When I used to eat out as a kid, the restaurant was often filled with loving couples, men talking business and at least one father telling his son to quit licking the dried ketchup under the table and sit down.
There was also always one older guy sitting by himself. Sometimes he was elegantly dressed, with his graying hair smartly cut. Or maybe he was a guy so embarrassed by his baldness that he wore what looked like a carpet remnant pasted to his head. But what struck me more than anything was that he was alone. Very much so. Despite that badly cut piece of Stainmaster worn on top, I never laughed at such men, which hopefully will score me points someday because I think I’m becoming one of them.
I always called them minsters. Meaning, a male spinster — that old-fashioned word that means “all alone.” I fear that in a few years that’ll be me — you know, except for the ill-fitting broadloom hairpiece.
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When I came to this upsetting epiphany, I wondered where I went wrong. I’d certainly had my share of girlfriends, most of them nice, if you don’t count the crazy woman who looked like she might shave my head while I slept or the one who always complained that she was too cold, which is why she tried to burn the house down one day. Mostly, I had a good time. But I could never find the right gal, except for one. She found me too bohemian, though, and married a claims adjuster.
In any case, time has gone by. I’m middle-aged and alone. Now, when I walk into a restaurant and sit down, I feel everyone’s staring and wondering what’s wrong with me and creating a backstory that says, "This guy has issues with women."
'Minsters' on the Rise
What makes my status more than simply sad is its social significance. Because, although my facts are usually about as reliable as Fox News, it seems like there are more minsters now than there used to be.
I have several buddies who are also facing a life alone. My friend, Willy, a guitarist, buzzes from woman to woman, attempting to pollinate them like a bumblebee. Jim, a teacher, has had so many unsuccessful dates he could only figure out the number by using Inverse Function Calculus.
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These days, you see more of us at the movies alone, picking up Chinese takeout and thumbing through Soldier of Fortune magazine at the bookstore with a copy of Dog Fancy hidden inside.
It’s only fair that minsters replace spinsters. Remember the old cliché they used to throw at women? If you weren’t married before 30, you never would be and the law would require you to become a librarian. You’d be compelled to wear glasses on a chain, muted cardigans and go home to 14 cats. And if anyone near you even talked about sex, you’d stick your fingers in your ears and start humming Columbia, Gem Of The Ocean.
Well, these days, all my female librarian friends are married, while I eat dinner alone — again — and wonder if I dress my dog up in a suit and sit him at the table, will people be fooled? Or insist I commit myself?
Still, things could be worse. I now know people trapped in bad relationships and if I think: given how hard they were to end at 30, how about at 50? That’s when you and your mate become kamikaze pilots. The only way the relationship ends is when your plane hits the deck and explodes.
That’s when being a minster doesn’t seem quite so bad.
The Perks of Being Single
Women have certainly learned that simply having a man on your arm doesn’t make you a success (although it may require a painful operation to have him removed). We single guys should take a lesson: Simply having someone hardly guarantees happiness.
Plus, when I think about it, I’ve always kind of enjoyed my own company. I listen to music. I play with the dog. At the supermarket, I help the elderly with their 10-gallon drums of Metamucil. Being a minster isn’t always a drag.
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Lately, when I go to a restaurant, I bring a book and get deeply involved in it. I don’t care if people stare. And who knows? Someday, a really superb woman may approach the table and ask what I’m reading. I’ll tell her. She might sit down. It may turn into something. At the very least, she will see that the hair on my head wasn’t made by Home Depot, which means she’ll know, at the very least, I’m honest and straightforward.
And if you think about it, that’s a pretty good start.
Peter Gerstenzang writes about rock, pop culture and humor for Esquire, Spin, MSN and Next Avenue.