Societal Solitude: Part III

In years past, I approached solo ventures with a desire to explore and overcome the insecurities that surround them. Simply going to a restaurant without a companion paralyzes some people with fear, and others claim it’s a great personal experience. I've been to the movies by myself and taken myself to dinner, but I wasn’t afraid of those things. I was interested. I wanted to experience it, and generally just know and understand what the big deal was.

I’ve been lucky enough to see live comedy a couple times in my life, which is a fascinating experience in itself. The stages and scenarios were big enough that I got to play my favorite part—a fly on the wall—and avoid being called out by anyone onstage. However, the most recent time I went to a show, it was stand-up open-mic night, and the only available seats were in the very front row. Please note there is no size, boldness, Italic or other form of text I can use here to stress how terrifying it is for a shy and quiet twenty-three year old girl to be sitting so close to a stage that she has to rest her feet on it, where ten or fifteen comics will perform three-minute bits and at least half are bound to call you out on something. Introvert’s worst nightmare.

It ended up being worth it. Despite getting spit on, accused of using the paper seat covers in public toilets, and asked out for drinks under a spotlight onstage, I made it almost nearly to the end and was glad I did. I managed to fall hard for the last routine I sat through and the comically confident guy who delivered it. Since it is 2015 and I am an Internet human, I Googled him as soon as I got home and did what anyone else would do. I clicked every link, listened to every podcast, sent half the photos to my friends and followed him on every social media channel. It wasn’t until the weekend rolled around that I realized he was doing a full stand-up set at another comedy club in the city.

I vacillated between going or not all day, because I knew I would end up at the event alone. Half of my friends were out of town, and the other half were busy. Come to think of it, another half of them were at weddings. I had it in the back of my mind that I would go no matter what, because my desire to watch his full routine was massive. The only thing holding me back was that it was a comedy show.

Stand-up comedy is well-known for being an excruciating endeavor for the introvert world. Performing it obviously, which I have clearly never done, but attending can be just as intimidating depending on the level of anxiety you get in the public eye. I was able to talk myself into going; I would go early to make sure I had a seat at the back, I would avoid eye contact with as many people as possible. The day had even set itself up well: I was showered, had just done my nails, and had been forced to leave my bed only like three times. I was in a good place for this. It was going to be just like that movie I went to by myself. It would be dark and I would be watching something...only in this case, someone could pick on me from a spot-lit stage. Still, I was confident walking into the bar where the show was held. I was in the scariest place doing a scary thing: a stand-up comedy show, in attendance alone. My strong desire and positive mood set the stage well.

The irony found me as the featured performer before my headlining hunk began his bit. He launched into a terrifically funny story about a book he received as a gift once, the point of the joke being total discouragement from ever doing anything that scares you. “You do one thing that scares you every day, until one day you’ve got a cop in your trunk driving down the wrong side of a freeway and realize how much better off you were before living in perpetual fear.” (Maybe you had to be there? I'm still laughing...) This event was one thing I said yes to, even though I was afraid, and it was helping me. I was growing somehow. Throughout the two hours and time I was sitting there, I was aware of the positive experience happening around and in me. This ain’t so bad, I convinced myself, sitting at a corner table with steaming black coffee. In fact, attending a comedy show on my own might have been the least frightening thing I’ve ever done, but the conditions were pristine. I got to stare at a handsome man making me smile nonstop for forty-five minutes, even after laughing until my cheeks hurt at his opener.

I had done my research and knew what I was getting into, and as such I can’t say I recommend grabbing a ticket to the first comedy club you can find if you’re afraid of going out alone. Comedians can be scary. I got lucky enough to find the tame ones, and maybe that’s a Minnesota thing. But the outcome, or the aftermath, has been the third big concept for me in developing my public aloneness skills. Where I’m at mentally when I leave and how I feel about the experience in hindsight does a lot to affect how I go about my next opportunity to go out alone. I left the comedy show smiling, not only because jokes but because I was proud of myself. Maybe I would have felt differently if one of the comics had heckled me and left a bright red flush of total mortification across my face, but would that have negatively affected the grand scheme of my enjoyment enough to keep me from ever going out alone again? I’ll never know.

Still, I’m not writing this to tell you a big arcing story of how I’ve “overcome insecurities” and why “going out alone is the best” and “everyone should do it” and “conquering fear” and what have you, because I’m not sure I believe all that. In fact, this whole series started merely with a thought toward the amusing irony of showing up to do something that scared me only to be dissuaded from ever doing something that scares me. I don’t know that there will ever be a point in my life when I’m suddenly game to go do all the things by myself, happy as a clam. I might find other ways to broaden my horizons and conquer my fears, but only to a point; I don't plan to find myself on the wrong side of funny business, or the freeway. For now, I’ll take my public aloneness opportunities on a case by case basis...all jokes aside.

Societal Solitude: Part II

Making a plan to go out on my own for the first time nearly set me straight up for success. With a goal and the mindset to achieve some kind of peace in being alone in public, the experience was going to be positive no matter what. Even if I didn’t check off every box on the list of what I would consider victory and triumph, it would be progress. It didn’t take much to convince me that going out alone can only get better the more you do it.

I found myself in Manhattan a few years after my first foray into my public aloneness experiment, which had since been somewhat dormant. I was in town for the rough and tumble times of New York Fashion Week, a very weird week of the year when it kills me to be alone. I need insane amounts of moral support to make it through a day of dealing with the New York fashion scene. After a stressful day of travel that kicked off at something like four o’clock in the morning, the last thing I wanted to do when I landed was deal with a bunch of perfectly made-up girls in heels whose biggest goal of the night was to get the most likes on Instagram. Turning down the dinner invitation, I kicked on my sneakers and headed toward Central Park.

