Joanne Papper put her finger on a special problem for singles.
"When you're single," said Papper, "you spend a lot of time looking at hands. Married people wear rings on their fingers."The ones who aren't fooling around, anyway.
"Most married people identify themselves," she said. "Singles don't have any way. Who wants to spend your life studying hands?"
Papper wants to focus on a more interesting area. If she had her way, singles would wear T-shirts proclaiming their freedom.
"I was married over 30 years," she said. "I've been officially single for about a year. It throws you into an entirely different social situation.
"When you're single, everything is different - even the language. You find it difficult to fit in. It's difficult to find people like yourself, unless you join groups. If you're not a dancer or a drinker, you're very limited."
Papper knows she's not alone. But how do you find other single people?
She's not only looking for single men, but single women friends. "Someone to have lunch with or go to the show."
Papper said she'd never "answer singles ads, but I do have the courage to put on a T-shirt."
Her shirts are surprisingly discreet, for something in big letters across her chest. One says:
"Hi! Let's talk. Singles Communication Network."
The other says, "Ice Breaker: Let's talk. Singles Communication Network."
Certainly a modest proposal. What you make of it is up to you.
"The shirts are an automatic introduction," she said. "You have somewhere to start the conversation. It's a very controlled situation. You can elect whether to give your phone number or meet them somewhere."
Talk is not that cheap. For $15.95, you get the shirt on your back.
There is no Singles Communication Network, except the other people you may spot wearing a similar T-shirt.
"This is not a club," Papper said. "We make no crass statements. We just give singles a chance to do their own PR work. It seems a safer way of saying, `I'm single.' You have a little more control."
Maybe. But all her advertising comes with this disclaimer: "Marital status is not guaranteed."
That's very honest. But there's no guarantee only honest people are buying Papper's shirts. Figuring out whether he is married or she is living with a significant other is the cause of much single grief.
Papper wears a singles shirt. No one's asked her for a date so far, she said. "Although I've had some response."
The singles shirts are a step in the right direction. But I think they need to say more. Papper said: "The more clues you get in this singles game, the better off you are."
Any single person knows finding another unmarried person isn't enough. You waste a lot of time - and money - trying to find out if you two will work out. Plus you have to keep going through those first dreary dates, where you tell your story, and he tells his. How much easier, if shirts put it up front:
"Single and hung up on ex-wife."
"Single and hung up on mother."
"Single and hung up on self."
"Single and living with someone."
"Single and saddled with child support."
These need not be a drawback to romance. People meet and fall for singles who have these problems and worse every day. At least you'd know what you were getting into.
They could be worn at places where married people on the loose hang out. Like singles bars.
If you prefer a more positive approach, your shirt could list your assets:
"Single and never talk about my ex."
"Single and don't keep cats."
They could be designed for any age group, from the very young:
"Single and have my own apartment."
To the middle-aged:
"Single and have my own hair."
To a more mature group:
"Single and have my own teeth."
And since one man's asset is another's liability, shirts could come in alternate versions:
"Single and not in therapy."
"Single and in therapy."
Meanwhile, Papper, in her own quiet way, continues to spread the single word. She also sells a bumper sticker that says: "Honk if you're single." The bumper sticker has no phone number to call or way to meet the passing unmarried person.
"But some days it makes you feel better to know how many singles are out there."