'A Single Man' in a World of Doubles

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was true, I knew. Still, seeing it there, in print, it seemed more than true. It seemed, well, meaningful. The words had meaning. A meaning I hadn't thought of. A meaning I wasn't sure I intended. A meaning I wasn't sure I liked.

Still, I did as the escrow officer said. I checked the box.

"Steven Roy Hawkins. A Single Man."

Say what?

I know I'm single, I know I'm a man, but when did I become "A Single Man"? When did I go from being single to being "A Single"? Was it that day last month, when I signed the refinance papers? Or was it when I bought the condo and first encountered "A Single Man" in the signature-repetition exercise that is labeled "closing escrow"?

Maybe it was the day I moved into my new home, unpacked, toted box upon box of discards to the thrift shop (yes, I know I got the discard/move thing backward and, yes, it was hellish), only to realize there still wasn't room for another person to hang his hat in my 2Bd/2Ba.

Or was it the day my dear Aunt Myrtle put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Don't worry, Steven, you'll find the right woman." I was 31 and only sorta worried and, besides, I was looking for the right man.

That was 14 years ago.

Of course, some things got in the way. Like, I had to come out of the closet. That took time. And a lot of work. I tend to mentally process things through and through before I act. And I had to start dating. And that meant being around men who want to date other men. And I had to fall in love. Big love, small love. Old love, young love. Love, love, love.

For someone who uses his head too much, I fall in love easily. Waiters. Nurserymen. Bloomingdale's salesmen. I can't tell you how often I've left the mall convinced a sales clerk wanted to marry me.

I just realized why I'm still single. My optometrist (Oh, sure, he's a "Man" but is he "A Single"?) was testing me for a new prescription for my nearsightedness and asked if I'd considered an alternative for "social situations." I just looked at him. (Remember, I can see fine up close.) He repeated: "Social situations." Again, a blank look on my face. He gently went on: Like, when I wouldn't want to wear my glasses. When I could wear contacts instead.

Finally, it hits me. He means when I'm in the bars.

Well why didn't he just say so!

I don't do the bars.

And I don't do contact lenses. If a man isn't going to speak to me in a bar because I'm wearing glasses, is that the man I want to snuggle with when "Moulin Rouge" becomes available on DVD?

I've dated strangers (don't snicker, that's how it's supposed to work), I've dated friends of friends (though I could date more, for those friends who are reading this), I've dated friends who ended up not being friends (OK, now you can snicker). I did try the bars, I confess, but that was back when smoking indoors was still legal. Phew-eeeee. I did classes and workshops and therapy. I tried newspaper personal ads (and met some good men) and I tried volunteer work (and met some good men).

Just never the right man at the right time.

So I live by myself. With my tropical fish. With my books and the Elton John LPs I won't ever trade away. But I'm ready to clear out some space, to tackle more of those closets, if the time comes. And if, in the meantime, I have moments when I feel lonely (and I don't mean alone), I try to remember the people I care about--the people who care about me.

A buddy is insisting I try online dating. I suppose I will, once I get used to the idea of having my photo on the World Wide Web for the whole wide world to see. (This buddy was showing me how to navigate the online personals when we stumbled onto an ad for an old acquaintance. You can learn a lot about someone you think you know by reading his want ad.)

You see, I never decided to be Steven Roy Hawkins, A Single Man. I could end up living alone forever and, as the years go by, I'm more comfortable with what that means. I'm more comfortable with myself, with the decisions I make, with the friends and family I keep closest. This is the hardest work I do, much harder and much more important than finding Mr. Right.

Still, every time I go out, I figure it could happen. At the dry cleaners. The gas pump. The grocery store's check-me-out line. I can't make it happen, but if it does, if we find each other, it will be beautiful. All I can do is be ready--and that work ends only when I do.

In the meantime, I have to hit the malls for a dear friend's birthday gift, and you know what that means. Love for Steven Roy Hawkins, A Single Man, is just a Bloomingdale's away.

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