Beyond the travel weariness and intimidating circle of fashion people I had escaped from, I was the most hangry I’ve ever been in my life, except maybe for the depresso I would experience the day we left New York and my two friends dragged me across the entire Upper West Side shopping from eight to eleven before I had any coffee in my system. It was the kind of hangry that can only be resolved with the divine pairing of pizza and beer, so I mapped the closest walk and ended up at a sit-down pizza and pasta chain I wish I remembered the name of.

I wallowed my way through my entire deep dish. I think it was one of the few experiences in my life where my bummer mood could have been resolved by human interaction, had it been the kind I wanted. A quiet dinner, maybe even delivery in our hotel room, with my fashion week gal pals that I actually wanted to catch up with.  Of course, I forgot momentarily that the hotel situation hadn’t gone my way for the first half of fashion week and I was staying all the way downtown, alone, in the only hotel that could put me up for free, which was about the extent of my budget at this time in my life. I don’t think I smiled once during my entire meal.

I tried to snap out of it a couple times. Half of the romance behind being out in public alone is the prospect of whom you could meet. I think it comes from my writer tendencies, but I can be intrigued by almost anyone I see anywhere. Being by yourself in public lends itself easily to conditions where anything can happen. I live and die for meet-cutes, and the opportunity seems to have much more potential when out as an individual rather than a big group. But reality never listens, and meet-cutes are rare in my life. I tend to exist with a pretty downcast demeanor and I think it intimidates the masses, or at least makes them fear potential interaction. People don’t like to deal with a lot of emotion, and having a lot of emotion is the entirety of my life and being.

Beyond desire (read more on that in part one), mood is another key element to a successful solo date. Things need to be pleasant if I’m going to go out alone and enjoy myself. I need to be in a place of mild self-confidence with a settled soul. The circumstances don't need to be perfect, but my head needs to be in the right mentality. Drowning my stress and sorrows in pizza was a last resort, and left me continuing to flail in a black hole of gloomy isolation. The experience left a little black mark on my public aloneness progress report. It could have been good if this or that had gone differently. Instead, I gave up on my experiment for another year, until I took myself out once again to conquer a very specific fear. 

Check back Friday for part three, because believe it or not, I went to a stand-up comedy show alone.

Societal Solitude: Part I

I feel like the majority of humanity is afraid of the prospect of being alone. Not the actual act of being alone, as in being by oneself and alone with your thoughts and this and that, but how being alone looks to everyone else. It’s widely known that half of humanity experiences extreme amounts of discomfort sitting at a restaurant by themselves—just the idea of it puts a nervous “Oh, I could never do that” in their mouth. The other half of the world’s population might be faking it, but I always hear about these people that just love going out to eat alone. They can’t stop talking about how great and liberating it is and everything else and blah, blah, blah, they’re a whole new person now, congratulations to them. Going out somewhere alone has actually become a thing. I don’t mean going out like running to Walgreens for eye drops or Starbucks for a latte, which are both purposeful outings, but events and activities that you would normally text a friend to join you for. People always feel like they need someone on their arm. You want everyone else to see what a good time you’re having while you’re out, and that’s easier with friends.

I don’t even think the difference is an introvert/extrovert thing, because people in both categories could be uncomfortable in the situation. Extroverts might feel panicked just to sit there alone without another person, or they might be just fine because hey, they can make friends with anybody. Introverts might be self-conscious eating alone because they feel on display and everyone in the restaurant must be staring at them, but on the other hand introverts relish time alone, and might be better off on their own. I consider myself an introvert, but going out in public to do things alone has been a few-step process for me. There’s some kind of poetry in being comfortable with it, and I always wanted to achieve the kind of nirvana those people experience when they go out by themselves. The ones that can’t stop singing solo-adventuring praises from the mountaintops they climb alone. I never understood how it could be a freeing experience, but I wanted to try it.

The first time I consciously went somewhere by myself, I was seventeen and went to see a movie in my hometown’s historic movie theatre downtown. The nine o’clock film was something like a ten-minute drive from my house, beginning just before a summer sunset and ending late enough that I would call my mom while I walked back to the car in the dark, in case I got mugged or kidnapped or the next worse thing after that. I purchased my ticket at the booth, and there was the question: “Just one?” I felt very aware of my aloneness all the way from the booth to the ticket taker to the usher at the theater door, under the impression that everyone I ran into felt sorry for me. I wanted to call out at anyone who made eye contact with me: “I’m here on my own accord and by my own very intentional volition!” The fact that I was sitting there alone was half of what I thought about the whole way through. I saw an indie film, 2009’s Away We Go, which heightened the poetry I was trying to experience just because it was a captivatingly beautiful two hours of film. That’s what independent movies do, you know? The romantics and the poets and the artists are the ones who make them, and in that way they all feel the same. Still, I left feeling like my mission was incomplete. I felt unsettled, but not disappointed. I had gone into this knowing there might be a learning curve.

One of the biggest factors involved in the decision to go out alone is desire. For people like me who don’t treat going out alone casually, there has to be reason enough to make it worth my while. In this case, I really wanted to see Away We Go. Simply that. No one in my family would have had any interest, so I hadn’t even extended an invite. I didn’t have friends at the time, so flying solo was the only way I would get to see this movie. I think I remember feeling pretty cool telling my mother I was going to the theater, taking the car maybe without even asking explicit permission for it, and painting our little town red with my lonely brush wondering what the night would hold. The night ended up holding a standard movie-going experience and a quiet drive home, but anticlimactic was a welcome description for my night out as a newcomer to the world of doing things alone.

Check back Tuesday for part two: the restaurant experience.