I slid into my '89 Probe, brushed a few stray dog hairs off my jacket and reached for my seatbelt. "I hate these things, " I told myself as I strapped in anyway, trying not to rumple my freshly pressed silk blouse in the process. One recent ticket for not wearing the contraption was enough; I didn't need to invite more trouble. Not liking restrictions of any kind, I had gotten away with driving independent of a belt for a long while. Now, I struggled to change my habit, rather like my habitual amorous relationships with men, I mused.

I was en route to deliver a free seminar on "relationships" at a local bookstore singles event. Ordinarily I look forward to lecturing, but tonight I was less than enthused. I didn't feel like the expert I was touted as being. "I'm fifty-three years old for goshsakes," I said aloud to an imaginary singles audience in my craw, "and I have been single all my life. What business do I have trying to tell any of you how to get into a successful relationship?!"

Truly, I was bummed out. Recently breaking up with the bazillionth anticipated love of my life, I was not up for being up, especially for a hungry group of singles, starved for magic formulas for success. A long, deep sigh rose from somewhere inside where hurts and sagging dreams go. It wasn't my nature to lie about myself or my circumstances, so if this was how I was feeling tonight, I would just have to incorporate it into my presentation and psyche myself up for it. I just wished I had a little natural enthusiasm going for me. Signaling for a left hand turn, my thoughts drifted to my most recent "ex," how he used to accompany me to these kinds of events. I felt lonesome, missing his companionship and support. Leaning into a solitary sigh, I prepared to prevail somehow. I always did.

Driving into the shopping center, I easily found a place to park close to the bookstore. There weren't many other cars in sight, but I was early, too early to tell whether there would be a big crowd or not. Switching off the engine, I took a moment to review my lecture notes and make sure I had enough business cards in tow. The subject for my talk was "Looking for love in all the right places," and my "plan A" was to help the men and women attending sort through the bummers in their singles histories and discover the hidden love opportunities missed. I heard another deep sigh escape my body. Well, whatever, it was time to get out of the car and handle my challenge. Double checking for my keys, I straightened my skirt, brushed off a couple more clinging pet hairs, took a full breath and strode into Barnes and Noble.

In the foyer, a large, attractive promotional poster greeted me. My name was even spelled correctly, unlike at my last outing. I was off to a good start.

"Hello, Marcia; how nice to see you again!" chimed a sweet, yet authoritative voice. It was Carla, the public relations coordinator. We had met a month earlier, agreed on the topic, and gotten approval from the powers that be to stage a community singles event. "What a nice jacket," she cooed, plucking yet another stray hair from my padded shoulders. "My husband and I have a dog, too, a longhair," she sympathized.

I wondered what Carla's husband was like, and if she would be glad to go home to him after the event. I kept my thoughts to myself as Carla showed me my lecture turf and then helped me set up chairs in the circular arrangement I had requested. When we finished, my host excused herself to disappear to her office in back: "Come get me if you need anything," she reassured. Unfortunately, what I needed was an attitude transfusion and maybe a new guy in my life. I doubted that Carla was prepared to deliver either.

Fortunately, it was now just fifteen minutes until starting time and people were arriving. In fact, there were far more than anticipated. Carla and I had set up about thirty chairs, and already I needed at least ten more. A stack of padded gray folding chairs stood against the wall behind the podium. I hustled over and back, dragging two at a time. A tall fellow in a summery cotton shirt cheerfully offered to help. "Tom" had plain features, but nice brownish green eyes. His most distinguishing feature seemed to be his eagerness to assist me. What was his story, I wondered. What had he come here hoping for, I asked. Maintaining a steady pace with chair duty, Tom soberly volunteered some facts. He'd come with a woman friend who counseled that he was "too negative." Looking towards the carpet, Tom summed it all up for me: "I guess I'm pretty tired of the ole singles game, kinda. Maybe you can fix me."

By the tone of his voice and the dull sheen hazing over his eyes, I knew beneath Tom's cheerful efforts, his mood was a lot like mine. "Well," I mustered, "Think positive. You can learn something helpful in the singles forum, and who knows,? You might meet the man of your dreams right here tonight."

Hey, stranger things have happened. "I guess it could even happen to me," I added. Tom nodded, leaving to go find his buddy and secure two good seats up close.

