I once did a weeklong artist retreat in my early twenties, spending five days in a cabin making collages with a group of women all fifteen to forty years my senior. One of my fellow collagists was a woman in her sixties, who on the last day of our retreat introduced us to her boyfriend, a 20-year-old college student. After our collage colleague left with her seemingly mature but visibly quite young boyfriend some discussion ensued, but the general consensus in the room was, “Way to go, Carole!”
Carole comes to mind every once in a while, sometimes when I’m pondering what relationship scenarios would be appropriate for me but more often when I’m pondering what on earth will become of me if I continue to be single into my sixties. Would I be able to pull off a Carole? The last time I dated a 20-year-old was when I was 20. My 20-year-old boyfriend used his underwear as a lampshade.
Were you hoping for some context for that last statement? Well, you are not alone for I, too, was hoping for some context on the day that I, as a 20-year-old woman, walked into the kitchen I shared with my boyfriend to see that the lamp in the corner had a pair of tighty-whities stretched over the shade. “Why is this?” I asked my 20-year-old boyfriend. Shrug, he said with his 20-year-old shoulders.
I lived with this man and very much thought this would be the relationship I was in for the rest of my life. I was sure I was going to make a life with this man. I was sure we would be married in a casual, non-denominational ceremony, and that we would adopt a shelter dog, share a lease on a practical four-door sedan, start a family. I was sure I would soon be Mrs. Underwear Lampshade.
Mr. Underwear Lampshade and I were to have two children, Brunhilde and Nero Underwear Lampshade. If these plans had been realized, Brunhilde and Nero would be in college now, finding their own underwear lampshade partners. Today Mr. Underwear Lampshade and I would be empty nesters, maybe rediscovering each other and who we are as 41-year-olds, falling in love again and adopting elderly animals in need of advanced care to replace the children that have grown up and left us. Or, we would be realizing that without our children—dear sweet Brunhilde, a designer of body type inclusive, non-gender binary dress shop dummies, and darling Nero, an apprentice train conductor—we no longer had a reason to be together anymore and would separate.
In the latter case I’d be in the exact same place I am now, a single 41-year-old woman on the cusp of peri-middle age who refuses to use dating apps. Although when I picture the Dina that Could’ve Been—the former Mrs. Underwear Lampshade, divorced mother of two adult children—I picture a weathered and brassy woman who often enjoys a wild tear through town. This woman chain smokes and rides a motorcycle and hangs out in college bars and brings home 20-year-old boys every night. I envision the divorced mother version of myself as a reckless, fearless, shameless wildwoman.
The former Mrs. Underwear Lampshade has seen some shit and gives not a one. She has exotic pets and lurid tattoos. She doesn’t nibble or graze but eats entire meals standing at the Whole Foods hot bar, wearing leather fingerless gloves no matter what the season. She stands in stark comparison to how I see myself now, the Real Dina Who Actually Is—a safe and practical woman who won’t even start her Toyota Corolla without buckling her seatbelt first and always keeps four rolls of toilet paper stocked in addition to the one in current use.
The Real Dina Who Actually Is is comfortably swaddled in a level of solitude that is alternately inspirational to those who are trapped in stifling relationships, or incomprehensible to those who are capable of seeking and managing multiple romantic connections. She dated a guy when she was 20 who rode a motorcycle, and she never wanted to ride. But she also dated a guy who was 20 who used his underwear as a lampshade.