[prose#17] The Art of Being Alone

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Life as a single girl is really easy in some ways. The obvious benefit: my time is my own. If I want to go out to eat with friends, I do it. If I want to put on my stretchy pants and eat ice cream while watching a Project Runway marathon, I do it (often). Related, my money is my own. I decide how to spend it and I don’t have to justify every purchase (see the boxes from target.com, amazon.com, and oldnavy.com in my recycling).

But, as I’ve also alluded to (in this and every post), life as a single girl is also incredibly difficult, especially a single girl in the church – a topic for another time. Even a girl like me who loves silence and solitary ventures gets the mopeys. That’s why I’m trying out new things to do by myself. I’ve already gone to church by myself, hikes by myself, shopping by myself, coffee by myself. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff that even attached (coupled? paired?) people do when needing some time away from their significant other.

I took a step today, though, and tried something else alone: a movie. Now, I’ve heard some people go to movies by themselves for fun. I can’t say that’s been my experience, but mostly because A) I don’t go to many movies, because B) they’re expensive and C) if I’m going to spend $10.50, I want to go with someone I care about and pretend the two hours we spend in dark silence are quality time. But I watch movies alone in the comfort of my living room – how is that any different?

Well, let me tell you – it’s the stigma. The social awkwardness of being alone in public. It’s like waving a giant flag that says, “Hey! I’m single and probably don’t have any friends. But don’t be sorry for me! I have a winning personality!” Or so implied most of the folks I told that I was going to see a movie alone. The conversation went like this:

Friend: What are you doing today?

Me: Going to see a movie.

Friend: Oh, with who?

Me: No one.

Friend: (silence)

Me: I’m going by myself.

Friend: (silence with sad eyes)

Then I had to backpedal and say how it was good for me to try it and I’ve never done it before and how it’s okay that they couldn’t come and they shouldn’t feel bad. And I meant all of those things – I just wish I didn’t have to say it, since saying it made me feel like I was waving that flag from earlier.

The truth was, I wanted to go see Inception again. It was playing at the local cheap theater for five bucks, and I knew it’d be worth it. None of my friends could come, which was fine. So I went. By myself.

The theater I went to is run by this one guy who also runs the adjoining drive-in. He’s basically our little town’s movie guy. I don’t know his name, but he’s always there. We don’t even get tickets at this theater. We just pay him five bucks cash (no credit cards), and he tells us the movie’s on screen 1 or 2. It’s way less sketchy than it sounds, I promise you. That’s just how things happen when living in a small town.

The movie theater is bigger than it looks, with orange chairs and faux wood paneling that were totally groovy in the 70s. The locals know that the back seats are the best, because they’re cushier and don’t make you feel like you’re sitting on steel beams by the end of the movie’s exposition. They also rock, which is delightful. Just don’t rock too much – they squeak.

There’s only one other person in the theater as I make my way to a squeaky chair in the back center. She’s one row in front of me, two seats to my left. She sits very still, her gray hair perfectly coiffed and her white sweater with rosebuds on it very clean. Not exactly the target audience for the psychological awesomeness that is Inception, but I do not judge her because she is alone and I am alone.

The screen before me lights up with the previews – at this theater, there are no commercials for the snack bar or cell phones. No lolly-gagging, right to the point. I see the woman in front of me sit up a bit straighter. I wish I could see her face in the darkness. I wish I could sit next to her and ask what she thinks of the movie. I’ve already seen it so I know what’s going to happen, but I still get confused. I wonder if she’s confused. I rock slightly, making my chair squeak, and her head turns ever so slightly in my direction. I’m not very good at going to movies by myself, I decide.

Soon the story gets going, and I am entranced by this beautiful film and its complexities. The world is so vivid, the special effects seamless, the characters embedded into your emotions. I get caught up in the world of dreams. And then that final image changes everything that you thought you knew, and you are left plastered to your seat in a mess of confusion and wonder and happiness and frustration. It’s definitely worth the five dollars.

My Inception companion gets up right away and heads to the aisle. I have no reason to stay either, no partner with whom to make small talk or loud exclamations of movie opinions. I follow her out, and she opens the door to the bright outside world to me. I catch a glimpse of her face, and she smiles at me, a knowing smile that says, “We were just together. We just saw that world. Those people, your people are my people. And I have no idea what just happened, just like you.” I smiled back, because now we were sisters in the act of watching movies alone. Because we weren’t alone. We were together, with the characters on the screen, both part of the same world and lost in our own separate universes.

I like to think she went home, called her grandson, and said, “Guess what I saw today!” Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she went to her home, made dinner for herself, poured a glass of wine, read a book, went to bed – all in silence. Either way, I want to be her someday. I want to go to movies by myself and smile at people when I leave because I understand that the art of story touches us, both creating community where there was none and singularity within a crowd. It’s the magic of the connection.

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One thought on “[prose#17] The Art of Being Alone

  1. Love this. And I totally used to go to movies alone quite a bit when I was at Fox. Because the Cameo was cheap, and it was a change of pace, and I like movies. I even went to a West End show by myself last time I was in Oxford (and probably will again). But I know what you mean. The looks and the pity. Besides a good sense of humor and a creative inner-life, being alone takes courage. So courageous single women of the world unite! 🙂

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