writer before he took another year off my life. Every day, I shudder when, in my mind's eye, I see the improv actor sitting on my couch downing his Wal-Mart-bought whiskey mixed with Diet Pepsi in a Big Gulp cup. Mind you, I also take full responsibility for these poor choices which makes the relief at having moved past them that much sweeter. Yes, the entire world may be coupled up, but in my world, the journey has involved cultivating a creative career that keeps me warm on many a frigid Los Angeles evening. There's a party going on in my head and while I'd like to share it with someone else, it does sustain me for now.
And, whether or not I end up with diamonds, there's much to mined there. And, diamonds aside, I still believe that one of these days I will find true love.