Yikes. That last was a bit morose. Whoops!
Yesterday I transcribed an interview. It was about this single, upper-twenties woman from New York who takes herself out on dates. Solo Date Night’s what she calls it. Once a week every Thursday. Off to a hot spot in the city with plenty of dollar signs on Yelp, alone, where she holds back neither time nor cash nor calories to make her self-care as luxurious as possible. She orders an appetizer, an entrée, a dessert, a few glasses of wine. Inhibitions be damned.
I never found anything from Google, but the interview made it sound as if this concept of a woman taking herself out was such an anomaly it brought recognition. Fame. Countless phone interviews, podcast mentions and spreads. Questions from friends and colleagues. Curiosity extending into awe. “How can you possibly enjoy going out to eat by yourself?”
She has rules. No phone. No book. No sign of being occupied. No temptation for distraction. She doesn’t want to ease the initial discomfort of perceived stares, or perceived boredom, by ignoring it. She wants to be receptive, open to engagement if someone feels so inclined, and to provide herself that same opportunity even if at first the minutes drag past wounded.
She sits alone at the bar. Twiddling thumbs. Eyeing every passing server while waiting for the first consumable to arrive. Nursing the small glass of red wine that cost more than I can make in an hour transcribing the words she’d later use to describe the discomfort she felt those first few times, and eventually got over.
She orders what’s recommended or, her preferred, goes to a spot where the menu’s chef’s choice. She ignores anything she’d otherwise think about (she works in the health food industry, market branding strategist or some such title). No calorie-counting. No concern over saturated fat or cholesterol or processing. Complete disregard for the parameters she’s established and maintained outside these few hours on Thursday.
As I was typing it all out, a Parks & Rec idea kept surfacing, again and again, in Tom’s chirpy little voice, or Donna’s rich baritone. TREAT YOSELF. This woman was listening.
Toward the end of the interview, the final question—I call it the Culminator—was posed: Why ultimately publicize your personal date night? Why give it a name and announce it? What is the significance, do you think, of sharing your experience with the world?
She delves right into it. Talks about self-confidence. How she used to be uncomfortable in elevators without her phone, not because she wasn’t content without, but because she didn’t yet know how to be noticeably satisfied alone when others were around to watch.
From what I gleaned in our hour together, I’d call her an extroverted introvert. I’d label myself the same. We enjoy socializing and other humans, but recharge/rejuvenate most efficiently when alone. We need a certain amount of space each day; too much human contact will quickly show signs of wear in attentiveness, patience, and general contentment.
But today’s world does what it can to convince us that never-ending attention is the ultimate goal. Constant proof we’re there and doing this at so-and-so time. If we’re living and no one else knows, well, we’re not really living then, are we? And while we can all sit and read that and see it for what it is—Absolute Bullshit—such ideas still slither deep into our subconscious, leave their subliminal skins out to dry in our deserts of self-doubt. We take pictures to prove, if only to our future selves, how magical that moment was. When we publicly document and it gets likes, we’ve allowed others to reinforce the idea our life’s worth living. Only picturesque solitude is accepted by contemporary society. And even then, only when it’s being recorded and commodified.
I’m guilty as the rest. Feel the pull to communicate with the socialized world, and respond. I’m continuously battling the urge to delete all networks that require a handle, to go back to the days of email exchange. (That advancement’s okay with me. I type way faster than I scratch, and much more legibly) In-person catch-ups. Even Skype dates, sure. One-on-one, I think, is what I miss most of all. The recognition of who my audience is and what they’re looking at and a bit of what they’re thinking right then.
But then I have this entrepreneurial drive, coupled with that damned love of storytelling—crafted, of course. The desire to spread my passion for dance, provide easy access to those who want it, run a facebook campaign if it’s the difference between getting to engage a class or not. And then to spread my ideology, too. My lifestyle practices and why I recommend and why I even do. With words and pictures. Lived. Dumpster porn and more apt, honest representations of vanlife in photos that’ll capture just enough attention to inspire a new thought. A question. Inspiration. Whatever.
Back to a point that was the initial point. There I go again. But I was thinking about that all, how it relates to her publicizing these date nights. These solo, intimate, personal moments which now, you could argue, are supported by outside recognition. Even sponsorship. Hefty stamps of approval. Because even when alone, we all need it.
Her explanation goes. She takes herself on these dates weekly. Eventually, friends learn about what she’s doing. She doesn’t start inviting them along—too many complications could arise. This menu doesn’t accommodate Dave’s dietary restrictions; that price tag’s too hefty for Lisa to shell out; Diane’s schedule is a nightmare to work around. Plus, it would annihilate the entire purpose of her date night. She’d be endlessly distracted, too absorbed in another person to notice the sous chef’s agility and care when rolling a sushi roll, or the other, older woman sitting at the bar who’ll later tell her she’s been taking herself out for years, and map her an entire new world of restaurants to explore.
