I remember the first time I sat alone in a restaurant and had a meal by myself. I was single and all of my friends were out of town or busy and I really wanted a burger. After exhausting all possible dining companions I decided to ::deep breath:: go it alone. I headed over to 67 Burger in Fort Greene (about 15 steps from my old apartment) armed with a book and my cell phone. I remember I was very nervous to sit alone. I’m not sure exactly what I was so scared of though. Maybe I was worried about how other people would perceive me sitting alone. Maybe I was scared that someone might try and talk to me uninvited. I just didn’t want to be viewed as sad or pathetic or lonely. I wasn’t any of those things. I just wanted a burger. Ultimately no one paid any attention to me (us New Yorkers can be so self involved!), I had a great meal and headed home where presumably I watched Law and Order: SVU reruns and ate Ben and Jerry’s until I fell asleep.
Since that first meal alone I have gone out by myself many times, but especially in the last year or so. I didn’t even think about the oddness of this until Tuesday night when I told my students that I was going to see Jersey Boys. They asked who I was going with and I told them I was going by myself. They all felt bad for me and wanted to know where my friends were or where my husband was. I told them that show tickets are expensive and that it wasn’t a show my husband wanted to see, so why waste the money? I didn’t mention that the reason I was going was because it was Jeremy Kushnier’s debut in the show and that some times it can be awkward to fangirl out in front of your husband (I know because I’ve done it!).
I tried to explain to them that going out by yourself is not necessarily a bad thing. I have found that I like going out alone. In the last few years I have gone to dinner by myself, to movies, and Broadway shows. Especially in the case of a movie or a show, I see nothing wrong with a single ticket. The last two movies I went to alone were Friends with Kids and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both movies made me cry, and frankly, I much prefer the anonymity of a dark theater and a seat by myself, than blubbering on like an idiot with someone I know sitting next to me. When I see a movie or a show by myself I can be more involved with it. I can get more inside the characters and the stories because I’m not worried about whether the person I’m with needs more popcorn or is going to get up to go to the bathroom. And its a movie! You can’t really talk to the person next to you (though I do. Another reason why its best for everyone that I visit movie theaters alone).
Since my kids confronted me about “going alone,” I’ve been trying to decide what has changed. My friend said that its definitely a kid thing to never be anywhere by yourself, to always go out with someone. She’s definitely right. I would never have gone shopping by myself when I was a teenager in high school, or a college-going young adult. I didn’t trust my opinions enough. I needed my friends (or my mom) to validate me. Then, when I was single and living in Brooklyn, I thought that going out alone was advertising my single-ness and making me look desperate. I was very concerned with how people around me felt about me being alone. Did they see a cool chick at a bar having a class of wine not caring about the world (I hoped so)? Or did they see a poor girl drowning her sorrows in the bottle? As I said, probably neither, but when you’re younger, you think the world is looking at you. In my case, it was my insecurity with being single and feeling like I didn’t have anyone to go out with, like maybe people didn’t want to go out with me. Thankfully, I seem to have overcome that particular insecurity.
I wonder if going out alone has become easier because I’m married. I don’t have anything to prove, I’m not out to meet guys, I don’t need to worry about what people might think because I know the truth. That might be the case for me, and we’ll never know the alternative, but I see most of my friends becoming more independent and not being afraid to do the things they love, even if it is by themselves. I think that as you get older and more comfortable in your own skin, the more okay it is to be alone. You understand that being alone is not the same as being lonely. Its the confidence that comes with just a few more years that allows you to embrace who you are and what you want to do, without worrying about all the eyes that are not watching you.