Last Friday, I left work early, something I hadn’t done in nearly three months.
In my last job, finding an excuse to leave early was the only reason to go to work. I took Lola to dozens of imaginary vet appointments, had numerous important trips to the bank (which closes early), and even fibbed a weekly therapist appointment that required me to leave early every Tuesday—sorry, the fake doctor doesn’t take appointments past five.
The new job, however, keeps me tethered to my desk from the early hours before most coffee shops open until around the fifth inning of the East Coast games. There aren’t any vacation days, or even paid time off, for the foreseeable future. For 50+ hours a week, it’s just me, my thoughts, and a brand-new IBM laptop that still smells like fresh plastic.
Everyone was gone, though, and instead of spending hours with my eyes burning from the strain on multi-tabbed spreadsheets, I forwarded my calls to my cellphone and left the computer on, just in case someone came back to the office looking for me.
I didn’t have plans—I never seem to have plans these days.
I came home from the office and created my favorite bath concoction: part Mr. Bubble, part bath salts, and just a light squeeze of lavender oil. I read a book that a friend gave me over a year ago, but ditched it four pages in for a copy of a Fantasy Football magazine.
Instead of throwing on jeans and boat shoes, I upgraded to a sundress, my favorite loafers, and curled my hair in beach waves, instead of a wet ponytail. I wore my Prada sunglasses instead of the cheap aviators I wear to baseball games, and carefully applied the rose-red lipstick that I wear for special occasions.
After turning from side-to-side obsessively in the full length mirror, I accepted truce with my shadow and added the diamond earrings my mother gave me for Christmas, a ring from an ex-boyfriend that I never stopped wearing, and a necklace from a vintage store near the train in my new neighborhood.
Lola got her Kibbles N Bits, and I filled my flask—the one engraved with my favorite player’s slash line—with bourbon, and took to the tree-lined streets in search of….something.
I walked in a large square around my neighborhood, before taking the bus to see the new Woody Allen movie.
I purchased a single ticket with a student discount even though I haven’t been in enrolled in years, and my hunger-panged stomach propelled me to the concession line, since I’d skipped lunch in favor of a bath.
I dug in my wallet, looking for my debit card to pay for my popcorn and mixer.
“It’s $9.50,” a squeaky-voiced Northwestern student said while I searched for the card in my clutch that contains more baseball stubs than dollars.
A man entered behind me and sat his items within my popcorn’s buffer zone, which confused the register operator.
“Are you paying for his, too?” he asked.
My face turned red, and my voice quiet. “No, I’m here alone.”
Going to the theatre alone doesn’t bother me—it proposes no dilemma of loneliness—but I’d prefer to never say it aloud. I’m not a frequent moviegoer, but I do know there’s no benefit in platonic movie company, unless the proximity of someone else’s heartbeat is as soothing to you as it is to puppies.
Non-platonic seatmates, however, are an upgrade over platonic company, but not necessarily over going solo. Non-platonic seatmates are good for handholding, shoulder pillows, and when I was much younger, more risqué fun—but I certainly do not have company of that ilk to speak of these days.
When I arrived, there were plenty of open seats, and I walked up the stairs to one of the last rows as a courtesy to the geriatric couples who gravitate to Allen’s films and require the aisle seats for frequent bathroom breaks and Poly-grip reseals.
I was alone, and I was okay, but sometimes these situations serve as a good reminder that there are societal norms and pressures that must continually be confronted, even if you’re within the bounds of normal behavior.
Before the movie, I was alone with my thoughts, not because I was feeling exceptionally introspective, but because the MLB App wasn’t working. After counting seats and then people, I did the math on something else.
How long had it been since I had been on a date. The answer? Eight months.
Eight months may not seem like a long time for regular daters, but like most things in life, I never approached dating conventionally. After breaking off an engagement at 22, I spent the following years as a serial dater, eating lavish free meals and seeking a connection, while mostly piling up on heartache and refining my abilities at feigning interest for long stretches of time.
