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Anyone who has ever seen me after 6 p.m. knows that my typical evening attire includes an extra-large t-shirt, baggy pajama bottoms, white socks and leather sandals. But Manfriend was coming over for dinner last night, and I wanted to look nice for once. Usually that means a slightly less voluminous t-shirt, wearing a bra, rolling up my pajama legs, and not wearing the white socks. However, this time I took my makeover to a new level: I wore a matching set of pajamas and the same color sandals. This actually looked like an outfit.
Breaking out this set of pajamas wasn’t easy for me: I had received them as a gift two birthdays ago, and the tags were still attached. One of my best-ever friends had given them to me over lunch, responding quickly to the somewhat disgusted look on my face when I had them unwrapped: “Kate! You’re gonna love these! You don’t have to wear old sweatpants and t-shirts around the house anymore! They’ll make you feel better about yourself…they’ll make you feel sexy! Guys like it when you put a little effort into presenting yourself too. My husband loves me in these.”
I shook out the black and white polka-dotted top with short poofy sleeves, then the sleek rayon capri bottoms. “Thank you so much,” I said, hating the outfit already. I couldn’t imagine myself in it. “I can’t wait to try it on,” I added.
The polka-dot pajama set hung in my closet for over a year, until last night when I decided to spiff up for Manfriend. Wearing a real outfit, like jeans and a cute shirt, was entirely out of the question—restrictive street clothing is not allowed in my house past 6 p.m., not on me anyway. Wanting to look nice but still relaxed in some kind of loungewear, I finally turned to the matching pajamas. If my girlfriend, a mother of three, could wear them and her husband appreciated it, then maybe I could wear them and Manfriend would appreciate it. I owed him something for always being so sweet to me, even though I can be a putz and we never have sex.
I slipped into the polka-dot top and black Spandex capris, then put on my black and silver leather sandals, somewhat expecting a wave of slinky cougarishness to wash over me. How sexy I would be, even at 44. I studied myself in the mirror to assess the situation: just as I had thought, this outfit made me look like a linebacker, Minnie Mouse trying out for a football team. I already have broad shoulders, and the poofy baby-doll sleeves accentuated my huskiness. The collar was up to my neck, the main shirt part loose and stretchy, and I wondered if this was in fact a maternity top.
I finally settled with the idea that if it looked good on my fashionable girlfriend, it would look good on me too. I went about preparing a monster salad for dinner, waiting for Manfriend to show up with the main course. We share like that.
When the doorbell rang, I fluttered over to the door like I thought a woman might in this kind of get-up. I got Manfriend and his steaming hotdish inside and settled. After eyeing me up and down for about thirty seconds, he said, “So uh, whatcha wearin’?”
I blurted out my whole story about the pajamas being a gift from a girlfriend who was always trying to improve my wardrobe, who said “You better not!” when I told her I was going to wear cargo shorts every day for the rest of my life, who gave me green silk pajamas way back in the 90’s, an outfit I found so flattering at the time that I repeatedly wore it out to dinner. It was the prettiest ensemble I owned at the time. The only ensemble, actually.
“Tell me what you really think,” I said to Manfriend. “Does this look okay on me? I don’t really like it—I’m not a polka dot kind of person. Be honest.”
“It’s very…blousy,” Manfriend said, “in a mommy kind of way."
“I knew it!” I said. “I can’t wear this! I’m going to change.” I retreated down the hallway to my bedroom with Manfriend calling after me, “But the pants are nice! The pants look good!"
I pulled the mommy blouse off as soon as I was out of sight, then looked through my t-shirt collection for something that was casual but not tent-like, something more form-fitting that didn’t have underarm holes. I settled on the clingy white and pink t-shirt that I’d purchased at a store for teens several years ago, back when I was first entering my cougar stage. It read “Too Hot 40” on front, what I felt was an appropriately risqué message at the time, though I never understood why it was sold in a store for young girls.
I returned to the kitchen, where Manfriend was putting his hotdish into the oven to keep it warm. I stood before him. “Is this better?” I asked. I already knew it was.
“Too hot for you?” he said. “Too hot for me?” Manfriend was hurt.
“No no,” I said. I pulled the front of my t-shirt out so it was flat and easier to read. “It says ‘Too Hot 40’.”
“No it doesn’t,” Manfriend said.
I looked down at my shirt and read it the correct way for the first time: Too Hot 4U. Manfriend was right.
“Oh,” I said, “I never got that. Sorry.” There I’d gone again, managing to insult a guest in my own home, managing to look like a whiny perfectionist, a self-obsessed middle-aged woman trying to reach the heights of mature sensuality while retaining the wink of youth.
Now that’s me.