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Jewish Journal

Get a Life

by Teresa Strasser

March 1, 2001 | 7:00 pm

Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl stops returning her friend's phone calls. Girl's world narrows. Girl loses boy. Girl starts calling her friends again. Girl meets another boy.

A pattern emerges.

It's obvious, really. I just never noticed it until my boyfriend gave me the week off (he had to "figure things out"), figured he wanted me back, but just days later, went to New York on business for a week.

I turn 17 different kinds of lonely and bored. What social network I had managed to piece together between boyfriends had slowly slipped away.

I call my mom. My weepy monologue can be boiled down into this: "Lonely. Bored. Lonely. Bored. Did I mention lonely?"

"Well, you've got to get a life," she says. Her voice seems to echo over the phone. It is the echo of maternal truth, loud and reverberating. "You get a boyfriend and you lose your life, then you become boring and dependent. It's something a lot of women do, and it's a bad idea."

"But mom," sniffle, sniffle. "I go to book group."

"That's one day a month. What about the rest of the month?" she asks. What about it?

Epiphany about getting a life in hand, I realize I have to get over my phone-a-phobia and return calls. It's time to make coffee dates. See movies with friends, engage in social activities that don't contain the possibility of hooking up, meeting, flirting. It's friendship for friendship's sake, and I've got to get busy. More importantly, I've got to keep my life when my boyfriend gets back in town.

I can't believe I've joined that club of women who drop everything for a man, treat their friends and hobbies like place-keepers. Men don't seem to do that. Most of the guys I've dated travel in a pack; they have friends from high school and college. They value those connections and never set them aside for long.

I place a few calls.

Lives are like plants. If you don't water them, they wither. Unaware of the massive paradigm shift in my attitude toward friendship, people take their time calling me back. Finally I set up a Saturday coffee date. We meet early but my friend has to run. It was nice to catch up, and I feel like I've taken a baby step toward a life.

The rest of Saturday looms large and rainy, however. My boyfriend calls from New York. The brief conversation can be boiled down into this: "I did this, I did that, I'm living the high life with my pals, who are too numerous to name." Loud subway sound. "My train's here. I miss you. Bye."

I stare at the phone receiver like a bad soap opera actress who's just gotten word that her husband is having an affair with her evil twin. I sob and sob. He's gone, but he's coming back in four days (who's counting?). I don't know why I'm sobbing. I guess it's a mixture of missing him and hating him for having fun with his friends instead of crawling into a fetal position in his hotel room with the sharp ache of needing me.

I could sit home and theorize about why women often seem to value romantic relationships over all else, whether it's socialization or just biological wiring. I could do that, but it would be boring, lonely, boring, lonely. I head out to the mall to see a movie. I'm alone, but it's closer to having a life than watching some bogus figure-skating competition concocted by a lotion company.

I'm a little early for the movie. About two hours early, if you must know. I loll about the crowded mall, trying on makeup at Bloomingdale's, staring at the bunnies in the pet store, all curled up together sleeping. I see the movie.

I check my messages. A friend (okay, an ex-boyfriend, but you can't be too choosy when getting a life) calls and wants to see "Hannibal." I'm a vegetarian, but I say yes in the interest of, you know, having a life.

After the movie, we talk for awhile. It's so comforting to speak to someone who knows me, who has known me awhile. Giving him a friendly hug and walking away, I know what all this is for, why men and smart women retain their friendships. I feel I've latched onto a little shred of life and I don't want to let it go.

The next day, another friend calls and invites me to a party. I agree to go, even though the party is the night my boyfriend returns to town. He's disappointed I've made plans and wants to spend time with me after getting home, but I'm determined to diversify.

My girlfriend calls to bail out on the party. She's says she's tired, feeling under the weather. I'm secretly relieved. That worries me, but lives and paradigm shifts aren't built in a day.

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