How can I, a middle-aged single woman, just enjoy the rest of my life?

I'm a little wild and I've never played by the rules, and I know you don't have all the answers, but maybe you can answer me this.

Published March 9, 2007 11:26AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I e-mailed you before. You never responded. You probably thought me a whiny 50-something divorced woman who should suck up the fact that she is never going to be pursued on the level that she was in her 20s and 30s.

What I had e-mailed you about was having a string of underemployed beaus who moved in and commenced to lose their jobs and expect me to take care of them. I had broken up with the last one of that mien and found myself approached only by 30-something young'uns who wanted to be friends with benefits. If "friends" had included the occasional lunch or dinner, that would have been OK, but it was for always one thing and always at my place. I have not been in a man's apartment or house in years as far as the bedroom is concerned.

That being said, after posting on a cyber dating site I have found a man in my age pool who is a success in his career and still has all his hair on his head, and we find each other mutually attractive. Splendid, yes? OK, but then I find out he's married.

I was always the girl who prided myself on not preying on other people's boyfriends and husbands because my mother had gotten pregnant at 17 and her beloved had gotten another girl pregnant at the same time and chose her instead of my mother. That sort of thing messes up lives.

However, now in my 50s I can hardly get pregnant and can hardly change the course of reality all that drastically since I'm not husband hunting. Been there, done that. I am just wanting to pass the rest of my life as happily as possible. My new guy is very attentive and has been the most romantically motivated man I have had the pleasure of meeting in a long time.

Well, I haven't met him yet. Within a week we will meet. I know wives are jealous creatures and have been known to run people down with their cars or call up and tell me their man has AIDS. (I didn't even sleep with that one ... puh-lease, he looked like Tip O'Neill ... I was just excited the Democrats had done so well in the November election and I danced with him at this cowboy bar, and he asked for my phone number, and I didn't know his wife/girlfriend would get her hands on it. He'd told me he was single.) Anyway, I'm current on my HIV testing and it's negative. Probably she was just making the whole thing up anyway. Beware of irate women calling from "Private Numbers."

So, I know you don't really care about the plight of the middle-aged single woman, but I really enjoy reading your column and believe you know a lot about life. You are a man, though, and a married one, so if you seem sympathetic to adulteresses your wife will get worried.

How about just some advice on how to enjoy the rest of my life?

Attractive Middle-Aged Woman

Dear Attractive Middle-Aged Woman,

It is recommended first of all that you do not lose your cadence, that lovely something in your voice, and also that you patent what you've got and bottle it for later because it's a long trip and you may run out; also that you write a chapter of your memoirs now before you forget, and that you continue to break rules wherever they conflict with your stated intentions; that you operate a voting machine not only when moved to do so by principle or amusement but in accordance with the general expectations of a democracy, and be sure to visit Paris; also that you quit any job that does not please you and if you have been thinking of taking up the mandolin or the banjo, do it now.

It is also recommended that you be sure to remember not to forget to eat the things that agree with you, and that if you have not yet found the clothes that match all the variations of your spirit, you do so.

There is much to do, much ground to cover, much equipment to pack. The rest of your life is bigger than the rest of a sandwich. You can see all of a sandwich but you can't see all of your life. It has a horizon, but it's not round like the earth. If time were round, then you could get up high and see farther over the edge, but we don't know exactly what the shape of time is, do we? Time is warped in some way, we feel certain of that. You can get high enough to see over the horizon, but you can't get high enough to see the future.

So you pack for the unforeseen. You pack the best you can. You take a camera and plenty of film. You take medicine and contact information and you make a list of the mantras you've been given, the mantras that work, and the places you are drawn to that you know you must visit along the way. Some people are drawn to Tahiti; me, I think I have to see Cape Horn because I am drawn to the kind of treacherous passage where a sailor is reefing the jib with ice in his beard. I am drawn like a child to the image of a crossing -- the crossing of a river, the crossing of an ocean, the spanning of a distance, the arrival in a strange land.

And that's what you're doing when you're talking about the rest of your life, isn't it? You're talking about a planned arrival in a strange land. So as I said, you pack carefully.

That doesn't tell you much about practical matters, and I can see that you are already getting upset with me again. So I can say this:

Do not arouse the ire of wives. They will bring ruin down on your head. Keep doing what you are doing, but restrain yourself where the making of enemies is concerned.

Have a regimen and a routine, a thing you do that always works, so that you can always do it when people fail you. It's something different for everybody. If you don't have anything that always works, find something and perfect it -- a certain drink that never fails, a song that gives you goose bumps, a certain walk on a certain path that always elevates your spirits, a meditation that always calms you, a food you always like to eat.

You need somebody you can always call, too, but people will change and even if they stay the same they die, and then they're gone. You can't depend on them. You need more lasting bulwarks. You will find a favorite meeting you always like to go to and then everyone will buy houses and move away. You will find a friend who promises you things and doesn't come through. So a practice that always works must be solitary or of the earth or of the mind; people will change and let you down. You need something older than people.

So live near a river or a mountain or a stream. Live near something you can walk to where you go, Ah.

List these things so you don't forget them. Write them down, so when you're stuck you can go down the list and say, OK, the chocolate mousse that always worked is not available right now because it's 2 a.m. and the mousse is available at a certain restaurant in Paris and I am not in Paris. I am in Austin at the Broken Spoke about to lose my wheels. You go down the list. A certain walk around Land's End in San Francisco: ditto, you're not there, and it's too late to fly there. You keep going down the list, which you keep in your purse, until you find a thing you can do that will work: somebody you can always call to cheer you up. So even though it's 2 a.m., you make the call and wake the person up and talk for a while, explaining as you do that the person is on your list of people you can call when nothing else will work.

I know this isn't very practical, but I don't even know where you're going. So you have to choose, not me. All I'm saying is, take the time to choose wisely. Be frank with yourself. Don't take a Bible if you're not a Bible reader. Don't take sunscreen if you never put it on.

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