Growing up “smart”, kids can be pretty cruel – and no matter how much academic success I found, there was also a lingering loneliness. I lost several “best” friends to what I can only understand in retrospect as jealousy or something along those lines; the streak of cruel girls was significant. Maybe I was just pathologically terrible at picking best friends until I got to middle school (where I was lucky to finally find friendships that stood the test of time.) It certainly didn’t help matters that my “romantic” life in high school was almost entirely a nonstarter except for a few guys from other schools and one bizarrely inappropriate Internet dating incident.
Even as an adult, it takes a long time to shake the need for validation such wounds inflict upon the psyche. Being out in public on one’s own for any length of time – beyond what it takes to go grocery shopping or run an errand – was for a long time just too much alone time. You’re allowed to be alone at home, but in the “real world” you’re surrounded by families, couples, groups of friends. And after college, I had a long streak of cohabitation relationships and excessive work hours that pretty much guaranteed I’d never need to be alone.
Things changed after my cohabitation relationships ended. After 8 years of those arrangements, it took me a long time to even be OK with being alone in my own condo – partially for safety considerations, and partly because it is incredibly demoralizing to change your cooking plans because you can’t get the damn pasta sauce jar open. Even as I grew comfortable with the solitude (and found an immensely helpful $3 plastic thing called a JarPop), there was still the issue of what to do when I wanted to go out into the world. If there’s no food at my place (I’ll never be a cook), should being alone stop me from going to my favorite restaurant down the hill?
I remember getting a single-girls dinner with a friend of mine from improv shortly after that last cohabitation relationship ended. She described to me the pleasure she got from taking her Kindle with her to a bistro, ordering fries and wine, and just reading and being in her own company.
A few weeks later I got a Kindle for my birthday, and I really do love that little thing. I suppose it would have been possible to take one of those “paper” books on such an adventure, but most paper books require one hand to keep them open to the right page. The Kindle lets you read hands-free: wonderful for places like the gym, but also wonderful for reading while eating or drinking. Plus you’re never in fear of finishing your book and having nothing else to do until you get home. For the “eating alone” scenario, the Kindle set me free. I wish I had it as an option during my flurry of business travel back in The Day while I worked in games; those are frequently times where being out by yourself is the only way to experience the city. At the time, smartphones weren’t even a thing – and playing a Nintendo DS while trying to eat is rather impossible.
There were other milestones that followed: my first solo vacation, to New York City. I crashed with a cousin of mine who does comedy writing and performance out there, but on several of the days it was just me, wandering the streets of the sleepless city. I grabbed dinner by myself in Times Square, navigated the subways alone, and even ended up attending a Broadway show by myself. It was rather empowering at the time, realizing I could do whatever I wanted without the need for elaborate planning with a group of other folks. (I also spent time with others there – out drinking with my cousin at the Museum of Natural History or doing a photo shoot with a ton of Pikachus, which really happened – but only part of the trip.)
There are still milestones I haven’t crossed yet. Traveling alone for pleasure, not business, to a city where I don’t know anyone. Going to a movie alone – which is a strange one, if you think about it. Why is it so prevalent that we make a big fuss and gather a big group to go sit together in the dark and not talk for 2 hours? Are we so afraid of the 10-15 minutes before the trailers start? In the past decade, movie theatres have worked hard to make conversations even prior to movies as difficult as possible, what with their trailers for trailers and inane interviews. I want to see Winnie the Pooh but ended up seeing Captain America first (which was a GREAT movie) because I wasn’t fully comfortable going on my own. Feh.
These days, I won’t necessarily hesitate to go out alone, if there isn’t a chance to see friends – it’s not like I have so much free time that I willingly pass up opportunities to see them; just that schedules are tricky beasts that don’t always line up. I still find myself buying pairs of tickets to the theatre and to local experiences like glassblowing classes and painting classes through those group-deal websites, but there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to tackle those experiences on my own.
This week was no exception – I closed the refinancing of my mortgage (ugh, what a grown-up turn of phrase) in Bellevue, but that left me with an awkward amount of time before leaving for rehearsal, and going back to Microsoft would have meant spending all of that time in traffic. I realized that it was rather early for dinner, which meant that the dumplings restaurant in downtown Bellevue – which frequently has absurd lines out the door – probably had capacity to spare. So I headed on over, sat myself at the bar, and enjoyed wine and world-class dumplings while reading and intermittently admiring the Pac-Man diorama local office workers had made in a series of windows using Post-It Notes.
It’s nice not to depend on any one person for your own happiness – I’ve finally realized that we are often the biggest obstacles to fully experiencing our own lives. I’m still looking for the right person to share the rest of my life with, but I’ve finally come to terms (mostly) with the fact that if I don’t find the right person, I can still be happy and fulfilled. Which is a relief, since I’m allergic to cats and would make a really rather pathetic crazy cat lady. 😉