Outsider Musing: Existence As a Middle-Aged Party of One

Better to hug oneself than to go without completely.
Better to hug oneself than to go without completely.

Tomorrow marks 19 months since my move here from New Jersey. I spent four years in general solitude there. My aloneness was usually bearable as it was preferable to life in a horrid marriage. I had a demanding journalism job and a high schooler that took all my time, attention, and energy. And if I needed company or conversation or were tired of eating alone, more times than not, a companion could be found. In Nashville, not so much.

Being solitary in and of itself is no big thing. I’m good at being by myself and have lots of experience in being or going out alone. I’ve traveled on my own for many years, spend hours on end reading or working alone, and rarely have company at dinners or “social” outings. Often, I enjoy solitude, and I am excellent company. The writer May Sarton once noted, “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Music City has been all about poverty, and I’ve found nothing but straight-up loneliness. Here, I am considered too old and not wealthy enough to be of value to anyone on any personal or professional level.

The emotional weight of that reality hit me deeply during Megan Barry’s Sept. 10 mayoral victory party at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. The event space was hot, cramped, and filled with happy, hugging people, which did not help. But shortly after the announcement of the final vote tally, a wave of abject loneliness overwhelmed me. It occurred that even after volunteering my time and effort for the campaign and being called a “rock star campaigner,” I did not know anyone. There was no one to hug with joy at Barry’s win. There was no one to call with the news, no one who would care. There simply was no one. I stood in the midst of a cheering crowd — suddenly gutted by pain, racked with uncontrollable sobs, swallowed by an enormous, inescapable emptiness.

Indeed, I meet people: Uber riders,  MAPCO cashiers, and baristas are part of my regular experience. So are job interviewers who say I am awesome and talented and skilled but do not hire me. I love running into kind GDPR Nashville and Progressive Nashville fans, but they vanish after “hi” and “bye.” And strangers sharing Starbucks tables tend to be interested only in the electrical outlet I am using. My habit is to strike up conversations wherever I go, but those usually become stilted and painful. Many who call themselves liberal or progressive here are Blue Dog Democrats; my opinions horrify them and vice versa. So life in Nashville has been a nearly two-year long party of one, and I am sick of it.

My ex-husband says I should come back to New Jersey. As if. He got the house, the garden, and the boys in the band; I have nowhere to go there. My mother says return to Baltimore. I haven’t lived there for years and people I consider friends have all become acquaintances who have no reason to care anymore. Baltimore is no longer home. New Jersey never was. New York cares about no one, and it’s too expensive. I suspect there is no place where things could improve, so why move again?I do like Nashville.

When my marriage of more than two decades ended three years ago, my daughter warned that, given my age, the remainder of my life would be a losing, lonely proposition. She predicted that I would end up without friends, without a significant other, and more than likely without positive career prospects. At the time, I said to her that she probably was correct, but that I’d face whatever developed. Since my move in March 2014, I have marveled at my first born’s prescience. Nothing has gone as hoped or planned. My savings and retirement accounts are exhausted. My freelance efforts are minimally effective, and news outlets die and downsize or target under-30s all around me. I even had to sell my prized possession and songwriting tool, my Martin guitar, for food. I thought losing my beloved guitar would kill me, but, of course, it didn’t. Most of the time, I handle disappointments well and will continue to do so with as much enthusiasm as I can muster or, taking a page from Dale Carnegie, fake. My existence is my responsibility, and its success or failure rests on my solitary shoulders. That’s more than okay.

I will be okay too. And one day hopefully far into the distant future, I’ll be dead, forgotten, and done caring about it.

While still on this side of the dirt, though, I, unfortunately, do care and cannot help but wonder: What mistakes am I making? Is something wrong with me? Is this just the nature of things? What are other on-their-own travelers over 40 who move to Nashville finding? If you are a middle-aged progressive transplant, please let me know what your experience is via comments or email. My musing here is about obtaining information. Please save comforting for someone truly in need of it. I just need to know what others are experiencing, especially if your story has a happy ending.

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