I spent three years this way, with handfuls of dates per month, filling up the spaces in my douchebag BINGO card. There were nice Jewish boys with mommy issues, and musicians and artists that insisted on coffee instead of dinner because it was cheaper. I had dinner with men who wore too much cologne and were impolite to waiters, and ones that showed all of the warning signs of being in committed relationships like obsessive phone-checking and constant over-the-shoulder watching. I sat in theatres with men that were considerably older, but were more mature and reliable than men my own age, and I dated several men that were clearly unsure about their sexuality, yet kept buying women dinners, hoping there would be a spark.
I prepped myself for every outing as though it could be the night where I finally met The One, and even in the present, but especially retrospectively, it was a pitiful existence, a cycle of desperation that didn’t even make sense, considering I wasn’t lonely or longing. It became a cycle, where bad dates fueled the desire to go on more dates just to erase the shitty aftertaste, and to prove, definitively, that there were good men who would return phone calls, not text too much, and help change flat tires in emergencies.
The good news for single ladies everywhere is that I met plenty of them, but given that I was still unpacking the baggage of a four-year mind-fucking relationship, even though several candidates for The One came along, I would intentionally sabotage the whole thing in the interest of autonomy.
I worked hard to convince others that I was just a free spirit that didn’t need meaningful relationships with men for fulfillment, yet in the end I became a caricature of singledom.
I’m not alone in this—there is a large sect of women who tread through their mid-20s breaking hearts and acting recklessly, just as their male counterparts do. We’re the ones who didn’t marry our high school sweethearts and were spurned by our college lovers and we’re free to sample all of the possibilities of what life can bring. We can see how it feels to date older men, to make out with younger ones. What it’s like to date lawyers with money, or writers who leave love notes and give backrubs as currency.
It sounds cold, malicious even, but it’s not. The freedom to choose, to explore, is a luxury afforded to those who are willing to be patient, and not rush to live their lives bound by vows and contained behind picket fences. At some point, however, the dating becomes sterile, and the enjoyment in meeting new faces is lost, and then there are just two desires: Waking up alone, or waking up to same someone else’s breath on the back of your neck every morning.
Now in recovery from dating too much, I’ve spent the past two years waffling between consistently being alone, and consistently wanting to find The One again. But this time, it’s less about the feats of strength and mental gymnastics to prove that we’re made for each other, and more about a gut feeling.
I’m told this is how grown-ups date.
But even though I’ve clearly sorted what I want, it’s not a simple thing to implement. My career has come first, and when I’m not chained in my office working on spreadsheets, I’ve chosen to spend my evenings analyzing baseball to help pay down some of my grad school debt.
There’s a fierce proudness in learning that I can do most things on my own. My own apartment, new car, an entire room dedicated to my meaningless baseball collection, enough of a savings cushion to go on vacation, and sole control of the remote and contents of the refrigerator. I painted the entire apartment without consulting anyone on paint colors (other than an interior designer), and did the work myself even though it probably would have been safer to have someone there to hold the ladder.
I’ve done, and will continue to do, single well. I’ve conquered the fears of loneliness and depression that can sometimes accompany it, and I’ve come out on the other side realizing that a lot of those feelings don’t stem from the need to receive affection, but because the desire to give it.
Movies alone are unfulfilling not because it’s embarrassing to be in public alone—it’s not, and it shouldn’t be—but because laughing alone in a vacuum is worse than not laughing at all.
And that’s the part, platonic or not, that seems to be missing these days.
“Are these seats taken?” an oversized grandma asked as she reached to move my satchel, her chipped hot-pink polish exposed on her shaking hands.
“Uh, no. I’m here alone,” I said with a smile, as I scooped up my gummy frogs, popcorn, and bourbon and moved to my left, realizing that the theatre was now packed and that my space on the outskirts was now prime real estate.
She didn’t smile, or even acknowledge I spoke, before turning around.
“JOHN! THIS GIRL IS HERE ALONE AND SHE SAID WE CAN SIT HERE. GET UP HERE.”
Her husband pulled himself up the stairs, one at a time, balancing his Raisinets and his desire to reach his Mrs. before the previews started.
Some turned to look at the girl who was taking in a movie alone, but instead of cowering, I was confident for the first time in awhile that I had finally figured everything out.