Those who never marry can also find rich, fulfilling lifestyles during these years, pursuing careers, surrounded by family and friends. I recall, for example, the maiden aunt of a good friend of mine. The woman was a pediatric nurse, whose energy was dedicated to the children under her care and, when she was not working, to the joys and tribulations of her parents, sisters, nephews, nieces, and friends.
The challenge of the single life, for those who have never married and those who are divorced or widowed, very much involves the sustenance of self-esteem and the ability to maintain a high level of autonomy. Audrey Bush was a thirty-five year old woman who consulted me because she was depressed after she had ended an affair. For nearly seven years, she had been involved with a married man who had kept promising that one day he would leave his wife.
Wisely, she had never given up her own apartment, although he maintained a pied-a-terre where the two of them met in the afternoons, one evening a week, and on an occasional weekend.
"I was so very much in love with him," she said tearfully. "I didn't want to face reality. I kept … hoping. I didn't pay any attention to the signals, like the fact he wouldn't give me his unlisted number at home for fear I'd call him, which I would never do, and his wife would answer the phone. I remember once, when I had to go into the hospital to have a fairly important procedure, he didn't visit me. He didn't even send a card or flowers . And when his wife finally did find out about us and gave him an ultimatum, he just vanished from my life. I called him once at his office. He was so rude, I couldn't believe it was the same person."
One could have speculated that Audrey had maintained her relationship for some unconscious reason, to avoid one that might provide her with intimacy and really work. But in her case, that was not so. Their meeting had been quite accidental, at a sales conference that she had attended as a marketing representative and he as an advertising executive. He had great charm and wit, and their sexual passion never seemed to diminish. Often she felt guilty for being involved, a feeling that was mitigated to some extent by lurid stories of his wife's abusiveness, which she now realized had largely been lies.
Now she would have to learn to be alone again.
"If I could hate him, I might feel better," Audrey suggested.
"If you don't feel some anger," I said, "you'd best ask yourself why. It seems to me like a pretty natural response to having been so seriously betrayed."
"How can I ever respect myself again'" she asked.
"That's a question every victim asks herself. It's a tough road back. But, except for deceiving yourself, you acted in good faith.. although I suspect you crossed up your conscience by allowing yourself to become involved with a man who was unfaithful to his wife, whatever his given reasons."
"Conscience?" she asked. "What's that?" Her question was meant
to be ironic.
"You have friends."
"And a good job."
"I don't know how good right now. I'm second in charge of marketing, but they're phasing out a lot of our responsibilities since the merger. I don't know what will happen to me, especially being a woman."
"You've got to be kidding … in this day and age?"
"You don't know the corporate world as I do;' she replied.
"Things are better, but discrimination is alive and well, just harder to pin down."
I saw that Audrey had a great deal of creative work to do to survive this bifurcation point. She would have to learn to forgive herself and to live with the knowledge of her misjudgment. She would have
to find a way to trust again. She would have to seriously reconsider her self-image, as a single woman and as a career woman faced with the possible threats she had described at work. She had her talents, skills, job experience, and friends to help her through this crisis, but it would call for all the independence of spirit and courage that she could find within herself.