It’s a routine all of us barflies have down pat. Step up to bar. Claim chair or stool with foot and/or handbag and/or protective arm over the back, if available. Remove credit card (not that credit card, the other credit card) from wallet. Peruse wine list like you’re not just going to order the cheapest glass. Order. Pay. Drink. Repeat.
At every bar, in every city, across the country, the same dance is played out like the steps are written on the wall behind the bottles. And no one seems to notice anyone else doing it, except when they deviate. Especially then.
So the other night, when I sidled up to my favorite wine purveyor for a little post-work tipple, I didn’t expect a group of middle aged men next to me to make a whole song and dance out of it.
“Do you work here?” The one with gray temples leaned against the bar as if to size me up. “Cuz you walked in all confident, like you owned the place and you slapped that menu down like you knew just what you wanted.”
I raised my eyebrows and tried not to smirk. Failed.
“No, I don’t work here. And I did know what I wanted.” I raised my glass, a mockery of a cheers.
His friend, a tanned muscle shirt kinda guy leaned in next. “So, where are you from, mystery girl?
“I live about ten minutes from here. Just stopped by for a drink.”
I nodded and with that, set off a bomb that exploded so loudly, I thought the rest of their heads would come off with it.
“Don’t you have any friends? Where’s your boyfriend? Why would you go out alone? Are you ok?” Their concern was almost as palpable as their disbelief.
My little glass of Argentinian malbec and I had committed a cardinal sin: we dared to go out to a drinking establishment and we did not bring our bodyguard, entourage or escort along.
The earth shook beneath my knock-off Toms as I took another sip and returned to the important business of enjoying my favorite social partner: myself.
Let me first clarify that I’m a social person. I have friends and last I checked, we enjoyed each other’s company. Ditto for my boyfriend, bless his heart. But I’m also an introvert with a strong fondness for my own company, both in and outside the comfort of my own home.
And that’s what makes society uncomfortable. We’ve been socialized to be, well, social. We’re taught not to talk to strangers, except when we get older and that’s called networking. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is the first rule most of us learn on the job market. Kids who play by themselves on the playground are suspect as shy at best, potential sociopaths at worst.
When I was a kid, I always played by myself. My reasoning was that I knew exactly how I wanted my complex Barbie soap operas to go and I didn’t want anyone else messing that up.
So far, I’m not a sociopath.
Call me a deviant, but I think there’s merit in finding serenity in solitude. I seek out the chance to sit alone at bars or restaurants, watching the other patrons engaging in the complicated dance we call social life. I love to explore a new city solo, experiencing it without the influence of someone else’s plans, someone else’s opinions of what I haven’t had a chance to independently process. Me, myself and I have known each other longer than anyone, and we’re the only ones we have to answer to, when we climb into bed at the end of the day and the endless barrage of societal noise is switched to “silent” on the bedside table.
“Don’t mind them, hon,” Yvette, the bartender said, as she wiped down the rail. “They don’t know what to do with a lady who doesn’t need them.”
As a society, I think we’re losing the ability to appreciate being alone. With the constant stream of social media feeding into the palms of our hands and soon, directly into our eyes, we don’t ever have to be truly isolated. Unless we want to.
I want to.
I want to be able to sit as an island in a sea of humanity and feel the tides run around me. I want to be able to do that, without drawing criticism from my fellow travelers. I wonder if that was possible, before cell phones let us all tether to our interpersonal comfort zones. I wonder if it’s still possible, for those of us who realize how much independence is lost when we don’t let ourselves discover who we are without a Klout score or a twitter account.
“So, mystery girl. Are you a spy or what?”
Gray hair took a sip of his drink from a cocktail straw and folded his arms.
“That it. I came here alone to watch you all. You’ve guessed it.”
The crowd erupted, alcohol-rosy cheeks cracking with the kind of laughter that seems to evaporate outside the bar.
I turned back to my wine and grinned at Yvette. She nodded from the other end of the bar, but didn’t come over. We both love the sounds of silence in our own heads.