January 22, 1998
I had hoped that it would be an "empowering"experience, going to the movies alone on New Year's Eve.
And I really wanted it to be. But when I sat alonein a dark theater at midnight, sipping my Diet Coke and munchinggreasy popcorn, I didn't feel as Erica Jong as I had hoped.
Truth be told, I was feeling more "My So-CalledLife," or some other show involving a lot of sappy voice-overs. Thecamera would zoom in on me saying, "One ticket please," followed by ashot of the concession guy looking at me as if I were a leper forhaving no date, and then a swell of some Joni Mitchell song.
That was how pathetic I felt. Still, I knew I wasdoing the right thing, and that gave me some satisfaction, like whenyou're getting in your car to go to the gym on some rainy night whenyou'd really rather just sit home and watch four hours of figureskating on TV. The superego is winning a leg race with the id, andthat usually seems to have some long-term benefits.
You see, for me, alone time has traditionally beenup there with getting a root canal in terms of things I look forwardto.
Last month, after I broke up with the latest in aconsecutive series of never-were-quite-right boyfriends, my friendSylvia casually posed the question, "So, what's the longest you'vegone between boyfriends?"
To which I replied: "Let's see. Is there somethingshorter than a nanosecond?"
That got me thinking. There were those three daysbetween Tom and Kevin, which I found so unpleasant that I reduced totwo days between Kevin and Dave. OK, I'll even admit to some briefrelationship overlaps, which would be horribly embarrassing exceptfor the fact that I know I'm not the only one. After all, someoneinvented the phrase "Don't take off your dirty shirt until you have aclean one to put on." And it wasn't me. Really.
But when Sylvia asked me that question and I sawmyself from the outside, I had to seriously question my aversion tosolitude -- a state most conventional wisdom seems to recommend, atleast in moderation. Judaism, and just about every other majorreligious tradition, puts a premium not only on communal prayer buton solitary introspection, my personal cryptonite.
Why am I afraid of something that's supposed to beso good for me? See above reference to root canal.
In all fairness, maybe it's not some deeply rootedfear of being alone as much as it is a genuine affection forcompanionship. Sylvia's response to that theory: "Hello? Wake up andsmell the neurosis."
So I have been trying, with varying degrees ofsuccess, to wait before diving into the next relationship. Maybe I'llread more books, have more epiphanies, clean out my closet, find somequiet inner peace. Or maybe I'll just have an existential crisis andstart hearing voices. I don't know.
I do know that a compulsive need to always be partof a couple can certainly cloud one's judgment as to the merits of apotential mate. When faced with the question, Spend the evening aloneor go out with the Unabomber? I'd probably tell myself: "He's anall-right guy. Nothing a little mousse and a good psychoanalyst can'tcure." I've actually had lengthy relationships with guys whose bestfeature was that the location of their apartment abbreviated mycommuting time.
For months, I dated a compulsive gambler who wouldtake me to Las Vegas for "some quality time together" and end upbleary-eyed, sucking his rent money out of the ATM for another roundof Caribbean Poker. "I'm gonna win it all back," he'd say, and I'dthink to myself, "He just really enjoys risk. Nothing wrong withthat."
Except that the risk I've really been taking isthat I could be wasting my time with adequate place-keepers insteadof waiting to find the person who could be my beshert, my destiny --if there is such a thing. What paragon am I missing by spending timewith men who enrich my life mainly by having cable? What insight intothe universe awaits me in the still hours of some Saturday nightalone? If I can wait long enough, I may find out.
The trouble is the waiting. Because when you'rewearing neither a dirty shirt nor a clean shirt, you're downrightnaked, and that can be cold and scary, especially in a world thatsometimes seems populated by nothing but the cozily coupled.Especially in a dark theater on New Year's Eve.
But I guess I survived that little root canal, so,from now on in, the Unabomber's on his own.
Illustration by Michael Aushenker
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer forThe Jewish Journal.
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