Everyone wants to be like us. We're the "civilized" divorcees that aren't actually divorced -- we haven't lived together for over four years but we still do things as a family, speak to each other every day, support each other. Yesterday, at a very sweet birthday party for a one-year-old cousin, we met a couple with small children and while I spoke to the wife, my ex spoke to the husband. Just as I told her "we live in Laurel Canyon" I could hear him say "we're divorced," just behind me, in unison. I whipped around and said "we're not actually divorced" and he put his arm around my waist and we both laughed, like we were in a sitcom or "This is 40." The couple smiled politely and the man ventured something like "well, you sure do seem to get along well." Yes, we laugh together, and we take pictures together with our children (although my son finds my enthusiastic adoption of social media to be "creepy" so he ducks out of family selfies whenever possible) and celebrate Christmas together and call each other for advice.
It sounds perfect, doesn't it? I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it's not as easy as it seems, because with all the ease, and the sweetness and the laughter, it's quite odd to be out at a family birthday party and not go home together. It's quite hard to only have dinner when it's a family occasion (a birthday, a child going back to college). We're very good at pretending. Always. We've always been very good at pretending. There is an ease, a sweetness, a rhythm, a script we adhere to. We know our roles and we know how to play them.
Another friend is going through a horrible divorce from a man who turned out to be a serial philanderer. He was sleeping with multiple women throughout their marriage and lying about it. Women at work, women in business destinations, secretaries, neighbors, the whole thing. Not a good guy. Not a good guy at all. I'd always thought him a little tacky and my husband thought I was being a snob. Maybe I was. I just couldn't shrug off the feeling that she'd married a cheeser. And now he poisons their children against her and she is treated horribly by the children and worries about losing her house. "Why can't we be like you?" she says, over green meatballs and green sauce that I made last night. We sat in the garden and had some wine and she told her story, every sordid detail of it.
Yes, I'm lucky. It's not what you plan. You don't plan to be alone at 52. You don't plan to sleep alone. You don't plan to make one cup of tea in the morning, or share your photographs with Instagram, because there is no-one walking alongside you. There is no lap to jump into, no extra toothpaste tube with its cap off to moan about, no shirts to iron, no-one to dance with in the kitchen while you cook supper.
"How are you?" said my ex yesterday. "Talk to me. I haven't seen you for ages. How's it going?" "Well, I'm happy," I said. "I'm really happy. The children are here and I'm working hard and I had a lovely holiday and I'm content. And I fully expect to be single for the rest of my life now and I'm okay with it." "Oh, don't be silly" he said. "You're hot. Someone great will come along when you least expect it." But you see, I wasn't looking for sympathy. I am all right with it. It's not what you plan. But it's all right.
The great joy of living in Los Angeles is the one-year-old birthday party. These are like weddings. The one we went to featured a taco truck, a band who encouraged the children to beat tambourines and drums, and did a version of "Uptown Funk" so everyone could dance. Incredibly sexy, chic parents wandered about, one or two children tucked under an arm. Red and pink and fuchsia and white balloons. A crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc. "Oh wow," said my twenty-year old daughter "all these fathers are seriously hot." Eddie, a man I befriended, told me conspiratorially that the band that were playing the party, featuring two t-shirted twenty-something men with a sprinkling of facial hair, were the "absolute hottest thing on the pre-school circuit. In fact," he went on "we just got back from a party in Broad Beach where they were playing." Another mother, wearing studded flat Valentino sandals told me that one of the band members "sleeps with the mommies to keep them happy." Where's Judd Apatow when you need him? The ex and I threw bemused looks at each other across the pink paper-lanterned garden, and were impossibly enchanted by the birthday girl, who really, really, really makes you want to have more children. "Oh. My. God." said Minky. "I want to hold a baby SO badly." "Grab one," I said, "there are hundreds. No-one will notice."
I found a charming octogenarian Egyptian man, the grandfather of the birthday girl, and he told me wonderful stories of riding Arab horses as a teenager near the Pyramids, galloping through the warm desert. And we discussed dukkah and pistachios and labneh. Oh the romance!
I love Los Angeles. Have I said that? I love it all. The earnestness. The artifice. The blowsy, sunny beauty. The bland, bland, pleasant weather. The drama of traffic. I love that people don't know how to make conversation and can't recognize a joke at a hundred paces. I love that people care about silly things and embrace ridiculousness wholeheartedly. I had a serious conversation with a good friend about his fascination with channeling, for example. Channeling. "I don't think you're patient enough for it," he said and all I could think about was Shirley MacLaine with ectoplasm coming out of her head. Of course I'm fucking patient I thought. I'm fucking spiritual. Shove that up your namaste. Ha ha ha. I love that I've become desperately un-English, in the immortal words of my friend Giles, and yet not quite American.
And yes, we're so civilized. Tonight, I'm having a completely un-ironic vegan supper at a raw restaurant with a friend. And I can't wait.