I opened ten minutes late to an audience of nearly fifty-five, mostly women, with a scattering of male hopefuls. My energy was rallying, the natural performer in me roused by a good sized crowd. "Hello, everybody," I began. "I am Marcia Singer, your guest speaker this evening and I'd like to begin by singing you a little song."

A show business vet from a former career, I rattled off a parody I'd written to the Country music hit, "Looking For Love." Chuckles, friendly applause. So far, so good. I went through my introductory spiel, my eyes cruising my audience. Unexpectedly, I was pulled to a heavyset woman in a dark red, flowing dress. She appeared to be a little older than I, and she was positively radiant. I stopped my format to remark how alive and sparkly she was.

"I just loooove being single!" she said, laughing brightly, looking around at the rest of us for confirmation. "My name is Sara, and I was married for thirty-two years before my husband died. I raised four wonderful children, and wouldn't trade any of it," she continued. "But you know what? It is soooooooooo much fun to just be on my own now, go where I want, meet lots of new friends, and I always meet such great people here at these events. I love that I can make my own plans, and well, just be free. That's what being single is to me: freedom to just be myself!"

As audience eyes and nods found their way back to mine, I held silence for a few more moments. A large thought was trying to enter my thinker. "Wow," I struggled. "I'm just realizing that every singles lecture I have ever given or article written, and most every singles event I have attended have focused only on getting out of being single and into a relationship. I wonder why we don't seem to focus on looking at the really positive side of our single status?"

A few hand flew up in the air for comments. An elderly gent sporting a Chargers cap asked for a show of hands to determine how many of us had come tonight secretly hoping to find a date or a mate? Over two thirds of our communal hands hesitantly went up. "How many came here to learn how to get into a relationship or have more success in keeping them," I asked. Virtually all hands went up. How many were happy being single, and knew that when they came, we wondered. -Only five.

My ally Tom began waving his hand for a turn. "Hey, why don't we go around the room and have everybody say one thing they like about being single?"

Great idea. As we each took a turn, the room began to hum with positives. Indeed, we were finding a love connection in all the right -if unlikely- places, within ourselves/. A rosy sense of togetherness and even gratitude was palpable, warming and filling me. As I watched and listened, I was seeing in many eyes a new hopefulness. A natural communion and support had taken over our forum as we discovered aloud what was really great and terrific about being single, about being us. There was the freedom to come and go as we pleased and where we wanted, to meet whom we chose, eat what and where and how we wanted, wear whatever pleased us and to essentially create life more on our own terms. Some reported a heightened sense of authenticity, a sense of strength and empowerment from learning to be on their own. Some found it unexpectedly in the solitude of singledom. One young man gingerly reported that he had finally learned how to make a bed and a meal when his live in girlfriend booted him out. Several told of a quality of peace and balance that came with single life, harder to hold onto in relationship.

Amazing. I had been single all my life without really appreciating all this, at least not consciously. I might have been subconsciously choosing to be single for any and all of these developmental reasons. I spoke my thoughts to my new friends: "What a privilege to have time to get to know ourselves so deeply," I pondered, "for myself, to devote myself to creative and spiritual undertakings without being restricted by defaulting to the tastes, opinions or limitations of a partner..."

-Not that I was in any way putting down or off being in a relationship. I was clear that I still wanted that someday, and that tremendous growth of spirit lay there in the challenge to create a lasting, supportive, loving one. -"But you know what?" I offered. "Singlehood can be such a grace in our lives as well, if you use them as such. And because of all of you here tonight, I plan to really practice an attitude of gratitude for being single as long as I am single."

I turned to Sara, the woman in the maroon outfit, whose singular glow and positive attitude had sparked a contagious high among us. She looked happily back at me. A few seconds of silence softened over us as I gave space for my inner Voice, the one that ties things together for me and tells me wise things to take the floor.

"Apparently we all have found love in the right place tonight, right here in our hearts, and in our ability to appreciate who we are and what we have." Some divine wordplay wanted in as I related what had happened for me this night. "After feeling singled out like Tom, feeling burned out being solo, I singled out Sara because of her beautiful, glowing outlook, and came to appreciate how I have been singled out for a lovely an important teaching with all of your help." -"Just pass it on," said Sarah, with cranberry lips and a huge twinkle in her carefully miscarried eye.

No doubt about it. I certainly would.