“I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.” — Lord Byron
Well, it’s been happening for a while now, really.
I’m getting to that point in my life where it seems like everyone I’ve ever known is either getting engaged, getting married, or getting pregnant. The Facebook posts keep rolling in, even though I’m only Facebook friends with a handful of people I went to school with, thanks to that “someone you’re friends with liked this post” feature that someone thought would be a great networking tool. To whoever pitched that idea: you are hellspawn. To whoever approved that idea and ordered it into the code: you are Lucifer incarnate. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.
Everyone grows up, I suppose.
But I’m still here, still sitting by myself, and even though everything has changed, it’s still exactly the same.
I wear this costume wedding set at work to keep the creeps from trying to chat me up in the middle of the night. A friend got me the cubic zirconia engagement ring for my birthday after I’d talked about it for a few months. I already had the ring I use as a wedding band. The number of men who try to chat me up has decreased significantly. Several have immediately commented on the rings themselves, but never what they mean. Now the only men who smile at me are the ones sporting wedding rings themselves, who’ve come in late after a long drive or who check out early to get to the office for a presentation. They’re mostly regulars.
I am glad, though. Last summer, it seemed like it was incessant. We had one set of guys who’d come in for work, and one in particular who hadn’t said a single word to me despite walking past me every morning for three or four weeks. The first thing he ever said to me, after midnight one night when he came down for a soda, was, “Are you married?” I knew he was. In a more professional manner, I told him to go fuck himself. Another man, drunk, leaned over my desk and reached for me and asked me to hold his hand. Two men spoke plainly about “how hot Pennsylvania girls” were as I was attending to a request they’d made relating to my job. And a pair of boys, probably older than me, who weren’t even guests, actually got to hear the entire rehearsed life story I’d assembled just for situations wherein someone got nosier than they really needed to be.
Over the winter, two male coworkers commented in tandem on how nicely I dress for work when I accidentally exposed a bra strap after setting down my bags – and not in a teasing manner. Both are probably older than my father.
Recently, I met a friend of a friend I’d only heard about for several years. Later, the mutual friend told me he’d asked her if I was married. I had to think about whether or not I’d been wearing my rings when we met, because I’ve been wearing them more frequently than just to work. I couldn’t remember. I still don’t know.
One of my favorite stories to tell is about one of the first times I ever went out to a bar by myself. It was someone’s birthday, and I’d agreed to make an appearance. I’d recently dyed my hair bright fuchsia. A man sat down on the stool next to me and proceeded to tell me about how he didn’t care for bottle-blonde girls, how he preferred redheads instead and that there weren’t any other ones in this bar. (I counted three redheads in my immediate field of vision, not to mention the fact that even in dim bar light, there’s no way my hair looked anything like red.) Then he asked me what I was drinking – a Jack and Coke, I told him – and if he could buy me one – no. The bartender, who was one of the three redheaded girls I counted while very pointedly not looking at the man next to me, walked past, then, and I asked her for another drink. The man got up and left me alone.
At my last job, one man proposed marriage after I gave him a handful of onions and jalapenos for the hot dog he’d purchased. Another gave me a slow up-and-down look while I was changing out coffee pots at the front of the store. I’ve still to this day never felt more objectified. I was barely twenty.
At a bus station in Wilkes-Barre, two men tried every line in the book on me, becoming progressively more sexually explicit, while I waited for a connection to New York City to meet a friend to go to a concert. The room was full of people. No one said anything. I was nineteen.
At that same last job, when I first started, there was an older man, mid fifties, who was a regular at the time. He talked to me a lot, which didn’t seem weird at first because all of my coworkers knew him, too. I figured he was just trying to be friendly. I heard later from one of my supervisors that he’d said he would ask me out if he didn’t know my family, which was one of the things he’d asked about in the first few weeks of me being on the job. Later, one morning while I was filling our soda machine with ice, he shoved a handful of it down the back of my shirt and thought it was hilarious. I refused to speak to him after that, only serving him when absolutely necessary, and he stopped coming in. I’d never felt more afraid of anyone. I had just turned nineteen.
While walking down a New York City street with a couple of friends, a stranger made a remark about us and when we neglected to respond, proceeded to follow us several buildings down while continuing to degrade us. I grabbed one friend’s hand as soon as the stranger initially spoke. He pulled away from me. He was twenty and a junior in college. I was eighteen and it was my first trip away from home by myself.