So she has to explain herself to the outside. Why she rides the elevator or walks down the street without her phone, or watches television shows alone. How she finds much pleasure, worth time and defense, in her own company. Without sounding self-absorbed or socially inept.
She tells her friends. They’re charmed by the idea. Charmed when thinking of her doing it, mortified when thinking of their own possible experience. What do you do the whole time? Don’t you get bored? Acutely lonely? Surrounded by all those other tables teeming with conversation, laughter, love. Isn’t it far more painful than satisfying? Their questions make her realize this is a widespread fear. It’s not unusual but the norm, to never be alone when not alone.
She doesn’t say all that in the interview, of course. I’m filling in so many blanks I should pretend this isn’t even a real transcription. But she does make a point to say that this is why it’s so important: Because people often don’t do what they want because they are afraid to do it alone. They are afraid to act alone. Would rather wait for someone else. The right person, the ready group of friends, the particular posse for any given situation. Even if it means the opportunity’s been lost. She wants to show others it’s not only possible, but healing, to learn to be alone.
The knowledge you can exist alone and not just survive and be okay, but actually enjoy your time, get the most out of experience, by yourself, with yourself, is significant. It’s also rare. And practiced. While some might have personalities which make it more initially attractive, this whole idea of being alone and wallowing in one’s thoughts and hyperactive emotions, I’d say it’s something that very much needs to be cultivated. Like our interviewee makes clear, she’s more than happy to be alone, but going out by herself into spaces that are socialized for sharing, for community, for intimacy and romance, was at first terribly uncomfortable. She had to get over that initial hump.
Since, she’s found new confidence. She requires less outside reinforcement when considering her own capabilities or worth. Her little habit of a single night out alone, amidst the din and looks of other diners and city dwellers, continues to reinforce the wisdom that another’s misjudgments and ill-formed opinions of oneself hold no value. A stranger’s perspective is just that, and not to be given authority.
This eventually bleeds into her approach to work, to other relationships, to he own analysis of what it means to be a “me” among so many others. Perhaps it becomes her most pointed difference between living in the present and planning for it.
I get it. I’ve made it many a mission to go out into the strange alone, whether it’s to another city, or country, or on a long run. Gratification eventually takes place of fear. Fear comes back. But it’s just an aspect. One that teaches as much as it twinges. It doesn’t have to define.
But I transitioned. Perhaps the need to be alone comes in waves. For some of us, it’s our destiny to ride out one single wave to its end. Maybe catch another, maybe not; we’re already ashore. For others, there’re numerous swim breaks, or it’s just more enjoying watching others and treading water. Or sun bathing. You’ll catch the next one.
When I initially moved into my Element, three years ago now, I hopped on the wave with one-pointed focus. I was fixated on the ride, had no concern. People moved in and out of my trajectory. I shifted my weight, but never quite stopped.
Then I met him. It wasn’t as quick as you might think. I’d been practicing being alone—training really, forever training. For what? For life!—since way before him. Way before the Element, even. Three months in Europe alone. Over five in SE Asia, alone. Then finally driving around my own home, sleeping off forest roads and pullouts, alone. Often eating and wandering about alone. Whenever necessary, alone.
He reminded me last night, while we were running, how long it took me to finally agree to run together. We’d be driving from point A to point B, now both in the same car, and pull off to check out a trail. Then he’d go one way, I’d go the other. My excuse was I didn’t like running with other people. I enjoyed running best alone.
Really, I wasn’t ready to give it all up. Depending on someone else is terrifying. To run alone, as minuscule as it seemed, provided me something I could still do, still enjoy, alone.
Months later, it shifted. It started slow. Every other run we’d do together. And I began to enjoy it. To see how we could be simultaneously alone, together. The rhythm of the other’s breath and footfalls were there when needed, for an extra push of encouragement, or an audible reminder this is fucking hard for them, too. A reminder we weren’t alone.
But there was no energetic drain. No need to talk. No need to share. We shared enough. I’d finally found that person with whom I was so comfortable, so kindred, that I could share my alone without it being a sacrifice.
Or maybe, I’d found a space in myself to carry always. A new battery hookup. A way to exist without letting others unintentionally take a toll. A distance that would allow more connection, more time to give, more of myself to give, ironically enough.
Perhaps I’ve built up a reservoir of alone that’ll last me.