In the world of singledom, you are often at the mercy of your friends and family. Unless you are dating someone (which I seldom seem to be), there is no ready-made partner that you can coerce into going to events with you. So if I want to attend an event or do some sort of activity, the phone calls, emails, texts or Facebook messages start. You know, you have either gotten them or seen them. I try to make it known what I want to do and see if others may want to join me. On occasion I get an enthusiastic yes (I love those people), sometimes I get nos. Sometimes I get maybes (which I have learned to just translate as nos, and save us all a bit of discomfort). But I most often hear nothing (yeah, I know…this is also a no!) Yes, it can be discouraging.
So the decision tree begins. “Do I really want to do this by myself – yes or no?” My first answer is almost always no…..but while not venturing out is the easier choice, staying at home by myself often makes me feel like I am wasting my life away. So I try to take it a step further and figure out a way to make it a yes.
“If I go by myself, will I look like a weirdo – yes or no?” Quite honestly, the answer to this question is usually yes. We live in a Noah’s ark kind of world and people are often uncomfortable if people don’t arrive two by two. I’ve had married friends not invite me to social events because they are inviting couples only. As a single friend pointed out to me recently, single females regularly are not invited to social, charity, or business events. Single men usually are (and even they are surprised when we point out this phenomenon and realize it is true!) I don’t get it, but I’ve learned to accept it. I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me, but more often than not it does hurt when I find out. Still, I also believe that the days of inviting all the kids in the class to the birthday party are over once you reach adulthood (and it is debatable if they are necessary in childhood), so it’s me that needs to suck it up and not get my feelings hurt over something so trivial!
“Is appearing odd OK if it is something I really want to do – yes or no?” Yeah, at this point in my life I think I have probably appeared odd often enough that it doesn’t cause as much worry. But there are days when I just want to be “normal” (not that I really know what that is), or when it seems to be a struggle to go on my own. I’ve learned to respect that in myself. When I need to stay at home I do. But appearing odd is really a small price to pay for the potential of enriching your life. Plus….are you really living if you aren’t doing things that challenge you?
“Will people be there that will make me feel comfortable – yes or no?” Because I often appear to be an extrovert, people think I have an easy time in social situations. Nope….they are unbelievably difficult for me. Sometimes when I am late to an event, it is because I have turned the car around several times on the way, trying to go home to my safe haven. If I make it to the event and get out of the car, as soon as I walk in the door I start looking for my comfort people…..people I can grab onto who will put me at ease. I can be social with strangers or with people I don’t know well, but generally I have to be able to do what my friend Diann used to call a “mommy check” when her son was young. He would be fine playing on his own in a crowd of strangers for a while, but every few minutes he had to come and make sure that mommy was still there and he was not by himself. I need a few “mommy check” comfort friends around….to give me that security. If I don’t have that, I tend to stay home. Or leave early.
“Will I regret not going or having this experience – yes or no?” That’s the bottom line. It’s the question a lot of us fail to ask and it is the most important question of them all. Is it worse to regret going or not going at all? All I can say is that I have found I can slip out of almost any event undetected if it is difficult for me (I note all exits when I go in….and not for fire safety), but if I don’t go I will never know what kind of experience it would have been. And many times it is an enjoyable experience. Many times it makes the highlight film of my life.
Though I have always been single, the uncomfortable feeling of attending events on my own has never gotten any better. You would think it would after a while, wouldn’t you? It’s difficult often even when I know I will know people who will be there. Even doing things that don’t really require a partner. You walk into a theater by yourself and feel that everyone is wondering about this weirdo that just walked in. And don’t tell me they aren’t…I know because I have wondered myself and friends have mentioned it to me when we have seen people in that situation! I’ve had people say to me “Why would someone come to a play by themselves?” I don’t usually bother to tell them that I have done it many times. They’re not going to understand. I enjoy seeing others attend on their own….they intrigue me. But when it is me, I still think the automatic “weirdo” label is what comes to everyone’s mind. Silly, I know. And why do I care? I often don’t….but sometimes I do. (Feelings don’t have to be logical!)
Sometimes being alone makes me focus on the event in a different way and there are unexpected pleasures. You focus more on the performance in the theater than your friend’s opinion. You can wander at your own pace through a museum and sit and stare for an hour at a particularly beautiful painting. You can watch the crowds and notice the little dramas all around you. You can sit in church and focus only on communing with God. You can cheer with abandon or sing at the top of your lungs, and not care whether the strangers around you notice. I usually come away glad that I did it. Happy that I spent those moments of my life doing something that was pleasurable to me…..and proud that I didn’t spend the night sitting on the sofa whining and crying because noone would go with me. When it gets down to it, it’s noone else’s job. I’ve learned that I can’t blame others if I choose to do nothing rather than do it alone.
My reality is that I am single….and it is noone else’s responsibility to entertain me. It’s actually the same for married people or others involved in a relationship…it’s not your spouse or significant other’s job either. It’s our responsibility to entertain ourselves (and make ourselves happy, for that matter.)
Like those of us who are single, I know people in a relationship who choose to self-seclude if their spouse can’t or doesn’t want to join them, rather than do things they want to do (with others or by themselves.) Even in my self-centered state, I have to concede that it may be even more difficult for them. I’ve been by myself most of my life, so am used to the battle and have developed coping strategies. When they got into their relationship they may have had certain expectations. They may have thought their spouse would gladly accompany them to all events or enthusiastically want to pursue all of their interests. What do you do when you find your idea of a social life does not match your partner’s? Some suffer loudly and constantly harp at their mate for not meeting their expectations. Others suffer in silence and say nothing, but the bitterness and sadness eats them up. Some gladly attend on their own, others put on a happy face to cover their inner grief. Another one of those times in life that our attitude greatly impacts the outcome.
It is not just about the partner that is social who is impacted….there is always another party involved. Those who are in a relationship and are the ones that would prefer to stay home or pursue other passions. They don’t want to attend the social gatherings their mate does, and battle about every event. While most would enjoy themselves at these events, to them this is simply time wasted. Torture. There is nothing like being lonely in a crowd….not getting the allure of the occasion, counting the seconds until you can leave and return to your chosen life.
Then there are the widowed or divorced….it’s easy to understand why they may feel like a fish out of water, a boat without an anchor. To be used to having someone around….and then to have them gone, takes away your equilibrium. People quickly forget you’re dealing with it or don’t notice at all. Learning to stand firm in these situations usually takes time….and a few friends to support you. Finding people who understand is important. Not getting into the habit of isolation is important. Your life is not over. A new life is beginning. It can be a great life, but it depends on your approach.
One thing I have learned….we are usually so caught up in our own stuff, that we don’t notice what others are going through. That means all of us. I think we need to pay attention. Not think we are the only ones who struggle or just be tunnel-vision happy because we don’t. I believe more of those around us are struggling than are not and we have a responsibility to care.
Our world today makes it very easy to hibernate. You can fill your life with online friends, entertain yourself with books and movies and tv. Create your own little fortress from the scary things of the world. Self moat. But do we want to live in a fantasy or in reality? We get to choose. Personally I have found that the memories I get from reality give more depth to my life. So I plan to continue to reach out and grab for life. Accompanied or unaccompanied. When it gets down to it, I am my life’s architect. I can create a shack or a palace. And I can dig the moat deeper and keep people away or build a bridge and join the party. What will bring me the most happiness? I don’t believe we were built for isolation. We were built for community. Even when it is difficult.