Did you have an Aunt Coca? My auntie, to whom I am not genetically connected, was a lady we kindly invited to family gatherings because she was alone. It was silently understood that she was an "old maid," one of those unfortunate women who did not marry and have children.
My Aunt Coca, from my child perspective, was an "old" woman. A distinguished blonde lady, a member of the adult clan who clumsily pinched my cheeks and brought gifts. What seemed old then, is close to home now. Like her, I am an unmarried, 40-year-old woman, and I sometimes painfully feel the same loneliness and single-woman stigmas as she did.
My four closest girlfriends are also not married. One of them is 38 -- but we still love her. Another has returned to the chevra (group) after going through a divorce and becoming a single mom. She at least has a record of having "sealed the deal."
In our achievements and independence, we are very different from Aunt Coca, who I believe spent her life working as a secretary. I am reminded of our professional competence as we sit for our weekly Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shot of friendship. Our skills are varied: a lawyer, a doctor, a writer, another lawyer and a high-tech wiz.
Our chevra was bonded and sealed through our 20-year adventures in Los Angeles single Jewish life. In our 20s and 30s we all dated many men, had some near-misses, attended young leader retreats, Shabbatons, traveled to exotic destinations and busily became ensconced in Los Angeles Jewish life.
As we chat and interrupt each other, I think of our common denominators besides being 40: we are smart, kind, interesting and always chasing those extra 10 (or 15) zaftig pounds. Our exchange does not have commercial breaks:
"Jewish men are looking for playboy bunnies who read Torah."
"Los Angeles is not Kansas City! There are so many women who look fabulous here. Anyway they want women in their 20s to have a family."
"Bull, they are just dirty old men"
We exchange JDate horror and victory stories. My friend Debbie, who was not even looking (she had a top-level marketing job), got married to a great guy through JDate.
Our PalmPilots sit on the table as we pick them up to proactively pencil in social opportunities to be aware of: "Makor has a 40-50 singles group." "What's their Web site?" "Are you going to The Federation leadership event?" "Too young. The guys are looking for 20-year-olds." "LACMA has free concerts on Fridays." "MOCA has a singles group." "It's 20-something." "Did you go to Friday Night Live?" "The UJ has a 39 cutoff for their discussion group." "I am taking bridge lessons." "The Fountain Theatre has a great play."
We network activities for an hour. Our loneliness, though populated with (diminishing) marriage prospects according to researchers, is densely populated with friendships, philanthropic involvements, cultural activities, family events, the gym, our pets and occasional nights at home.
Midweek I met my friend Elliott in the magazine area of Barnes & Noble. By his own admission, he is a Jewish prince who fears commitment. His (generally blonde) relationship attempts fail regularly and he lives on antidepressants, while attending every single event listed (and not listed) to find his muse. Though my friends and I would probably fit his needs better than his relationship résumé, he would never consider dating a woman like me. "Kind" is not one of the criteria he seeks in a woman. He wants a young, beautiful, successful, slim, amazing, funny, superlative fit.
I leave Elliott and feel angry at men like him. Of course, there are lot of good men who are more real, but it does certainly seem like there are many Elliotts around. What's a girl to do?Â Have fun and enjoy life anyway, is my answer. I do feel shame not being married, but I do not feel desperate or bored. There are times when I feel that I live on another planet from my Valley friends, who are consumed with diaper and carpool concerns. Mostly, my throat tightens and I feel particularly single at family Shabbat dinners and holidays. My brothers have supplied the grandchildren, not I, the Jewish daughter brought up for marriage. Luck? Fear of commitment? Who knows?
Am I that different than my Aunt Coca? Is the organized Jewish community life aware of the great number of mature singles -- particularly women? Is anything being done on a community level to integrate us into a fulfilling role other than being an alien in a synagogue world dedicated to family life? I hope that Jewish leaders and rabbis will hear our message as they look at Jewish life today and tomorrow.
It sometimes feels like the Orthodox community is making a more concerted effort to reach out to older singles. Some question their motives, but the consistency of their outreach voice is undeniable. My friends and I often trek to Pico-Robertson to experience Shabbat with Jewish families and feel the warmth of community sharing.
My options are different than Aunt Coca's. To address my ticking biological clock, I could adopt or consider other options. I can enjoy the benefits of independent life and choose other ways to contribute socially than by having a family and children.
However, tonight I finish my fun Scrabble game on PlaySite.com and then switch to JCupid to see if their Web site has more options than JDate.
Five days to the next girlfriend caffeinated meeting.
Annabelle Stevens is a writer and the public relations director at Gary Wexler + Associates | Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes. She is the mother of the infamous Black Jacquie the cat.