I was wearing my new red dress with my hair styled in loose, flowing, curls. I pulled out my lunch and was about to bite into my sandwich when I heard the laughter. I looked up, wanting to join in on the joke, and was shocked to see the group of girls looking at…me! Apparently, I was the joke! I immediately looked away, feeling the hot flush of crimson cover my entire face. Why were they laughing?? The laughter was followed by loud whispers. I tried to ignore it and bit into my sandwich when, suddenly, in slow motion, a huge blob of grape jelly dropped from the sandwich onto the front of my dress. Onto my chest, to be more exact. The whispers turned into loud cackles. “Oh my god, no wonder she doesn’t have any friends,” I heard one girl say, followed by another round of group laughter. I wanted to bolt out of the room as fast as I could, but I was trapped. I was 9. It was my first day at a new school, mid-school year. I asked the lunch lady if I could go to the bathroom. She said no. The next day, I volunteered to stay behind during lunch to help the teacher with classroom tasks. I volunteered every day for 2 weeks until one day, Katie, a reading group partner, asked me to sit with her at lunch. I sat at the lunch table and the whispers started. Katie sat next to me and the whispers stopped. Suddenly, I felt accepted.
From the day of the jelly incident forward, I avoided doing anything alone. Eating, studying, going to the movies, taking certain classes, extracurricular activities – if I couldn’t do it with at least one other person, it wasn’t going to happen. I always had a best friend. I always had a boyfriend. I find that the dating history of most women my age is comprised of many short-term relationships (weeks long, maybe even only days), spread out, with one longer term relationship (about a year) thrown in the mix for good measure. I have had 5 “loves” of my life. All of them were “long termers”. I’ll take a moment to introduce you to them, since I’m sure they’ll be mentioned at some point again.
Love #1 “Aiden”: (Aiden from Sex and the City was based on him. Verbatim.) Aiden lasted a little over 2 years until, much as Carrie did in Sex and the City, I broke his heart. Twice.
Love #2 “Bucky“: (Love must have blinded me to the over-bite.) Bucky lasted for 3 years. That was exactly 2 years and 364 days longer than he should have lasted. I broke up with him multiple times but it wasn’t until that 364th day of the 3rd year that he acknowledged it.
Love #3 “Mr. Adventure”: Mr. Adventure was my first “grown up” relationship. That adventure lasted 9 months until he became the first man to break my heart.
Love #4 “Sociopath”: We dated for 2 years. He also dated his – now wife – for 1 year of those same 2.
Love #5 “Aces”: It has been 4 years and 4 months (as of today, actually) and it’s still going strong. Hopefully, #5 is the last to ever grace this list.
Between the loves and the best friends, I was never faced with having to even contemplate “going it alone” for any type of event, activity or trip. That is, until break-up #4. I came out of Love #4 worse for the wear and found that all of my friends were either married or in relationships equivalent thereto. I looked around my new “single” world and realized there were fabulous new restaurants to try, interesting movies to see and cheap vacations to take – and no one to do any of those things with. So I didn’t. I was scared. Scared that if I did, I’d get those looks. You know those looks. Those “oh, poor thing with no friends, no man – how sad” looks. I didn’t want to get those looks. So, in October 2006, I started a group. Back then, it was called “Singles in the Suburbs in Your 30s.” Today, it is called “Singles in the Suburbs” and has 1,619 members. Apparently, I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to do things alone.
I have made some of my best girlfriends through SITS. In fact, it’s how I met Aces! It wasn’t until this past Saturday, that I became aware of an unintended consequence of running SITS. I don’t even think twice about going out alone anymore! I’m not talking about going out on my own to one of the SITS events. I’m talking about going out on my own with no intent to run into anyone I know. Movies, dinners, happy hours, wine tastings – if I see an event I want to attend, I do! (Yes, it took me forming a social group with over 1,600 members to realize that I don’t mind experiencing activities on my own.) Planning and leading SITS events has opened my eyes to things I enjoy that were unfamiliar to me before. Going places, talking to people, trying new things is second nature to me now and I can’t picture ever reverting back to the individual I was “pre-SITS”.
This past Saturday is one example. I decided to “go it alone” to a wine tasting at The Tasting Room. (Fabulous spanish wines – recommend trying 2007 Pazo de Arribi Mencia.) I was lucky enough to get one of the last tables. The server came up and set the table for 2. I told her it was just me. She went to take away the 2nd place setting and I told her to leave it. The place was crowded and someone would need a seat. She looked confused. She again made as if to remove the place setting. I told her again to leave it. She looked mad and walked away. Right at that moment, I saw a woman looking for a seat. I got up and told her there was a place at my table. She was grateful. We talked for almost the entire tasting! I found out she was new to the area and tired of hanging out alone so, to make friends, she had recently joined a group called Singles in the Suburbs!! I told her who I was. Turns out, she was gun-shy about attending any SITS events but now she’s excited! The Monday before that, I attended, solo, a special dinner at Il Fornaio. At that dinner I met the president of a local chamber of commerce, an elected official, a top chef and a wine distributor. I got invited to a private cooking class, a special event at The University Club in Washington, DC and a connection for some free wine. One of the most fabulous outings I had in awhile – and I was alone.
Society wants to turn everything into a “group activity”. Even going to a movie is thought of as a “group” or “date” outing – and you don’t even TALK to anyone during a movie. Is doing things with others really BETTER than doing things alone?
Had I not gone to the wine tasting or the dinner, I would have missed out on fantastic food and wine (and it was fantastic) and on meeting all of those great people! But, even if I HAD gone to these events with a friend, or with Aces, while it all would have been fun, I would have still missed out on meeting those people! I would have been in my “comfort zone”. You know how that goes. You go somewhere with your friends or significant other and tend to only interact with those individuals. Besides ordering from the waitress and maybe flirting casually with a bartender, you don’t take extra steps to interact with strangers in any real meaningful way.
How many times have you missed out on something because you were scared to “go it alone”? How many times have you wanted to see a movie but didn’t because you couldn’t find anyone to go with you – so you waited until it came out on DVD? How many times have you missed an event, like a wine dinner or a charity event or a museum exhibition, because you didn’t have a “plus one” who could attend? Have you ever planned your perfect vacation – only to never take it because your friends don’t think it’s that fabulous, or they can’t take the vacation time, or they don’t have the money? Even if you go on this fabulous vacation with your friends, have you missed out on doing something you wanted to do during the trip (perhaps a certain restaurant, a museum or even just sitting in your hotel room drinking wine on the balcony) because it didn’t align with what the rest of the group wanted to do? If your like me, you are probably saying “too many times!”
Take it a step further – what connections and opportunities have you missed out on because you didn’t go to those events? Where could your life be now had you met those connections, taken those opportunities?
I’m not saying look back on your life and regret what you didn’t do. Lord knows I’ve let fear cause me to miss out on many things, yet, if it wasn’t for my past decisions, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, with SITS, my friends and Aces! And I’m not saying that we should cast off our friends or significant others and live a life of solitude. Companionship and socialization are important needs that must be met. There will always be events that I’d rather experience with Aces, or places that wouldn’t be the same without my girls in tow!! But, new sights, sounds and people are all there to be experienced if you are alone and able to focus completely on your surroundings. You live (in this life) only once. Imagine what it can be like if you take full advantage of it! Don’t miss out on something you want to do just because no one wants to do it with you.
“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” – John Maxwell