I’ve been lucky. I know that. I’ve never been physically assaulted. My experience with verbal assault is minimal. There are very many people who have been through very much worse than me. But that doesn’t mean that these experiences aren’t still isolating by nature. When you add this on top of a childhood and adolescence as rife with social pitfalls as mine were, across the board, I often wonder if I’ll ever really be able to trust anybody enough. Or… at all.
I’ve been told that I’m incredibly self-aware, and while I can’t compare myself with others on this point, I know that I’m aware enough to recognize my own coping mechanisms. Two of them that I have always had are procrastination and self-isolation, and these two things in conjunction can really work wonders.
Here’s the God’s honest truth: I am actually terrified of not being good enough. That’s what it all ultimately boils down to. I don’t want to ever be faced with the idea of being told, verbally or otherwise, that I could, or should, or need to be, better in order to gain someone’s approval. So I self-sabotage. I cope. When it’s possible, I physically isolate myself. When it’s not, I do it emotionally and mentally instead. I won’t talk about my personal life at work, for example. I don’t smile at guests so that they won’t feel open to speak to me. I refuse to make eye contact with almost everyone. On particularly bad days, I pack on black eyeshadow as heavily as possible and hope I look intimidating enough not to invite attention. There are parts of myself that I recognize as objective fact that I’ve never talked about with anyone. And there’s probably the saddest part of this whole scenario. I don’t just do this to other people. I isolate from myself, as well.
Just in the writing of this post alone, I’ve stopped half a dozen times because I didn’t want to keep writing, because it’s so much easier to ignore all of this and pretend I don’t really have a lot of the issues that I do. I will do almost anything to keep from having to sit with myself and my own thoughts for any length of time. I preoccupy myself with social media and games on my phone and Netflix and writing and makeup and crafts. I talk myself into false beliefs in order to prevent any sort of comings-to-terms with the reality of how I feel. Whether all of this is a cause of self-awareness or a side effect, I don’t really know.
But it works. Most of the time.
I haven’t purposely tried to make myself available to anyone in any capacity since before I graduated high school. I actively avoid speaking to most people in my general age bracket, even when they’re coworkers. In fact, I once successfully got a similarly-aged male coworker to quit his job by refusing to speak to him. The only people I’ve spoken to in the last three years who were anywhere near my age were people I was introduced to through the same friend I mentioned above – her friends, her coworkers.
I have no intention to change.
But then, I think, sometimes, I want to.
But then, I remember that means doing this whole song and dance again. That means intentionally spending time with strangers. That means exposing information to fresh perspectives. That means fighting to find common ground and then fighting to keep it sturdy enough to stand on. The last time I spent any amount of time with people I don’t consider friends, I couldn’t even bring myself to speak to them until I’d downed two mostly-champagne Mimosas. Then I finished the bottle and had a screwdriver or two on top of it, and I had to stay at my friend’s place after everyone had left, including her, because I was too drunk to drive home. At three in the afternoon. So instead I washed the dishes I’d been told not to touch and tried to convince myself that that had been a successful interaction. That was just over a month ago.
So instead I wonder if I’ve somehow doomed myself, through this incredibly effective coping mechanism, to a life of solitude. I can never remember having more than one real friend at a time. I’ve spent a considerable portion of my life without any friends at all. I don’t expect to find anyone I could be in any sort of relationship with for the rest of my life, let alone move in with, marry, or raise children with. I’m so accustomed to being alone that I even specifically selected a job so I could continue being alone as much as possible. And despite all the melodrama I’m apt to spin about it, I truly do enjoy spending time by myself.
It just continually boggles my mind that there’s anyone, anywhere, that has decided they like another person enough to live their lives in tandem with them, or to inextricably link themselves to that person by means of children. But this happens every single day, everywhere. It’s so commonplace as to become an adult expectation. And we call this “being happy,” and “being in love.”
I just… don’t believe it. I have failed in every personal attempt toward this supposed “goal.” And when others showed interest in me, it made me so uncomfortable that I don’t even enjoy thinking about it.
So how in the hell does anyone do it? How do they decide it’s worthwhile to pursue something that seems so doomed to fail? Are they only trying to fulfill this societal expectation? Are they just afraid of being alone? Or do they genuinely want this?
Because personally, I’d rather continue lying to myself than to lie to someone else, too.