I had this kind of dream:

I was chatting with an actor. By “chatting” I mean flirting, and by “actor” I mean Mark Ruffalo, specifically. In my dream he was kind and warm and witty and charming, revealing to me at length that he had recently become unattached. He had that optimistic-yet-wounded outlook that so many of us have when we find ourselves single at this point in life, and upon hearing his revelation I succumbed readily to the moment, bantering lightly and effortlessly with him while making certain that the physical cues I gave were positive and open without giving the impression that I am particularly easy.

This is a dream, remember?

At some point, through a conversational route I now no longer recall, we arrived upon the revelation that I can not, in fact, drive cars with manual transmissions. He laughed at me, not unkindly.

“Were you just never taught?” He sounded vaguely incredulous.

I drew myself up, a defensive feeling springing up unexpectedly inside me, along with a worry that things were suddenly taking a bad turn. Smiling, I attempted to shrug it off. “I was not,” I replied, “and I’m not that interested in changing that fact.”

“Never?” He smiled warmly. “Not even to zip around in a sexy little sports car?”

“Those don’t come as automatics?” I asked in a faux ditzy voice before downing the last bit of Guinness in my glass, winking at him over the rim. I returned the glass to its place on the table and returned his smile. “It all seems very nineteenth-century to me,” I continued — needlessly, for at this point neither of us was really interested in what sort of car I cared to drive. “I think that once both arms and both legs are involved, the vehicle technically qualifies as a ‘contraption,’ rather than a ‘car.'”

“So…” He moved closer to me and, leaning in, placed a hand on my knee. A delicious thrill ran through me at the contact, and I smiled, knowing we had reached that place we’d been traveling toward all evening: that point where all pretense ends and at least some of the armor that girds our most vulnerable places falls away. “So it’s just this one leg that stands between you and the old-fashioned — keeps you grounded in the present, moving forward into the future?”

I exhaled, laughing lightly, and ignored the question entirely, moving to kiss him in the balmy warmth that enveloped us.

And I woke up.

I’d like to tell you that I was able, in those first seconds after being ejected from paradise, to roll back into the dream and finish what I had started. However, the distraction of that last parry kept me conscious. All day, even on my run that miserably hot afternoon, I was pre-occupied with the notion that a routine in my social schtick had been reduced to the seemingly silly idea that being able to sideline a single limb keeps me from feeling like I am involved in a hopelessly backward endeavor.

I don’t harbor a lot of beliefs about the mysticism of dreams, generally. I don’t, for example, believe that my recurrent dreams of my grandmother appearing and wanting me to leave with her mean that my own death is imminent. And I don’t believe that this dream meant that a very happily married actor is cosmically destined to pick me up in a bar some evening. (Really. I’d like to stress here that I wish nothing but happiness for Mr. Ruffalo and his wife.) I do, however, think that our brains use the down-time of sleep to work through problems. So: what problem, if any, does this single leg represent?

It could be something as simple as a deep, unacknowledged suspicion that I need some new material to use when I’m trying to be charming — or, more broadly, that I might not be as charming as I think I am these days. While that’s very likely true, at least in part, I don’t think it’s what’s bubbling up through my subconscious to give me a poke.

Mr. Ruffalo might not be single, but I am now, after spending more than twenty years in my previous relationship. It really is an odd thing, to find oneself single after so many years with another, and after the children are grown and gone. To my surprise, I am finding that many of the cliched ideas about the difficulties of being single now resonate with me: I cannot cook for one, no matter how I try; I got rid of the king-sized bed I was left with because it was far too big for me; I struggle at times with going out by myself because I fear I look either vulnerable or pathetic; I worry about my attractiveness, and consequently my ability to find someone new.

I can’t let those insecurities keep me from moving forward, of course. I must eat, and I love cooking too much to give it up in favor of sandwiches and take-out meals. There will be movies I want to see and restaurants to visit even when I can find no companion. And there is, at last, the growing hope that I will find a companion for those outings, someone with whom I will again walk through life. Someone to warm the cold, empty side of the bed.

To accomplish any of this, I need that leg beneath me. I need it to navigate through life. I need it to move forward. For every hesitant first step I might take it’s there, solid and strong, pushing me into the next. If my right foot strike is 1, my left is the 2 that follows, steady and reliable.

Symbolically, I think it represents my stubbornness, plain and simple — and while that might manifest at its most petty in things like a lingering refusal to learn to drive a five-speed, it is also the thing which has kept me intact through some very trying periods in life. Keeping that leg free, indulging the headstrong girl hidden deep beneath layers of compliance and affability, strengthens that part of me that must remain resolute and unbreakable no matter what comes my way.

And so I continue, one tenacious step at a time, into the “undiscovered country” that is the future. Mark Ruffalo might not be waiting there, but I’m sure that other applicants for the position of Mr. Right will be. Whoever he turns out to be, the future Mr. Right will just have to accept the unsexy sedan, with its automatic transmission, as part of the package.