Language…has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. — Paul Johannes Tillich
As I stood to one side of the San Diego Civic Theatre’s multi-door entrance and watched the theatergoing throng, I shifted from stiletto to stiletto as a sense of uneasiness crept through my body. In my many imaginings of how the evening might go, never once had I envisioned feeling awkward. It’s odd, I thought, to be among hundreds of people, all gathering for the same event, and to feel so alone.
I hadn’t been to a Broadway show since 2005, when I went to see the debut of Spamalot in New York. Despite his enthusiasm for singing along to Dr. Horrible with me, David had little interest in going to see Wicked. He’s never been much of a drama guy, whereas I cannot resist all things histrionic (and sparkly). “I’ll go if you really want me to,” he had said when I asked him. (That’s code for “Please don’t make me do it.”) But I was determined to see the show, as I’d enjoyed the book on which it was based and love musicals. As it is with horror movies, pedicures, and hiking, David’s disinterest did not deter me from making my own plans.
I went online and searched for two tickets while mulling over which friend I might ask to accompany me. After several searches and no luck finding any seats in my preferred section for any night a full month out, I was ready to give up. But when my friend James mentioned he and his wife were planning to attend the show that very week, it was all the incentive I needed to abandon the idea of bringing a date and refine my search to just one seat, a move that expanded my options. In fact, when I clicked “best seat available,” one appeared in the first row, and I grabbed it.
When it comes to doing things alone, I’m not averse so much as unaccustomed. There are benefits to flying solo. When attending parties, I prefer to drive alone to avoid any conflicts associated with my wanting to leave
earlier or later than others (excluding David, whose easygoingness transcends conflict). I am not put off by the idea of arriving alone to events at which I may not know anyone. Because I am almost as gregarious as my dear dad, I can appreciate how arriving to such galas companionless makes it a breeze to meet people.
But no pro exists without a con — as cool as I am with my solitude in some situations, I am daunted by it in others. I’ve taken myself out to dinner, most often while traveling for work. Dining out sans company can be a lonely affair; between courses or while waiting for the check, boredom and impatience have me tapping my fingers on the table. While eating, my eyes tend to roam, and I must avoid getting caught staring at fellow diners. The vigilance required for such an endeavor can be exhausting. When the food is terrible, there’s no one to hear my kvetching, and when it is fabulous, no one to whom I can offer a bite. Eating is an experience I prefer to share.
I can only remember one time I sat alone in a theater — when I went to see Thoroughly Modern Millie with my dad and we sat in different sections. When seated beside someone I know during a show, I frequently look their way, to “check in.” That time, without anyone around me, I was free to lose myself in the production without the unspoken obligation I usually feel to share my attention between the stage and the person next to me. With that experience in mind, and the knowledge of how lucky I was to score a great seat on short notice, I was eagerly anticipating my girl’s (emphasis on the singular) night out.
I arrived at 7 p.m., half an hour before the show. I retrieved my ticket from will-call. I texted my friends. Then I stood. After a few minutes of trying not to look suspicious, I approached a makeshift bar in search of something to occupy my hands. I scoffed aloud when I witnessed the paltry pours and noticed that each shot-glass of wine cost more than the entire bottle from which the sips originated.
After the wine-purchase fail, I retreated to my previous spot, off to the side and out of the way. Fortunately, I remembered my iPhone, that wonderful contrivance that can instantly transform the pathetic into the preoccupied. After fishing it out of my purse, I stared at the device’s screen, trying to figure out what to use it for. I didn’t want to surf the net or check my email, as the antisocial nature of those activities seemed incongruous with my surroundings. I scrolled to my favorite contacts page and tapped on my sister Heather’s name. As everyone around me was talking to someone else, a phone call seemed just the thing to do if I were to blend in.
By the time James and Alice appeared, the crowd was already crushing its way into the lobby. Ironic, that once I had actual people to talk to, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I have a strict preshow countdown checklist and a perpetual anxiety about the unknown, which meant I had to get inside as soon as possible, in case there were lines to the restroom, in case I had trouble finding my seat, in case a hundred other “what-ifs” flitting about my neurotic noggin manifested themselves, all of which might result in me missing the show.
Once “rested” and guided to my section, I took my seat between two twentysomething women to my left and a fiftysomething woman and what I assumed were her teenaged daughters to my right. The girls to my left initiated conversation by telling me they’d won two tickets in a lottery outside for a sixth of the price I paid. I had just enough time to feign congratulations before the lights dimmed and the show began, at which point the woman to my right commenced her own dance-and-sing-along show, shaking my seat with her gesticulations. When I realized that glaring in the darkness would have no effect on the Ritalin popper, I sighed and settled back into my quaking chair, wishing for a moment that I could have been sitting there alone.