Hello, Stranger

Marriage had definite benefits, yes, though mystery and excitement may not have ranked among them. Then a chance meeting caused the author to look at her long-standing relationship with fresh eyes.

Photo by  Frederic La Grange
I’ve been married for about as long as the average life expectancy of a hearty Labrador retriever, and the thing I miss most of all about being single is meeting strangers. I love strangers the way Byrd must have loved Antarctica―because they’re uncharted. I don’t linger in bars anymore or linger in general the way I did when single, and so I don’t meet many strangers. Without going on dates, I don’t get to hear strangers tell their life stories over artichoke-cheese–dip appetizers. When I was dating, there were too many stories and too much artichoke-cheese dip. But now I’m wistful for those times. I’ve even heard that retired coal miners miss the claustrophobic feel of a mine shaft from time to time. (I guess everyone misses their youth.)

I got married young and had children immediately. My husband was the breadwinner. I was at home with the kids, running a boarding house for foreigners out of spare upstairs bedrooms. I was so desperate for strangers that I imported them: Koreans, Brazilians, a few Germans. I barely ventured out of the house for years, except to playgrounds with other mothers I knew from the neighborhood. We wore denim overalls and compared teething remedies―inhabitants of a baby-centric world.

Then my husband and I ended up swapping roles. He quit his job to become a stay-at-home dad. I had written a book and suddenly had to occupy the role of a professional out in the world. My book-tour itinerary took me to a dozen cities over the course of two weeks. I was obliged to follow it.

I dressed in the manner of a professional: black boots, a suede skirt, makeup, a bona fide hairstyle. In the Philadelphia airport, a man sitting off the main thoroughfare looked at me. I tried to place him but couldn’t. Another man, sitting nearby, looked at me, too―equally unfamiliar. And then another. Too late, I realized that the men I was looking at were sitting in an airport bar. They were strangers―the creepy, ogling variety―but strangers nonetheless. The entire airport was filled with strangers! Oh, how I’d missed them so!