By Hy Abady
"There are eight million stories in the Naked City." So closed a black-and-white series on TV when TV was limited to fewer channels than fingers on two hands. And the Internet might have been a brand of hair spray with a penetrating quality.
There must be many, many more stories now. But the story I want to tell is one of what must be the stories of hundreds of thousands of single women in the city. From 45 to death. Divorced, widowed, alone, and at various stages of unhappiness.
You can see these women at Pilates, at yoga. You see them at health clubs, fully made up. You see them on the subway, staring straight ahead, wondering if tonight will be Whole Foods takeout or Lean Cuisine. They are everywhere and yet invisible.
Everyone wants to meet someone, right? Everyone wants to walk hand in hand on a beach during a sunset, head on a shoulder, marveling at their good fortune that they have found someone. At last, someone.
It is very hard to find someone.
I know this woman named Natalie. The name doesn't matter; it could be any single woman, in her mid-60s, living alone on the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side. Maybe a cat, maybe a job, but definitely no man.
She was married once while she had a job and a sexy figure and the world seemed the way it should go. Like what her parents had. Her sister. She was in her 30s, not a young bride, but still a blushing one. A grateful one. Her husband is a prominent photographer. Was. Well, he may still be prominent and may still be a photographer, but he is no longer her husband.
It didn't last very long, the marriage. No kids. And Natalie soldiered on, working at a fairly responsible job, traveling, dating here and there, and then less and less, and spending more and more time with her beloved nieces.
You can't really be called the dreaded moniker "spinster" or, worse, "old maid" when you've had a marriage behind you. But Natalie reverted to her maiden name and blocked the two-year marriage as if it had never happened. The two never spoke again, never even ran into each other, both still living in the same naked city, and after a short while -- maybe about as long as the marriage itself lasted -- she got over the pain of it. And never talked about it. Like it never happened.
As she swerved into her 40s, 50s, and 60s, opportunities in both work and romance dried up. She was still close to her nieces and her sister (who had a happy marriage, lasting now close to 50 years). There was no more travel.
At a certain point you think, or Natalie thought, that's just the end of it. Not just the end of sex, but of love. Or companionship. Or even just a date. Her only and fairly close connections to men were with her brother-in-law and a gay man, a neighbor, whom she had dinner with once every couple of months, both of them complaining at each other about the lack of men.
Girlfriends? A couple did manage to meet men, and she became a tiresome third wheel. Others dropped off as they moved out of town for other opportunities or possibilities. Maybe there were more men in Denver? More available men in Seattle? Perhaps widowers in Florida were looking for companionship, even if they were pushing 80.
Natalie stayed put. Stayed in her studio apartment, downsized from the larger one-bedroom co-op she had sold at a nice profit, now renting a third-floor walk-up. She stayed. In her bathrobe most days, gaining weight and figuring why not a pint of Haagen-Dazs with the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"? (Not really paying attention.) Who could care?
On days of better resolve, she took a trip to the Fairway for some kale and some carrots, some inexpensive fish, as she started thinking being heavy on top of being lonely and also depressed is not the best combo for meeting a man.
Right around the time she started rethinking the Rocky Road, the Chunky Monkey, the nieces staged a sort-of intervention. "Aunt Natalie, you are a beautiful woman underneath the sadness and the bathrobe. Get yourself to the gym, try to lose 20 pounds, pick up some cashmere at Uniqlo, and let's get you on Match.com."
Natalie, who could barely work a computer, somehow thought, Why not? It was a reluctant "why not," but one of the nieces, a work-from-home fashion designer, agreed to be a gym buddy, picking up Natalie four mornings a week to work out. And to shop.
The 20 pounds came off in two months, she had her hair lightened, and when she looked in the mirror, she found herself suddenly attractive again. Desirable, even.
The niece, Gina, took some pictures. A week's worth. On a beach in the Hamptons. In a cocktail dress with cleavage, holding forth a white wine. In repose, gazing out a window, hand at the glass.
A profile, honest, short, slightly provocative, was written. It was the Natalie Natalie was once and now felt she might quite possibly be again.
She spent an hour every afternoon getting used to the site. To the typing. And the typing. After typing and typing and rejecting and thinking, Hmm, maybe, after a couple of coffee dates that came to nothing, along came a Jack. And then a John. A romantic trip to Mexico with one of them. Sex. Walks on the beach. Sex on the beach!
The transformation from lonely single microwaving a bag of popcorn, watching Bette Davis on TCM, to a vibrant, confident, sexy woman, the woman she once was decades ago, took less than a year. (Kind of like the Bette Davis character in "Now, Voyager.")
Ultimately, neither John nor Jack was right. But both turned out to be amazing practice.
Enter Paul on the site. His wife died two years before. No kids. A retired tax attorney. Salt-and-pepper hair. Handsome. Lonely. Looking.
Sparks. Chemistry. Love. At long last love, the real thing, at 67 and 68, Natalie being the year older.
Natalie and Paul got married last weekend.
You just never know.
Hy Abady, a part-time Hamptoner for more than 35 years, has two new books in the works, nonfiction and a novel. He is a frequent contributor of "Guestwords," and a number of his pieces appear in "Back in The Star Again: True Stories From the East End."